Animation: Story or Sizzle?

Has the animation world taken a hit?

Feature by Megan Garriock | 15 Jun 2006
We all cried when Bambi's mother took a bullet. We all laughed when Pinocchio and Lampwick turned into donkeys. We've all got our favourite moments. Personally, I always got a tingle when the titular fox in 'Robin Hood' came on-screen (c'mon, he was a fox!). Whether we like it or not, animation has been a part of our childhood and is an ongoing influence for the kiddies of today. And with the advent of computer graphic animation, the stories of our childhood, and childhoods to be, are now being retold with new attention paid to the tiniest detail. You can see their hair waving! Their eyes glistening! How cool is that? And when 'Toy Story' came to be, this animation fan felt almost cartoonish. The story was touching, the effects amazing. The three-dimensional feel seemed to have opened the doorway to a new genre of film-styling.

And yet currently, with all these new tricks in the trade, the story seems to be becoming less and less of a priority for large animation companies. I recently had the unpleasant experience of sitting through Disney's latest CG flick 'The Wild'. Basically, if you've seen 'Madagascar', you've seen this film. And you probably had a better time. True, 'The Wild' is not aimed at the generation of this cinephile, but I was prepared to laugh as any jungle-loving 8 year-old would. But there's the rub: the kids aren't laughing either. The story seemed forced and dull, and sure the effects were great, but if nobody cares about the lead animals, it doesn't matter what their fur looks like.

So has the animation world taken a hit? Does the introduction of CG animation only feel like a Darwinian step forward, when it's really a push back into the pond? Dreamworks' 'Shrek' was a huge hit entertaining both young and old; Pixar's 'Finding Nemo' and 'The Incredibles' combined grown-up humour with youngsters' tales exceptionally well. And yet, judging by the trailer for Disney/Pixar's latest effort 'Cars', I'm still crossing my fingers for a plot deeper than Owen Wilson's voice. 'The Wild' bombed at the US box office, and yet 'Ice Age 2' is still making millions world-wide despite its weak storyline. Therefore, in the wake of this fluctuating market, we have to ask ourselves: is CG animation compromising audience intelligence for a prettier on-screen face?

Perhaps a throwback to classic animation is the evolved way forward. After all, japanimation certainly isn't struggling for its place in the food chain. Hayao Miyazaki's Oscar winning film 'Spirited Away' has legions of fans, and 'Howl's Moving Castle' is fresh and original. There are even rumours circulating that Disney are planning to give hand-drawn animation another chance. The UK also has a strong foothold with the success of 'Wallace & Gromit' (stop-motion animation counts!). And to think, 'Belleville Rendezvous', a 2D French Canadian film doesn't even feature dialogue and is beloved around the globe for its creativity.

Audiences, I beg of you! Is it really such a struggle to give up a detailed background in exchange for actually caring about what's happening in the foreground? Is computer graphic animation the evolved way forward or a mutation currently holding the artistry of the industry back? Well folks, for me it's an easy choice: it might look better, but I like my stories with a little more depth.
Spirited Away and Belleville Rendezvous are at GilmorehillG12 on June 17 and 24 respectively.
The Wild and Ice Age 2 are out now. Cars is released July 28.