Sunday, July 7, 2013

In Praise of Cartoons

I've recently seen a couple of movies that make this a fit subject for a blog post.  Cartoons.

To begin with, cartoons aren't just kid stuff.  In fact, the term "cartoon" derives from the fine art world where it refers to a full-sized, preliminary drawing for a work that is to be rendered as a fresco, a technique that doesn't allow much room for error.  The cartoon would then have its final lines pricked, then the perforated drawing would be affixed to the wall that was to be frescoed and a bag of soot would be patted (actually called "pounced," which is cooler) over the cartoon - tah-dah! Now the artist has an outline to follow during the fresco process.  Therefore, show some respect to Bugs Bunny, whose lineage can be directly traced back to da Vinci. (Sort of.)

Anyway - despite this lofty history, cartoons are generally seen as something for children to enjoy.  Oh, sure, there are some cartoons that are meant for grown-ups and it's generally accepted practice to fling a bone or two to the grown-ups in the audience, but cartoons are for kids.  

Even if you accept that, that doesn't mean cartoons shouldn't be of good quality.  Tolkien, among others, wrote quite a bit on the subject of children's literature being all too often shuffled off to the nursery as being too worn-out for adults, but "it'll do" for the kiddies.  He hated that attitude and good on him, I say.  However, many animated movies forget this and are content to just churn out do-nothing films that are instantly forgettable in terms of both story and art.

Thank heavens for the exceptions.

Recently, I sat down and watched a marvelous film by Japan's master animator Hayao Miyazaki.  The 2004 film Howl's Moving Castle features a strong, steampunk-and-magic story and some wonderful vocal talent (Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal, and a then-not-much-known Christian Bale, among others).  Moreover, the visuals are both strikingly creative and totally free of CGI trickery.  I'm slowly working my way through Miyazaki's filmography and I encourage you to do the same.

Following Howl's, I dipped back into Shinichiro Watanabe's Cowboy Bebop.  Wow, does that one just keep getting better.  It's not for the kids (neither the TV show or the movie) - it's violent in its action and adult in its themes of loss, sorrow, and trying hard to pretend that you don't care about that stuff in order to just get through one more day - but in its own way, it's glorious.  It'll make you both think and sing - and that's not a bad thing.

Also, I've recently seen Monsters University, the latest Pixar-by-way-of-Disney film.  Fun stuff and again, some great vocal talent - Billy Crystal again, John Goodman (who can very nearly do no wrong), Helen ("I'm  a Dame, but not that kind") Mirren, and in a smarmy role that allows him some scenery-chewing, Nathan Fillion.  There's a nice nod to Carrie in here, and it's a good story of misfits forming a family, but really - there's nothing new here.  It's old, well-plowed ground, yet a fun ride.

I should be including a bit here about Despicable Me 2, but vacation beckons, so Gru will have to wait.  In the meantime, Rotten Tomatoes has a list of "best 100 animated movies" that you might quibble with, but it's an excellent place to begin searching out some old friends.

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