In 2001 a movie was released that would change animation forever. Okay, maybe not this movie in particular, but it did change the way I looked at animation. That movie would star a young boy with the head of a carnival ice cream cone and his robot dog. That movie would be none other than Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.
When the show started, I knew immediately that it was different because it strayed away from the 2D animation I was used to. I know computer animation wasn’t new and had been working it’s way into film culture for a few years now with Pixar and other franchises, but this was the first time I saw a TV show using the technique. It was kind of cool (keep in mind that I was 9 so this blew my mind) especially in contrast with the other shows that were airing at the time. The year they did the Fairly Oddparents/Jimmy Neutron crossover was exciting because it was taking this new form of animation and using it side by side with the old animation I knew and loved.
13 years later all I seem to see is CGI in both film and TV; so much in fact that the hand drawn style is fading away and falling into an abyss of lost ideas. It pains me because while I find CGI to be a good format for specific instances, I still prefer the old way of doing animation. I see the new Disney movies like Tangled and Frozen and part of me wishes kids could see these movies in the same format as the Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast. I know that Frozen won an academy award this year for being the best animated feature, but honestly I wasn’t wowed by the animation. In fact, I was disappointed with the movie as a whole, but that’s going more toward the storyline than the animation itself.
Maybe I’m biased for being a “90’s kid,” but I find the stampede scene or Simba’s rise to the throne in the Lion King more impressive than anything I’ve yet to see with the new format. I still believe the ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast has aged well and remains some of the most beautiful animations in film. And yet we receive scenes like the lanterns floating over the lake in Tangled that leave me in awe and make me wonder if one is better than the other.
There’s definitely a time and place for CGI just as there’s a time and place for old school animation, but I hate the idea of one getting left behind because the other appears superior when it isn’t. I know that people love their technology and that things are going to change despite how much I pout about it, but I still wish people would recognize the beauty in 2D animation. Sometimes I look at anime or shows like Phineas and Ferb and I try to picture them in a CGI format. To put it simply, they just wouldn’t look good. There’s an animation company called Madhouse that did the the animation for the anime films Summer Wars and Wolf Children Ame and Yuke. Both of which have a breathtaking artistic style that would be a shame to ditch all because it might be considered “out of date.”
For films like Pixar the computer animation feels right. It’s Pixar’s style that they’ve been improving since Toy Story. It would feel off and uncomfortable for Pixar to switch over to 2D animation because it doesn’t fit Pixar’s personal look. It’s perfectly fine if Disney wants to follow in Pixar’s footsteps, but I hope they’ll bring back the old style eventually or at least mix it up with the new style. I know that people like GCI and I know company’s will always choose the option that is more convenient, less time consuming, or cheaper. Still, shouldn’t we celebrate both forms of art? Each has their strengths and weaknesses and both deserve to bask in the spotlight. Neither should be tossed out because one seems like the cool new thing to do. In a world where we have so many talented artists and designers, why not have both?
I love the theater and all the stage shows that come out of it. One I recently found on Netflix and might have noticed a little late is Into the Woods. If you’re unfamiliar with this title it’s a 1987 Broadway musical about the fairy tale characters we all know and love, but with a twist to them. No, not a quirky Once Upon a Time kind of twist, but a twist that connects back to the original tales that were a little gritty and didn’t always come with a “happily ever after.” While Into the Woods has its fair share of lighthearted moments and whimsical songs, it also brings to light the darker undertones of these old stories and shows the audience that life doesn’t grant us romanticized happy endings.
Disney has already been working on an Into the Woods movie adaption that will be coming to theaters this December and even though it’s exciting to hear that Into the Woods will finally make it onto the silver screen, it’s less thrilling to know that Disney will need to do some editing – a lot of editing. The movie will no longer have a pivotal death that has a lasting effect on one of the leads as well as acting as a moral for the story and the filmmakers will also be deleting a plot changing affair (which means an amazing song will be thrown away along with it). There are already a number of articles floating around that go into the changes with detail and commentary and I’m not here to explain the cuts, I’m here to say why these cuts may not be a good idea.
I understand that Disney needs to keep their films family friendly and that Disney is a colossal corporation that will help give the old musical a revived exposure. I just don’t think that Disney should be the one handling a complicated musical like Into the Woods. Even though it’s performed at high schools with reasonable cuts, it’s not meant to be kid friendly. It’s supposed to have gritty undertones that aren’t easily overlooked and by cutting out the darker material the entire film is stripping the musical of it’s courage and originality. Now, the musical doesn’t have R-rated material and you can take your child to watch it, but be prepared to explain that the charming prince isn’t always faithful and that even the “good” characters meet an untimely (and a little gruesome) demise. And that’s a good thing to teach to someone young and I’m sure that kids today aren’t sheltered from those pieces of truth. Not to mention that the play itself (at least the original Broadway run) doesn’t present gore or anything that would make someone shift uncomfortably in their seat. Everything is done tastefully and clean, but the audience still understands that the bad wolf wants more out of Red Riding Hood than her basket of goodies and that just because a character is labeled as “good” doesn’t always mean their actions will reflect what is traditionally perceived as “good.” I worry that Disney will clean this film up to the point where those learning events will be pushed aside or vanish entirely in favor of the classic and overly used, “if you’re a good person and believe in yourself anything is possible” type moral.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the classic Disney films and I know that not all of their movies hide the ugly truths of the world (especially when you go into Pixar territory), but Into the Woods isn’t Into the Woods without the gritty elements. It’s a shame because these elements are done with great care too and instead of throwing a moral into your face, they gently nudge it towards you through the use of clever lyrics and quips. If those elements fade into oblivion then the moral of don’t go into the woods – be cautious and understand that the world can be dark, unfair, and cruel will deteriorate. Instead of learning to be careful of the woods, new viewers will wonder what’s so bad about going into the woods after all?