In a Heartbeat vs Bad Animation Oversaturation

The 2010’s feels like the best and worst decade for western animation. While (CG) animation is more profitable and prolific than ever before and more people are finally realizing animation can be honestly amazing, it seems that the only people taking the craft seriously are Disney, Pixar, and, to an extent, Warner Bros. with their LEGO movies. DreamWorks, in the light of their falling revenue, has started to dumb down their projects to make a profit, and studios like Sony Pictures Animation and Illumination seem to see the medium as a way of making cheap entertainment squarely for children and nothing else.

This year, in particular, has not been very good, with films like The Boss Baby’s memery encapsulating why so many people don’t take animation seriously and The Emoji Movie becoming quite possibly the worst animated film of all time. Anything else this year has been met with a resounding “ho hum”. Unless Coco turns out to be a surprise hit, the only animated movie that seems to have had any positive impact is The Lego Batman Movie, and that came out much earlier.

But, despite animation not doing well in theatrical full length films this year, there has been one animated short that has captured the hearts of people all over the world.

That short is In a Heartbeat.

Image result for in a heartbeat

When I first heard about the short as it was in development, I didn’t think much of it, but when it was released recently, I decided to give it a watch. And boy, am I glad I did. It tells a sweet, simple, but VERY powerful story.

In the short, Sherwin (the red haired boy in the picture above) is in love with Jonathan (the brown haired boy), but is in the closet about it. He prevents himself from pursuing his love, but his anthropomorphic heart decides to take matters into its own hands. What follows is something that will make you cry, but also warm your heart.

The short has amassed over 18 million views (and counting) on YouTube and, with the exception of hardcore religious and conservative groups, has gotten almost universal acclaim and an overwhelmingly positive reception. And it deserves it. The animation is very good (especially considering it’s a low budget college film), the music is excellent, and it tells an innocent but effective story that doesn’t rely on dialogue.

The makers of the film, Esteban Bravo and Beth David, are considering making this into a full length movie, and I hope it happens. Again, considering how there are so many animated films but only a fraction of them are really that great, we could use a film like this. One that doesn’t rely on low brow humour and cheap gimmicks and tells an emotional story about the love between two boys.

Please support this short any way you can. You can start by watching it below.

 

The End of Pixar’s Glory Days

From 1995 to 2010, Pixar was the undisputed champion of Western Animation. They were hailed as one of the most innovative and creative studios out there, winning Oscar after Oscar and making classic after classic. They arguably reached their zenith with Up and Toy Story 3, which both got nominations for Best PICTURE, and the latter becoming the highest grossing animated film at the time.

Then, in 2011 (just a year after Toy Story 3), their reign started to tumble with Cars 2, their first film to earn a rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes. They’ve been getting fewer Oscar nominations, critical reception has been mixed to negative, and audiences are generally not as hyped for Pixar as before (with the notable exceptions of Inside Out and maybe Finding Dory). But basically, the message is clear: Pixar has lost its magic touch.

Some people think that once Disney bought Pixar, they defanged the company to make it more marketable. Well, they are likely right about Disney’s acquisition of Pixar harming it…but probably not for the reasons they think.

John Lasseter, who was then the Executive Vice President of Pixar, became the Chief Executive Officer of both Pixar AND Walt Disney Animation Studios. Ed Catmull is president of both companies, and they both have to report to Bob Iger, but Lasseter is ultimately in charge of all the creative choices of the movies. He picks which movie pitches go into production, he is the driving force behind the creative process.

As soon as John Lasseter was put in charge of WDAS, the company, which was then in a serious rut, started to improve, and now they’re making critically acclaimed hits that have become beloved by audiences, without necessarily dumbing them down. Notice how some people are starting to say “Wow Disney finally learned how to make Pixar movies!”, and John Lasseter is precisely because of it.

Given all the projects John Lasseter has to work with, I think he’s is stretched thin between the two companies, and has been focusing more on WDAS than Pixar. Before Pixar was bought by Disney, John Lasseter was more directly involved in the filmmaking process, writing, directing, producing, and even animating their projects. Now all the films are being made by newcomers, some of whom don’t have the talent of the veterans (it’s no surprise that Inside Out, the movie to get the most praise, was directed by Pete Docter, who had been with the company since the very beginning). He’s definitely not as involved as he was before.

And honestly? Whether he wants to admit it or not, I think he’s moved on from Pixar.

I mean, he’s worked at Pixar for a long time, and now he’s in charge of Walt Disney Animation Studios, the company that he grew up with and made some of his all time favorite films. You’d probably be more enthusiastic to work there, too. Just look at the way he talks about the creative process of WDAS films. Just look at how PASSIONATE he is in the making of these films. And most of all, compare the quality of WDAS compared to Pixar as of late. It’s pretty clear that, even though he’s in charge of both companies, he’s showing a bit of a bias, whether he is aware of it or not.

I think at this point, John Lasseter should be left solely in charge of WDAS and get a veteran architect of Pixar to run it instead. That might be best for both companies.

Now, this is mostly speculation on my part, but because Pixar is becoming weaker while Disney Animation has been getting stronger than ever, I’m pretty sure it’s because of a CEO who is stretched thin and would rather commit to one studio than the corporate overlords thinking Pixar should be more marketable. Sure, Pixar is making more sequels, but they are still making movies that deal with complex themes, they just lack the edge they had before.

Let’s hope Pixar can get back on its feet soon. Apparently after Toy Story 4 there are no more plans for any sequels and prequels, which is good, and Coco does look promising. I just hope they’re able to retain their good image and not end up going from one of the most beloved companies to the most scorned.

Animation Companies and Identity

Ah, Illumination Entertainment. Well known for films such as Despicable Me, The Lorax, The Secret Life of Pets, The Minions and Sing.

What’s that? You don’t particularly care for any of those movies? You think they’re cheap knockoffs of DreamWorks style movies? Well Illumination doesn’t care because after only 7 films they have made a combined total of $1.9 BILLION. (x)

Holy crap! How did a low budget animation studio become a recognizable brand name in almost no time at all?

The biggest reason, of course, is marketing. Illumination makes sure their films are very well advertised (just look at the Minions marketing blitzkrieg). But the reason why their films have consistently remained successful is because they have a clear identity. They all have simple animation and character designs, they all have pop culture references, they all have their own brand of humor, and they’re all fun family films that don’t require a whole lot of thinking for. Basically, all Illumination films have a similar theme and tone.

By contrast, look at DreamWorks Animation (their current sibling company now that NBC Universal has bought them both). DWA’s profits have always flip-flopped, and by the time they were purchased by NBC they were in serious financial trouble, having to lay off hundreds of employees. Why? Because they’ve never been truly consistent. DreamWorks can range from beautiful works of art (How To Train Your Dragon) to generic kids stuff (Monsters vs. Aliens) to “WTF am I watching” (Bee Movie). When most people think of DWA they think of snarky, in-your-face movies with pop culture references, so when they’re faced with a How To Train Your Dragon or Kung Fu Panda, it’s enough to cause whiplash. And while Illumination movies tend to be generic, they also tend to be cute, harmless, and safe. DreamWorks can just come across as bizarre. You can watch more on how DreamWorks has an identity problem HERE.

By contrast, Pixar has a clear identity of making high quality, heartwarming, clever and original content that has given them massive success. They do get some backlash for making more generic or lower-quality films (The Good Dinosaur is their lowest grossing effort) and for making too many sequels, but not too much to the point where they get into financial trouble.

Laika also has a clear identity: unconventional, artsy stop motion flicks. This has won them massive critical acclaim, but not a wide audience appeal. Warner Bros. Animation, which has always struggled to find its audience and rake in money at the box office (their only theatrical feature length original film to win any prestige is The Iron Giant), has mostly settled on making LEGO movies, which has proven to be a hit.

I think identity is also a huge indicator of how Disney has gone through peaks and valleys during its 90 year reign. At their core, they’re a company that retells classic stories for a modern audience, and when the audience would change with time, so would they. One of the reason the early 2000’s was a bad decade for Disney was because, in addition to being overshadowed by Pixar, their movies were all over the place. Different animation styles, tones, and themes, and weird premises. Now, the animation is cleaner, softer, and more detailed, their genres and premises are simpler, and they deal with themes that are relevant to today’s society, such as female empowerment, mental health concerns, and prejudice.

In today’s age, animation companies are brands, and the audience comes to expect something specific from them; if they don’t get what they asked for, they won’t support it. It sucks that animation companies aren’t allowed to explore and have a wider range like live action companies, but until animation gets more respect as a medium, that’s going to happen for awhile. Identity can make or break an animation studio, because you can end up as a reigning champ like Pixar, or wind up being bought out and STILL end up in trouble like DreamWorks.

Little Things I Appreciate About Big Hero 6

This week on Tumblr was Big Hero 6 Appreciation Week. Every day, fans of the movie would make a post (gifs, fan art, videos, analysis, etc.) describing their favorite character, location/set piece, song/score, quote, parallel, and scene, along with a free day to post whatever they want at the end. I wanted to participate but…that didn’t happen. (I think I may have executive function problems, but I can’t be too sure.) But that doesn’t mean I can’t talk about it here!

Fave Character

Well I love everybody, but my absolute fave is definitely Hiro. I loved him since the first teaser (where we see Hiro trying and failing to put armour on Baymax). My very first thought was “Oh my god he is beyond adorable”. My love for him only grew since the movie came out. Not only is he absolutely precious, he’s also a complex, layered character. He’s highly intelligent and skilled, relates better to older people and robots (something I can relate to), mentally ill and is totally ready and able to kill a man but is brought back from the brink through the power of love and friendship. He is also a total dork who loves gummy bears. Overall I just find him a really interesting, relatable, sweet, and adorable character that must be protected at all costs.

Fave Location

File:Big-hero-6-disneyscreencaps.com-30.jpg

The aerial view of city of San Fransokyo, especially when seen at the beginning and during the first flight scene. It’s a beautiful city, incorporating advanced (and eco friendly) technology and Japanese culture to create a truly unique environment. You can tell it’s a great city to live in, and that there’s plenty of opportunities. It looks so vivid and almost REAL and ALIVE. I wanna go there!

Fave Song/Score

The movie has a great soundtrack, it’s hard to pick an absolute fave. One score I definitely like is “I am Satisfied with my care”. The music goes with each moment–from the triumphant ones to the tragic ones–perfectly. It definitely makes the scene where Hiro and Baymax have to say goodbye even more heartfelt.

Fave Quote

“Hiro. I will ALWAYS be with you.”

This is a great quote because Baymax means this both figuratively and literally. Figuratively because, no matter what happens, Baymax (and Tadashi) will remain in Hiro’s heart and memories and will guide him in life. Literally because it shows just how much Baymax loves Hiro and will do anything for him. He has become devoted to him and will go to any length necessary to protect the boy and be there for him. The fact that a robot has become capable of love is so…*sobs*

Fave Parallel

I think any part where Hiro references or quotes Tadashi (such as sighing “Unbelievable” or telling his teams to use those big brains of theirs) is feels worthy. Of course the scenes where Hiro sees himself reflected in the mirror along with his brother/robot companion is a subtle, emotional moment, but the parallel that is perhaps most chilling is when Hiro and Tadashi both sense that someone is in danger and their first instinct is “Someone has to help”. It just goes to show how willing both these brothers are to put their lives on the line to help those in need, and how much of an influence Tadashi really is. I’m just glad Hiro got out of it okay!

Fave Scene

Hiro and Baymax hug

Easy pick here: the hug between Hiro and Baymax at the end. I just wish it went on much longer.

Be sure to check out all the amazing works of art made this week HERE and HERE and the blog bh6daily.tumblr.com for more! What are your fave things about this movie?

POST Preparation for Moana Review #4: Treasure Planet

Shh let’s just keep the theme going for awhile. Anyways, here’s another review of a movie connected to Moana in one way or another: Treasure Planet (since they both have the same directors).

Image result for treasure planet

Several decades ago, John Musker and Ron Clements pitched a unique idea to Disney: Treasure Island IN SPACE!!!!!! It was rejected a few times. Eventually, they got their wish: after completing Hercules, they were allowed to work on this film, utilizing some revolutionary animation techniques (the CG animation blends almost seamlessly with the hand drawn animation) and a lot of heart and soul. They marketed and hyped the film big time, and it even got an IMAX release. What happened?

It bombed. Very badly. To the point where Disney would give up on hand drawn animation altogether in a few years.

There are a few reasons it didn’t do so well. Up until the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, pirate movies were box office poison. Plus a lot of people probably looked at the film and thought the premise was boring and/or stupid and decided to take their kid to the latest Pixar film, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, or Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I remember, very clearly, when I went to see it for the first time, there was hardly anyone in the theater!

I feel like this movie gets a really raw deal, because it’s honestly amazing.

First things first though: this is the type of movie you NEED to see on the big screen in order to fully appreciate. I tried watching it on my computer and had a little trouble staying focused. I decided to watch it on the big screen and BOOM I was hooked in. I think more people might be able to get into this movie better if they watched it in the proper format.

I love the unique world this movie is set in. It’s a traditional culture with access to advanced technology, creating a sort of Steampunk, anachronistic setting that works. It’s a very awesome setting with some truly beautiful scenes and shots. This movie is also really EXCITING, with some truly compelling action sequences and moments of peril.

But what makes this movie really great are the characters of Jim Hawkins and John Silver.

Jim is a well-written teenage boy character. He is sullen and doesn’t always like authority, and can be morally grey at times, but he is very clever and skilled and does develop empathy for others. He has angst issues (all teenagers do), but he’s not whiny, and he seeks to improve or is able to be comforted by Silver. He also has a clever character design: when we first see him, when he’s a delinquent, he wears a black shirt and jacket. When he’s ready to make a change in his life, he still wears the jacket, but is wearing a lighter colored shirt. He later ditches the jacket when he starts to step up into the role of a hero. Finally, when he has set out to make his own path in life, he is wearing all white. Overall, he’s a relatable, enjoyable character.

And Silver is incredible. Given how he’s both fat and disabled, it would have been very easy for the writers and animators to make him repulsive and pure evil. Instead, he can be harsh and authoritative, but can also be warm and comforting. He has loose morals, but doesn’t want to cause unnecessary violence or bloodshed. We sympathize with him because he has longed to have the treasure for what I can assume is most of his life and has made some sacrifices. And despite a rough start, he really and truly does care for Jim, to the point where he is willing to let Jim come with him to go on new adventures.

And that’s the heart and soul of the movie: these two and their bond.

Jim’s father left him, and Silver has no children. Jim sees in Silver a firm but kind father figure who is genuinely interested in him, and Silver sees a capable young boy who he grows a paternal attachment to. The desire for treasure nearly drives them apart, but ultimately, their relationship proves stronger than gold. In the end, they’re not quite as close as they were before, but they still have a strong mutual respect and affection for one another.

I can’t help but get a little sad over the ending though. Silver is free, but he has to say goodbye to Jim and Morph. Jim goes back to his mother and decides to become a respectable member of society but still clearly misses Silver. I like to think they get back together at some point. Either Silver becomes an active good guy, or Jim decides that being a ship’s captain is not for him and joins Silver on his adventures. There was a planned direct to video sequel that would have Jim and Silver teaming up again to fight an even worse pirate, but it was not meant to be. So I can only imagine.

The film still has a few problems. I don’t particularly care for Doctor Delbert (he can be a little too annoying at times) or Amelia (all she does is act prim and proper, yell orders, and gets injured; and btw, did you know at one point she had tentacles for hair? why didn’t they keep that in), and B.E.N., well, let’s just say he won’t be replacing WALL E or Baymax as anyone’s fave robot characters. And how did the crew get hired in the first place when it’s pretty obvious they’re up to no good? Like if you look at Scroop you can tell right away that he’s evil incarnate, why would you let him on a respectable voyage? Amelia points this out, but instead of doing anything about it, she just tells Jim and Doppler not to talk about the map in front of them. Really? And I suppose the story isn’t THAT original or groundbreaking.

But honestly? I absolutely love this movie despite all odds. It holds a very dear place in my heart, along Big Hero 6, Wreck-It Ralph, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This movie has a small cult following but I hope it will grow in stature and become a true classic. It really deserves it.

 

 

The Fall of Steven Universe and Voltron

While I initially felt alone in being critical of the show Voltron, I may have been vindicated. Because fans are starting to turn on the show.

What happened? Allura.

Before the major controversy happened, a lot of people were starting to point out that, for a character who’s coded as black (dark skin and voiced by a black actress), she didn’t really look black.

Picture an African American (or look them up on Google images). What do they typically have in common? Full lips and big, wide noses. You’re hard pressed to find an African American woman with a tiny, upturned nose. And of course they have a wider range of hair styles, too. This is what Allura looks like.

Image result for allura voltron

Note how she has none of those features that are common with black women. It just looks boring and generic. A lot of people pointed it out (and made some awesome edits and redesigns), but things just got worse.

If you watch the show, you might be given the impression that Allura is an adult, given how mature she is (by her looks and personality). She’s actually a teenager.

So…you can’t have the black teenager look and act like a black teenager. All the other teenagers look and act their age, but suddenly, the black girl has to look and act like an adult. Given how black children and teens are perceived to be older (and more violent and scary) than they actually are and therefore less innocent, this is…not a good implication.

What’s worse is that now that Allura is a teen, the possibility of an Keith/Allura/Lotor is very high (since it happened in the original show). You know, Keith, the guy with more chemistry with men and absolutely zero with her until the very tail end of season 2. The guy a lot of people have been hoping to be gay (and be in a relationship with Lance). Nope, can’t have any explicit LGBT characters! Can’t let Allura be with a character she actually has chemistry with (Shiro)!

Trust me, I’m not exaggerating or alone in this. A LOT of people are upset by this, especially black fans. That’s not very good.

So wow. That show got spurred very quick! Which reminds me of another show that’s going downhill: Steven Universe. You can find a lot of info on why this show has gotten so hated recently (just check the “su critical” tag on Tumblr), but basically, the show has been nothing but endless filler and cop out, horrible animation (the characters have consistently gone off model and fat characters have been slimmed down), bad characterization, and unfortunate implications (apparently you’re just as bad as your oppressors or abusers if you fight back against them, and the 14 year old is never wrong).

What the fuck happened? How did these two shows that started off with so much promise go downhill so quickly?

Well, for Steven Universe’s case, it was a myriad of reasons. Like, Rebecca Sugar has a lot of cool ideas and an earnest interest in telling a good, diverse story, but she’s hampered by bad writers and storyboard artists that don’t properly communicate (Lauren Zuke tried to force in a Lapis Lazuli and Peridot romance, and the lead writers, Matt Burnett and Ben Levin, don’t exactly have the best resume if you look them up on IMDb), an over-reliance on filler to stall time for her to get the story figured out, and terrible executives at Cartoon Network that will fuck with the show’s airings. And also, I know this is a conspiracy theory, but I feel that once the show got brownie points for being diverse, the crew stopped giving a shit. They figured they could ride the success of the praise to stay relevant, but people have started to point out the flaws (again, check out the su critical tag, but once you make an episode about a fucking human zoo you’re in deep shit). I just hope the show manages to end on a high note because at this rate I don’t think it’s going to last much longer given the ratings.

I think a similar thing happened for Voltron. I mean it did try to be diverse (none of the Paladins are white men) but it kind of failed (Hunk’s character is nothing but food and fat jokes, no one can agree on Pidge’s gender, and we discussed the problems with Allura). And honestly, I don’t think it’s as well-written as the previous shows Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery worked on (Avatar: The Last Airbender and Justice League: Unlimited).

I guess, ultimately, this is cautionary tale of not being fully committed to diversity or consistent quality writing, and how it can turn off fans completely. So, if you’re an aspiring writer and creator, look at the criticisms these shows get so you can avoid them yourself, make sure you get in with a good network, and make sure you have qualified (and diverse!) staff. Then you can create a show that will be loved for a long time.

In the meantime, let’s hope these two shows improve. I would rather they die heroes than live long enough to see themselves become the villain.

The Many Versions of Beauty and the Beast

With all the hubbub over Disney’s live action movie, I thought now would be a good time to look back at some of the other adaptations of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale.

There are, of course, numerous versions. Some are genuine attempts at art, others just cheap knockoffs of the Disney version. Perhaps a knockoff most people are familiar with is the version by Good Times Entertainment, released a year after Disney’s.

This is…not the best version of the story. Mainly because the more problematic and creepy parts of the story are emphasized. In this version, Beauty comes to the castle under the expectation that she will die. When the Beast spares her (and she thanks him by getting down on her knees and behaving submissively, not a good image), she immediately takes a liking to him. She ignores any warning that he might be dangerous, dreamily talking about how ‘kind’ he is, and dances with him once before he begs her not to leave because he’ll ‘die of loneliness’. Still, better than the Golden Films version, where the Beast is really and truly abusive to Beauty (he yells at her frequently and actually causes her to fall down a flight of stairs in one of his fits).

The worst version is the Bevanfield one; a grotesque, hideously ugly, dreary and cheap as hell adaptation where Beauty’s COUSIN (voiced somehow by Christopher Lee) seeks her hand in marriage. Because that’s totally appropriate for kids!

Thankfully, genuinely good versions of the story do exist. They may not have the extravagance of the Disney version, but they still work.

There is a version by HBO’s Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales For Every Child which takes place in Africa, but unfortunately I’m not sure if a good quality copy of it exists online. On YouTube it’s only available through poor quality VHS rips in small sections. Thankfully, good quality copies of other versions can be found.

This is from the anime series Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It starts off problematic, but gradually gets better as you see the couple actually bond. It’s silly, but it’s nice to see the titular characters get cute together.

This incarnation, by Britannica’s Tales Around the World, is rich in atmosphere. It is visually unique from other versions of the story, creating a moody and original setting and tone. I like some of the added details to the story (such as the Beast slowly losing his humanity) and it’s just overall a haunting and beautiful rendition.

Another visually stunning version by Stories to Remember. Mia Farrow’s narration makes the story warm and comforting. You really feel for the Beast here. It’s like a painting come to life.

But I got to say, I think my fave is probably the version from the Simsala Grimm series.

Why? Because the relationship between Beauty and the Beast is just so POSITIVE. There is no abuse between them whatsoever. The Beast threatens to hold her father prisoner (and you understand why later), but doesn’t demand his daughters in exchange. He lets him go home to say goodbye, and Beauty voluntarily goes. Soon the two of them are happy together, enjoying the castle’s wonders and smiling and laughing. When she rejects his marriage proposal (and calls him out for keeping her hostage) the Beast lets her go. No deadline, no guilt trip (even though he will die). But she comes back, and actually kisses him in the lips! And it’s happily ever after. I just found this version so cute and refreshing.

There are many, many others, so check them out! It’s a tale as old as time, and chances are you’ll find more than one told well.