Monday, March 20, 2006

Cartoons and noise

One of my favorite recent cartoons is Samurai Jack, an action-based cartoon put together by the guy who created Dexter's Laboratory and the recent Star Wars "Clone Wars" cartoons. One of the striking features of Samurai Jack, especially in the 90-minute premiere feature, is the long streches of entirely dialog-free action. Jack experimented freely with both various stylized drawing styles and the use of sound and musical soundtrack.

This stands in strking contrast to the recent popular celebrity-voice-driven animated features like Shrek, Madagascar, and plenty of others where the philosophy seems to be that the closer the animated face and personality is to the voice behind it, the better. (This is perhaps exemplified nowhere better than in Shark Tale, where a great deal of effort was made not only to infuse the performance of the voice actor into the characters' gestures and expressions, but to make the fish characters resemble the voice actors as much as possible.)

What prompted this line of thought? Why, an article in the New York Times, of course.

1 comment:

Tim said...

The NYT article also mentions The Incredibles -- another great example of animated action -- for its dramatic use of silence. They're thinking of Dash's Return of the Jedi-inspired race with enemy speeders, but the scenes where Mr. Incredible and Elasti-Girl sneak around Syndrome's fortress -- here, probably closest to either Hitchcock or Obi-Wan Kenobi's Death Star scenes in the original Star Wars, are even better.

The problem with most animators, it seems, is that they don't have any creative reference other than 1) bubbleheaded Saturday morning cartoons and 2) the 80s-90s slate of Disney hits, which only got crasser and less interesting as they went along and began referencing only themselves. The makers of Samurai Jack and the Pixar films love real cinema and experimental animation as much as they love the great feature-length cartoons of the past, and they (like Miyazaki) know how to tell inventive stories rather than butchering or parodying ones we all know already. That's why they're still vital. Let's all hope they stay that way.