Rubbery = Funny

When I saw Ice Age 4: Continental Drift, and also Madagascar 3, I noticed significant advances in how soft and flexible characters had become. They flop and wiggle and swish and squash all over the place. Sid the Sloth was always the most flexible of the characters, and in this film, his grandmother, shaky with age, added in lots of saggy skin jiggling. During one of the Scrat cutaways, he’s deep undersea and gets squeezed by the pressure into the most remarkably skinny and floppy condition ever. The rigs must have some interesting capabilities, but I’m sure some of the effect comes from various simulations added on top. It’s fantastic work.

In Ice Age 4, the pirates who harass the heroes were also quite loose in their movement. The badger could turn himself into a flag, the rabbit was quicksilver fast, the sea elephant was a blob of jelly, and they are led by this ape:

The ape, voiced by Peter Dinklage, had a very mobile face with big lips that could take on extreme shapes. His body could also twist quite beyond what a muscular ape should be able to do. And it bothered me. While I appreciated the effect in most of the other characters, in him I didn’t like it. And I figure it’s because he’s the villain. The title of this post is “Rubbery = funny.” Therefore, the rubbery motion was working at funny, while his lines were working at evil. The animation was working against him. His character isn’t meant to be funny, like the chimps in Madagascar 3.

Consider Diego, the sabertooth. He’s not rubbery, he’s strong and solid, and was originally part of the pack of bad guys. In the trio of stars, he’s the straight man. He’s not supposed to be that funny. It’s good to have that contrast in characters and motion.

So the opposite would be generally true as well: Rigid = scary. Some examples of that.

Rigidity could possibly be funny, but in general, life is soft and flexible.

The Out of Step Character

Denny Willes and the Hunting Quartet

If one thing defines the comedic character, it is their inability to fit in with expected behavior. One of the oldest ways to make a character funny is to put them with a group who are all moving in unison and have the comedic character not fit in. In the examples below, you’ll see ways to develop the fundamental idea.

There are two basic situations where this is commonly found. Dancing, and marching. And the comic character can be out of sync in three different ways. Wrong timing, wrong action, and wrong speed. It’s important too note how much they use each of them. Having them do every thing wrong is not necessarily funnier.

In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Dopey is clearly the funny one. He never speaks, but from the very beginning, we know he’s the odd man out when he can’t keep in step during the dwarfs’ march home. This is a very simple example.

Seven Dwarfs marching gif

In the Fantasia mushroom dance, the littlest mushroom is often, but not always, moving in the wrong direction or at the wrong speed. They don’t overplay it by having it be continuously wrong.

In Lilo and Stitch, Lilo has no problem doing the hula in time with the other dancers. It’s a lovely bit of animation, and they wisely didn’t ruin it with an old gag. However, she arrives a little late, and that’s enough to say something about her character. The fact that she can immediately fall in step, and her expression showing her satisfaction with herself, is very appealing.

Lilo hula dance gif

This next video, sent to me by Stephen Worth, is of a single act that is not part of a larger narrative, and it’s a full-on slapstick act built around the out of step character. This is also a good example of English Music Hall comedy.

There have been many comedies about the military, and problems with marching is an old trope. Here are two clips of Charlie Chaplin working the material in his own style. In this first one, he is in time with the others, but is doing the wrong thing. is

The soldier who can’t stay in step is an old gag, so when a new act wants to use it, they must develop some new angle on it. In this clip from Laurel & Hardy’s Bonnie Scotland, Laurel cannot stay in step with the company. So what does he do? He makes the rest of the company change to match him.

This next video is impressive for its sheer scale. Comic actor Bill Irwin is the drum major for a very large marching band. It’s unusual because he is supposed to be the leader of the group. He’s out of sync, but they keep going. I love the moment where he appears to redirect the entire band by pulling one flag bearer in a new direction.

Comedy for Animators on Amazon

International Cartoon Comedy

Animated shows based on visual comedy have one great advantage over those built on scripted dialog: the international market. Cartoons not based on verbal story telling and jokes can be appreciated by everyone. It’s why Charlie Chaplin was able to achieve world wide stardom.

It’s also the kind of comedy I love. In this post I have collected a handful of examples of fun animated programs that rely on physical comedy. ALL of them are produced outside of the U.S. American studios don’t seem to have the drive to make this sort of stuff. I imagine U.S. executives like the system of reading scripts too much.

If you know of more PLEASE leave a comment here or on Facebook.

Minuscule – France

Minuscule is a french production that puts CG insects into live action environments. They have completed six seasons, and two feature films. You can read more about the first feature HERE. The second film was recently in theaters in France, and I hope to see it soon. Here is a sample from the program.

Cracked – Canada

Cracked is a series of shorts about a fatherly bird, anxious Ed, and the brood of eggs he looks after. The comedy is similar to Blue Sky’s Scrat shorts, with Ed suffering extreme bad luck and physical abuse. The first episodes are directed by Patrick Beaulieu and Edouard Tremblay for Productions Squeeze.

Lamput – India

From Wikipedia:

Lamput is an Indian series of shorts created by Vaibhav Kumaresh and produced by Vaibhav Studios, consisting of 15 seconds micro shorts that were extended to 2 minutes for the second season.

Animated Mr. Bean – England

Rowan Atkinson has said that his Mr. Bean character has the maturity of an 11 year old boy. He has retired from playing him because it becomes odd for an older man to behave like a kid. Animation is the perfect solution for this. Atkinson is closely involved in creating the series, to make sure his character stays true to what he knows the audience expects. All of his experience is more valuable than any team of writers.

Shaun the Sheep – England

From the great Aardman Animation comes the stop motion television program Shaun the Sheep. It’s one of my personal favorites. Shaun’s second feature film is about to be released. The show has one of the best theme songs ever.

The Most Famous Animated Film You’ve Never Heard Of.

Flaklypa / Pinchcliffe Grand Prix.

There is a Swedish manufacturer of super high performance cars called Koenisegg, named after it’s founder, Christian Von Koenisegg. I just discovered that his inspiration to build fast cars came from a stop motion animated film he saw when he was five years old. The film is Norway’s Flåklypa Grand Prix (1975). Also known with the English title The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix, it was a massive hit in Norway and other countries. This from Wikipedia:

The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix (NorwegianFlåklypa Grand Prix) is a Norwegian stop motion-animated feature film directed by Ivo Caprino. It was released in 1975 and is based on characters from a series of books by Norwegian cartoonist and author Kjell Aukrust. It is the most widely seen Norwegian film of all time…

To describe how popular the film was, here is a trivia fact from IMDB.

Since its premiere on 28 August 1975, the movie was shown at a cinema somewhere in the world every day of the week, for 28 years. Mainly in theaters in Norway, Moscow or Tokyo, the non-stop run ended in 2003.

The story centers around an inventive bicycle repairman and his two animal friends who build a ridiculously fast car to race against a villain who has stolen his technology.

The film is available for purchase on disc, and there is a trailer for it. But the trailer is poorly edited and doesn’t give the best impression of the story or animation. As a sample I am embedding a music video made with footage from the film. It’s much more enjoyable.

The centerpiece of the story is the race car, Il Tempo Gigante. Look at this gorgeous model. It’s undoubtedly the hero piece used for closeups.

Ivo Caprino and Il Tempo Gigante
Ivo Caprino and Il Tempo Gigante

And I have to include this BTS shot of the shirtless animators on set.

As stated, the story came from illustrator Kjell Aukrust.

Kjell Aukrust
Kjell Aukust

While the film has many qualities, Aukrust may be the real discovery for me. Here is one of his drawings of Il Tempo Gigante.

Here are some other drawings he did.

Il Tempo Gigante is so popular in Norway, there is a full scale working version that still tours the country for charity events.

There is actually a theory that the pod race sequence in Star Wars, The Phantom Menace was modeled after the race in this movie. Watch this side by side, and see what you think.

I appreciate this review of the movie, from an English speaking Norwegian.

Finally, while the whole film is not online, this appears to be the first 8.5 minutes

Know Your Comedy: FARCE

One Froggy Evening.

If you work in entertainment, you almost certainly have heard the word “farce.” I have noticed that it tends to be used to describe most any comedic situation or story. In some ways, that is accurate. The word Farce is derived from the Latin “farcire” which means to stuff or fill. In the middle ages, farces were short comedies used to fill in between the dreadfully serious morality plays that the church required. Their sole purpose was to make people laugh.

But as time goes on words develop, and farce can refer to specific kinds of comedy. Fortunately for us, the simplest explanation of what constitutes farce comes from legendary animation director Chuck Jones.

“Comedy is unusual people in real situations; farce is real people in unusual situations.”  

Chuck Jones directed some of the greatest cartoons in history, and one of them is a perfect example of farce. The protagonist of One Froggy Evening is a random man working on a building site. There is nothing unusual about him at all. But he finds himself in the unusual situation of possessing a frog who, sometimes, will sing and dance. Hilarity ensues.

Most definitions of farce will include the phrase “Highly improbable situations” and that is what makes the difference. Any story that includes mistaken identities is absolutely a farce. Some stories feature identical twins who are mistaken for one another. Tex Avery directed Double Trouble, starring Droopy Dog. He is in the role of a manservant at a wealthy man’s mansion. He invites his identical twin brother Drippy to help out with his work. The rascally dog Spike talks Droopy into letting him into the mansion. Through a highly improbable series of events, Droopy and Drippy are never in the same room with Spike. Droopy tries to make Spike comfortable, but when he leaves, the trained boxer Drippy comes in and beats the hell out of him. In farce, the audience can see what is going on, while characters in the story, like Spike, are understandably confused. How they react to the confusing events is where the humor comes from. Often their choices that make things worse.

Droopy's Double Trouble

Classical stage farces use physical comedy as well as verbal comedy. They are also known for moving at a rapid pace. Both of these characteristics make animation the perfect medium for farce.

Let’s contrast this with the other half of Chuck’s quote, comedy is unusual people in real situations. A sportsman hunting a rabbit, is essentially a realistic situation. But when the sportsman is Elmer Fudd, and the rabbit is Bugs Bunny, it becomes a comedy. A good example in live action is Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean. His short films are about him going through normal activities, like taking an exam, going to the dentist, the beach, or to church. It’s his unusual behavior that generates the laughter. When Mr. Bean is in feature films, then the stories need to be developed more, and farcical elements get used to take him to places he might not normally go.

The bottom line is, farce comes more from the writer and the story, while comedy relies more on character and the actor.

If you enjoyed this post, I recommend you CLICK HERE to learn about “bathos”

But if you really want to learn about comedy in animation, click the image below.

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