I’m guessing that most visitors don’t look at the few comments this blog gets. But Stephen Worth, director of the ASIFA Hollywood Animation Archive, sometimes leaves excellent remarks. So I’m going to post his latest one here, and call it “Worth Reading.” Hopefully the first in a series.
In response to my THOR post, ( I can’t help putting THOR in capitals ) Stephen brought a valuable perspective on the use of archetypes in animation.
Most super heroes are cardboard cutouts because the focus is on the unimportant stuff… The McGuffin. Superpowers don’t automatically make a character interesting. Specificity of personality does.
Bogart is Bogart and Chaplin is Chaplin. They can be in just about any situation that fits their own internal logic and be interesting. It doesn’t matter if they can see through walls or bounce bullets off their chest. The vividness of their individuality is what makes them compelling.
In The Incredibles, the family were so ordinary and archetypal, they became symbols of their characters… Generic dad, generic mom, generic kids… The only thing that made them truly unique was their super powers, which put all the emphasis on the McGuffin. When the one specific and unique personality in the whole movie– Edna walked on the screen, she wiped the floor with every one other character. It was impossible to care about any other character when she was on the screen.
Had the emphasis been on creating specific personalities for the rest of the cast, we wouldn’t be talking about super powers and details of the plot, we’d be talking about the characters and their particular motivations. The personalities would make the whole thing work, regardless of the situational details.
Animation’s most deadly disease is archetypal characters. It was the internal rot that brought down Disney in the 70s, and it threatens to do the same today. We need to look to specific characters like Olive Oyl, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck for inspiration. And instead of building symbolic characters like Father Knows Best and Leave It To Beaver, we need to create individuals like Barney Fife, Fred Mertz and Miss Jane Hathaway. If the characters were more compelling, we wouldn’t be arguing things like “who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman?”