Worth Reading

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?”


Earlier I posted about superpowers being a shortcut for creating interesting characters. After seeing Thor recently, I must say that superheroes become most interesting when they are not using their powers.  Since the comic books are such a huge world to themselves, I’m limiting my thoughts to the movie versions.


I saw Thor last week.  When Thor loses his god powers and becomes a mortal among humans, is when he is most entertaining. He’s still a viking, and vikings are cool, especially among scientists and pretty girls. Muscles aside, he’s charming and confident, and that makes him interesting. His vulnerability at that point also makes us have empathy towards him. To the audience, he is now more real.   Superpowers, while spectacular, push characters outside our world.  It’s when they come down to earth, like Thor, that we can experience their real “character.”

It is the same way with Robert Downy Jr. in Ironman. When he is Tony Stark, his cockiness and wit get laughs.  Pepper Potts treats him like a regular guy, which grounds him in reality.   It’s a formula that really works.  I have to say Bruce Wayne (Batman) never held my interest that much.

This is why The Incredibles is a great superhero story.   Their superpowers are constantly used for action and comedy, but it’s their situations that make them relatable.  As a family, they have all the same issues that regular families have.  The fact that society has rejected them and having to keep their nature secret is a pressure way beyond what normal families live with, and we see them dealing with it.  It all works together organically to create a rich story experience.


National Mood and Cartoon Content

Here is something interesting.

Socionomics.net posted a two part article about national mood, measured in Dow Jones “bull” and “bear” markets, being reflected in the content of cartoons.  In a nutshell, when the markets are up, cartoon content is more positive.  When markets are down, content becomes more serious and cynical.  Here are some of the graphics

The articles are not difficult reading, and offer some interesting perspective on animation history. And it makes sense. When life is good, people do not want to question it, they want to enjoy it. When life is difficult, people like to see stories about others in difficult situations, because they can relate to it.

Here are the links: PART 1 and PART 2

I particularly like this graphic, although I’m not sure I agree with the “art” category.

Looney Tunes/The Amazing World of Gumball

I don’t watch much television animation.    I still watch the Simpsons, occasionally. Recently I noticed that the new Looney Tunes show was on, so I gave it a chance.  I spent most the show with my face screwed up in a confused expression.  I just don’t like Bug’s and Daffy’s suburban existence.  The CG Roadrunner bit did have some notable qualities, staying mostly true to it’s roots, with decent animation for a television show.  I wanted more of that.

But it was the show that followed Looney Tunes that inspired me to write this post. Where the Looney Tunes have grown stale, a fresh set of characters has made me a fan.  The Amazing World of Gumball, produced by Studio Soi in Germany, really caught me by surprise.   It uses a mixed media approach, with photographic backgrounds, then combinations of 2D and 3D characters.  Gumball is a comedy about a suburban family.   (Yes, they belong in the suburbs, unlike Bugs and Daffy)  Gumball’s Mom is a cat, his dad is a rabbit.  Gumball is a cat, the little sister, Anais, is a rabbit.   But of course it doesn’t matter.  The family pet, a goldfish, has evolved into a third sibling.  His name is Darwin.  They are all 2D characters.   The rest of the town is a mixture of all kinds.  The kids go to school with a CG T-rex, and anthropomorphized food such as a banana and toast. Their teacher is some sort of ape. But they are all fun.   It recreates the energy of Sponge Bob, but stands on it’s own.   Sponge Bob had sincerity, which is something lacking in most of the “edgy” tv shows.  Gumball has that sincerity.  The simple stories are carried out with fierce energy and great timing.   The voices of Gumball’s family are very good.  Where the Looney Tunes belong to an earlier generation of artists, Gumball shows the enthusiasm you get from original creators The real test?  My 9 year old laughed.  Bravo!

Dancing to cartoony sound effects

This is a really interesting dance piece done at my alma mater, NYU. It’s artsy, yet funny. The dancer reminds me of Jim Carrey. I just wish the camera were closer.

Maybe the 11 second club should post a sound clip like this, something non narrative and a little wacky. Or make one for yourself.

%d bloggers like this: