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
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.
If you are writing comedy screenplays, here is a short document that is worth your time to read. It’s by television writer David Evans. I have mixed feelings about “laws” and “rules” in art, but generally these things are simply guidelines on how to go about the work. One of the laws here is a “step sheet.” That is simply another term for an outline.
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:
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.
And I have to include this BTS shot of the shirtless animators on set.
As stated, the story came from illustrator Kjell Aukrust.
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
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.
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.
In this post, you’ll learn six types of immature characters who are easy to find in animation. They tend to be one of two archetypes, the fool, or the trickster.
We are all capable of being fools. While there are characters that are just plain stupid, there are many more characters who are simply inexperienced in some way. Often, the secret to making someone look stupid or foolish is to just put them with others who know more. The most common way to do that is by having the character be less mature than those around him. We all go through the process of growing up, and understand the challenges, the failures, and hopefully, the success. Comedy thrives when the audience can relate to what the character is going through. And characters going through changes are what stories are usually about.
This post will be about adult characters. Oviously, children are immature by nature, so they are not included. Also, this is category of characters is overwhelmingly male. There is just one type where females are sometimes found. Perhaps if we get more women creators some new concepts for female characters like this will develop.
This is an obvious one. The man child is the fully grown dude who still maintains childlike, or childish, behavior. Probaby the most extreme example is Baby Brent from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. He relies on his early success as a child model so much he still publicly appears in diapers.
Playing with toys is one way to tell a man child. In Kung Fu Panda, Po plays with toy models of the Furious Five, and engages in fantasies about being as great as they are.
Slackers are characters with no interest in being part of society, or commiting to relationships. They value their freedom above all else. The appeal here is wish fulfillment. Adults can imagine not having responsibilities, while children see them as heroes who avoided the fate of being a boring grown up. Animals work well for this, as they have a “wild” nature that gives them a reasonable excuse.
Baloo the Bear from Disney’s The Jungle Book is an endearing example.
Tramp, from Lady and the Tramp, is the footloose bachelor who fears having a collar.
The Defiant Ones
Defiant characters are like slackers in that they don’t want to have responsibilities. But they don’t just avoid the expectations of adulthood, they consciously oppose it. The shining example of this is the trickster Peter Pan. He has a full on philosophy about not growing up. He wants to remain where he can indulge in his fantasy play and always be in control.
Second, is Lampwick, from Pinocchio. Again, the key word is indulgence. When the adolescent boys go to Pleasure Island, they indulge in all the freedoms of adulthood, with smoking, drinking, gambling, etc but accept none of the cares. Technically, these two could be considered children, but they are on the cusp and in a position to chose, so I am adding them to the list.
One a side note, notice that Lampwick’s sleeves are a bit short, and his trousers too. This is a common way to costume an immature character. Their bodies have outgrown their clothes, and it represents their physical changes contrasted with the clothing of their youth. They haven’t moved up yet. Pee Wee Herman’s outfit is a good example.
Earnest Young Man
We have seen three characters who avoid adulthood. But there are characters that aspire to be the best men they can be. They want to contribute to society and be respected. This has been a common character in live action films for many decades. Silent film star Harold Lloyd was known for this style of comedy. In animation, it’s common for these characters to be inventors. They have fresh and strange new ideas of what to invent, and their efforts initially don’t work, which makes them look awkward and foolish. In Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Flint Lockwood created the screwy machine that rained food down on his city, as well as spray on shoes.
Additionally, like adolescent boys, these characters not smooth with the ladies.
Two other animated examples are Flik, from A Bug’s Life. And Hiccup, from How to Train Your Dragon.
The Spoiled Adult
Spoiled children as still sometimes found in modern films, but the spoiled adult is somewhat uncommon. It’s kind of a variation on the Man Child. Back in the 1920’s Buster Keaton sometimes played a wealthy young man who was so pampered he barely knew how to take care of himself. There is one good example in animation. Kuzco from The Emperor’s New Groove.
Here is where we may find a female version. The Spoiled Princess. Any spoiled adult female could be disparagingly called a “princess”. Cinderella’s selfish step sisters qualify as spoiled adults.
The Momma’s Boy
Adult momma’s boys are funnier when they are older, as in middle age. As young men, it still seems a bit endearing to be attached to your mother. But as one progesses into life, it becomes increasingly ridiculous. The most prominent example is Principal Skinner from The Simpsons. In his position as principal, he is supposed to be the personification of adulthood, but his immature relationship with his mother belies all of that.