My Little Pony and Commedia dell ‘arte

Youtube user Gimrak created this interesting comparison of My Little Pony characters to those found in the Italian commedia dell ‘arte. The rennaisance theater known as the commedia dell’arte gave the world a cast of characters that is still considered the foundation for archetypes in comedy. It was a robust style of theater worthy of the attention of animators.

While I very much appreciate anyone who takes the time to bring classic comedy education to animation, I would like to add my thoughts to his. I have no doubt he knows My Little Pony way better than I do, but I have researched the commedia pretty well.

His comparison of Fluttershy to Pedrolino is convincing. As is comparing Pinky Pie to Arlecchino. Trixie is clearly a braggart coward like Capitano.

However, the Italian Dottore (doctor) is more a fool than the pony counterparts he invokes. Discord, in MLP, seems to hold the role of a leading villain, which is more than lower/middle class Pulcinella would ever assume. He refers to zanni as a female character. The original Zanni was male, and later the name was extended to a class of characters.

I was unfamiliar with Flavio and Vittoria, probably because they are lesser known members of the inamorata, (the lovers) so I was glad to learn a little something about them. I hope that this video and post will inspire those in animation to learn more about the roots of cartoon comedy. My book is devoted to giving those in animation a solid understanding of comedy history. Click the image at the bottom to go to Amazon. Also, I have a few other posts on the topic, HERE IS A LINK to the topic here.

Comedy for Animators on Amazon

Animated Acting: Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka

Gene Wilder was a tremendous comic actor. I have assembled a few videos, with some text for animators to add to their understanding of comedy. This first one focuses on Wilder’s mastery of timing. While a fast pace is often conducive to comedy, knowing when to pause can help build a laugh.

Stories are about revealing character. Therefore, it goes without saying that characters are not always what they seem to be. Often they learn and grow and change. Other times, they are simply misunderstood. Wreck-It Ralph is misunderstood. He’s the “bad guy” who wants to be a hero. But sometimes, characters present themselves in a way to intentionally mislead those around them. It has become rather common in Disney films to have the real bad guy be someone nobody suspected. In Wreck-it Ralph, King Candy seems relatively harmless until it’s revealed he is out to destroy other games.

Wilder’s Wonka is a good example of a good character who misleads. He is extremely controlling, and this is one way he controls his interactions. He doesn’t want to be vulnerable. Wonka’s sudden explosion of anger at the end of the movie is a turn in the character arc that is just plain shocking. Of course, he reveals his true motives at the end of the same scene. It is not in the original book and is a brilliant moment added by the filmmakers. I assume nearly everyone reading this has seen Willy Wonka, and remembers Wonkas first appearance, when he limps out towards the crowd, then stumbles and does a flip. You can see it in my 10 Types of Comedic Entrances video. In this animated video, Wilder explains how his entrance into the movie was part of this character’s style.

For a kids movie, Wonka’s outburst is really strong and I am impressed by how he didn’t hold back. This remixed video highlights Wilder’s animated acting.

This next video observes how Gene Wilder didn’t always have to be the center of attention. He could share the spotlight in the interest of the story.

Gene Wilder died in 2016, and every television network devoted time to remember him. Here is just one of those memorials.

If you want to learn more about comedy and animation, click the image below.

Comedy for Animators on Amazon

Physically Funny Females

Theater Licedei

In the history of comedy, funny female characters are greatly outnumbered by males. I won’t go into the historical debate about why this has been so, I just want to try to provide inspiration for animators to find new ways for women to get laughs. There is more to women in comedy than Lucille Ball.

In student animation videos women characters are often relegated to acting out a lip synced line from a romantic comedy. She’ll use girlish gestures like brushing the hair from her face. They are usually cute and appealing in VERY conventional ways.

I am here to show you how to not be conventional with your female characters. There are women in clown schools and theaters developing wonderful acts that go way beyond what animators are doing.

I was inspired to write this post when I stumbled onto some videos of women clowns from Teatr Licedei in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Licedei, BTW, means “Those who pull faces.” These women are bold pantomime comedians. The company appears to be an equal balance of men and women. I just chose the videos that feature the ladies.

In my book, I bring up “rivalry” as a comic starting point. Typically it is 2 male rivals for the attention of a female, like Popeye and Bluto. I have started to notice that when women are competing for the attention of a man, it is likely to be 3 or more. This is what happens in this next video. Note how each character has a signature way of moving.

I really like this next woman’s act. I should point out there is nothing about this act that makes it feminine. She uses the very same methods that male clowns have used for at least a century. She goes through excessive preperation for playing her tiny violin. She strikes strong poses and swings the bow with a beautiful arc. She pulls funny faces. It’s great physical performance regardless of gender.

This next one is a two part act. The first part is a parody of a ballet dance, but with some grotesque costuming. The woman does have some ballet skills, she can dance on pointe, which gives here license to get silly with the rest of it. The second part has three male clowns dealing with the leftovers of the first act.

What do you think of these acts? Would you like to see more? Do you know of any funny females you would like to others to know about? Please leave a comment below!

Frank Tashlin’s leg fetish.

Artists and Models
Promo image for Tashlin’s movie Artists and Models

Before Tim Burton, Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton made the jump from animation to live action, there was Frank Tashlin, Looney Tunes director. Here is an interesting compilation of shots from both his cartoons and movies that illustrate his appreciation of women’s legs.

What are shaggy dog stories?

Shaggy dog at his desk.
Shaggy dog takes a break from writing his story.

Over the years I have heard the term “shaggy dog” story and I decided it was time to really understand what that means. After doing some internet research I learned that a shaggy dog story is basically a long-winded joke with an anti-climactic ending. It involves an extensive build-up, featuring many details and challenges to the subject of the story. But the punchline doesn’t resolve anything. It actually renders everything that occurred prior to having been pointless.

The origin of the name “shaggy dog” is up for debate. It first appeared in the 1930s. After reading various examples, I have created a brief version that works for my purpose.

A wealthy Englishman loses his beloved dog, which happens to be quite shaggy. As he is a man of means, he puts out a worldwide notice offering a fabulous reward for the return of the dog. In America a fellow finds a shaggy dog wandering about his hometown. He feels certain this must be THE dog. He puts all his available funds into transporting himself and the dog across the Atlantic. After many trials and tribulations, he finally arrives at the estate of the dog owner. He knocks at the door.

The butler answers the door, and the man presents the dog. The butler simply says, “He’s not that shaggy” and closes the door in his face.

The ending of the story may be an anti-climax, but it is definitely an ending. And a good ending can leave an impression on the audience. It really helps if the audience never sees it coming. Comedy is often about revealing human folly, and a shaggy dog story will do that. The more energy a character puts into a pointless endeavor, the more foolish he looks in the end.

This type of story construction works very well for animation. I could have described the man’s journey with the dog in a series of comical misadventures. The dog could have a personality that makes everything more difficult. Anything could happen because, in the end, it’s irrelevant.

In the western-themed Tex Avery short Deputy Droopy, two crooks try to steal a safe from the sheriff’s office while the sheriff is asleep. While they try to be absolutely quiet, Droopy pulls painful pranks on them that cause them to run to the hills to scream. There seem to be infinite variations on how they suffer. In the end, they quit trying and willingly enter the jail, only to learn the sheriff’s hearing aid had dead batteries and he wouldn’t have heard them anyway.

Tex Avery's Deputy Droopy

There is a great example in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Roger is goofing around and he handcuffs himself to the detective Eddie Valiant. Eddie does not have the key for the handcuffs. This causes lots of problems for the two of them, and finally, they get to a secret room at the bar where Eddie struggles to hacksaw off the handcuffs. Here is a video of how it finally ends…

Roger’s response is my favorite line from that movie. I said before that the punchline makes what came before pointless, but in this situation, there was a purpose for this whole story event. The handcuffs motivate the two of them to move from Eddie’s apartment to the bar where Eddie believes he can get them out of it, so it actually does serve a purpose, but in a funny way. Had Eddie simply sawed off the cuffs, it wouldn’t be funny, right? The right punchline makes it all work. STORY ARTISTS AND WRITERS TAKE NOTE OF THAT.

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