Super Powers

I could easily tip into a rant on this topic.  But here is my basic premise:

Super Powers are a shortcut for creativity.

And by super powers I am including extreme martial arts skills, super genius intelligence and freaky mutations.  Somehow, these have become all to common in animation.

Charlie Chaplin taught us that comedy is the little guy against the big world.  All he has are his wits.  Cartoon characters used to have to prove themselves.  They start off as underdogs and by effort and cleverness they win.

I’m not saying we should never use super powers, but it can’t define the character.  The character has to demonstrate more individuality than suddenly achieving that long sought kung fu move or whipping up a new invention to save himself.

Cartoon characters by nature have at least one super power.  They can’t die.

Playing against type

Playing against type is a common method of creating funny characters.  It involves a character whose voice or behavior is in opposition to their physical appearance.  Here are some examples:

  1. A sweet little girl has extreme martial arts skills.
  2. An old granny who is a fantastic acrobat.
  3. An effeminate homeboy.
  4. A big muscular guy who worries about breaking a finger nail.
  5. A Troll who is an effeminate homeboy.

Of course you wouldn’t want to overuse the technique because it would create a world you couldn’t believe in.   It’s better to use it sparingly, it’s funnier that way.  If you were, for example, to put all those characters in a film together, the results would be a disorienting calamity.

SUCH AS HOODWINKED TWO

Yes, the writers of Hoodwinked 2 try to make nearly every character a contradiction. How can you connect with any of them?  The effect is funny at first, but the joke can wear out quickly.   The wolf who is just plain stupid isn’t really a contradiction, but he’s…  just plain stupid.  The troll who is an effeminate homeboy even doubles down on the technique.  The only character I find the tiniest bit interesting is the frog, who appears to be the straight man,  and it’s because he’s not like the others.  It really is best if no more than 1 secondary character plays against his or her type.

 

 

Rango walks like Buster Keaton

It is obvious Rango pays tribute to seemingly every western film ever made, and I just realized one in particular. I don’t think I’m giving away any spoilers, but I reference a couple of early scenes.

Buster Keaton made “Go West” in 1925. He plays a down on his luck easterner who hops a freight train and heads west to find his fortune.  On the train he falls into a barrel, which rolls out the door and smashes into pieces on the ground. Which is similar to Rango and his terrarium falling into the desert. Shortly after that, he wanders onto a cattle ranch, and we get this scene here:

When Rango enters the town of Dirt he doesn’t want to attract attention, so he imitates three of the walks he sees there.

Buster doesn’t just see a peculiar walk and instantly replicate it perfectly.  Charlie Chaplin would probably do that.  With Buster there are lots of little things happening.

  1. He stops and spends a moment watching the cowboy walk.
  2. He looks down at his legs, and gets the initial pose.  This is build up.
  3. Then he fully enters the walk, which is funnier for the discrete steps in getting there.
  4. As he reaches the foreman he wobbles and falls.
  5. He gets back up, but closer to his normal state, then he pops back down into the cowboy walk.

It’s more than just a funny walk, Buster emphasizes the unsteadiness of his feet and his imitation, which makes it more endearing.

I wonder if Buster inspired this scene in Rango.

 

 

Own your character

Yesterday I related the story of Soupy Sales meeting a clown with a Krusty like attitude.   Soupy explained to the clown how his character could easily be replaced by another guy, with the same make up.

But that’s not necessarily true.  If the studio hired the guy to fill the giant shoes, that’s one thing.  But if the clown owns his character, he owns the trademark to the makeup and costume.  If he were very successful, say like Bozo the clown, he would be in a more powerful position.  He could even license out the image to someone else.  Krusty could have said, “Yeah, but if I am successful, I can hire 6 guys to play me in different cities, and pay each half what I make.  I could make three times as much for doing nothing.”

And it happens.

Here are three guys called “Blue Man Group”

I saw them decades ago off Broadway in NYC.  It was probably the originators of the show.   Would I recognize them anywhere else?  No way.  Now they have multiple shows playing, and those guys don’t put on the blue masks any longer.  They just administer the company.  In fact, Blue Man Group could easily continue after they are dead.

It’s good to own your character.

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