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. 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!

My reading – A History of the Hal Roach Studios

I recently finished reading A History of the Hal Roach Studios written by Richard Lewis Ward.  Hal Roach, for those who don’t know, was a motion picture producer who operated a studio from the silent era to the dawn of television.  He was one of the most successful producers of comedy ever.  His actors included Harold Lloyd, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.  It was his idea to put Laurel and Hardy together, and he created the Our Gang/Little Rascals series.

This isn’t really a book review.  The book was what I expected it to be, which is a history of the studio and it’s operation.  It’s about show business, not about art or comedy.  I find show business to be an interesting topic, but many people would not.  I wouldn’t want to bore anyone with details, but I recall some interesting bits.

Hal Roach met Harold Lloyd when they were both in a holding room waiting for work acting as extras for movies. At the time Hal told Lloyd his plans to become a film maker, and to hire Lloyd. Harold Lloyd was his only money making star for a long time.

He had Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy on separate contracts.  And their renewal dates were never in sync.   This made it very difficult for L & H to break away to another studio or out on their own.   Stan Laurel was the creative energy in the partnership and If Laurel started to walk, Roach immediately planned work for Hardy without Laurel.  Roach attempted to partner Hardy with Harry Langdon , but the results were a failure.  Stan Laurel didn’t get anywhere on his own, and returned to the studio.

The last item is a bit of trivia, but I found it interesting.  As children in The Little Rascals started to grow too old for their parts, plans were made to replace them.  The new player would join the gang for a few pictures before the previous one was retired.  That way the gang was a fluid group, and the audience didn’t notice a sudden change in the line up.   The technique avoided the sort of situation the Three Stooges had when Curly dropped out and we were given a succession of replacements.

Hal Roach had a combination of good business sense, and good luck.  Obviously he had many successes, but the book was more likely to give numbers on how much money was lost on which productions.  Several times the studio came close to ruin.  I guess financial losses are more dramatic.  Reading it leaves me wondering how they stayed in business at all.  The hits must have outnumbered the flops, though.  Obviously it is a stressful way to make a living, and it’s good to recognize how difficult it is to be a successful producer.

Eventually Hal Roach let his son Hal Roach Jr. buy out the company and try to make it in television production. He did poorly, and wasn’t able to pay off the debt to his father. Hal Roach Jr. died at 52 years old. Hal Roach Sr. lived to a hundred.

Here is the first part of a two part interview with Mr. Roach.

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