Monday, July 20, 2009

And so the loud opinion begins!

My name is Peter Turner. I pretentiously call myself Professor Fate. You would too if you had seen The Amazing Race and loved the confounding purity of cartoonish villains as much as I do.

I have a lot of opinions about animation, and it's probably alternative to what you are used to. As such, I didn't know where to begin when I decided to rip off one of my personal heroes and begin a fiercely opinionated animation blog. My friend Meo suggested I begin with something 'classy', but I'm about as un-classy as they come so I guess I'll start with something recent and relevant.
I just saw an animated movie today, and it was Don Bluth's Anastasia.

I will preface this rant by saying that I am the kind of guy who will spend the time he should be spending with a girlfriend watching movies that were aimed at ten year olds. Partly so I can study the animation frame-by-frame, but mostly so I can cry at the sad bits and really wish the bad guy would win for a change, because his dance number is way better than everyone else's.
Therefore, I still have that rare gift of being able to get into the mind of a kid and really enjoy these movies - provided they're good.

For what it is, Anastasia is good. It's very good compared to a lot of its competition, and I would say a cut above most Disney stuff. However, it suffers the same drawbacks of practically every other Studio big-budget animated film.

  • The characters break out into song needlessly. Am I the only one who didn't like the song and dance sequences in these movies, even when I was three years old? I remember waddling out of the room and coming back when the singing stopped before I was tall enough to reach the light switch.
  • The villain had a huge build up, but both the final confrontation and the ending were weak and "Disney 101". Bluth has a reputation for sucking at story, but he was doing pretty well with Anastasia before I found myself scratching my head for the last ten minutes of the film. In fact, beyond the opening scene, Rasputin's involvement with the plot was far less than it should have been. They had potential and they wasted it.
  • The cartoony sidekick, while cute, has no reason for being there. The stupid puppy whose name I can't remember had a number of moments in the film where it had some small impact on the plot, so why doesn't Bartok? Why waste Hank Azaria's funny acting? Oh, right. Sequels.
  • Anastasia and Dimitri both have American accents. This is a pet peeve of mine with all American cinema - executive bigwigs seem to be under the impression that Americans will not watch a film unless it has Americans in it, even if they are Russian. It mostly comes down to casting big name American actors who probably fail hard at Russian accents, and so are told by the director not to bother.
  • But you know what I really don't like about this film? Like, really, REALLY don't like about it?

I shouldn't get so worked up about the hero's hairstyle. But I do. Dimitri's hair has been seen in virtually every other Don Bluth movie to date, and a number of films from other studios.

It is a very specific hairstyle, and not one you see very often. But it seems to have permeated every animated movie in the world!!

Incidentally, I actually really liked Titan A.E. It wasn't perfect, there were huge story problems and a bunch of characters that didn't need to be there, but for a Don Bluth film it was surprisingly progressive. But Cale's hairstyle is just so goddamn generic.

It's not just Bluth who does it! This fucking hair appears everywhere!!

Oh wow, this guy has a mullet! That's a bit of a difference, I suppose. At least it's only the rest of the hairstyle that looks exactly the same. I guess this universal hairstyle that all good men have wasn't around back in those days.

Disney is trying to get more creative with it now. But you can still spot it if you have a keen eye.

You know what I think it is?
The animators are too fucking lazy to learn how to draw men's hair. So they sat down one day and learned how to draw one style, and that's all anyone knows how to do. For the characters that have really BIZARRE hairstyles (like, say, short hair, or maybe long hair if they're feeling adventurous), they will need to hand it to more experienced, hardened animators who know what they're doing.

At the end of the day I enjoyed Anastasia, and I can see why it won so much praise. I think it's remarkably good for a Don Bluth effort (I am not the world's biggest fan of his work), but despite small, FLEETING moments of trying to take the medium somewhere new, the film feels so generic you wonder if they even hire story people anymore. Dimitri's hairstyle is a metaphor for this whole genré.

And to think that bastard Michael Eisner had the nerve to say that the reason all these 2D studios were failing and Pixar was all the rage was because 2D is old hat.
Uhh, maybe the stories are old hat. Maybe the characters and the frigging hairstyles and the goddamn formula is old hat. You begin to wonder this when you see that even the crap films that these studios put out consistently have spellbounding character animation. Making it move nicely is not enough to save a film alone.

Feel free to comment, I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. Interesting rant. To be truthful I'd never thought about some of the things you mentioned here. I find it hysterical that the same hair always seems to find its way into every Disney movie.

    I'm hoping the Princess and the Frog won't do that, but you never know. lD

    Looking forward to more, Proff! <3 I like rants and critical analysis of the entertainment media.

  2. You have a gift for ranting. Not sure I entirely agree on the breaking out into song. I mean, these films are essentially animated musicals and that's exactly what musicals do. That's not to say they can do it whenever they damn well please, but I find that they have a way of expressing things such as character motive, etc, while simultaneously advancing the plot. Only if done well, of course. The Aladdin "You Ain't Never Had A Friend Like Me" we saw at Doyvid's is a good example of this, I'd say.


  3. Oh, by all means, there's nothing wrong with the songs being there, they can as you say push the story forward and portray emotions that are otherwise more obscure on screen.
    But note my word, 'needlessly'. They NEEDLESSLY break out. In some of these films, there will be two songs in six minutes, and the second one will not serve any obvious narrative or emotional purpose.
    It's like anything, you need to do it in moderation.

  4. Oh I misinterpreted your use of "needlessly". I thought you meant it to say that they were all needless. Now I see you were using it as a qualifier to point out the few that are needless.

  5. Love the hair style commentary, however, I think John Smith's style reflects his voice actor Mel Gibson moreover, and as I learned from my friend, he is a typical image of a "burning hunk of man" portrayed in typical girl romance novels, now with the exception of [vampriric] emo kids.

    I miss standard animated movies. I don't care if I wait 3 years for it, I miss the fact there was actual people behind it and not just motion capture and edit, but actual paper to pencil action. Occasional computer cg helps with vast scenes, but I also feel it takes away from the classic aspect of animated movies. Just like video games, we crave the flash and lack the driving story behind it (Halo versus Zelda)