Charles Solomon on Talky Cartoons

Talky cartoon

One of my biggest grievances against contemporary animation is that characters won’t shut up. Too often in American animation, dialogue is used as a substitute for storytelling, acting, and communication between characters. It happens everywhere, and I’ve mentioned it frequently, whether it be on TV shows like Cartoon Network’s CAMP LAZLO or trailers for animated films, like DreamWorks’s OVER THE HEDGE. Blame it on whoever you want – animation execs who are visually uneducated and can only understand characters that communicate verbally, scriptwriters (for obvious reasons), or artists who aren’t confident of their abilities to act without dialogue – the fact is that today’s cartoons talk too much. I was really pleased to see historian/critic Charles Solomon tackle the issue in this weekend’s NY TIMES, with a hard-hitting piece about how wall-to-wall dialogue hurts so many current animated features. The entire article is worth reading, but here’s an excerpt:

In “Robots,” eager young Rodney Copperbottom, on arriving in Robot City, meets Fender, voiced by Robin Williams. All the wonder the audience should feel as Rodney beholds the Erector-set metropolis of his dreams is crushed under Fender’s nonstop shtick. The characters in “Hoodwinked” natter constantly, even as their unfortunate mouth movements reveal inadequacies in the design of their faces. And if the trailer is any indication, “The Wild,” coming from Disney on April 14, with voices by Kiefer Sutherland and Janeane Garofalo, among others, looks like yet another gabfest.

American animation wasn’t always like this. Some of its most memorable moments have no talking: Mickey Mouse dancing with the brooms in “Fantasia”; the Seven Dwarfs weeping at Snow White’s bier; Bugs Bunny riding in as Brunhilde on a white charger in “What’s Opera, Doc?” Animation is often funnier, more dramatic and more powerful when words aren’t distracting the viewer’s attention from the stylized expressions and movements.


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