Director and animator Will Finn made a thought-provoking observation on his blog a few days ago. He began the discussion by surmising that if Disney ever decided to remake Lady and the Tramp, it would likely be some Frankenstein hybrid of keyframed CGI, live-action and performance capture. I don’t doubt that for a second. Where it gets interesting though is that Will feels this is happening because cartoons, in their traditional sense, are increasingly viewed as ineffective. He writes:
[T]he tolerance for a well-crafted cartoon image, even one as sedate and safe (albeit expert) as any in the original LADY, even if it were faithfully re-created, rendered and impeccably lit in CGI, is pretty much shrinking in the hearts of the public and the minds of the power brokers. As the world of CGI expands the roles of animators and animation, it also somehow seems to ever marginalize the space cartoon art occupies in animation, especially features. This isn’t the old CG vs. 2D thing I am lamenting here, it is the encroaching realism even on CG cartoons, just as realism encroached on 2D. It is about realism vs caricature, specifically cartoony caricature and how the tide seems to be turning ever more toward the former and away from the latter.
Will’s comments are particularly relevant in light of how Jeff Smith’s Bone is in the process of being transformed from its cartoony original form into mo-cap animation, and how forthcoming Yogi Bear and Tom & Jerry features are being turned realistic a la the Chipmunks. As Will is careful to point out, this is not CG vs. 2D; it’s a deeper and more profound change in attitudes towards cartooning.
His thoughts remind me of an experience I had not so long ago with an ad agency in which the agency rep informed me that our website was considered unhip for corporate advertisers because it had the word “cartoon” in it. Cartoons are considered by many to be fuddy-duddy because of the term’s long-standing association with junky animation (i.e. Saturday morning cartoons). Films like Avatar present an alternative that further diminishes the cartoon form, even to the point of redoing successful cartoons in more realistic styles. As Will says, “I fear that in the aftermath of AVATAR and films like it the public and the industry may find cartooniness to be too quaint, too passe, too childish, all the specious negatives that threw up roadblocks in my early career days.”