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Ideas/CommentaryPixar

Trey Parker Has A New Term For American Animated Features: ‘Ameritrash’

The Good Dinosaur is as depressing as the movie about “the guy who got raped by a bear,” says Trey Parker.

The South Park creator didn’t hold back on his thoughts about American animated features when speaking recently to an L.A. Times reporter. Here’s how the exchange went:

Do you watch many animated kids’ movies?

Trey Parker: Now that my daughter is almost 4, I’ve seen every kids’ movie there is three times. Some of them are so great. The Illumination stuff is so visual and so cartoony. It’s not what I lovingly call “Ameritrash,” where it’s all about: what was the point and what did the character learn?

We just saw The Good Dinosaur. Dude, that movie is like — what’s the movie about the guy who got raped by a bear?

You mean The Revenant?

Trey Parker: Yeah, The Revenant — it’s that heavy. One horrible thing after another happens. It is sad after sad after sad and you’re crying the whole time, and you’re like, “Who the … made this movie?”

These Illumination movies are the polar opposite of that. We’re not going to be crying. We’re just going to go have some fun. It’s a ride and it’s just about what’s funny. And I appreciate that.

Big grain of salt: Parker plays the voice of the villain Balthazar Bratt in Illumination’s Despicable Me 3, so he has a reason to hype Illumination over the other studios.

Nevertheless, his views on American animation – the idea that American animated features are often bogged down in inflated ideas and imposing lessons onto characters – feel honest. It’s what American film critic Andrew Sarris once described as “strained seriousness” – films that suffer from bloated pretensions (and run times) and feel like the storytellers have spent more time studying Robert McKee than they’ve spent experiencing real life.

Perhaps Parker is simply being introspective and recognizing the shift in his own work as well. Later in the interview he acknowledges that South Park had become overly political in recent seasons:

We fell into the same trap that Saturday Night Live fell into, where it was like, “Dude, we’re just becoming CNN now. We’re becoming: ‘Tune in to see what we’re going to say about Trump.'” Matt and I hated it but we got stuck in it somehow.

That’s why, Parker said, he wants to return the series to a goofier style. “That’s the bread and butter of South Park: kids being kids and being ridiculous and outrageous but not ‘did you see what Trump did last night?’ Because I don’t give a … anymore.”

  • Bixby

    robert McKee is the anti-Christ for any self-respecting screenwriter…

    • Marie

      Hmm, I don’t know…I took his seminar and bought his book. I’m not a professional screenwriter but as someone interested in writing, I think he has some useful analysis. The problem may be that some people take his analysis as gospel, like Campbell’s hero’s journey, instead of applying it thoughtfully, shoehorning their story into the structure. I like McKee’s emphasis on values and how there should be value changes within each scene as well as the entire story.

  • Dante Panora

    There does seem to be a strange obsession with people wanting a animated to make them “cry”. I get this vibe that people still treat it like it’s special when that happens in animated movies when honestly films like that have been around for awhile. It’s not that special anymore.

    • Fried

      “There does seem to be a strange obsession with people wanting a animated to make them “cry”.”

      I’ve really felt this for a lot of TV animation lately. Adventure Time, Over the Garden Wall, Steven Universe, Star Vs, Gravity Falls. They all feel like they’re trying their best to have every episode memorable by following the formula of, “Light hearted things get real dark real fast”. Often ending with characters lecturing how they’ve grown as a person only for them to revert back next episode. Which isn’t unusual for episodic stories, but a lot of these are presenting themselves as a continuous narrative but have a nasty habit of going back to status quo.

      Even Regular Show suffered from this by killing off a main character in the finale in an attempt to be memorable and make you cry. And I never got the feeling that something like RS was going to have a Harry Potter ending.

      • Mairead Malesco

        As much as I enjoy the aforementioned shows, I do check out some of the more comical and light content (ie. Gumball, Clarence, The Loud House, Pig Goat Banana Cricket, Harvey Beaks, Future-Worm, Bunnicula, Milo Murphy’s Law, etc.) that actually resonates with me in a way.

  • Cameron Ward

    I think the thing is that there are films out there that are amazing at bringing real emotion into animated films like UP, Inside Out, and etc. They want to feel emotionally invested no matter if it’s a drama, comedy, horror film, or a mix of everything in between. Films like The Good Dinosaur suffer from development limbo and being tonally inconsistent. You couldn’t get a grasp on the characters and story, so the points that are suppose to be heavy and important (like life is going to be scary), don’t leave much of an impact.

    It’s why a lot of foreign animated films do such a good job since they focus less on “lets be a wacky time waster for kids!” and more “let’s focus on characters and different themes and emotions”

    and when a film doesn’t do that, it’s distracting and takes you out of the illusion.

    Illumination has this problem with their films where they put the comedy and doing as much as possible over being emotionally investing and interesting.

    Trey Parker is the only thing that really saves DM3 because the writers and animators took full advantage of his character and he was the most fun to watch.

    Everything else is just too bloated and a mess since they try to give EVERYONE a story arc when they don’t get enough time for people to be emotionally invested. It’s a chore to sit through the movie because there are good ideas and fun action sequences, but you don’t care because the film isn’t grabbing you.

  • WK.

    Any other time, I would value my idol’s opinion, but because he is spotlighting a studio whose movie is JUST releasing with his involvement, it’s hard to swallow. However…I do understand where he is coming from, I can agree it is sometimes refreshing to put in a mindless “popcorn muncher” and just unwind. A movie that isn’t meant to make you self-reflect, but just to make you smile or giggle. BUT….the reason why I prefer the emotional knee jerker’s over the popcorn munchers most of the time, is because most of the munchers are absolute GARBAGE. Movie’s like Home, Trolls, Smurfs, Lorax, Ice Age sequels, all fit this bill. They are cringey, cheap, primitive, and boring as hell. Look, movies like Monty Python’s Holy Grail isn’t suppose to be a sad tear jerker, it’s ridiculous and silly and nothing else, but it is still brilliantly written. The narratives of the Disney classics are as simple as you can get, but at least they are well crafted ENOUGH where watching them doesn’t feel insulting to your intelligence. Like I said, I understand and generally agree with what he’s saying, but I would agree a lot more if there were more decent MODERN examples to give his opinion credit.

    • Marc Hendry

      Totally with you here. I love Trey’s work, but I think it’s worth trying to make a movie that people care about, despite that some people might find it preachy or sappy.
      Also I’m glad to read that last part about their intent for South Park

  • Anonymous

    That’s probably why DreamWorks failed. They started making serious animated features a la Pixar and everyone missed the goofy comedy.

    • Inkan1969

      Huh? “Trolls”, “The Boss Baby” and “Captain Underpants” were all pretty goofy.

    • Klyph14

      What are you talking about? Out of there last 10 movies 6 of them are goofy comedies. Captain Underpants, Boss Baby, Trolls, Penguins, Mr. Peabody and Turbo are in no way Pixar style movies.

  • hannah

    I forgot that South Park was still even on the air.

  • Ameritrash

    Ameritrash is also a term used for a style of board game. (a game with a heavy emphasis on theme, with lots of complicated gameplay components)

    As for the subject on hand, I don’t have a problem with children’s entertainment taking on serious themes or being dramatic. Acting as if The Good Dinosaur is capturing the zeitgeist of animation in the 2010s is quite silly. Don Bluth mastered the depressing cartoon long before The Good Dinosaur was a thing. If all of our cartoons were like Despicable Me, I think we would rightfully complain about that, and that would be a far more serious problem. Besides, there are plenty of animated films that would be considered by most people to be lighthearted, silly fare.

    Anyway, I don’t want this post to be interpreted as a defence of The Good Dinosaur, or mainstream American animation in general. The Good Dinosaur is not a good movie, and there’s plenty of faults to find in American animated movies. However, Parker’s objections are ridiculous.

  • jjstarA113

    The Good Dinosaur was sort of like Pixar’s PG take on The Revenant :P (and unlike Finding Dory, it actually earned that rating).

  • Someone please show him GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES…

  • Elsi Pote

    Well, never forget that in North America any movie with a goofy theme is frown upon and those who watch them are labeled as yokels (or something worse)

    Parents have a bias towards cerebral and emotional themes, and the studios are more of happy to supply movies with such over bloated themes in exchange for their hard earned money.

    This culture of over working and over thinking from cradle to grave is killing Hollywood already, and the new Animaniacs will be a thermometer of where we stand and where we are headed.

    At the end is the public who decides.

  • Inkan1969

    Isn’t the claim that DiCaprio gets raped by the bear just an internet rumor, that in actually “The Revenant” doesn’t have any scene like that? Meaning that Parker apparently never actually saw “The Revenant”?

  • AnthonyA

    He’s merely restating Sturgeon’s revelation, commonly referred to as Sturgeon’s law:
    “it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. is crap.”

  • otterhead

    Telling a story with characters that portray emotions beyond yelling and getting kicked in the nuts is “trash” now?

    I’m sure Pixar is rethinking their whole future after this bit of…er… criticism.

    How’s that new production studio working out, Trey?

  • Andres Molina

    Here are a few things I would like to point out. First, I think The Good Dinosaur is a very underrated film, and I’m not going to act like its Pixar best film, but I not going to act like everyone thinks the film is bad, because I’m sure there are lots of people who actually like the film as there people who didn’t necessarily like the film either. Second, I actually praise Pixar for at least trying to go somewhere with the film, and I honestly like that the film isn’t hesitant on presenting dark or depressing sequences. Even if the film really is bad, at least I could say that Pixar at least tried to do something different. Not everything they make has to be ultra-masterful or super lighthearted. Now to be honest, I’d rather have animated films that convey deep, emotional themes and messages than something juvenile and mindless. I personally don’t think we should tone down on the “seriousness”, because I think part of the animation age ghetto conflict lays from the idea that animation is something only kids would enjoy, which is not good. Now I actually would push for more serious or mature content, because it could push or convince adults that animation can be more than mindless jokes and pop culture references. Now at the same time, I have nothing wrong with wacky, zany comedic animated films, because, some of the greatest cartoons of all time are wacky comedies, and I do agree that not all animation has to be deep tearjerkers. There are films that soars in full out goofiness and wacky undertones, but at the same time, are masterfully written. And lets face it, wacky and goofy are just terms to describe a film’s tone, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be smart and intelligent, and embrace the human condition. There can be a film thats wacky and eccentric, and be insightful and thoughtful There can be a balance, and I would be more than happy to see something that was made to make me smile and burst in laughter, AS LONG, as they are well crafted, because what I would not accept is something that is lazy and just plain dumb, that shoehorns in pop songs or undermine you as a human being. There are wacky films, and then are there lazy, stupid films, there’s a difference. Now Trey Parker complains how many animated films are trying to hard to milk your emotions, but at the same time, there are lots of recent films that serve as trendy time wasters for young children, and I far as I’m concerned, I would much rather see a deep/complex flick that makes me cry buckets and forces in emotion undertones, than see a lineup of lazy, bloated fart-fests that undermines my intelligence and treats me like I have no brain. Now not everything has to be serious and dark, just as everything shouldn’t be dumb and goofy, there should be a variety, a mix of all kinds of animation so it can flourish and present itself as the diverse, broad medium as it really is.

  • BeansHarpoon

    He must be a board gamer.

  • Max C.

    I agree partially with his statement, since people are too engrossed in drama within animation these days to accept the silly side (or the fact that not every cartoon can have an attractive female side character), which I feel is done right in shunned-upon toons like Uncle Grandpa and Billy Dilley. I want animation to tell any kind of quality story, quirky or otherwise, and I’ll be fine when a funny “funny” cartoon eventually makes me bawl, like the Lego movies or Wander Over Yonder or Amazon’s Danger & Eggs, because when the emotional shift kicks in, it succeeds, and then it will immediately head on back to its happy place like nothing happened. Not every piece of American animation can be The Good Dinosaur or an entire season of Steven Universe.

    However, little about Trey’s character and how he was animated and written in DM3 was enough to bring a smile to my face.

  • Tremors

    I have to completely agree, most main stream animated films seem to always have to teach a lesson. Morality plays. What happened to just having an entertaining film, serious or goofy? Save the sermons for another time.

  • Troy

    Ignoring the implied support for Illumination.

    Wow that is one way of saying “salty” here in cartoonbrew both figuratively and literally. On a serious note, so basically more abstract animated films. Here in the US, animation was directed as family friendly, which unfortunately made the industry holed up in there. As it pertains the “theme”, it pretty much set the line on the whether the animation is relevant. Well here’s a thought, how about you (industry) figure out other uses for animation, besides film and television. In case people forgot… not many animators experience a “family” life and I mean that loosely. As a side note, cool first animation-related person I’ve seen to state, he/she don’t give a ******** about wondering what Trump is doing every second. Personally, Ameritrash is a pretty accurate description both ways, though a bit hypocritical.

  • Jack Rabbit

    At least the CG Bear in The Revenant was excellent animation to look at.

  • Too Many Cooks

    I love Parker, but, uh, I respectfully disagree.

  • Marie

    Ultimately I agree with your point. Maybe his skill is analyzing what makes a script work as opposed to applying that analysis to writing his own? I’m not trying to be argumentative, just thinking that maybe he’s better at teaching than doing.

    • Bixby

      I don’t mind discussion…what does make my blood boil, is that sure, you could write a few successful scripts by using his method, but it’s when studio executives with no writing talent of their own force what could otherwise be brilliant scripts to be completely rewritten to adopt this one method…Actually with the Hollywood films of the last decade I do not doubt it

      • Marie

        I’ve read about this type of thing happening, usually in regards to the Campbell hero’s journey. The best example I can think of is Green Lantern. He “rejects the call” without a reason to reject it except to fit into the Campbell-inspired formula.

  • Rae

    Are we really gonna sit here and get preached to about emotional manipulation in film by a guy whose entire career was built on shock-humor