Criticizing Animation Criticism

Inspired by Mick LaSalle’s MONSTER HOUSE review, Nick Tam has posted some excellent thoughts on today’s state of animation criticism. There are solid ideas throughout the piece, but I thought the following section stood out in particular:

I think that’s the problem with animation. It’s a technology story. The critics who mishandle it think about it as an experimental bastard-child offspring for kids, a testbed for ever-improving methods marching and heiling towards some indeterminate horizon of progress. The Hollywood execs play into their hands, and the end result is the flooding of the CG market that we’ve seen all year.

You’ll often hear the same films referred to over and over as being the landmark advances of the form. You’ll read that Steamboat Willie gave as sound as we know it, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was animation’s induction into feature-length territory, and Toy Story did the same for the digital age and shifted the mode of thought from drawing to sculpting. Framing the history of animation as a series of technological advances is really easy to do.

But it’s also a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. While these films were undoubtedly seminal in method, that’s not why we remember them. We remember them for the echoes of a wishing well and a toy in a spacesuit falling with style. That such masterworks of storytelling were also technical pioneers is a happy coincidence.