Thursday, June 29, 2006

Animation vs. Live Action

There’s been some disappointed grumbling on the web about the Dragonlance movie being animated. I can certainly understand why, but I won’t be joining it. There is nothing that prevents an animated film from having as much, if not more, artistic, intellectual, and emotional impact as a live action film. People do tend to separate them in their minds here in the occident, but that’s not universally true. We’ve seen glimpses from Hollywood of animation’s potential in flicks like “The Incredibles” but nothing yet with the power of “Graveyard of the Fireflies” or “Princess Mononoke”. Those two animated films I’ll put up against just about anything live action, and certainly anything coming out of Hollywood in the past thirty years.

The big hurdle will be the assumption that animation is for children, and cannot be used to tell meaningful or deep stories. Getting people to go to the theater to see it will be the challenge, as “it’s a cartoon” wars with “it’s PG-13”. Of course, Peter Jackson had the same issues to overcome. The Lord of the Rings is generally seen as a children’s story here in the US, and fantasy movies are kid’s fare. Before the first movie came out, the children’s meals at Burger King got you a cute little mug with a picture of one of the characters on it that lit at the base, and, even more jarring, a cardboard crown with the ring’s inscription written across it. And yes, after the first movie came out, that sort of nonsense disappeared quickly. But it took the movie to change opinions.

Actually, the Dragonlance story is well crafted for this. It has its slapstick elements, with gully dwarves and kender, and its moments of great spectacle and wonder, in its haunted forests and massive battles. All of these play to traditional animation’s strengths. But the story does not play by traditional American animation’s rules, and anyone still clueless as the movie enters its dénouement will get the lesson hammered home good and hard at Sturm’s funeral.

So I see this as a great opportunity for animation to finally realize its potential in Hollywood. If this film is as great as it can be, it has the potential to change people’s opinions about animation and what its “proper” uses are. And if it does that, who knows? Maybe we’ll finally get to see a full-bore Elfquest movie, too.

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