Sunday, December 12, 2004

Barbie kicks Disney's Ass!

Still weeping a little over that little Canadian Tire commerical...*sigh* And now I've taken up a habit of forgetting my purse at Christmas parties, very annoying. Sisters One and Two have acquired the hobby of tormenting me, citing my "retardedness" as a perfectly legitimate reason for their disgraceful actions, regardless of where we might be at the moment, like church. They're sinful little heretics, but I love them for Mother's sake. I can't understand what she sees in them, other than half of her genes that, in my opinion, are wasted on them.

Getting back to news...As most of you, dear readers, have already figured out by now, I'm a child a heart. Being "a child at heart" is, actually, a rather flimsy excuse for being immature, or retaining an interest in things that are intended to be childish. I'm not talking about anime (it is not always intended for children...if you screened a copy of Ninja Scroll in front of a crowd of five-year-olds you would scar them for life and doubtless have them packed off to Child Services), but I am talking about American animation in general.

While a few shows attempt to aim for older set through sly in-jokes (Animaniacs, Fairly OddParents, the "Beat-Alls" episode of Powerpuff Girls) or just plain weirdness (how, exactly, do pineapples get under the sea? And why would sponges live in them, much less wear pants?), there are very few that were not initially intended to entertain children. That is much the same with American animated movies.

I like to flatter myself by telling people that I grew up in the Golden Age of Walt Disney - or at least, the Golden Resurrection of Walt Disney. Born in 1986, I was just the right age to enjoy The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King without causing my parents to roll their eyes and mutter about how they won't buy the DVDs because they would be a "bad investment for my life". However, recently, most animated movies for kids have, in my opinion at least, dropped in quality. Walt Disney, after being briefly resurrected in the '90s, died again, horribly. This is for several reasons, which I shall explain:

1) They got rid of the music - one of the best qualities of The Lion King was the African music. They managed to keep the toes tapping while not having to resort to Broadway numbers every time. Disney movies have consistantly been nominated by the Academy Awards for original music, why would they slaughter that golden goose in favour of cheesy background music? Look at Tarzan and Treasure Planet. The Goo-Goo Dolls and Phil Collins have both produced good music, where they're writing it for radio. It just makes the movies dull, what's wrong with them singing?

2) Too many famous people. This doesn't only apply to Disney films - Sinbad was also a blaring example. The good animated movies were mostly voiced by irrecognizable actors from TV or radio, with maybe one or two noticeable celebrities to make it funny. Robin Williams was in Aladdin. Eddie Murphy was in Mulan. What other powerful, A-list personality was in those films? The thing with too many famous people, is that they already have a Star Persona, something I learned about in Film Studies. Each actor with a Star Persona has an emotional, personal, psychological baggage that they carry into each movie. George Clooney is smug. Julia Roberts is cheerful and loves to laugh. Johnny Depp is weird and ooky - and sexy at the same time. Even hidden behind technicolour characters, people will still recognize those people, and their Star Persona taints the animated film that is intended for children. Adults can't watch the film with an open mind. They're not watching Sinbad go through an adventure, they're watching Brad Pitt do a series of animated stunts in a recording studio. Shrek 2 is a bit of an exception, but that's mainly because this movie breaks the next rule even more.

3) Too many pop culture references. You know, people still watch Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast, and Snow White. They still appreciate the magic and excellent music and storytelling. Why? Because they're timeless. Putting a pop culture reference in a movie is the same as putting an expiration date on it. Same with music - nobody I know can listen to Prince's Party Like It's 1999 without giggling. Shrek did a little bit of that, but it mostly stayed with skewering fairy tales and Disney films. Shrek 2, however, falls into the pit of Going Overboard. There were hundreds of pop culture jokes and asides and in-jokes in that film. Sure, people laugh now (even I did) and maybe they will in the next ten years - but fifty years from now, no one's going to understand it or enjoy as much as we did, and that's is a mistake. Pop-culture may be the animator's way to get adults to like a film - but they're going to die first. Why not cater to the future instead?

4) Poo has always been funny to the younger set, but the adult animators and filmmakers used to be too polite to mention it. Now they throw it in our face. That's another downfall of animated films - and children's movies in general. Farts. C'mon, say it with me. Farts! Poo! Pee! Hee hee! Boobies! What the hell is wrong with you people? Children have always giggled over sex and poo jokes - I have, my sisters have, my parents did when they were young. They've done it before kids movies ever started exploiting it for humour. Making movies about it just encourages it, instead of letting them grow up and discover the hard way that poo and farts are stinky, and boobies are only really appreciated once you reach a certain age.

Now, let me get to my final point. Some of you with children may be aware of this. Barbie, that slim blonde do-it-all doll (who recently dumped her boyfriend Ken of 40 years for an Australian surfer named Blaine) has been starring in films. No, no, not for theatres, direct to DVD. They've been based on popular stories and fairy-tales that have not yet been captured by Disney's lawyers. The Swan Princess, the Princess and the Pauper, Barbie and the Nutcracker. Now, I'm not ashamed (okay yes, I am a little ashamed) to admit that I've watched the Nutcracker one all the way through, and a bit of the Princess and the Pauper. They're better than Disney. Modern-day Disney, anyway.

The animation, which is Computer-Generated and uses motion-capture technology along with the Toronto Ballet Company, is decent, even if all the houses and dresses and carriages are pink. The storytelling is fine, childish yes, but in a way that encourages breathing room and growth without attempting to catargorize childhood into tight little boxes of Thinks Poo is Funny, Likes Jokes that Talk About Other Movies, and Wants to Buy Our Toys. Well, maybe not the last one. The tall blonde main character may be called Annabelle, or Clara, or Odette - but everyone knows it's old Barbara underneath. While the first two films (Swan and Nutcracker) didn't use musical numbers, they pulled up the proper music from the corresponding ballets and had them produced by the London Symphony Orchestra instead of some dork's computer. And from what I've briefly heard of Pauper's songs, they aren't half bad. At least they're not Phil Collins.

They're colourful and interesting, and they don't force children to stay children with poo jokes, but they don't force them to be adults with in-jokes. They're finely balanced and it's obvious that a lot of work and effort was put into these films. If I had a daughter, I would much rather plug in Barbie and the Nutcracker than waste both of our lives watching Home on the Range or Sinbad.

By the by, before you comment, movies produced by Disney and PIXAR don't count as Disney. They're too good, and ten bucks says that Toy Story III, which is presently being made by Disney without PIXAR's genius, will be relegated to the bargain bin along with The Little Mermaid II and The Hunchback of Notre Dame II (what's that sound? Oh yes - Hans Christian Anderson and Victor Huge spinning in their graves!)


    *wipes tears from eyes*

    *takes a breath*

    Oh, AnimeJune, you are a funny girl! Certainly just as heretical and sinful as your sisters, but funny as all get out!


  2. I can see where some of your mother's smarts genes went :) "Putting a pop culture reference in a movie is the same as putting an expiration date on it." -- what a great sentence!