"What's New" Archives: November 2004
November 28, 2004:
THE "SPONGEBOB" BANDWAGON ROLLS ON: Not only are
Jerry Beck and Amid Amidi saying nice things about The SpongeBob
SquarePants Movie at their indispensable Cartoon
Brew site, but I also received this note from Fred Seibert,
a TV-animation veteran perhaps best known from his tenure as president
of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons. He's now president of Frederator Studios
and closely associated with the Nickelodeon cable channels. He wrote
in response to Aaron Hazouri's praise for SpongeBob in my
November 22 posting:
"Thank you for publishing the letter from the SpongeBob
Movie fan. As a TV cartoon producer I'm personally pretty sick
of the attention given to feature animation solely because it's
big. Most of it's pretty bad, pretty boring, and, often, not even
"I'm a competitor to SpongeBob, so I can't really
give you an objective opinion. But it's loved, it's funny. As time
passes, I'm positive SpongBob SquarePants will be seen for
what it is, the Bugs Bunny of the new generation (and please, no
comments about how every generation gets what it deserves).
"TV in general gets a bad rap, TVanimation most of all. [But]
there's more good writing, acting, and filmmaking on TV every week
than there is in a year's worth of feature films."
Yesto eat my words of a few weeks agoI will be seeing
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie soon.
November 24, 2004:
MORE ON "THE INCREDIBLES": I saw the film again this
week, and I've added some second thoughts to the Commentary
page where I review it. Not to be coy, I still like it.
THE "SPONGEBOB" BANDWAGON: Maybe it's gathering steam;
after all, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie did beat out The
Incredibles at the box office last weekend.
Bradley Bethel has written to add his voice to those praising
the film: "If you've seen the TV show, you might assume that
the movie is merely a ninety-minute episode. Actually, the movie
is a little more than that. It's a brilliant adventure that registers
as a true feature film story, while at the same time, it doesn't
stray too far from the series. It has sing-a-longs, but it's not
trying to be 'Disney' in any way.
"The movie is also a great display of character emotions and
colors. In the movie as in the TV show, SpongeBob and Patrick have
a wide range of expressions that were clearly influenced by Ren
& Stimpy. Throughout the film, the backgrounds' palette
reflects the emotional atmosphere; the typical underwater setting
will be sunny and blue, a dreary setting will be dark and green,
and a playful scene will be a mixture of pink and purple."
Maybe I'll have to see SpongeBob after all.
MEA CULPA: Alas, there's no getting around it. Thanks to a transcript
provided by Ryan Mead, I can't deny that it was me, rather than
the sound editors, who mixed up the Crosby-Cantor children in my
audio commentary for Baby Bottleneck in the new Looney Tunes
DVD set, incorrectly assigning the boys to Eddie and the girls to
Bing. What the heck, buy the set anyway.
November 22, 2004:
A VOTE FOR "SPONGEBOB": Within the last few days, I've
spoken dismissively about The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
(which I haven't seen) and posted a review
of The Incredibles (which I most definitely have seen).
Aaron Hazouri, who has seen both films, has written to me about
"I'm a 25-year-old college student currently working
towards a degree in animation. I am a devoted fan and student of
cartoon animation, especially the classic Warner Bros. style, but
of course also the Disney style. I catch every animated feature
released, on the big screen if I'm able. I never have been a fan
of the John K. school of 'I am the greatest animator of all times
and if you don't laugh at this piss gag then you don't get it,'
and I couldn't stand to watch much Ren & Stimpy, then
"Why am I telling you all this? Well, I agree with 95
percent of the critiques and analyses on your site. However, I feel
compelled to confess that I endured The Incredibles (and
I loved Brad Bird's The Iron Giant). While the story
is solid, the film on the whole is very dry. Although it's full
of 'personality' animation that the aspiring scholar in me enjoys
picking apart (much has been made of the quasi-improvisational movements
sprinkled throughout the film), it's pretentious and seriously overdoes
the attempts to yank my heartstrings. But after being dragged to
The SpongeBob SquarePants movie (I've never seen more
than three or four minutes of the TV cartoon)...
"WellI liked it!
"The film totally lacks any kind of pretension and is crammed
full of funny drawings; no animation is wasted, as it all goes into
the next ridiculous, absurd gag. You see the obvious Ren &
Stimpy influence, but with none of the John K. underpinnings
(the weird poses being held several beats too long, the strange
streak of adolescent fascination with bodily functions), you hear
fantastic, over-the-top cartoon voices, and your intelligence is
not insulted by having some computerized stock poses masquerading
as characters emoting as hard as they can to squeeze a 'wow' out
of you. And the undersea monsters! The Monsters, Inc. crew
could have learned a thing from these guys!
"I somehow doubt you'll ever throw away an hour and a half
of your life watching this ridiculous, hilarious little film. I
just wanted to make my voiceprobably in the distinct minorityheard.
This movie was fantastic, and I wish I'd saved the cash I spent
on The Incredibles so I could splurge and see SpongeBob
Aaron has since written to say, "In the interests of fairness
I plan to watch The Incredibles again with open mind and
cheerful heart. Perhaps I was in a lousy mood on the first viewing."
I plan to see it again myself, soon, and I'm likewise curious if
I'll have second thoughts.
BARRIER ON SALE: If you've held off buying my book Hollywood
Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, your patience
has been rewarded. Oxford University Press is offering the book
for just eleven dollars (plus s&h) at its holiday
sale site. A great Christmas gift, no?
ANOTHER SITE TO SEE: I'm astonished sometimes when I survey my
"bookmarks" and realize how many worthwhile animation
sites there are now. What a contrast with my Funnyworld days,
long before the Internet, when it was hard to find any substantial
writing about the medium. An interesting site that has just come
to my attention, thanks to Chris Padilla, its co-proprietor with
Steven Churchill, is AnimationTrip.com,
which focuses on computer animation. Padilla and Churchill's firm,
Animation Entertainment, has been involved with computer animation,
through festivals, the sale of DVDs, and otherwise, since 1986.
Particularly worth reading at their site is an interview with Brad
Bird about The Incredibles.
November 20, 2004:
FINALLY: At long last, I got around to seeing both Shark Tale
and The Incrediblesin the same afternoon, as
a matter of fact. You can read my thoughts on those two films by
AUDIO ERRORS: I still haven't received my contributor's copy of
the new Looney
Tunes DVDs, but several correspondents have alerted me to an
error in my commentary for Baby Bottleneck, in which I evidently
refer to Eddie Cantor's "sons." As I've always known,
it was Bing Crosby who had the sons and Eddie who had the daughters.
Maybe my mind and tongue slipped out of synchronization for a moment;
or maybe there was an error in the sound editing, since I'm sure
my commentary for that very rich cartoon ran way long. I'm anxious
to find out what happened (but not anxious enough, at least not
yet, to buy a copy of the set).
(I placed the error in Book Revue in this item as originally
posted; thanks to Joshua Wilson for pointing out my mistake.)
November 14, 2004:
ON SPONTANEITY: My November 9 posting, which questioned whether
it was possible to achieve the illusion of spontaneity in computer
animation, induced comments from two animation directorsMark
Mayerson, who works in CGI, and Michael
Sporn, whose films are hand-drawn.
This from Mark Mayerson: "I have to admit that I'm
a bit mystified by your attitude towards computer animation. Perhaps
I'm just not understanding you.
"I don't recall that you've written about stop motion
animation, but I wonder if you feel that it's inherently inferior
to drawn animation. If you do, then at least you're consistent in
your opinions of stop motion and computer animation, but if you
do then I have to say that I disagree with you.
"While I've never worked in stop motion, I know enough about
it to know what the limitations are. I never expect that stop motion
will be as supple as the best drawn animation. I judge it by different
standards. In terms of animated performance, I've seen great work
by O'Brien, Harryhausen, Trnka, Purves, and Park and I would never
think to compare it to Scribner or Moore.
"I've been working in computer animation for almost twenty
years now (after nine years in drawn animation), and I'm painfully
aware of the limitations, especially when you don't have Hollywood
budgets to support a technical staff. Here, too, you probably won't
see animation as supple as drawings, but is this graphic flexibility
the only standard worth applying?
"You talk about a lack of spontaneity in computer animation,
and I have to admit that I don't see what you're talking about.
There is a scene in The Incredibles where Bob Parr comes
home and grabs a piece of cake. The cake has no value to the film's
story and could easily have been cut. However, the character takes
a bite and then pushes crumbs on his chin into his mouth with the
side of his thumb. It feels totally natural and is based on observation
of life, not other animation. It made me smile and for all the ambitiousness
of the film, it strikes me as one of the nicest moments in the movie.
That level of observation has value in any animated film, regardless
of the technique. It's a tiny moment of truthful behavior.
"I really do want to understand your objections. I would be
the first to admit that stop motion and computer animation will
not provide you with all the pleasures associated with drawn animation,
but these other media have pleasures of their own. I don't think
they're second class and while they're as vulnerable to criticism
as any other kind of film, I think that they need to be judged by
an appropriate standard. I may not understand your position fully,
but I don't think your standard is fair."
And this from Michael Sporn: "The New Yorker quote
you posted was one I caught last week and have been thinking about
since seeing the film. The idea of spontaneity in animation is everything
to me (not that I'm a good enough animator to be able to capture
"There is a scene in The Incredibles which caught me
off guard, and I suggest you look for it. Toward the film's end,
the villain, Buddy, is walking away from the camera to board a plane/helicopter
(I can't remember). He's totally pulled into himselfas much
as that character can be. There's a small gesture done with his
left hand, a throwaway gesture of whisking something away. It was
so unusual, yet so human. That, to me, was the key to a lot of the
"Having a 2D animator as the director of the cgi film, I think
affected it deeply. I suspect he was able to ask animators to put
some of these gestures inprobably on a second go round. Pixar
doesn't usually have these gestures there; the animation is more
pat. The only influence I can imagine had to be Brad Bird.
"I wasn't crazy about the film; action/adventure films don't
mean much to me with their blow 'em up attitude toward everything.
But there was really something good there in the first half of the
filmbefore we go to the island. Perhaps too many Shreks
and Polar Expresses have jaded my tastes, but I think something
is there. If only we can get 2D animators to direct all of the CGI
films, the medium might develop."
I'll address the points that Mark and Michael have raised when
I finally get around to reviewing The Incredibles (any day
now), but let me say here that what's usually critical as far as
I'm concerned is not so much that animation have the suppleness
that Mark mentions as that it lack any sense that it has been constructedassembled
brick by brick. To me, stop-motion animation always and inevitably
has that sweated-over quality, even in the hands of so gifted a
director as Nick Park. As to whether computer animation is similarly
burdenedI'll try to pull my thoughts on that together in time
for my review.
CAUSE FOR THANKS: Most new animated films fall in two categories:
films I want to see (anything by Pixar) and films I think I should
see (anything by DreamWorks or Disney). And then there are those
films that I deliberately avoid seeing (for example, anything by
Bluth or Bakshi). If I wake up feeling a bit gloomy, all I have
to do is think, "I'll never have to devote two hours of my
life to watching The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie!" and
I'm instantly cheerful.
Michael Sporn has pointed me toward a New York Times review
such specimen. Read it and you'll wake up feeling more cheerful,
toounless, that is, you've had the misfortune to see the silly
THE GREAT DEBATE: I'm still waiting to hear more from John Kricfalusi,
but, in the meantime, his supporters and detractors are continuing
to have at it on my Feedback page devoted to their comments
on the debate. Mike Fontanelli is the most recent contributor.
November 9, 2004:
THE INCREDIBLES: I haven't seen it yetlater this week, I
hopebut I've just read the first interesting review of the
film I've run across, by Anthony Lane in The New Yorker.
It's on the Web, at this link.
The money paragraph:
Not that we should jack the film up to a plane where it
doesnt belong; there is no moral sophistication here that
can keep pace with the technical variety, largely because that technique
itselfat Pixar, at DreamWorks animation, and in the hands
of every director who is tempted to tamper digitally with live actorsis,
by definition, unable to cope with spontaneity. The camera no longer
catches a gesture, or a play of expression, on the wing; someone
has to create a program for it and patch it into place. That is
why Brad Bird and his team were wise not to attempt physically authentic
humans. From Toy Story onward, it was evident that computer
animation was itself a shiny new toy, perfect for plastic cowboys
and space rangers but hopeless at Homo sapiens. When I first heard
about The Incredibles, I dreaded the prospect of a hero
who would, like every other digital man so far, resemble one of
Barbies boyfriends. Imagine my relief when Bob, Helen, and
the kids, for all the nicety of their emotions, turned out to beif
I can risk a word that may be taboo in Pixar landcartoons.
Long may it stay that way.
What Lane is really talking about here is not so much spontaneity
as the illusion of spontaneity, which good actors generate
as a matter of course. (If you want to see a particularly astounding
example, watch Hayley Mills in Pollyanna.) Hand-drawn animation
is capable of that illusionlet me refer you, as I so often
do, to Bob Clampett's best Warner cartoonsbut computer animation,
on the evidence so far, is not. To ask a CGI cartoon to appear spontaneous
is like asking the same thing of a building or an ocean liner.
TOMMY, NOT GLENN: Mark Mayerson has pointed out an error in my
audio commentary for Clampett's Book Revue on the new Looney
Tunes DVD set. The trombonist caricatured is not Glenn Miller,
but Tommy Dorsey.
November 2, 2004:
TODAY'S THE DAY: When I saw hundreds of people lined up patiently
around town this morning, I assumed, naturally, that they were waiting
for stores to open so that they could buy copies of the new four-DVD
Tunes Golden Collection No. 2but then I noticed that they
were waiting at churches and schools and fire stations. Poor deluded
masses! You'll find no Looney Tunes there! Why are you not gathered
outside Wal-mart and Target?
I hope that you will not follow the example of your befuddled
fellow citizens but will instead order your copy from amazon.com
by clicking here
(giving this site some welcome support in the bargain).
A little more seriously, the new Looney Tunes DVDs have
already gotten a rave
review in the New York Times, and I suspect that many
more such reviews are soon to come. (Alas, I'm misidentified in
the Times as an an "academic"a fightin' word,
given the subterranean quality of most animation "scholarship.")