It saddens me to say that it seems cartoons are well on their way to becoming a lost art form. Most major studios are no longer making cartoons, except for Disney on a few noteworthy occasions (The Princess and the Frog had some great moments in it, and I haven’t yet seen the new Winnie the Pooh). Instead, every company is enamored with computer animation. It seems in our culture, we’ve taken to see computer animation as a new technology, rather than as a separate art form, and because of this, we see everything prior to Pixar as outmoded, like beepers or fax machines. Cartoons though have their own charm which I don’t think computers will ever match.
I love the craftsmanship of a well drawn cartoon. By this, I don’t necessarily just mean art-house cartoons like The Triplets of Belleville, but instead I’m refering to the often stunning artistry you might see in an old children’s cartoon like the Chuck Jones classic Rikki Tikki Tavi. Here’s two screenshots.
With computer generated films, you inevitably have credits that stretch on for miles. One of my favorite Pixar films is Toy Story 3. With that movie, there were many instances where the backgrounds were absolutely stunning, but the thing to keep in mind is that the movie cost around 200 million to make. With cartoons, you can create wonderful images on a much smaller budget with a smaller crew. Can you imagine a computer generated film created with the same budget as Rikki Tikki Tavi?
Part of what makes cartoons great is that they frequently just overload the senses. Children’s cartoons in particular keep everything going at a sped up pace, but will often include beautifully painted backgrounds for just a few seconds. With cartoons, you can freeze frame an image basically at random and have something in front of you that looks like it should be in a pop art or modern art gallery. Check out this screenshot from a Tom and Jerry cartoon for example.
Now there’s an image I wish I could enlarge and hang up on my wall. This image makes up just a portion of a second of a Tom and Jerry cartoon, but look how it stands on its own. The rug and the hardwood floor are painted with an acute eye for detail, the entire image is composed nicely, and Tom popping up from a potted plant is the sort of absurdist display that’d make surrealists jealous.
A lot of newer cartoons don’t bother with small details the way Tom and Jerry did. With modern cartoons, you’ll never see shadows or lines on a wood floor. I think this can partially be attributed to the cartoon revolution in the late nineties when the styles of Glen Murakami (Teen Titans, Ben 10: Alien Force) and Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack) took over cartoon network and various other stations. With their style of animation, it appears everything is largely computerized. While I have nothing against their cartoons (I really enjoy the Teen Titans series in particular) I don’t find them to be awe inspiring in the way that handcrafted cartoons are.
In the contemporary world of mainstream cartooning, I would say the best animation award should go to Futurama. Here, the character designs are essentially the same as The Simpsons, but the show has a knack for creating gorgeous sci-fi landscapes that are packed with easter eggs and humorous props. Here’s a screenshot:
Okay, that’s it for now. I’ll be talking about cartoons all month on this site, so if you’re into cartoons, now’d be a good time to subscribe (it’s free).
—-Also, please check out my new novel titled A Rapturous Occasion. It’s available on Amazon in paperback and as an ebook (the ebook is just $1.50 right now). There’s a free preview available on the Amazon product page.
If you enjoy cartoons, you should check out my review of the anime classic Taro the Dragon Boy.