Friday, February 5, 2010

Verisimilitude...can you spell it Disney?

Animator Bruce W. Smith gets an "A". If there was a category for Best Supporting Actor in an Animated Role, he'd certainly win. Why? Aside from amazing draftsmanship and great animation, his handling of the character, Doctor Facilier in Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" was the most believable character in the whole film for me.
However, "Princess and the Frog" fails for me with a solid "C" ranking.

I SO much wanted to like this film. Especially because, yes, it was the first Disney hand-drawn animated feature with an African-American lead; yes, because this was the first time we've seen hand-drawn animation in YEARS; but mostly because....well it's Disney. But the mouse house has forgot one magic ingredient with this one: believability.

Even though this was an animated feature, an emotional sense of verisimilitude is vital to make your audience care.

This film had wayyy to many gags. Many of which involved bodily fluids, flatulence innuendos and derriere gags. I've seen Warner Brothers animated cartoons that had more sincerity and taste. And that's not sarcasm.

The meeting notes of some Disney exec., "more gags, more gags!" was throughout the film. Of all the people who really wanted to see hand-drawn animation make a comeback, this was a real disappointment.

Brad Bird's Ratatouille is a good example of what a successful animated feature should be. Ratatouille was successful not because of CG animation, but because it was a good story and emotionally, a believable story...despite being about a rat who could cook. Which is no less plausible than a prince who gets turned into a frog. But how do you handle that story is the question. Intelligently or with sight gags? "IF a rat could cook, well, this is probably the most believable way it would happen."

Ratatouille worked in CG and would have worked in hand-drawn and I even as live action film. And would have been just as compelling.

Animation is good animation when you forget you are watching animation.

Princess and the Frog didn't work not because it was a hand-drawn animated feature, but because it was a caricature of one.

So Basically it's about....what?

Remember that old gag on Seinfeld where they said the show they were selling was basically about "nothing"?

In light of shows like Lost, Heroes and movies like The Hurt Locker (which I really liked), I'm wondering if this is the future of American narrative and storytelling in film.

After watching the season opening of Lost's final season....(which recapped the entire 104 episodes of the series)....I couldn't help rolling my eyes (apologies if I sound insincere). But about 20 minutes into this "Lost cram session", it became grossly obvious that the story or plot (if you can call it that) was completely convoluted, incoherent, and sometimes laughable because there has been no plot.

What makes Lost work is one thing only: the relationships between the characters. Like the show or not, the relationships have been compelling.

J.J. Abrams brought this same type of "narrative" to Star Trek (2009). Paper thin, swiss-cheese plot....very well developed relationships between characters. Maybe that's why it was a disappointment for me. In my desperate childlike nostalgia for the original Star Trek, I have been addicted to the melodramatic, but clear plots, a touch of social allegory and the relationships (despite being strong, clear and consistent) were really sugar frosting for the original series. But now that is all in reverse.

The Hurt Locker came off to me as another virtual docu-drama with no "Point A to Point B" linear plot. It was structured with situations to stage character relationships, and "stream of consciousness" experiences. Virginia Woolf would have fit in this age well if she were a filmmaker.

It's not a criticism, just a question of is this the future of narrative in movies and television. In an age of docu-tainment, reality show and shakey-cam (my bane)....are people less interested in the magic and escape of a well told story?