Animated Children's Film
Are all cartoons alike?
Cartoons are "just cartoons" aren't they? They can be funny, but they are for kids and there is nothing very important about them. Wrong! In my recent studies at the University Of New England (Australia) I had my eyes opened. Cartoons are very expensive to make and there are at least three main schools of cartoon makers. Four if you count the Aussie/New Zealand slant, which we will deal with later. Well read on - and find out what I discovered. We start with the opinion of L. Rafaeli and then discuss some real cartoons.
Raffaeli (1997:112) describes the Disney philosophy as “one for all” because the films focus upon the quest of an individual for success and identity. In the American cultural context, the individual or small group may represent the interests of the audience and presumably humankind as a whole. Rafaeli says Disney created “parallel realities”, with their own rules and forms of expression. (115) The film or episode typically begins with a problem, which must be explained and resolved, while the characters remain relatively constant throughout. (119)
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse demonstrates Disney's ability to create a screen reality, complete with perspective, dimensions and textures. The characters are constantly moving their limbs, walking and displaying facial expressions. There is a focus on individual need and the humour is reminiscent of situational comedy. The Emperor’s New School has less detail and features some comic use of black and white sketches, but still fits the Disney formula. There is a narrative story line featuring a crafty villainess, situational comedy and a happy ending.
Classic cartoons from Dysney
Some cartoons currenty available from Disney:
Raffaeli (113, 115) describes the alternate philosophy represented by Warner Brothers as “all against all”. In these short films, the characters are designed to live in conflict with their arch-nemeses, society and the environment. Caricature and exaggerated motifs abound, characters may be decimated, yet get up immediately and address the audience. Raffaeli (122-123) also observes that the characters do not gain wealth, and have no interest in saving the world.
Looney Tunes: Reality Check is colourful, the backgrounds being composed of solid blocks of colour with little attempt at perspective. The production shows economy as the characters locomote quickly and sharply. This DVD features a series of reality television send ups and maintains the classic enmities between the characters, who can not work together to win. The action follows “nonsense logic”, as Wylie Coyote sends a missile, which misses when Roadrunner jumps, and then threatens Granny, who orders it to desist!
Warner Brother cartoons
Raffaeli (112) describes the philosophy of Japanese animation as “all for one” because it portrays a culture in which the individual is loyal to the group, and the needs of the character may be subsumed to save the world. Raffaeli (127-30) also suggests the Japanese save money by omitting intermediate drawings, are economical in the creation of background, use voice-overs to convey emotion, and play with time to emphasise drama. The focus is on “fear” and the storyline features fantastic heroes and super-villains.
The animation on Dragon Ball GT appears to move quickly with many abrupt changes of angle and few intermediate animations. The camera pans over a drawn scene or commences close to a drawn character and pans out. As Raffaeli suggests, background detail is minimised. Special effects are created as colour floods the drawing or a crash cloud is drawn across a scene. Go Ku combats a superdemon and wins each challenge, but the monster appears to fight again. A second hero appears and the two characters merge to weaken the monster. The emphasis is on risk, and the episodes are very intense.
Sources: ##1) Raffaeli, L. 1997 “Disney, Warner Bros. and Japanese Animation” in A Reader in Animation Studies, (ed. Jayne Pilling) 1997, John Libbey, Sydney, pp.112-136 ##2) Toei Animation Co., Ltd. 2004 Dragon Ball GT: Conversion, Bird Studio/Shuesha Toei Animation, Licensed and distributed by FUNimation Productions Ltd. ##3) Walt Disney Studios, The Emperor’s New School, episode aired on Channel 7, during Saturday Disney, 7:00 a.m., 8 November 2008 ##4)Walt Disney Studios, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, episode aired on Channel 7, 6:00 a.m., 8 November 2008 ##5) Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. 2003 Looney Tunes: Reality Check, Distributed by Warner Home Video Pty. Ltd., Pyrmont, N.S.W.
What about the Australian scene?
Now we have looked at American and Japanese animation, that leaves us wondering what has been developed down under in Australia and New Zealand. One of Australia's most notable animation creators is Yoram Gross. We will start fro the point of view of a critic called R. Caputo and then move into considering some real cartoons.
Caputo (2000:353-354) notes a number of unique features of Yoram Gross' animated art. Gross' early productions use a mixture of animation and live action, cleverly combining real background images with cartoon characters. The subject matter is Australian and adroitly mixes fantasy with the bush. There is also frequently a social/environmental message as the characters are “displaced” and their homelands come under threat. As will be demonstrated through the analysis of Blinky Bill (film 1992) and Skippy (series 2005), Yoram Gross' art does utilise mixed media and contain uniquely Australian elements. It also has a universal appeal as it incorporates humour and represents concerns common to human nature.
Blinky Bill commences with a realistic bush scene which has been filmed on location, and features cartoon characters animated across the surface. Country music is played in the background on a guitar or banjo, and the cartoon characters are Australian native animals, including clothed koalas, platypi, wombats, kookaburras and marsupial “mice” or “rats”. A safe haven is established using a lullaby, but animated humans arrive and cut down the trees. The animals must flee to a “camp”. Blinky Bill returns to search for his mother, who fell with her tree, and his friend Nutsie gets trapped in the loggers' compound. Much burlesque humour is created as the animals blunder around trying to rescue Nutsie, finally succeeding with the assistance of the human girl who recognises the similarity between Nutsie and her toy. While the landscape and animals are uniquely Australian, the theme of conservation is universal as forests are being felled in other parts of the world. The flashback to Blinky Bill's family life also portrays universal concerns of birth, parenting, education and the search for identity.
Blinky Bill uses real scenery, which is replaced by drawn images as the storyline requires. Skippy, however commences with what could be a landscape blurred so that the cartoon characters mesh with it, and quickly switches to drawn scenery. The attention to detail shows the influence of real scenery, and images may well be transcribed from a photograph. The ground is sandy yellow, the sky is blue with only light clouds and the vegetation is eucalyptus scrubland, creating an impression of authentic “Australianness”. Other Australian elements include the choice of animals, which include kangaroos, koalas, platypi, pelicans, snakes, and crocodiles, with some domesticated animals such as cows and pigs. These animals are humanised to the extent where the species of origin is obscured, and populate the township in place of humans. Australian accents and figures of speak are creatively combined with historical references to fill out the humorous storylines.
Elements of universal appeal include the humour, the incorporation of human psychology into the animals, the scams and intrigues of the crocodile villains and the counter scams by which the lead character, Skippy, foils their plots. A social/environmental theme can still be found running through the story lines, but Yoram Gross, whom the Starkiewitz interview (1984:336) identifies as aiming to teach, has now learnt to deliver a message without overstating his case. Overall the Skippy series represents a mature and sophisticated artistic product, which is still suitable for children.
New Zealand animation:
##1) Caputo, R. 1993 “The Animated Features of Yoram Gross” in Australian Film: 1978-1992, (ed. Scott Murray) 1993, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp.352-354 ##2) Starkiewitz, A. “Yoram Gross : interview”, Cinema papers, Vol. 48, 1984, pp.334-338 ##3) Yoram Gross, (pr.) 1992 Blinky Bill: the mischievous koala, Yoram Gross Film Studio & Australian Film Finance Corporation, Distributed by Roadshow Home Entertainment ##4) Yoram Gross, (pr.) 2005 Skippy: Adventures in Bushtown, Yoram Gross – EM TV PTY. LTD. Distributed by Magna Pacific