Vindication of the Rights of Animation

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Attack on an innocent artform

I was shocked and dismayed recently when several of my friends questioned the validity of cartoons as quality television. They argued that cartoons are childish and inane, with no intellectual value whatsoever. They complained that I should be doing more constructive things with my time than watching such drivel. However, I took exception to their assertions, because cartoons are a thread running through the entire fabric of society. This is an undeniable and indisputable fact; there are forms of cartoon that appeal to all demographics.

Fun for the whole family...

Everybody is initiated into the wonderful world of animation from a very early age. Show me the man who claims not to have sat glued to Agro’s Cartoon Connection or Saturday Disney, and I will show you a liar. Cartoons play an important role in the emotional development of children. For example, a child who grows up watching Astroboy is more likely to study Electrical Engineering, in a subconscious bid to recreate their childhood hero. A child who is drawn into the happy little socialist world of the Smurfs is far more likely to join the Labor party.

But cartoons are far from being merely a babysitter for toddlers. No, they appeal right through the human life cycle. Children progress from the Smurfs to Rugrats to Transformers to Samurai Pizza Cats to Aaagh! Real Monsters to Beavis and Butthead (with its spin-offs Daria and King of the Hill) to the Simpsons to Futurama and everything else in between. Artsy types like to watch short foreign animated features, nerds love Neon Genesis Evangelion, parents enjoy Disney films, and dirty old men can’t get enough Hentai. Cartoons of varying style and quality appeal to the vastly different intellects and interests of modern society, so that everyone will find a cartoon that they enjoy.

... and more!

However, despite the popular perception that cartoons are merely for entertainment, animation has long been used as a means of social commentary and criticism. As alluded to above, the Smurfs questions the acceptance of capitalism in Western society. The Simpsons points to some of the problems plaguing the modern family. Captain Planet and his Planeteers give us a constant reminder that ‘looting and polluting is not the way’. An upcoming feature from the makers of Wallace and Grommit criticises the use of battery hens. Countless arthouse animated films consider major social issues. So to anyone who considers cartoons to be senseless, mind-numbing drivel, I say get out there and watch more!

A dynamic medium

Furthermore, the position of cartoons in society has changed over time. To take Fantasia as an example, Walt Disney believed that cartoons and high culture could be closely linked. He planned to update the songs in the feature on a regular basis. Society didn’t agree, and the project was shelved. However, cartoons have been increasingly aimed at an adult market. Anime deals with complex plots and sub-plots, and regularly is rated R due to adult themes.

The need for animated features to appeal to both children and their parents has also been central to the development of the genre. The recent Toy Story films were better written and technically articulated than most feature films. Also, a reliance in modern films on animated special effects has been pushing the boundaries; the latest Star Wars film had an animated character - albeit extremely annoying one - and entire scenes were merely computer generated cartoons. Whether or not this is a good thing, it does point to an increasing acceptance of cartoons in society, to the point that the first update of Disney’s vision, Fantasia 2000, has finally been released.

The final indication of the acceptance of animation into mainstream society has been, to me, its use in beer commercials. Emu Bitter has abandoned the ‘hard yakka’ bush bloke image that has been relied on by countless beer campaigns in the past. What has it been replaced by? An animated emu dancing around and singing a concoction of popular music. And judging by the proliferation of neon EB signs above hotels and bottle-shops around Perth, the use of a cartoon has been competitive against other, more traditional advertisements.

Not as frivolous as they seem

However, in any analysis of the value of a form of expression, one must consider it in the context of its near neighbours. Animation is closest in form to live-action drama. Of these, animation is the most technically challenging. For example, television shows are filmed in real-time. That is, for every minute of acting, you get a minute of footage. Cartoons or clay animations, however, can take months or even years to produce a feature-length production. While many people claim that the challenge of working with real people is greater than with an artist, who can draw whatever they like, the opposite is true. The artist in a cartoon is invariably part of a team, so that several people must cooperate to produce one character.

Then there is the challenge of lip-syncing the animation with the voice. If you have ever tried to lip read, you will know how hard it is. Now try doing it in reverse, then draw a whole stack of pictures so that when you flip through them they line up with the sound of your voice. The technical aspects of cartoon production are often ignored because of the carefree, fun look of the finished product.

Embrace your destiny

I defy anyone to tell me that they don’t enjoy watching cartoons. And if you’re one of those people who have hang-ups about the genre being for kids and idiots, then look again. Sure, children and idiots enjoy animation, but even the most highbrow audience can find solace in cartoons. The Simpsons’ Halloween rendition of Poe’s The Raven and the sharp social commentary of shows such as South Park (which, admittedly, is masked by toilet humour) spring immediately to mind. Animation played a vital role in shaping your personality. Why abandon it now?

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