Editor’s Note: Oscar-winning animator and Academy member Gene Deitch (Best Animated Short, Munro, 1960) is still going strong at age 89, producing short films from his studio in Prague. In this piece below he laments the current state of the art – and explains why he is supporting the few hand drawn animated features released during last twelve months. – Jerry Beck
Is Ernest & Celestine the animation feature we’ve
been waiting for?
Ernest & Celestine is a charming, inventive,
meaningful story, under-stated, and packed with sly humor. It makes the
very most of modest means; exactly the basic drawn animation we should be
supporting. In my view, not a relic of the past, but an indicator of the
actual unlimited future of cinema animation!
As a longtime Academy member, with strong ties to the
animation community, let me explain my view!
Last night I viewed The Hobbit Part 2 screener, and
this evening I looked at EPIC. Aside from the hubris of naming a
simple-minded fairy tale “Epic”, I was struck by the story similarities, except
for the fact that The Hobbit had no cute girl love interest. (Tolkien was a
stuffy legend assembler; no sex allowed.)
In my own tiny Hobbit film, I did insert a cute
princess love interest for Bilbo Baggins, because I was under orders to meet
that requirement. In that regard, Epic, makes the cut, not hesitating
to include all the pot boiler ingredients of every sexy fairy tale ever filmed,
though dressed up to the max in High-Techery.
Epic has all that I dread for the future of
animation; the closest possible simulation of live action backgrounds, and
characters that are nearly indistinguishable from those in all the other
ultra-realistic animation features now streaming onto our giant screens.
Only the gadgetry is varied, but the stories are ladled out of the same
pot, and all are striving to outdo each other in the mimicking of live action.
Is this what we cartoonists really want to do, when
the whole world of graphic art could lend our productions originality and
stimulate the imagination of audiences?
The last animation feature I saw, which pointed to the
path less travelled was the Irish film, The Secret Of Kells. That was an
animated film that did not pretend to be anything else, It expanded the
graphic possibilities of feature film animation, and told a story not in the
cookie-cutter mold. The visual promise of that film has been largely
ignored in the present dash toward realism.
And so I’d like to give this French production, Ernest
& Celstine a loud fanfare!!! Among all of the animation screeners
I’ve been sent, hoping for my Oscar vote this year, it’s one of only two
drawn-animation films. I realize that the Hollywood majority will not want to
give the Animation Feature Oscar to a foreign production, considering the
monster American studios’ investments in mega pixel, hyper-realistic dazzlers.
This is not a statement of what my vote will be; there
are many factors involved in Oscar voting; but is an expression of my feelings
about the current trend of animation features’ intense, and I feel mis-guided
effort to imitate live-action movies.
The end credits of today’s big money animated films,
almost feature length in themselves, indicate how hopeless it seems for
individual creators to get their ideas onto movie screens. They will have to
think big on small screens. We can hope that the new media will develop a
viable market for individual innovation.
Drawn animation has gone on since the stone age, we
should not let it be erased or deleted in the age of The Cloud! It would be an
artistic calamity to allow the long tradition of movie cartoon graphics to sink
without a trace.