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The Animation Industry Lacks Cynicism and That’s a Big Problem

The Animation Industry Lacks Cynicism and That's a Big Problem

Some would say
that a cynical outlook
is a necessity for
anybody working in the
entertainment industry. For
a start, nothing is
ever as it seems,
and wage-fixing at illustrious
studios or nefarious managers
pushing for unpaid overtime are just
the tip of the
iceberg. Yet there’s an
almost shocking lack of
healthy cynicism surrounding the art itself that
permeates and poisons
the industry.

If such a
statement makes you
a little hot under the
collar, then perhaps I
have touched a
nerve. Look at it another way, Hayao Miyazaki complained
about the number of ‘otaku’ or fans that he sees working in the Japanese
industry, and their preponderance for using existing animation for inspiration
rather than reality. He sees a huge problem with that, and he’s not wrong.

The issue is that fans are biased. Their
viewpoint can, and often is, skewed by their own emotions. The creative
decisions of production teams are constantly called into question by fans who
sometimes fail to comprehend the full picture, or even the needs of other
viewers besides themselves. I look at the current slew of animated shows and
features, and while they all have numerous merits, there is a level of aversion
amongst animation artists to form truly objective opinions; they are fans of
the work.

 

What prompted this post is the ‘honest’ trailer
for the Lego Movie
that was released this week by Screen
Junkies. Its satirical reasoning is that the film, while exceptionally
entertaining, is essentially a toy commercial and nothing more. Holding that it
is a wholly artistic endeavour that just happened to be commercially successful
ignores the realities of the situation, namely that it was a commercial film
that happened to be artistically brilliant. In other words it is unprincipled to
hold either one view or the other; a degree of cynicism helps balance them out
so you can hold the correct view that as entertaining and creative as the Lego
Movie is, it ultimately owes its existence to the world’s largest toymaker who
used it to sell toys.

 

I don’t mean to pick on the Lego Movie, I
really don’t; it just makes for such a good example; any commercial feature is
playing the same game in a more subtle way. Yet I keep contrasting the view of
many western artists who adored the film with that of Miyazaki. He often takes
a very cynical view of the Japanese industry, but only because his sheer
devotion and passion for animation shape his belief that it is headed in the
wrong direction; and he sees the fans within the industry as being part of that
problem.

 

If cynicism does not form a healthy part
of a person’s set of critical analysis tools, there is a real possibility that
the overall quality of the art can diminish; ‘they cannot see the forest for
the trees’. As Mark Mayerson commented in his
review
of last year’s CTN Expo:

 

I don’t doubt that the artists at CTN
would love to see drawn animation come back. By just selling to other artists,
they’re doing nothing to make that happen. Only when a property catches with
the larger audience will producers take note. Only when the audience is
surrounded by drawings that entertain and enlighten them will there be a demand
for drawn animated features.

 

A truly cynical view would say that
hand-drawn animation (especially at the feature level) is never coming back,
yet a healthy skeptic will appreciate that while hand-drawn features are not
popular at the moment, there are few reasons why they cannot become successful
again in the future. Mayerson is very much in the latter camp, and perceives a
problem that others within the industry apparently do not.

 

There are very few if any figures in the
western world who are similarly ‘sticking their neck out’ so to speak. For
example, I have yet to see Song of the Sea, and by all accounts it is a
wonderful film, but there has been no curiosity regarding why Tomm Moore made a
second trip to the Irish mythological trough instead of trying something new.
Almost every single western CGI film since A Bug’s Life has mimicked it in at
least one significant way; suggesting 20 years of stagnation at this point.

 

It’s incredibly tough to discuss this
without coming off as pessimistic, or bitter, but I assure you that is not the
case. I care deeply about the development of animation as an art and technique,
and it becomes incredibly frustrating to see and read praise for features from
artists and others within the industry that is not imbued with the healthy
degree of cynicism necessary to move the art forward.

This Article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit and tagged ,