Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Just a little bit of Pixel dust

For years, there was no "Best Animated Feature" category at the Oscars. In the always crowded "Best Picture" category, animated features only made it in once with 1991's "Beauty and the Beast". Once a new Oscar category for animated features was approved in 2001, the trophy was taken home by a CGI feature, "Shrek". In fact, CGI features have accounted for 8 out of the 14 total nominees in the past four years, including all three slots for this past year. Just as animation is getting it's due, the art of animation as we know it is now changing dramatically.

These observations should not be interpreted as a slight to Pixar, Dreamworks and all the other studios that are putting out superior CGI features. However, the death of hand drawn animation, though inconceivable to members of my generation, seems very possible. Disney, who was once the very definition of superior animation, actually closed it's hand drawn animation department in 2003 after the release of it's last feature, "Brother Bear".

All of this is getting around to something I noticed at the beginning of this year. While looking at movie schedules for a film to go and see, I noticed a title that I hadn't heard of before. Paying as much attention as I do to film releases, this was odd. It was called "Candyland", and I later saw a trailer for it at the local Regal theater. It seems the Regal theater chain has made a deal with an organization called Kidtoon Entertainment. This group pumps out very simply drawn animation, whose stories are quite innocuous and harmless, at the rate of one a month. They are in turn shown in Regal theaters at limited times on the weekend to market towards kids.

As uninspired as the animation appears, I can't help but admire how market savvy this is. They are putting into place G rated features at a time when such feature ratings are rare and parent's have become increasingly paranoid at what their kids watch. Furthermore, since each of these films are from the same company and change with each month, it has the potential of bringing in the same audiences month after month who have developed a sense of trust in the safety of material. Meanwhile, Regal risks little since it takes up one theater for a maximum of two days out of the week. It's a gamble, but they have to realize it's a gamble that can pay off big for the reasons cited above.

Despite all this, I have to wonder if such cheaply produced product is to be the last vestige of hand drawn animation in movies. Perhaps it will survive in other parts of the world, most notably Japan, but it may be close to death here. It's not as out of date as people seem to make it out as. It was just six years ago that "The Iron Giant" and "Fantasia 2000" were released, and I have no doubt that both of these are destined to become classics. Of course, it's also significant to note that both features had significant help from CGI in their creation. So perhaps the writing is on the wall.

That's a pity, but such is the way of the world. At the very least, we have our DVD's to look back on and smile from time to time. I think I'll settle in soon with my wife, watch the beautiful artistry of "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" and give my thanks for it. Tigger just wouldn't be the same on a computer.

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