February 4, 2013

An Ode to Animation

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My name is Arielle and I like animated movies. That’s what I feel like I am saying whenever I express to other people that I really want to go see an animated movie that just came out, like I’m admitting some kind of embarrassing addiction. My love of animated film is not an addiction, of course; that would be a little weird. But what I don’t understand is that once you pass a certain age, and I clearly have no idea what that age is, it suddenly becomes unacceptable to go see Monsters University or Wreck-It Ralph unless you’re accompanied by a child under 10.

Usually when I ask a friend if he or she wants to see one of these perfectly delightful films with me, my friend inevitably tells me some variation on … Well, no, he or she basically just says that cartoons are for kids. That cartoons are cheesy. That they’re harder to connect to. That they just aren’t as good as “real movies.” That is so far from the truth.

Yes, some cartoons are geared toward children and most are marketed towards children, but that doesn’t mean that they are only for kids. There was a stab at airport security typecasting in Wreck-it Ralph and what could be more adult than the exploration of the pure sadness of growing up in Toy Story 3? Don’t tell me you didn’t cry.

There are some animated movies that have been given a kind of exception to the age limit rule. Most people agree that Toy Story 3 is acceptable — if not a must — to see, especially  since it came out at a time when most of us were heading to college for the first time. People tend to agree that Wall-E was a good one as well because of its strong comments on the state of the environment. But if these are the only animated films you’ve seen in the past four years, you are missing out. These are two. Statistically it is impossible that the rest of them are too juvenile for our collegiate minds. Fantastic Mr. Fox was written and directed by Wes Anderson for goodness sake.

There have even been animated movies made explicitly for adults. Persepolis, a daring portrait of a girl coming of age amid the Iranian Revolution. The Illusionist, a silent film about a middle-aged magician in Paris. Chico and Rita, a love story in Spanish about a singer and songwriter in the `40s and `50s. They don’t feature little kids, or monsters, or spare us from angst, drugs, explicit language or reality.

These movies are art. Literally. They are painted, and sketched, and digitally mastered. They include a layer of emotion and personality that you don’t get in live filming, because the characters are built, created, given the illusion of life by a man with a pen, or, nowadays, with a tablet. You don’t just see a character; you see a person’s vision of a character.  How they feel about who they’ve created.

How one goes about creating the tone of a movie through nothing more than lines is something I will forever be in awe of. How can it not be easy to connect to these characters when what is behind them is so inherently real?

I know that I am not the only person who finds the process magical. There is an entire association dedicated to it. On Feb. 2, this association, the International Animated Film Society, announced the winners of the 2012 Annie Awards, which celebrate the best animated films of the year and achievements in animation. This year’s Best Animated Feature was Disney’s Wreck-it Ralph, beating out Pixar’s Brave (thank God) and Focus Features’ ParaNorman. The award was much deserved. This film, which moved through the video game world, was fluid and ambitious, unafraid to shift animation styles what felt like every 15 minutes. It toyed, for one of the first times in an animated feature, with video game worlds and their integration. It was much more impressive than Brave which, when compared with the Pixar legacy, fell flat.

The association also gave awards to the Best Animated Short, Paperman, and Character Animation in a Live Action Production, Life of Pi — Tiger, among others. Paperman, which premiered in theaters before Wreck-it Ralph, a black-and-white short about love, is undoubtedly one of my favorites. When a man and woman have a meet-cute on a subway, the man cannot stop thinking about her and trying to find her all day. It is a playful fairy tale that cannot help but provide hope that that kind of love exists.

In addition to shorts and features, there are a couple of awards dedicated to animation within live action movies, just a sign that the two are becoming more and more intertwined as technology improves. Why should magic be trapped in the world of Disney?

These movies are odes to technology: to the new things we can make it do and the millions of ways we can create and destroy an image.

I am so grateful that these awards exist to call attention to the world of animation every once in a while and honor a medium that deserved more praise than it gets.

The next time that weird friend of yours asks you if you want to go see an animated movie, just think about it for a second. They’re not all for kids and calling them cheesy is ignoring an entire facet of their production. Give it a try. Because trashing animation is pretty much the worst.

Original Author: Arielle Cruz