Before I start this little rant I want it on the record that I am NOT condemning live-action movies or live-action adaptations. While comics take up the majority of the discussion here at the Spotlight, and cartoons are probably a second, I think I’ve shown that I actually do like live-action movies…when they’re good. When they’re crap I don’t like it and when they fail as an adaptation I really don’t like it, especially if the source material was something I really like.
No, this commentary is about this strange thought that UNLESS your project gets a live-action movie adaptation, or at least a TV show, you’ve failed. With the rise of “comic book movies” some people trying to get their screenplay made will actually make a comic out of it, hoping it will get picked up. A good live-action adaptation is fine, but some films…should have stuck with their roots.
Here’s a good example.
I want to know who thought about making a live-action version of Underdog but it was already a bad idea. The show featured three non-humans (Shoeshine Boy/Underdog, Sweet Polly, and Riff-Raff). Wikipedia mentioned someone called “Overcat” but I don’t remember him. Everybody else (except some of the alien foes) were humans. That doesn’t translate well to a live-action movie, even for kids. Which is probably why they didn’t even bother, going instead for a concept that might have worked better for a movie based on the Krypto The Superdog cartoon, which wouldn’t have been a bad idea if not for everything else this movie did wrong. There’s also Hong Kong Phooey, which has ONE anthropomorphic dog and if you’ve seen the trailer for the (thankfully) failed movie, you’ll note they still gave him doggie instincts, like drinking out of the toilet. I couldn’t find the trailer on YouTube by post time without somebody throwing in commentary.
Then you have Avatar The Last Airbender. I’ve already pointed to a better going over of that movie’s failings. For our purposes, the big one was trying to fit an entire season into a roughly two-hour movie. Could it have been done better? Sure. But why did it need to made at all? Wasn’t the cartoon enough?
You know what my favorite Batman movie is? Mask of the Phantasm. Not because it was animated (I also liked Tim Burton’s first film and Nolan’s first Batman film…I’d sense a pattern if I wasn’t lukewarm to Batman Forever) but because it really got Batman and it’s world. It helps that the producers spent so long working on the TV series, making this a rare example of a TV show spun into a movie that worked. I could go on, but this isn’t about bad adaptations. I’ll leave that to the Cartoon Hero’s “From Cartoons To Crap” series. It’s about why and I think a non-adaptation points the way.
The first recipient of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature was the first Shrek movie and with good reason. It was fun, took swipes at fairy tale and Disney adaptation tropes while treating them with respect. The acting was good and for its time the computer animation was excellent. Maybe I’m remembering wrong, but wasn’t this originally going to be nominated for Best Picture but certain movie insiders threw a fit? Or maybe it was after Beauty And The Beast‘s nomination. Or maybe my memory is off. I’m not sure but I do know that animated films face an uphill battle to win. From another Wiki entry:
Other points of contention include the lack of animated films being nominated (Disney’s Beauty and the Beast became the 1st film to get nominated, and Disney-Pixar’s Up and Toy Story 3 were nominated after the Academy expanded the number of nominees); no science fiction film has won despite a number of successful nominees; and only two comedies (Shakespeare in Love, 1998; and The Artist, 2011) have won in the last 30 years. Also to date, there has yet to be a documentary nominated for Best Picture.
Even then you don’t see voice actors getting their own Award, just the movie itself. (Although I wouldn’t be surprised to see “big name” celebs getting the nomination over lifetime voice actors.) The Best Animated Feature had to be begged for and at least one critic was disappointed that Wall-E didn’t get a Best Picture nomination.
Here’s my actual problem. As I noted with Underdog, you couldn’t make a movie that matched the cartoon. Animation, whether hand drawn, computer animated, or some mix of the two, carries an easier suspension of disbelief than a live-action production. With the exception of perhaps comedies and some action movies like Commando (it’s odd I go to this one for example so much when I’ve only seen the last half of it and part of the beginning), live-action has a limit to how it can break the laws of physics before we stop believing in that world. Some people will accept the Looney Tunes world before they accept the Three Stooges, despite the former’s slapstick being more exaggerated.
What I’m saying is that animation has its own strengths but there seems to be a strong focus on its weakness, that it doesn’t always look like our world. That maybe why we haven’t had an animated Superman on the big screen since the old Paramount-produced shorts ended while Man Of Steel exists. And too many adults won’t go to an animated movie unless they’re bringing their kids, although a new generation is starting to risk being seen coming out of a cartoon flick. Those of us who grew up on cartoons and see them as more than kiddie fare. (Especially the “family film/all ages” movies.) My generation and younger have embraced animation from Japan because they make stuff for all age groups, and “anime” fandom even gets to have its own snob faction. (“It wasn’t made in Japan, I don’t want to see it. And subtitles only or you ruin the true experience of Japanese animation. Larger audiences? Pshaw!)”
Comics are the same way. Your property hasn’t made it unless they make a live-action movie out of it. Even TV shows want a theatrical presentation, but with movie attendance falling because the only jerks ruining a movie for you at home are the ones you might live with (at least that’s my theory, along with the rising prices and falling paychecks) how has this remained the new status symbol. What happened to telling a good story in the manner that best fits the story? Should people enjoying your work be the sign that you’ve “made it”? Maybe if the audiences wouldn’t look down on a certain format for storytelling (comics, cartoons, and now video games) they’d find that good stories are being made, even if it isn’t one that particularly interests them. My mom used to hate animated productions but in recent years she’s warmed to a few movies.
All I’m asking for is that people take another look at animation and not snub it because it isn’t live-action. There are some great animated movies that wouldn’t be nearly as good in live-action. (And yes, the reverse is also true, while some ideas can be done either way, but with respect to the other format. Again, Japan does live-action versions of their animated shows and comics and it works out fine. The Marvel Movieverse would be a Western example of how to do it.) Animation is just another way of telling a story, which Disney, Pixar, and other animation studios have been trying to do for years. I could list some great animated movies and shows but this article is running long already. Maybe I’ll do just that, either as an article or a video, but don’t count out a show because it’s drawings instead of people. People still provide the voices and a well told story is still a well told story regardless of presentation. Something to consider.
Well, that’s one area animation is like live-action. They’re making too much crap, but nobody complains they’re making too many live-action movies, do that? Even here animation is being put in this separate area like it is another genre instead of another format.