I have heard little if any complaint about Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. It’s not perfect, chief to me considering I haven’t seen it being that the amazing art style leads to it looking like a low frame-rate in movement. The process creating the art is rather amazing though. No pun intended. It has however been called the best theatrical Spider-Film by a few critics I’ve seen and while I don’t know if that sentiment has reached the levels of Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm has reached with Bat-Fans who don’t hate animation it does leave an opening we discussed yesterday, the benefits of the animation medium in certain genres.
To expand on that, when you see something in live-action you tend to connect it to the real world. Even with the advancements in special effects it changes your perspective of what is believable and “realistic”, although longtime readers know how I feel about the misuse of that word these days. Animation is so far removed from the real world that you can more easily accept a more fantastic reality, and its attempt to emulate the real world has more potential to fall flat than live-action. It’s not impossible and with computer generated special effects it’s practically an animation/live-action hybrid, at least in a visual sense. Replace Godzilla’s suit actor with a CG model and it’s not that different from the technique in Who Framed Roger Rabbit really. At least Jurassic Park included puppetry and…well, not so much costumes.
There are benefits to going full animation. What held the Spider-Man movies back as early as James Cameron’s intended movie was the effects, and Cameron these days is becoming a CG-SFX addict. Imagine if he or any other director had embraced full-animation however. Some of the best Spidey-moves I saw was from Spider-Man Unlimited, which fully embraced how to make Spider-Man look like a spider man as well as the comic character, with some tweaks. (Peter needs a haircut.) And if Spider-Man, from the years of cartoons and the lone theatrical movie, can show movie goers the advantages of animation, maybe Hollywood should try out a few other ideas. They won’t of course because Hollywood looks down on cartoons, but these ideas might work a lot better with just voice actors and the right animation team.
Let’s just start with the blatantly obvious. The last few Superman movies were terrible and that’s coming from someone who enjoyed the third movie and will happily defend Supergirl. Even the supposedly good ones, the Richard Donner movies, have numerous issues, and I don’t just mean the director change during the second movie or that stupid ending to the first one. The Salkinds and Donner wanted to make you “believe a man could fly” and they pulled that off. They hired the right cast; although I think Reeves overdid it for his Clark Kent portrayal his Superman is perfect. Lois, Perry, and Jimmy (who still isn’t a redhead but no live-action Jimmy Olsen has been) are also perfect and while Michael Rosenbaum did it better nobody can really put down Gene Hackman as Luthor.
However, if Mask Of The Phantasm is the best Batman movie, which superhero is more suited to animation than a man who can move mountains? It’s why in the pre-CG days the makers of the Superman serials used cartoons to demonstrate some of Superman’s more “super” powers. It didn’t look as good as CG, but CG has been known to age poorly as well. Superman has had direct-to-video animated movies, lots of them. Most of them have been quite good. All-Star Superman, Superman Versus The Elite, and the recent Death And Return adaptations (even if he is in the New 52 costume) have all received a decent amount of praise. SyFy has even aired a Superman/Supergirl team-up movie as well as a few Justice League animated movies, and that’s not a typical animation channel nor have they had an animation block since long before they changed the name from The Sci-Fi Channel. With Superman’s power set, the best way to fully demonstrate the raw power Superman holds in the comics (you know, the source material) is through animation.
This goes for other comic adaptations as well. Some work better in live-action, but it depends on the mindset of the creators and artists when making it. Wanted worked better live-action. The Phantom works as live-action. Watchmen can go either way. Dick Tracy really shouldn’t have been live-action, and the list of those is a lot longer than the other two.
This one might not be as obvious, but it probably should be even though it’s only been animated once. (Twice if you count the upcoming parody series on CBS All Access but I don’t since it’s a parody.) In my time I’ve only seen one fan film animated (parodies aside) and it was in the Filmation style. In addition to their usual short cuts they also tried to match the look of the show. (Compare their battles with later space shows like Flash Gordon.) Of course it looks more off thanks to the re-effected special editions CBS puts out now but for those of us who like the classic effects as a time capsule of where special effects was back then it isn’t as bad.
However, imagine what a modern animated Trek movie could pull off. Considering all the effects are done on computer anyway, including the space shots, is there really that big a difference? In the clip that may or may not still be there depending on when you see this we have an alien who could never be done properly with practical effects, so it would have to be computer animated as well. The key word there is “animated”. Given how flat the Abrams Trek was for Paramount, an animated makeover might work out. I’m not sure what timeline it would end up in (one of the three current timelines or something new) but it would allow Paramount to truly have their own Trek, reach a new kind of audience, show that animation doesn’t just have to be for kids (although that would replace the aging audience faster and set it further apart from what All Access is doing with their part of the license), and since anything not doable with headpieces would be animated anyway, what would be the difference?
It wouldn’t even have to be Star Trek itself. A movie in the tradition of the Star Trek universe would work too. There are plenty of fascinating science fiction movies done in 2D and 3D over the years. Have we seen that much of it since Titan AE? It wasn’t the fact that it was animated that it failed since so much of it would have to be done in the computer anyway to pull it off in live-action. It just wasn’t all that spectacular a story and no amount of celebrity voice actors would save it. Just give it a good story and amazing visuals and you’ll have your audience. I could also thrown in Star Wars given how many specials and series were made with that franchise over the years.
Harry Potter (or at least something close to it)
I’m not a fan so some of you would know more than I would, but with all the fantasy and magic-enhanced creatures running around the wizarding world, how much of the movie franchise is already animated? Throw in the spells (I think it’s the “petronus” spell that creates magical animals or something) and there’s enough animation that you could pull off a cartoon in this style or in this universe.
Now this one I grant you doesn’t need to be directly. In fact, this is one of those cases where live-action may actually makes the magic seem more fantastic and unlike comics until recently when the live-action status symbol started warping everything (see also video games) books are often created from a real-world core, if that makes any sense to you, so I don’t mean the Rowling wizard world specifically. However, with the right animation team behind it imagine the types of fantasy worlds, where the magic feels like just a natural part of the world, could be done in full animation. This goes for sci-fi as well, as noted earlier. Just look at how many fantasy series Japan puts out in animation, or the Harry Potter clones that our kids have been given in animation and you’ll see the potential…if you ignore how blatant and not as good those clones are.
In fact, there are quite a few books, especially young readers (kids books tend to be too short so the movie gets overpadded–see every theatrical Dr. Seuss adaptation ever), that might benefit from animation. I couldn’t find footage of it but I know there was an animated version of A Wrinkle In Time and I’m pretty sure the filmstrip they used to show in school of it (fellow old folks, remember filmstrips?) when I was a kid were made out of screencaps of the cartoon. It wasn’t the best animation or art, but I could see a better version of it. CBS Storybreak, a Saturday morning book adaptation series that was kind of like ABC’s Weekend Specials but hosted by Bob Keeshan (he played the original Captain Kangaroo), made their adaptation of one of my favorite books as a kid, C.L.U.T.Z., and while they got a lot wrong (the book has illustrations…the robot isn’t supposed to be built like a linebacker and you have the human character models there as well) it shows the potential for it as a proper movie, or at least a hour-long special.
video game adaptations
I was going to post a clip from the old Legend Of Zelda cartoon but then I came upon the trailer above. Imagine this with a larger movie budget, each movie telling the story of each of the games? Would you really care if it was live-action, knowing what limits live-action would have on suspension of disbelief and how badly Hollywood has screwed that up even when Uwe Boll wasn’t making it?
This really shouldn’t even be a question. Every live-action video game adaptation has been terrible to barely passable while the animated ones, most made by Japan, were only bad because the story was bad. I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. There are a few anime offerings I could point at as well, but I think that one is why Hollywood hasn’t tried an animated adaptation. Again, it wasn’t the animation that made it fail but the fact that the story made no sense, the pacing needed work, and the animation…actually wasn’t too bad for the time but did look too much like a cutscene. There have been some really good cartoons on TV…and yes plenty of bad ones but that was the fault of the creators, not the medium. A video game is computer animated by nature, although there have been attempts at using traditional animation as far back as Don Bluth’s Dragon’s Lair if not sooner. Then you have games using full motion video but many of them used CG due to budget and depending on the need to resemble the game you’re playing. Either way animation makes sense for adapting animation. Speaking of which.
cartoon adaptations…did I have to tell you that?
Apparently I have to tell Hollywood that. Out of four theatrical Smurf movies, two were animated and one of those was just a horrible dubbing of a movie meant to cash in on the show’s original popularity because there was an adaptation of the first appearance in the Johan and Peewit comic. There was also an animated direct-to-video movie to promote one of the live-action movies. This is a mistake, as the franchise was created as a cartoon…well, comic, but still my point stands. A Peabody and Sherman movie was also made animated and was pretty good from what I’ve heard but avoid the new series. It really is a pathetic shadow of the original series.
Meanwhile, how many live-action adaptations of cartoons were any good? Scooby-Doo? Jem? He-Man? Not likely. (Yeah, I kind of liked Masters Of The Universe but not for all the right reasons and I’m nervous if that one they keep teasing ever gets out of development hell.) Nobody made a live-action Spongebob Squarepants movie, only using live-action/CG mixes when they were out of the water, and even one of those kept the characters traditionally animated. Underdog would never have worked as created in live-action so what we got felt like a retool of the Krypto The Superdog cartoon that ended up getting both shows wrong. What was even the point?
I’m not saying live-action versions can’t work…except for things where they totally can’t work. However, for the world intended the toon world offers a level of suspension of disbelief our brains can’t always bring to live-action since it resembles the real world way too much. That’s why even with our current effects level, both computer and practical, you can get close but will never really capture the magic of works created with drawings in mind. Computer generated originals have a better chance of pulling it off, unless the concept was too far away from the real world as they did things only the computer animation could do just as the old 2D cartoons and certain comic books did. The less real world a concept is the more likely 2D or 3D animation (these are also not genres or sub-genres but could be considered separate medias or at least different animation formats) is the better alternative. We just need to let animation do what animation does best.