Author Topic: Animation Education  (Read 5621 times)

pixote

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Re: Animation Education
« Reply #30 on: January 30, 2017, 01:51:06 AM »


Zootopia  (Byron Howard & Rich Moore, 2016)

I don't quite trust my critical faculties on this one. It seems like the kind of film that on another day could have left me totally numb — like, for example, The Lego Movie. I don't think those two films are all that dissimilar, really, so I'm questioning whether my positive reaction to Zootopia is largely a factor of my wanting so badly to like it.

One thing in the movie's favor is its fairly strong world building. I look forward to mañana's watching Zootopia and reporting back with a thoughtful essay on urban planning considerations in an interspecies society. What a challenge that would be, if our cities had to accommodate humans as tall as giraffes and as small as mice. The movie plays with this idea inventively in its first act, to good effect and with enough detail to merit a second viewing.

The other key aspect of this domesticated interspecies society are, of course, the parallels to racial and ethic divisions in human society. For the most part, the writing handles these themes thoughtfully and even admirably, though probably not in a way that would stand up to close analysis. It's a bit dangerous, for example, to suggest that racial divisions in humans are as distinct as different animals species. That's 18th century thinking that's cringe-worthy in the 21st century, at least to most viewers. I don't think the film really demands to be taken that seriously or presents an exact allegory, but it nonetheless toes a very tricky line. I might return to this below.

The character animation of Zootopia really appeals to me. There's kind of a clean unreality to the animals that's less suggestive of true wildlife than of plush animal toys — and that fits the world of the film nicely, evoking the evolved state of these creatures. The backgrounds are nicely animated as well, with the urban grid of the city and the waterfall at animal imprisonment site striking me as extra impressive. It's the interplay between the backgrounds and the characters that I found a bit wanting. As often seems to be the case with computer animation — exacerbated in films targeted for 3D release — the look of the film is often too planar, with foreground and background seeming like separate realities. At times it's a bit like watching puppet theater, but more distancing.

Animated films seem to be held to a lower standard when it comes to storytelling, and Zootopia meets that standard. The setup is wonderful, and at the end of act one, I'm excited to it all play out, like 48 Hours meets L.A. Confidential or Minority Report or some other conspiracy mystery. But then things keep getting degraded by a bunch of Screenwriters' Playbook stuff, like the arbitrary deadline and phony obstacles ("I'm not in the system yet!") and characters acting out of character just to be of service to the narrative and very trite plot points. Luckily, the plot is largely just an excuse to spend time in this world with these characters, exploring interesting themes, but a stronger story really could have elevated Zootopia to something special.

In the Filmspots, I actually would have given this film Ensemble Cast consideration, if only to reward the casting director for assembling of group of actors that fit the film without ever distracting from it. I didn't recognize a single voice in the entire movie and was shocked to see so many familiar names in the end credits. That's a great tribute to the film, even if I'm as bad with voices as I am with faces.

(Nit-pick, doing sit-ups while reading a book looks cool, but anyone who's ever done a sit-up knows this is visually impossible.)

Haha, I had that same reaction.

Also don't get her giving herself a ticket. I get the joke, but come on. Now her goody-goody side is going too far.

And this one as well. There were a few other moments like this where I felt like the film put Judy's character secondary to either humor or plot development, and I thought it was a mistake every time. By the end, she wasn't fully believable to me as a character because of the inconsistencies introduced along the way.

Here we get the full extent of Nick's con game and it's a doozy. So nice to see the writing extend Nick beyond a simple hustle into a full enterprise with a legal answer for everything. In contrast to Judy's honesty, what makes Nick likable is his ability to leave no opportunity unworked. Even his harsh reality check on Hopps' past in Bunnyburrow and future with the police makes the character likable because he's clearly very good at this. Now let's see him apply those skills against someone we don't like.

Yes to almost all of this, though I didn't quite like the initial interaction between Nick and Judy. I couldn't make sense of Nick's being there to buy a popsicle. He must buy one a day, right? Does he always find some other sucker to pay for it? Does he always go to places reluctant to serve foxes? Are there enough of those to go around? Just a few niggling quibbles like that that distracted me there. I much preferred seeing the full extent of the con, as you elaborate on above. That all worked great for me and cemented Nick as immensely likable, as aided by the character design and Bateman's voicework. (I hope Zootopia gets paired with The Fox and the Hound double features for the rest of eternity, so we children can see foxes as both prey and predator and grow up in a world without barriers.)

I agree about the voice casting of Nick's partner as well.

There's an odd bit of stereotyping, with a Jersey Shore, Italian shrew (named Fru Fru), shopping with her friends.

Idris Elba does a great job not being the typical angry police chief. He's gruff and it's nicely done in an animalistic way with grunts and pounding his hoof on the table. He's also openly racist towards Judy, who he would rather fire than let her be anything other than a meter maid.

I meant to discuss this type of thing in the heart of my review, in relation to the film's tricky allegorical footing. The casting of Idris Elba as the police chief falls into the same realm as the Fru Fru character, because for the past few decades, tv shows have made a habit of casting black actors and police chiefs and judges, which are leadership positions in the real world but falsely suggestive of progressive diversity in television, where those are supporting roles. It's too late to articulate this well, but what I mean to get at is the way the film often relies on stereotypes as shorthand to tell the story or for laughs (very typical things in animated films), somewhat undercutting its core message.

More tomorrow.

Grade: B

pixote


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« Last Edit: January 30, 2017, 01:54:20 AM by pixote »
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

1SO

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Re: Animation Education
« Reply #31 on: January 30, 2017, 10:54:28 AM »
Zootopia would probably get paired with Disney's Robin Hood, which also features a friendly relationship between predators and prey.


I understand what you're saying about Idris Elba better than I do about the interplay between background and character, especially when the filmmakers consciously use the depth of field for a 3D release. A shot like this...


also, the chase in the Rainforest District, the asylum, the train sequence and the museum, all of these do a great job with depth of field, using the foreground and the background for interaction.

pixote

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Re: Animation Education
« Reply #32 on: January 30, 2017, 12:19:38 PM »
Unfortunately, it's not something I can demonstrate with screenshots. The effect requires motion to be seen. I'll watch the trailer again later to see if there are examples there. It's definitely not an issue for the whole film (certainly not the sequences you cite), just certain stretches.

pixote
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

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Re: Animation Education
« Reply #33 on: January 30, 2017, 01:19:19 PM »
I see your point in general, but I don't think it applies so easily to Zootopia, which goes out of its way to place these characters into the unique world they built. To make your point, you can just use the screenshot you used, which has 3 characters (and a jumbo pop) all standing in a line. Just, like I said, I find that to be the exception in this case.


One of the most creative shots is the one above. Click and enlarge it. Notice the details, the sense of scale created by the narrow focus. It looks more like stop-motion and digital paint. This will go away as the chase progresses, but i like how it initially sets up the difference in sizes where Judy is now the large threat. The chase is very creative, playfully showing a wide range of ideas in this new district of Little Rodentia. The playful side of what animation can do.

DarkeningHumour

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Re: Animation Education
« Reply #34 on: January 30, 2017, 01:34:34 PM »

Zootopia  (Byron Howard & Rich Moore, 2016)

I look forward to mañana's watching Zootopia and reporting back with a thoughtful essay on urban planning considerations in an interspecies society.

I will totally have this conversation with someone who'll play along.
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DarkeningHumour

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Re: Animation Education
« Reply #35 on: January 30, 2017, 01:39:22 PM »
Now you have me wonder about this movie with an elevated plot. Oh the possibilities...
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pixote

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Re: Animation Education [Moana]
« Reply #36 on: January 31, 2017, 10:42:48 PM »


Moana  (Ron Clements & John Musker, 2016)

In my review of Zootopia above, I expressed doubt about whether the film earned my appreciation or whether I awarded it to the film unmerited, out of a predisposition to enjoy the movie. Watching Moana really cleared up my confusion for me, vividly reminding me of what the flaws I thought I might have overlooked in Zootopia actually look like.

I wish there existed a parallel world where Moana existed as a live-action film, with production values equal to what's on display in our world's animated version. I strongly suspect that the reviews would be drastically different, with the Metacritic score falling from around 80 to closer to 60.

Viewers just aren't nearly as accepting of this kind of slapdash storytelling in a live-action film. I don't really know why that is, but I'm going blame television. Growing up watching kids' tv, perhaps we surely learn to association animation with cartoons — and, by extension, cartoonishness.

Scooby Doo doesn't have to be plotted like a Sherlock Holmes story. It just needs the barest semblance of a mystery narrative so the Scooby has reason to get scared and run away with exaggerated sound effects but then get a little brave when he smells a Scooby Snack.

My thesis, which I just made up, is that we're conditioned at a young age to accept that level of storytelling as acceptable in animated entertainment. That's the only way I can explain normally demanding adult viewers being so accepting of a film in which the ocean — one of the most powerful forces on earth — ever so conveniently acts as fairy godmother to the main character whenever absolutely necessary at the same time that it's an obstacle in her quest, something she struggles to sail through.

That's just one example of many. Much of script feels like it was written extemporaneously by children playing make-believe — children with less storytelling sense than Andy displays in the Toy Story movies — and then rewritten by an adult who read the Cliff Notes of a Syd Field book and had the film's two heroes each refuse their quests TWICE, for good measure.

Moana's whole quest is weird, by the way. Grandma's basically telling her to run away from home, which is actually a tad creepy. But, whatever, she follows the stars in a boat she doesn't know how to sail and didn't stock with supplies and she almost drowns, but ... MAGIC. Then she finds the exiled demigod she's looking for but he's a murderous dick (let's root for him!) who is content to let her drown in the ocean but ... MAGIC! After some boring interplay between them, he reluctantly (dumb) agrees to go get his magic thingy back, and he's knows exactly where it is because ... REASONS! But his magic things doesn't quite work anymore because ... REASONS! Et cetera, et cetera, all the way through to the final stage of this rules-free video game, where the stage boss is as cool as the unexplained dei ex machina (yes, plural) are dumb.

It doesn't help that I don't like the character animation here. In general, I find attempts to animate humans in realistic fashion to be ill-advised, and that's certainly the case here. The plasticity of Moana is really-off putting. She's less human than doll come to life — something which works with the animals of Zootopia, but not with the humans here.

What little in Moana doesn't involve its human characters is actually pretty good. "How Far I'll Go" is a good enough song to hear three times, and "Shiny" is pretty good too, when separated from its context in the film. Heihei feels like a but of a retread of Becky from Finding Dory but is no less enjoyable for that comparison.

Grade: C-

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« Last Edit: January 31, 2017, 10:49:54 PM by pixote »
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

Teproc

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Re: Animation Education
« Reply #37 on: February 01, 2017, 02:46:41 AM »
It's not about it being animation, it's fantasy... It's a hero's journey, not a very original tale, but one that works for me. I agree that the Ocean is too much of an Deus Ex Machina, but it's such a small part of the film. I guess it's telling that most of your review is dedicated to the plot, which is by far the least important part of the film. I also disagree about the animation, as far as I'm concerned this is prett much the best 3D animation gets.

pixote

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Re: Animation Education
« Reply #38 on: February 01, 2017, 11:14:30 AM »
I guess it's telling that most of your review is dedicated to the plot, which is by far the least important part of the film.

Plot and characters, really. I foregrounded them because I feel that the film itself does. I wish it didn't. I would have been happier with a more visual exploration of the world of the film, with more songs. I was actually quite surprised how little music there seemed to be. I was expecting something closer to a full-fledged musical.

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I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

Teproc

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Re: Animation Education
« Reply #39 on: February 01, 2017, 11:25:24 AM »
I guess it's telling that most of your review is dedicated to the plot, which is by far the least important part of the film.

Plot and characters, really. I foregrounded them because I feel that the film itself does. I wish it didn't. I would have been happier with a more visual exploration of the world of the film, with more songs. I was actually quite surprised how little music there seemed to be. I was expecting something closer to a full-fledged musical.

pixote

As much as I can see your points w/ regard to the plot, because familiarity with (and built-in affection for) that kind of narrative does go a long way in getting me to accept some pretty hand-wavey stuff, I really loved the characters. I found Moana to be easy to root for, vulnerable enough to be human but appropriately plucky, and Maui was just delightful. I'm curious what Disney movies you feel are more full-fledged musicals than this ? Looking at DH's polls, it doesn't look like Moana has less songs than most.

 

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