Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Animation (Part 7 of 17)

This is a recapitualtion of a paper I wrote in school. Part one can be read here. A search can retrieve subsequent parts. Since time does bring about changes and developments, I have included some notes in brackets after statements that may no longer hold true, or at least are in need of further enlightening.

In the 1980s Animation and Television are one. Even more so than in the 1970s animation was in the 80s a medium of television, while the animated feature was always a rarity we see in the 80s the complete discontinuation of cinematic shorts and the dominance of half hour animated programs before getting to that there are some important developments in the cinema that need examining.

Walt Disney Studios were my catechism in film. From 1937 to 1995 they were the Notre Dame of film in my eyes and could do no wrong. There is an asterisk, however, and that comes in the 1980s. The films they made were very eclectic in the 80s.

They made some very good films The Fox and the Hound (1981), The Great Mouse Detective (1986) and The Little Mermaid (1989) yet they produced films that I had no interest in seeing as a child and they were Oliver and Company (1988) and The Black Cauldron (1985). Disney went beyond the point of experimentation later on and just got bad on occasion. They’d lost the luster and were not something I looked forward to any longer. [I’ve since filled the 80s gaps in my viewing, and have found newer and older Disney titles I like. My fandom is complicated thing, as I will explore in March.]

If it takes about four years to produce an animated feature film then I estimate the death of Disney films as we knew them in 1991. Which is when they would’ve started working on Pocahontas and Mulan the first two Disney films I consciously avoided and then they released the terrible Hercules and it was over. The only quality they can come up with now is through collaboration with Pixar and through use of computer animation. [This too has changed since this writing and the introduction of Walt Disney Animation Studios, which focuses more on traditional techniques.]

Not that there was anything wrong with the Disney of the 1980s, oddly their best film of the period may have been The Brave Little Toaster in 1987 but one of the best things the 80s brought us was a legitimate alternative American feature length animation film for the first time since Max Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels.

One of the very best films ever made has got to be Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It took the technology from Bedknobs and Broomsticks to the nth degree. Not only that but it’s one of the most entertaining and delightful films I’ve eve been witness to and it’s nearly miraculous that Spielberg was able to pull it all together. What makes Who Framed Roger Rabbit truly a great film of the 80s cinema is how we see the cartoon characters. This probably has more resonance with people who saw this film as children because, in essence, what the film is doing is rounding out these characters, if not that adding dimension at least. Whereas in shorts we knew what Bugs Bunny was going to say and how Daffy would respond. Here we saw them in different situations and in a new light. It’s something kids do all the time: take characters that have existing attributes, stories, etc. and put them in new ones either just in their own imagination or with the aid of action figures. This makes it such a rich and pleasing cinematic experience. While as children get to bask in whimsical awe that all these characters we never saw interact are running around together (Donald and Daffy) we also get wrapped up in the mystery and it becomes very suspenseful. For adults the opposite effect must be true the suspense and plot keep you in it and the cartoon characters take you back in time, making this a unique experience for all who see it. It is truly a gem of the 80s which was hailed as a ‘landmark’ at the time but hasn’t had much said about it since. Spielberg attempted to make Roger a new star of shorts but the logistics probably got in the way and only a few were made, however, Spielberg has continued to work with animation making the all computer animation Shrek, yet another breakthrough and creating such television series as Tiny Toons Adventures, Anamaniacs, Freakazoid! and Histeria.

An American Tail (1986, Universal)

Aside from Spielberg’s efforts the 80s has produced another animation specialist named Don Bluth:

“Don Bluth was one of the chief animators at Disney to come to the mantle after the great one’s death. He eventually became the animation director for such films as The Rescuers (1977) and Pete’s Dragon (1977). Unfortunately, the quality of animation that Disney was producing at this point was not up to par with the great works of Disney, and there was rumor that the production unit at Disney might be shut down indefinitely. In retaliation, Bluth and several other animators led a walkout, and went off to form their own independent animation firm.”

Bluth’s story is one of those twenty-years-in-the-business-overnight-success-stories. In 1982 he released his first film The Secret of NIHM and it was a success. In fact, he didn’t have a bust in the 80s following that up with An American Tail, The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go to Heaven. While he’s never been on a Disney-like scale he has made quality films and continues to make his own works. As a businessman and a producer, he’s never said no to a sequel. God knows how many Land Before Time films there are now but he does have his standards as a director and his most recent animated sci-fi adventure Titan A.E. received sharply mixed reviews.

Animation is definitely now the domain of television. [Obviously this no longer holds as animated features now come from all studios and have spawned an Academy Award category all their own.] The short which used to be on before a feature film, is now paired with two other shorts and called a television show. The stage for this change was set in the 1980s as we will see in the television section.

Works Cited: http://us.imdb.com/Bio?Bluth,%20Don

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/TitanAE-1097051/

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: The International Scene (Part 6 of 17)

One can never really analyze all of international film during a given decade given the enormous scope and the amount of films released worldwide in any 10-year period. Certain decades have cinematic movements within given cultures; the 1960s are perhaps the most notable with the nouvelle vague influencing all of Europe. However, the 1980s is the time when foreign films started to have staying power. The art houses would soon be cropping back up and Americans started to be more willing to watch foreign films than ever before, even in the 60s watching Fellini and Truffaut was a sect of counterculturalism that was not universal.

The Academy Awards have always been a promotional event. The press has added a great deal of importance to them and the public have followed it making it consistently one of the highest viewed television programs every year. Thus, when the Academy, whoever they are, starts nominating foreign films in categories usually reserved for American films one needs to take notice.


In 1983 Fanny and Alexander, what was said at the time to be Ingmar Bergman’s last film, received six Oscar nominations and walked home with four of them. Ironically, the categories in which Bergman should’ve been given the awards (Director and Screenplay) were the ones they didn’t win.

Later on La Historia oficial an Argentine film was nominated for best screenplay in 1985. In 1988 Marcello Mastroianni was nominated for Best Actor in Dark Eyes and the screenplay for Au Revoir les enfants and the director of My Life as a Dog, Lasse Hallström, were nominated while Babette’s Feast won Best Foreign Language Film. Also, amongst the nominees was a great piece of Norwegian folklore that has been handed down over the generations called Ofelas.


Max von Sydow received an academy award nomination for his performance in Pelle the Conqueror which was in 1989, for a 1987 release. This was a film which won the Palm d’Or in Cannes, and it is truly one of the best films to come out of any country during the 1980s. It takes place at the turn of the century when Lasse (Von Sydow) and Pelle (Pelle Hvenegaard) arrive in Denmark from Sweden to try and find work for themselves. We follow their trials and tribulations that make us as the audience feel more and more sympathy for the characters as the film progresses. Part tragedy and part triumph, this is a beautiful film that rightly put Bille August on the map.


Of course, we also get Giuseppe Tornatore who’s one of the most talented directors in the world right now coming out with his first hit Cinema Paradiso. In France there was the cinema du look but the emerging nation of the 1980s was Brazil. 


Pixote, A Lei dos Mais Fraco (1982, HB Films)

While the film industry was beleaguered when the government cut off all funding for the arts during an economic crisis there were two big films that set the stage for the international success Brazil would enjoy in the 90s and 00s with films like O Quatrilho, Central Station and O Que e Isso Companheiro? (English title: Four Days in September), A Partilha and Bicho de Sete Cabeças. First, there was Pixote a powerful film about juvenile delinquents from the favelas of São Paulo, of which none were professional actors. It’s a gut-wrenching dramatic experience and an amazing piece of simulacrum; in a sense the Brazilian neo-realist film. The film is told in two parts: first, we see the minors and their struggles in the juvenile camp. Second, there’s a break and they escape and we see their life on the street. Hector Babenco, a naturalized Brazilian, struck home by portraying poverty and crime as well as bureaucratic corruption as it was never seen before in Brazil. It ever landed on many American top 10 lists.


Meanwhile, Arnaldo Jabor’s Eu Sei Que Eu Vou te Amar is a direct victim of the government’s cutting artistic funding and they had to work on practically no budget. This film demonstrates not only the power of editing but also of fine acting. There are only two actors in this film and they are great so much so that Fernanda Torres won Best Actress at Cannes in 1986. We meet the two main characters and they have a discussion and an argument about their relationship why they got divorced. There are flashbacks and a video monitor with the actors on them represents their inner-monologue. The dialogue in this film is fantastical. There’s a stream of poetry that come out through these inner-monologues that is just perfect and the arguments are intelligent and not just bickering. The film is absolutely riveting and is as the blurb describes “a psychological playground” that only suffers from the hallucinogenic end.


International cinema finally made its presence felt for good in the nation that influences the world. Whether negatively or positively most cinematic movements around the world are reactions to Hollywood, and the constant presence and acceptance of international cinema is a necessity to the vitality of American cinema.

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Box Office Boom (Part 5 of 17)

This is a recapitulation of a paper I wrote in film school, and had previously posted on another site. It’s being re-posted here in periodic installments. You can read parts one, two, three and four here.

A very likely reason for the love-affair of the studio with the sequel is that the Blockbuster Mentality was in full force. A hit was a smash and a bomb blew up in your face. Ticket prices were up and so were budgets, but even with all that taken into account there was an increase in the size of the Blockbuster Film.


1989 was a watershed year when the Blockbuster Mentality finally came to some kind of fruition. In that same year the top 10 all earned $100 million with Parenthood bringing home that exact amount. In 1989 viewership rose 16.4% percent from the year before with Batman, The Little Mermaid and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids being amongst notable original hits (i.e. non-sequels) and sequels also proved successful with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2 and Back to the Future part II. Having seen most of these films I do believe them for the most part to be very well done, unlike much of the trash that lines the top of the box office today. And through the 80s as a whole despite an increase in prices by 48% attendance also rose 24%.

With the youth of America being the power at the box office in the 80s, and the appeal of the cinema being eternal, attendance never really took a hit but every attempt was made by the studios to conquer this audience. There was also an attempt made to conquer the adults who were too busy watching The Cosby Show. Something went terribly right in 1989 because we never had seen so many sequels work in such a big way. The size and scale of major motion pictures also have never looked back. While the 80s were big on gigantic budgets they would really kick into high gear in the latter part of the decade. Just one example being Who Framed Roger Rabbit costing $70 million to produce and grossing $392 million worldwide. With these kind of success stories the studios were ever more tempted to throw money at their one guarantee and sit to wait for their investment to multiply.


This strategy has ultimately lead to the further deterioration of whatever is left of the studios but it has helped to create the true blockbuster because when a film’s a hit now it’s truly a hit; meaning it has to make loads and loads of money to go anywhere.
 It does seem, however, that trying to make a huge score on a more modest budget is less a part of the game now.

Work Cited: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/

Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Sociopolitical Overview (Part 2 of 17)

When we think of the 90s socio-politically you can almost draw a parallel to the kind of films that were produced. With Clinton in office the stock market more than doubled it was prosperity galore and yet there was a generation (Generation X followed by Y, how original) that could care less. There were hardly any films that reflected the times we were in because that would be bourgeois, no one really cared they had money in their pocket. Yet there was also nothing to escape unless you count the laughable Lewinsky affair, so film stagnated aside from the occasional blip here and there.

While the 80s were not like the 60s in that there was a constant issue constantly looming over everyone like the Vietnam War. There were several crucial events in America’s history. Films are the products of our society and the people writing those films for the most part came of age in the 60s and thus, had a higher social consciousness than those who grew up in the culturally devoid 70s.

Being children of the 60s coupled with the fact that escapist family oriented cinema was in demand for a great part of the decade lead to many of these films having a lot of pie-in-the-sky idealism in them.

The 80s socially and politically were a mess. There was always something. New York was a crime-ridden dirty hole, which is reflected to some extent Ghostbusters. At the beginning of the decade there was the hostage crisis and the decade ended with the beginning of the communist collapse. While there were many crises and negative events there was a national sentiment in the nation and a presentiment that gave people a feeling that we could change things, amid all the excesses of the ‘me generation’ there was Hands Across America, Farm Aid and Artists for Africa which were movements by musicians that we could change the world and films like Amazing Grace and Chuck reflect that sentiment.

It was undoubtedly a turbulent time but there was a wind of change in the air. Reagan’s short-sightedness in his term is paralleled by the studio heads. Reagan wanted to give the taxpayers a break immediately and it hurt in the long run while the studios wanted money immediately and slowly the quality of films they were producing would dwindle. Thankfully, the quality did keep coming out until the end of the decade. The political conditions were all aligned for good, even great films to be made. Great films never come out in abundance when the nation is affluent. Pre-packaged hit-me films do, the 80s were a great time to grow up in because you probably weren’t aware of all that was going on around you. Yet I do recall seeing the possibility for change and seeing that something good can occur in this world and I saw it plastered across a large silver screen every weekend.

 Note: This is a recapitulation of a paper I wrote in film school. It will be published here in installments. You can read part one here.