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/

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Properties That Could Use The Avengers Treatment

Now speaking for myself (for who else would I speak for) I was most definitely delighted with The Avengers. Now, whether you loved it, hated it or felt indifferently towards it one cannot deny the box office records it shattered. Which gets me to thinking that imitation is the sincerest form of trying to make money in Hollywood; so what entities could benefit from a ‘team up’ mentality, aesthetically at least (as the box office is always a crap shoot)?

1. Turma da Mônica

OK, yes, this is absolutely my list and some of these ideas may not be feasible financially or even of broad appeal to a US audience. However, I am merely selecting properties where there can be a convergence of factions within a fictitious universe. This is a Brazilian comics universe I’ve discussed on occasion and the fact of the matter is there are many separate “Gangs” (as they’re referred to meaning more like Kool and the Gang, rather than biker gangs) that could each have their own films or a mash-up. There’s certainly enough characters and plots it’s about 11 sections and 100+ characters. Which does not include the new adolescent versions of many of the same characters.

2. Looney Tunes

This has been touched upon to an extent both in Roger Rabbit, Space Jam and Back in Action, which I did not see. However, the Looney Tunes ensemble is still right for a feature length film that doesn’t stitch together shorts but rather creates new material and introduces a new audience to these wonderful characters.

3. Disney

This was honestly the first idea that came to mind. Between the parks and the Epic Mickey video games (a new version to come next year) this idea is just sitting there. Disney fans are nothing if not loyal. We, for I speak as one of them, would gladly go to see a new story with old familiar faces in familiar contexts. This is much more in keeping with what will please us rather than uninspired straight-to-video sequels.

4. Walter Lantz

Universal Studios owns all these characters and only recently announced the development of a Woody Woodpecker feature. It’s a great property that should be exploited and while they’re doing that they may as well bring many back to us. Come on, Chilly Willy.

This group makes it on the list over something like Dick Tracy because at least here it seems like the current rights holder is seeking to do something with it.

5. Justice League

The status of this project is in the balance and rumored, however, that’s not to say it’s not a possibility. Chris Nolan’s Batman series is a benchmark. Superman is being re-started. Despite its box office and critical struggles (I liked it) Green Lantern has happened. Getting a few more ducks in a row (Meaning films and attaching cast/director) this could work. Seriously.

6. Animaniacs

I can’t be the only one who misses these guys and would absolutely love to see all the great characters this show created converge in one huge overriding plot. The common thread: everyone is, whether they know it or not, obstructing The Brain’s plot to take over the world.

7. Tiny Toons

This one is going a few years before that but, hey, Elmira is the crossover character! The Tiny Toons I felt were more unceremoniously dumped for The Animaniacs. They are far more legitimate heir to the Looney Tunes than the new Baby version which I can hardly bear to look at in a commercial.

8. Roger Rabbit

I mentioned this in a short film Saturday post but Roger Rabbit has unjustly vanished from the world after being poised to be a huge real life star (better than Goofy?) but it never happened. If it all goes well I’d like Robert Zemeckis to get to do this. In spite of his motion capture struggles this is his project if its a hybrid, I would not object to an all toon version though.

9. Fradim

This could work better as a TV show but it is a Brazilian choice. Essentially, Henfil was one of Brazil’s great cartoonists and his strip was extra-ordinarily political. Creating a feature-length pastiche of his works would be something quite special, not that his universe is as massive as some of these others.

10. Calvin & Hobbes

I could include this in another list soon but clearly your argument against it, aside from the purist’s one, would be: “Calvin and Hobbes isn’t a heavily populated universe, is it?” No, not with people but were there to ever be a film I’d want to to be every bit as varied as Calvin’s imagination meaning Spaceman Spiff, Dinosaurs, Old Fashioned Soap Opera-Looking adults, Aliens and other imagined realities and alter egos of Calvin would be included in the story.

11. The Peanuts

Perhaps no other comic strip was ever as simply philosophical and also got down to the brass tacks of childhood and life better than The Peanuts. Specials like at Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween are great but they only truly skim the surface of the series. With the Peanuts gaining new life in a series from Boom Studios and dailies being reprinted by Fantagraphics one would think someone would be able to edit and cull major story-lines that relate, and incorporate as many characters as possible into a tremendous feature.

12. Harvey Comics

Now, there were a few adaptations of Harvey creations both Richie Rich and Casper (the latter being better and sequels not withstanding), however, Harvey comics no longer exist but the characters still exist in the collective consciousness and are getting either re-imagined or re-issued all the time. There are many characters to leverage and crossing over was frequent so it wouldn’t be hard to do if someone thought there was an audience for it.

13. The Fantastic Four

I’ll admit that I have not seen The Fantastic Four films that were attempted and based on what I’ve heard they’re not high on my list. Since my return to comics the First Family has become one of my great loves. Jonathan Hickman’s run, which I am fully up to date on, is truly epic and the kind of story that is conducive to an elevated sensibility that has been applied to superhero films as of late. The characters within the Marvel universe have always been sort of a crossroads so creating an Avengers-like project with them would not be difficult.

14. Asterix & Obelix

Here’s another one where the population isn’t huge but the amount of texts related to the characters is. Essentially this would be a narrative bomb, likely involving time travel or some other fantastical means to travel to a plethora of locations in the ancient world.

15. Histeria!

OK, imagine if you will a world wherein The Animaniacs and Tiny Toons were hits. Got it? OK, that’s where Histeria! will logically come into play. Now, it didn’t have nearly the run as those other Warner projects but I liked this one just as much. Similar, to Asterix in as much as this tales is mostly about history there’d be some way for the characters to go through the ages and also be a bit more dramatized than they were on the show.

16. Archie Comics

Anyone who has been reading the Life with Archie series knows that the Archie Comics are into breaking the mold now (Shameless self-promotion: I’ll discuss that further in an upcoming post). The same incarnations of the characters you grew up with still exist and can be exploited cinematically also, but the more mature mind-bending interpretation is the one with the most potential.

17. Star Comics

OK, here’s another personal pick and one that’s far more likely if Marvel were to ever do shorts. The mash-up angle is that Star was an imprint dedicated mostly to licensed material but it also did include some newly created original characters namely Planet Terry, Wally the Wizard, Top Dog and Royal Roy. Crossing over could easily happen here. To further convince the cynic here’s the Marvel “bridge,” meaning how can we possibly get to Star characters: Reboot The Fantastic Four (Make tons of money), incorporate the Power Pack in a sequel (as they’ve always been connected through Franklin Richards [See, crossroads]) and then get around to Star via Fantastic Four and Power Pack.

18. Hanna-Barbera

We all know that this is a huge universe and also that they had crossovers, many of these are animated simply because the possibility of combining a large number of characters is very exciting

19. Stephen King

Here’s one I saw suggest by John Gholson on his twitter feed. I forget who he suggested but essentially with all of King‘s canon this could work any number of ways. It could be an assemblage of his greatest heroes, or it could also be new heroes and a few villains who survived (names avoided to not spoil). The third possibility is a poor, unfortunate schmuck goes through a horrific tour through King’s Maine, without any need to justify it. Because you don’t need one sometimes as King himself stated in Storm of the Century ‘When his life was ruined, his family killed, his farm destroyed, Job knelt down on the ground and yelled up to the heavens, “Why God? Why me?” and the thundering voice of God answered, “There’s just something about you that pisses me off”.’

20. The Kids in the Hall

I preface this choice by saying I adore Brain Candy, I know I’m in a minority when I say that but I do. However, that’s not to say I wouldn’t love to see a Kids in the Hall film where they play say 995 out of 1000 characters and bring in many of their famous characters. One needs to only see the rendition of a film not unlike Kiss of the Spider Woman that Bruno Puntz Jones (David Foley) and Francesca Fiore (Scott Thompson) do to know how cinematic they can be and how easily they can pull it off.