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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Horror Films and Stephen King (Part Seven)

De Laurentiis was the sole production company involved in the making of this film. They gave this movie a budget of $10 million dollars, which may have been risky considering their spotty past varying from Conan the Destroyer to Blue Velvet. Of their 22 productions four were released in 1986. The fact that they spread themselves so thin may have lead to the variance in the quality of the films and their financial success.
    

The distribution of this film is what really sunk it, as in almost no one saw this film. DEG didn’t have the distribution power even of a New World Pictures thus not many theatres ran the film. Even if they did get a decent amount of screens there was still the problem of bad timing. 
 

Maximum Overdrive got slammed financially and here’s why: it began slowly in June, (AIP would have called it I Was an ‘86 Blockbuster) and they rolled in: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Back to School, The Karate Kid Part II and Ruthless People. Then on July 2nd and 4th Disney attacked with The Great Mouse Detective and Flight of the Navigator. OK, so there are a lot of comedies and family films what’s to worry … (gulp) … Aliens, the follow-up to the original blockbuster comes out and becomes the dominant film of the next few weeks beginning on July 18th. With the horror market cornered a small unassuming film directed by a writer involving trucks comes out, what do you expect to happen? Well, as that dude Murphy would say, if he had lived in the 80s, “Yo, it gets worse!” 
 

A fortnight after the truck expedition Rob Reiner released one of the finest King adaptations to ever hit the screen, Stand by Me. It was a film that caught everyone by surprise, including Stephen King, who later remarked, “It seemed to me that Stand by Me was the first really completely successful adaptation of my work.” (Stand by Me). I believe part of that comes from a true filmmaker who wasn’t afraid to involve himself in the text in handling the film. It wasn’t just a studio picking up his latest offering, or struggling writer maxing his credits cards to get a shot or a no-name director getting his one chance. 
    

Ironically, the marketing of Stephen King is only an issue when it’s a horror film. When The Green Mile came out he was the author of The Shawshank Redemption, with Hearts in Atlantis  he was the author of The Green Mile. Dolores Claiborne was probably also thrown in the mix at one point. It’s as if they think he’s only good when he writes something other than horror.

I’d seen Stand by Me as a child and had always liked it. It was one of those things I came to later rediscover in adolescence/early adulthood and when I found that King had written that tale it confirmed his genius in my mind. King and Reiner seemed to have come from similar upbringings and it lead to probably one of his most fruitful collaborations. King commented in 1990 that “Rob Reiner, who made Stand by Me, is one of the bravest, smartest filmmakers I have ever met. I am also amused to note that the company Mr. Reiner formed following the success of Stand by Me is Castle Rock Productions … a name with which many of my long time readers will be familiar.”  (Midnight, xiii). 
 

   

Often the relationship has not been as chummy. King is said to have had many a feud with Kubrick and has publicly aired his sentiments about The Shining over the years. Yet, he is quite an admirer of DePalma’s Carrie, as am I, while he finds no real amusement in his own book which he once threw out, I agree with that instinct but am so very glad his wife saved it from the wreckage. While I know it’s true that it’s usually the studio/distributor that makes the decision to plaster a movie poster with “Stephen King’s” or “From the producers of Independence Day” I sometimes hope that he stipulated that it be removed if he was unhappy with something, like Christine.
    

John Carpenter’s Christine is a galumphing piece of crap about an unsympathetic nerd that never should have been made. The book, however, is a fascinating, ominous, well-developed masterpiece told from three separate points of view and you can sympathize with all the characters. And like the master he is, you believe this scenario somehow because he makes you. 
 
   
To successfully adapt a book one must realize what makes each medium unique in order to capture the book’s essence on film without ruining it like millions of misguided dorks have done in the past. Ira Levin author of Rosemary’s Baby commented on Roman Polanski’s adaptation in a letter to King stating “There is a reason for his fidelity to the book, incidentally…His screenplay was the first adaptation he’d made of someone else’s material; his earlier films had all been originals. I think he didn’t know it was permitted – nay, almost mandatory! – to make changes.” (qtd. in King, Danse Macabre, 296). It is always wonderful when a film can be made that follows the book as faithfully as Levin feels his was followed. However, it’s not always a success like a Harry Potter or a Rosemary’s Baby the words ‘slavish,’ ‘slow,’ and ‘boring’ often come up in reviews. People who want drawn out movies that give you two to two-and-half hours to really examine the characters and the situation their in are rare, more and more studios are reverting to the 90 minute film length as opposed to the 120 and above.
  


 
The issue of time is one reason that Stephen King has found such a comfortable home on ABC writing mini-series’. In 1999 and 2002 he made two originals called Storm of the Century and Rose Red. In the latter he had the luxury of waiting 100 minutes before sending his protagonists into a haunted house whereas, in a feature film most producers would’ve already wanted the story to be over.
    

In the end, making Maximum Overdrive was a valuable experience for Stephen King. Since 1986 it seems that he’s taken a more active role in some of his productions and has ultimately learned to pick his battles. He’s since found a medium in which he can write long screenplays filled with rich, rounded characters and he has since become a producer. Thanks in part to Reiner’s success more accomplished filmmakers have since been attracted to his projects. The high-end Kingflicks are more frequent and there isn’t as much junk inbetween. He’s been involved with Frank Darabont on two occasions on The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile and Darabont has optioned the rights to a short story entitled “The Mist” [It has since been released], William Goldman has adapted three of his novels into films Misery and Hearts in Atlantis and the forthcoming Dreamcatcher. King wrote an episode for Chris Carter’s X-Files and is shopping an adaptation of Patrick McGrath’s novel Asylum to be directed by Jonathan Demme [This never came to fruition]. He’s also developing a television series based on Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom for which he will write pilot [This did happen].
    

Many readers who like to be scared by King, when they’re not going to court with Grisham or seeing the turbulence in Steel’s world, have fallen out of favor with King’s work. Stephen King is a writer who is constantly honing his craft. He is writing richer, more complex novels and has mastered other mediums along the way. A little over 36 years after his career in film began King’s legacy is only now beginning to show his true potency.