Just forget the words and sing along

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Just watched Pokemon 4 again on DVD. Plus, the last CD I bought in Japan was a compilation of every Japanese Pokemon theme song, so the differences between Japanese and North American Pokemon are foremost on my mind at the moment. One of the differences that really strikes me -- maybe it's a cultural thing -- are the themes of the theme songs. See, in the North American theme songs, they tend to focus on the competition aspect of the Pokemon universe: lyrics like "Born to be a winner" and "strive to be the very best." But, in the Japanese theme songs, they focus more on the hero's journey, not the battles that he faces. I don't know, the Japanese themes just make the entire Pokemon universe seem more...epic.

I also sat down to watch the director's running commentary on Disney's Beauty and the Beast. That was rather fascinating. When Beauty and the Beast was made in the years 1989-1991, the concept of melding computer animation in with traditional animation was still very radical. We all know that famous ballroom scene from Beauty and the Beast, where Belle and Beast dance while Mrs. Potts sings the titular song. We also all know how the background -- the entire ballroom itself -- is computer animated. The directors share that, when the animators first pitched doing that scene in CGI, they did so very nervously. Why? Because it was still new and experimental. So this is leading me to develop a theory about animation.

Because the more successful animated films of recent years have been computer animated, many are quick to spell the death of traditional animation. But let's take a look here. Beauty and the Beast did many revolutionary things in the field of traditional animation. It was the first to use a CGI background. (In fact, the directors reveal they wanted MORE 3-D CGI backgrounds in the film, but the technology just wasn't fast enough yet.) It's was only Disney's second movie to use computer-coloured cels. While all this revolutionary stuff was going on, what did it produce? The only animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture.

Computer animation, for the most part, is still a relativly new medium. Hell, Toy Story's not even 10 years old yet. People are still pushing it's limits, seeing what can be done with it. A similar situation arose in 1990, when Beauty and the Beast was being made. These animators were pushing the technology, seeing what can be done with it. People look at the failure of most traditional animated films right now and say that people just aren't interested in them any more. I don't think that's the case. I think what's going on is, because CGI is still so new, the animators are feeling more creative with it, seeing what boundries there are, and thusly, producing better stories. That was the same thing in 1990, when traditional animation was making it's comeback.

You know, let's try an analogy here. Let's take a great artist. S/he had worked his/her whole life in black & white. S/he has become very good with black and white imagry. S/he pushes new boundries daily. Now, let's give this artist a new colour. Let's give them, say, green. The artist would be like, "Wow! Green! What can I do with this?" and would go and produce all kinds of striking black, white, and green pictures. Does this spell the end of black and white? Hell, no. A lot of great art still happens in black and white.

So, that's all that's happened with the advent of computer animation. We've just given the artists green. And, while everyone is fascinated with it, black and white still goes strong.

Does this make sense? It made sense while I watched Beauty and the Beast.

Anyway, let's take a quick look at the business side of animation. As most folks know, I love Pixar. Pixar currently has a contract to make computer animated films for Disney. Now, that contract ends in 2005. After that, no one knows what's going to happen to Pixar. Will they go solo? Will they sign up with a new studio? No one really knows. A lot thought that Pixar and Disney would go their seperate ways in 2005, as Steve Jobs (the head of Pixar) and Michael Eisner (the head of Disney) are starting to...well, feel a little animosity towards each other.

But then, a little movie happened: Finding Nemo. In case you haven't been following the box office receipts, Finding Nemo will shortly surpass The Matrix Reloaded as the #1 movie of 2003 (so far). Suddenly, Eisner is liking Pixar all over again. And, sadly, despites Jobs' dislike of Disney, the sad truth is a lot of Pixar's animators are ex-Disney. You can take the animator out of the Magic Kingdom, but you can't take the Magic Kingdom out of the animator. So, suddenly, both sides are very eager to re-negotiate their contract. As much as I'd love to see Pixar go solo, they might be under the sway of Disney for a lot longer.

Next issue...Celebi: A Timeless Encounter.

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