Jul 26, 2006

My goat, gotten


Over on Cartoon Brew this morning Amid Amidi notes a prominent newspaper's review of "Monster House". It's a jaw-dropper.

The art of film writing and reviewing is obviously subjective, and I have no particular grievance with writers in general on film even if on occasion I might I violently disagree with their tastes or views. In the best of it I at least find something new to think about in a reviewer's points.
But the paragraph Amid excerpts has to read to be believed; the writer makes a mockery of 100 years of often beautiful, heartbreaking, breathtaking, real acting achievement in animated films. It's one thing to write about a "new" technique in film as the flavor of the month served up in a holy grail--it's another to backtrack and demean the plain fact of past successes as somehow terribly lacking, which is what this reviewer thinks of, well, basically all Disney animation output from 1937 until "Monster House" with its supposedly improved presentation of animated facial performances.

An excerpt:
"There was never any point to a close-up in an animated film -- there was never really anything to see[italics mine]."

Not really anything to see?
Methinks someone's been drinking much too deeply from the well of the presskit. This gentleman may think the fat kid's face in "House" is vastly superior in expression to, say, the kitten Figaro showing his annoyance at Gepetto's muttering in "Pinocchio"; I know where my vote lies.

You can come after all of us still working on our craft, fair enough; the book's still being written on everything we're currently doing in animation. But don't dare go after past giants whose work probably won't ever be equaled on its own terms--terms that were invented from scratch, that are the foundation of any techniques such as "Monster House" uses. Not only is it dead wrong on its face, with hundreds of examples that dispute it (and of course not just from Disney films, either), but the artists who achieved those triumphs are dead themselves and can't defend their work.
Maybe that's a blessing in this case.

52 comments:

jesus chambrot said...

Figaro's annoyance at Figaro is at my number one. Number two is the sideways glance Thumper gives his mother when he is being admonished for when he told Bambi to eat..."just the blossoms."

Thad K said...

I wonder what that writer was smoking. Whatever it is, it wasn't cheap. Good work, Jenny!

- Thad

P.S. #1 for me is Peter's reaction to getting kissed by Tiger Lily!

Bill said...

Well said Jenny. I saw the film (it was decent) but the animation (especially the faces) was horrificly boring and understated. The nerve of this writer. Unbelievable.

floyd norman said...

My old Pixar boss, Steve Jobs could say it best.

"What a bozo!"

Bishop Animation said...

You have to keep in mind that a critic is usually a failed something else.

Bill Andres said...

How about the scenes between Dumbo and his Mother, or the wild facial expressions of Daffy Duck, especially when teamed with Bugs Bunny, or all the wild facial takes created by Tex Avery. Go back to film school Bud, and take an Animation History Course.

chia said...

I was already ready to break out the torches and pitchforks over Ebert giving Monster House his pick as frontrunner for the animated feature Oscar, which is just wrong because motion capture is not animation it's puppetry and special effects. But this, this is an insult. A plain and simple slap in the face to anyone that loves animation. I'm going to mail the newspaper demanding a retraction of those statements.

internetjoe said...

Save for Pals Puppetunes and that hanna barbera crap ALL the animated work ive seen has more expression in even the basic line work, then ANY CGI work animated or not.

Taylor Jessen said...

I don't revisit it often, but I remember being very impressed by an exquisitely long take near the end of Beauty and the Beast on the roof in the rain - a closeup of Beast's face as Beast's soul is slowly and wonderfully smashed by an iceberg. (Thank you Glen Keane.)

murrayb said...

>>Poor guy, if he'd only had motion-capture to help him animate.


That's like saying if only rembrandt had a camera, he would of been a great photographer.If this chump can't apreciate "better than real" his loss.Monster house should of been a "goonies" type live action film.Motion capturing a film that should been live action is a waste of air, just like this critic.

Dave ward said...

Could not have said it better myself. Thanks Jenny!

Matt Williames said...

Sometimes it's infuriating to be belittled, or dismissed as an artist but to attack the brilliant past and foundation of feature animation is both niave and stupid. I'm not too worried about his opinion-- it will fade in time, and we will continue to love the craft of animation. Love your blog Jen, and your passion for the past! rock on!

Sean said...

Mick LaSalle has displayed his ignorance again... upsetting, but definitely not surprising.

How about this New York Times Review from last week:

http://movies2.nytimes.com/2006/07/21/movies/21mons.html

"It also represents, to the technology nerds in the audience, an interesting refinement of animation techniques. Like Robert Zemeckis’s “Polar Express,” “Monster House” (for which Mr. Zemeckis served as an executive producer) uses the digitally captured movements of real actors rather than computer-generated algorithms as the basis for its animated images."

"Computer-generated algorithms," indeed... The word "animator" isn't even mentioned once!

I'd like to read a copy of that press kit...

Clio said...

Wow, that's harsh! I want to punch the guy in the spleen. The Aloha Oe scene in Lilo and Stitch made me bawl like no tomorrow.

Kris said...

My all time favorite scene in an animated film: the Baby Mine sequence in Dumbo. Makes me cry every single time.

I can't believe this man would belittle Disney's older features. From the sound of it, he hasn't ever actually WATCHED Snow White, if he thinks the dwarfs are somehow lacking in facial expression.

This guy is belittling Pixar, too. They create expressive cartoon characters in computer animation without resorting to shortcuts like motion capture.

Rusty Mills said...

The people doing the motion capture films like "Monster House" wouldn't even know what facial exrpession is all about were it not for so much animation done previous to the technology.

David N said...

Oh, my G-- , what a sad , strange (ignorant) little man that reviewer is.

Just this afternoon I had the pleasure of viewing the reel of Disney vet Barry Temple , with classic scenes of character animation of Flounder from "The Little Mermaid" and the Sultan from "Aladdin" , and many other terrific pieces. There was more expression and acting in one frame of Barry's scenes from those movies than in all of that boring-blah motion capture.

The irony is that I know for a fact that many of the talented animators on Polar Express and Monster House are classically trained character animators who are just itching to take that blah "mo-cap" stuff and push it to be truly magical , but are held back and told just to follow the mo-cap, paint-by-numbers.

So, sad.

RoboTaeKwon-Z said...

Let's alll e-mail this dum-dum and his bosses. This guy is a tool. He's totally full of shit, and everyone should tell him so.

Steve Woj said...

Dumbo and his mother... The dwarfs mourning snow whites death... The awe of Bambi first viewing his father... Sullie walking through the door to see Boo once more... Dory desperetely pleading for Marlin to stay cause he's all she's familiar with... I could go on and on.

Mark & Barb said...

Damn skippy, everybody! I will bypass the many examples from the first 85 years of animation (even Gertie the Dinosaur was a better actor than anything in MoCap), let's just look great faces in CGI ANIMATION:

Buzz Lightyear trying to fly and realizing that he is, indeed, just a toy.

Jessie in "Toy Story II" reliving her abandonment as her little girl owner grows up.

Manfred in "Ice Age" viewing the cave paintings of cavemen killing a baby mastodon.

Marlon fretting over Nemo's first day at school.

Of course, after "Shrek" and "Ice Age," and outside of Pixar, most CGI character design has used faces you don't even want to see in close up, but that's still head and shoulders above the waxworks in "Polar Express."

thom said...

well, it would seem that animators have united against mr. lasalle and his ridiculous comments as shown in his response to my email: "WHY ARE ALL THE ANIMATORS WRITING ME TODAY?"

Tom Dougherty said...

The look of wonder on Woody's face, played off of that look of pride and affection on Jessie's face as they watched the Woody's Roundup tape.

The expression on Bob's face just after viewing Mirage's first message to Mr. Incredible- just before he sets the sprinklers off. Any of Gromit's reactions to Wallace's little household improvements.

The scene early on in The Rescuers, where Penny (her back turned to us) tells Rufus that she thinks she missed being adopted earlier in the day because she wasn't pretty enough. That last one has me misting up at the memory.

I guess they'll let any moron write a review these days. And they wonder why reviewers are losing their influence. I want to kick him so much...

Louie del Carmen said...

Mr. LaSalle's amateurish writing skills I can almost accept. His ignorance however is unforgivable.

Edward Hegstrom said...

My favorite example of great cartoon acting is Marc Anthony's reaction when he thinks Pussyfoot has been turned into a cookie. When I was a kid, that scene made me laugh and cry in equal measure. (Still does.) And more, it was a first step in appreciating great artistry. I can't imagine any child being inspired in any way by the likes of Monster House. It's industry, not art.

Ali said...

Aw, Big deal! Some fool got over excited about more technology and said some stupid things. I'd never heard of this character before. Who cares? I bet he'll feel silly in a few weeks.

I mean, It's not the end of animation as we know it. It's not like the viewing public will be suckered into the latest technological fad at the expense of decades of tradition, right?

Oh my God!!

Paul Burrows said...

I remember reading his review of Lilo & Stitch. I claimed that all of the backgrounds were CG. I sent an unreplyed to e-mail about how all backgrounds were watercolor.

Tory said...

This reminds me of Katie Couric offhandedly saying that the special effects of Polar Express made the older Animated Christmas TV Specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer less special and outdated.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone's opinion here about the critic's review being nonsensical and ignorant. One of the things that really drives me nuts though is the fact that most people ( animators, general public, and critics included) write this movie off as entirely "performance capture". A lot of tallented animators worked on this movie and yes it's primarily Mocaped...but a lot of things aside from the House ( which I thought was animated quite well...by hand.) simply cannot be mocaped. You'd be suprised how many keyframed scenes were in this movie. Ok just wanted to get that off my chest.

Josh Carrollhach said...

Good grief. That stuff shows that somebody doesn't know squat about movies. Monster House is fine, if a bit dark, but I kenned the mo-cap right off. The sets were great, the style admirable, but as for it being animation... well, I don't think so.
Nothing to see, indeed. What about Hogarth talking to the Giant about death? There was a nice mix of drawn and modelled animation, and both figures were entirely emotive. Bugs Bunny's look of pleasurable mischief is a keeper, too.
Go get 'em, Jenny. They shall not pass!

-Josh

Andre said...

From Felix The Cat to Wallace And Gromit these cartoons have had more expression and heart than Monster House. I don't get it. Why are all the feature cartoons being done as CG films?

Ninja Dodo said...

While I obviously agree that this guy is on crack I think it's interesting how everybody's up in arms about this while there are very similar prejudices against the medium of games amongst many animators.

Almost everyone I know sees it as a stepping stone to features with no room for acting outside cutscenes... whereas I (as an animator) see it as a largely unexplored area of storytelling with enormous potential, because of, not despite its interactivity.

So as we demand respect for this art form we should not forget to extend the same courtesy to others.

Anonymous said...

see also:

Jeff Pidgeon's response:
http://pidgeonblog.typepad.com/pidgeonblog/2006/07/film_critics_do.html

Jaime Weinman's response:
http://zvbxrpl.blogspot.com/2006/07/cartoon-cluelessness.html

warren said...

Some people's kids shouldn't be allowed near a keyboard...

altair said...

Waht about examples from more recent 2D movies? I truly enjoy subtle facial expressions... Like Jane blushing in "Tarzan", Lilo's silence in "Lilo and Stitch" and Jim's disappointment when he thinks Silver's left him behind, in "Treasure Planet".

Actually, Jim's body language made that movie for me.

Anonymous said...

http://forums.cgsociety.org/showthread.php?t=386645

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen this posted yet, so I'll add the following. As amazing as it seems to animation folk, some people in the general public can not "read" animation or cartoon characters in general. Cartoon faces, after all, are a collection symbols most people learn to interpret as a "face" when they are small. If they are lucky, they'll learn to relate to that collection of moving line symbols as a character. Many people do not, which I think is one of the reasons why animation is not considered an adult media in the US. In Japan, for example, their alphabete is a set of icongraphs, which allows them to be more symbol friendly and also explains their more abstract, puppet like character designs.

I'd say this critic, like a lot of people, can read the "3d" animation better than he/she can the "2d" variety. Which IMO is more likely the source of this kerfluffle.

E.T. Bryan

ysengrin said...

your blogs are really cool!

mike f. said...

Hi Jenny!

Nice response to that unenlightened boob who suggested that Disney animators needed motion capture programs. He should be writing seed catalogs instead of movie reviews.
I think you might be wasting your time, though - something about casting pearls before swine...

Once upon a time, a body had to earn his stripes to be a film critic, or a literary or theatrical one. I don't know how they pick them now - I think they use a Ouija board or something.
You can't go two feet on the web without tripping over a self-proclaimed "critic" who's never seen a black & white film all the way through, unless you count music videos. Many are culturally ignorant, and a few are even sub-literate. What a nosedive from a profession that once gave us George Bernard Shaw and James Agee.

P.S:
It's nice to see your drawings again. I thought you'd fallen off the face of the planet! I like your blog...

Mike Fontanelli

joe said...

one of my favorite characters in the animated little girl in 'grave of the fireflies.' so darling, and then horribly sad!
because i'm not an animator, I didn't view "monster house" from the view of an animator. Plus, I did not know it was a motion-captured movie. Anyway, I was really awed by the animation, cinematography, and the pacing of the movie. Chowder's expressions and delivery were especially fun to see. It's just sad that reviewer felt the need to bash other forms of animation to praise 'monster house.'

Jenny said...

Mike--I've fallen off?! Where the heck have you been these last 12 years?!

Seriously, it's like you went to consumer products heaven or whatnot and left animation flat! What the hell! Jim S. is down the hall from me--aren't we lucky where I work? Thanks for the kind sentiments!
P.S. add Manny Farber to that list, too--it's a good one.

Jenny said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
teszeract said...

I have not seen it mentioned here or anywhere in this discussion. But for the general public, it's the story, fool. I made a point not to see Polar Express because of the 'look', but take Tarzan - it was crap! storywise, hand-animated or not.

Taylor Jessen said...

In response to Mike Fontanelli’s idea that today’s critics are chosen via Ouija board, he’s on the right track, but the facts are more dire.

To be a successful writer in today’s marketplace, you really don’t need to know anything. Most Americans who can read, if they read at all, read mainly to be entertained. Knowledge is boring. Outrageousness is in!

Consider some of today’s success stories, major and minor:

1. Ann Coulter
The girl is outrageous! Plus she’s every conservative’s inner seventh-grader. The rest of us had to grow up, but she gets to stay on the playground forever.

2. Scott Foundas (L.A. Weekly)
Pretentious and humor-blind, but writes elegant sentences. Other critics hate him, but he’s guaranteed success, mainly because he’s proved himself ruthless enough to push almost every other critic off the page in less than a year. Never liked The Princess Bride, “even as a child”.

Now consider my teeny-tiny success story. (I write a column about animated shorts for a trade magazine, and they keep asking me back every month.) How did I get my job? I replaced the previous critic, whom the editors didn’t like. How do I keep my job? Editors like my prose. End of story. And what research am I required to perform every month before writing my column? Zip-ola. That’s all up to me.

Ladies and gentlemen, give no thought to this stupid profession of ours. There are thirty million copies of the Incredibles DVD out there. That means thirty million copies of the dinner sequence. They’ll be saved. They’ll be re-watched endlessly. They’ll be dug up by archaeologists 700 years from now and enjoyed again. Most if not all copies of the Chronicle, on the other hand, have already gone to the big blue bin down by the curb and will never be seen again.

Priorities, people! Go make art! Piss on us chatterers. We are terrified of making a mistake, so we don’t take risks. You’re terrified too – and you jump off the cliff anyway. You rock.

Jenn said...

Congrats Jenny, you were quoted on BoingBoing today!

joto said...

very sad indeed!

MisterZoobadoo said...

have to agree that the reviewer is missing something. It's always my opinion that you can't fight technology. There's a validity to motion capture, but I think there's obviously something lost about the strong design of keyframe animation. Bluth overutilized rotoscoping in some of his films. It takes a really knowledgeable animator to make rotoscoping or mocap work convincingly in an animated world. Honestly, Monster House doesn't appeal to me that much story-wise, so I haven't seen it. There's a lot of animated content out there these days, and precious few of it really makes me excited.

the doodlers said...

Holy Moly! I'm going to copy all these comments and your post and read them on paper away from the computer screen. Thoroughly.

Thanks for the stimulating discourse. I really enjoy hearing all these shades of opinion. The art and craft of animation deserves the attention and respect.

Brian said...

I find his somewhat condescending reply as amusing as his original text.

"Thank you for a thoughtful message. I appreciate it. (Don't agree with it, any of it, but I appreciate being accurately quoted and not being cursed at.)"

I wonder how, in the face of overwhelming evidence against his point, he can expect anyone to take him seriously with that reply.

It would be prudent to investigate further, take advantage of a great wealth of knowledge about the topic and for crying out loud, be a grown up and say "I erred in my assessment". He has the opportunity to educate and instead, misinforms and stands by it on what I can only assume is principal alone.

In the end I guess he could attempt to claim it is a matter of opinion. It would just be nice to see someone own up for once.

Sanjay said...

Monster House doesn't appeal to me that much story wise so I haven't seen it.

flossy said...

Hi,
How do I get in direct contact with the blogger, without doing a 'published comment' (yes, I'm a techno-phobe). I have a question about the cartoon goat. (A bit off-topic, but my reasons are sound).
Flossy.

Anonymous said...

Who drew the goat graphic at the start of the article?

Jenny Lerew said...

"Who drew the goat graphic at the start of the article?"

Anonymous: I did--and very quickly. I had to have something to illustrate my essay.