Animation: Then and Now
The artform is singing a different toon.
Lifelong cartoon fan Jonathan Volinski joined me for a discussion on the refrigerator drawings of the 20th century.
Q: What is your favorite cartoon?
Probably the Warner Brothers cartoons. Looney Tunes was one of my earliest memories, and had some clear juxtapositions for themes for both adults and kids at the time. You could see that there were both, even as a kid, because they were also talking to your parents. I mostly watch the old animated shows now, except for the modern satire shows. Simpsons and Family Guy are particular favorites of mine.
Q: What is a major difference you’ve noticed in animated shows now vs when you were a kid?
Well, they’ve become increasingly, graphically and visually speaking, surrealistic. It was a trend that I began to notice with Ren and Stimpy. They were not grounded in reality, whereas a lot of the cartoons, aside from the violence that would happen to the protagonist or the antagonist, was somewhat regular. The modern cartoons are more interesting and more creative. As an example, you can look at Family Guy with all the chicken fights, or The Simpsons when they time travel or go to another universe. It cleverly blends with themes from science fiction while still remaining grounded in dramatic essence, so to speak.
Q: What are your opinions on LEGO making movies?
To be honest, I haven’t watched too much of it, but they’re not particularly creative in terms of story. It’s similar to what happened when they did stop-motion with Gumby. The plot lines were thin; you were supposed to be impressed by the animation. That’s why, in my opinion, stop-motion didn’t get to be too popular back then. It certainly didn’t last.
How do you feel about the almost ubiquitous use of CGI in movies now?
If it’s extreme, like in Avatar, which was really only produced for the sake of being able to demonstrate it, then it sort of takes away from the storyline. But if you’re doing a great job of it, like in science fiction movies like the Alien series, it makes it almost indistinguishable from real life. Kubric did that in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was the first time he used projection with scotch light, and it changed the way they filmed everything. It was remarkable. Beautiful.
Q: Going off of that, the way things are progressing now, could you see yourself watching a VR film in the future?
Sure, I’ll watch anything. It’s more a question of, is it worth watching? Or are they just making it for the effect? There was a film years ago called Comin’ at Ya! that was a part of the resurgence of 3-D with the polarized glasses, and all it was was a western designed to make you uncomfortable with the 3-D effect. Everything was literally “comin’ at ya”, and it really got in the way of the storytelling.
Someone should tell Hollywood that they can, in fact, teach an old dog new flicks. (Sorry, Jon.) Have anything to add, or want to rant or rave about animation? Do so in the comments.