Ian Bogost has a theory about Every Computer Animated Film Ever that boils down every plot into a universal structure, not too dissimilar from the monomythic Hero’s Journey. I don’t have much to add about the narrative conventions of the genre, other than to seize upon one point Bogost makes in passing and to expand upon it. The hero of nearly every computer animated film ever is, as Bogost puts it, an “anthropomorphized creature protagonist.”
As I commented on Bogost’s post, I’d argue that the “anthropomorphized creature protagonist” is a technical effect of what we might call the platform of CG films: for at least twelve of the last fourteen years (going back to Toy Story in 1995), humans, especially their faces, were simply too difficult to render in CG. So Pixar and Dreamworks had to make do with anthropomorphizing Potato Heads, cars, rats, bugs, fish, and so on.
What I find fascinating about the genre is how the technical limitations of CG transformed the more standard Disney princess story. From the late eighties to mid nineties we had Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Mulan. And suddenly, nothing. No more princesses.
The animated princess is a thing of the past.
A final thought: is it a coincindence that post-Toy Story we find the most “othered” princesses: Pocahontas (1995) and Mulan (1998)? Is it a sign of multiculturalism or some sort of reaction to CG, the death rattle of pen and paper animators?
The following text is from the packaging of an “easy-grasp” fork and spoon set some kind, Disney-loving soul gave our son:
Playtime is filled with pixies and princesses. Bathtime overflows with pirate ships and mermaids. Meals are shared with bears who love honey. And Naps take place in castles, not cribs. So whether they are fast asleep or wide-awake, Disney babies are always Dreaming.
Well. Aside from slyly mentioning a host of Disney characters, this little piece of whimsical poetry actually makes me feel guilty for not encouraging my son to think of bathtime as an exciting Little Mermaid/Pirates of the Caribbean adventure.
Although, I do get a kick out of the idea of imagining the only Pixie I know by name–Frank Black–playing blocks with my son during playtime.
In honor of Memorial Day, I’m taking a break from my Danger in Suburbia series, and am digging into the archives for this Memorial Day-related post.
Twenty years ago, on May 23, 1985, the LA Times ran this article, reporting on President Reagan’s plans for Memorial Day. The headline reads “President to Honor Unknown Soldier, Visit Disney World.” This paratactical pairing–Honor Unknown Soldier, Visit Disney–is surely one of the greatest juxtapositions to ever occur, ironically or not, in newsprint in the free world.
Yet somehow, it’s very fitting, very Reaganesque.
Both the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery and Disney World theme park in Orlando are products of the same cultural impulses: ritualized nostalgia and the allure of fantastic (an anonymous soldier who dies so that we may live, whose death, because it is no single, identifiable soldier’s sacrifice, memorializes all soldiers’ deaths…how different is that from the idea of a Magic Kingdom whose monorail whisks individuals away from their lives in the parking lots into a world of talking mice and space mountains?
Well, okay, quite a bit different…but I still think both concepts represent two key cultural phenomenon which define America. And Reagan, as always, embodies both at once. War and entertainment, patriotism and consumerism, memory and fiction.
In LA this week I met a former animator for Disney who now designs murals and sculptures for the Disney Stores. Right now he’s working on a Goofy sculpture for the Disney Store in Paris. He told me that every detail of the three-dimensional Goofy—the length of the ears, the diameter of the eyeballs, the size of the hands—is measured by a precise caliper to ensure that Goofy is perfectly proportioned. Quality control, he called it. There’s a danger of a kind of perspective drift in which over time Goofy’s ears, for example, could slowly become exaggerated, growing ever larger. Eventually Goofy would no longer be recognized as Goofy. The same thing happened with Mickey Mouse. The first twenty or so years of his life Mickey was allowed to evolve, from a very obvious caricature of a blackface minstrel to the wide-eyed, decidedly non-Rat-like mouse we know today, the version that Disney so assiduously protects with a brigade of lawyers and a shield of special-interest trademark legislation, passed by Congress solely for the sake of Disney.