As kids, we saw anthills as menacing mountain peaks, puddles as oceans, rain as the gods weeping with grief (although the latter was just adults fooling us). We were crazy with our imaginations. Picasso likes to remind us that we are all born artists and as kids that really seemed to be true. And it helped that we were supplied with enough fantastical images to help us build our mountains and oceans—thanks to animation.
Because human beings are pitched as visual thinkers, our learning processes were linked with pictures and images. As kids we’re given picture books and shown cartoons to help with cognitive thinking and learning. My mother loves to rave about Tom and Jerry even today. My favorites were the Japanese anime television series Maruko and Atashin’chi. My sister refused to let go of the remote every time Oggy and his cockroaches were on (which was all the time). And my brother seems to favor the latest India produced animation series. It’s interesting how animation has evolved over generations but it still continues to have the same effect today as it did years ago.
Maybe it has something to do with seeing manmade figures living a storyline that is real to us. We do love seeing our caricatures after all. Also for what is probably the only time, human beings have complete control over something – a dream come true for some. But whatever it is that makes animation so beguiling, I know I appreciate it today as not just something that is kids-exclusive but as a very powerful tool for storytelling.
Here’s the thing, animation is an interpretive art form and nowhere does it say that it’s only use is to charm and entertain children. Animation goes where live action stops. And it saddens me that it’s perceived as a genre rather than a medium.
Now the debate of live action versus animation is one that has been going on ever since Disney first drew his infamous mouse. And the argument of what’s better and what’s not is relative and no different than the movies versus book dialogue. It’s up to preference and what medium one prefers. And sometimes, live action is a much stronger medium for narrating certain stories and animation is better at others.
But I’d like to point out that live action movies are limited by real world restrictions. Said limitations are budget constraints and sometimes forces of gravity that, no matter how hard you try, you can never out maneuver. With animation the possibilities are limitless. What you think can be brought to life.
Take Game of Thrones, for example. As brilliantly done the series is, as a book reader I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by how certain scenes and elements were depicted. The Iron Throne, made from the swords surrendered by Aegon Targaryen’s enemies, according to the books is a towering mass of metal that reaches the ceilings of the Great Hall. But the Iron Throne in the TV series is just a regular sized chair with a few poky shards of metal.
Visually the series is stunning but because I read GOT I couldn’t help but shake off the feeling that most scenes were inadequate. When the book said a sea of Dothraki soldiers, I imagined a sea of Dothraki soldiers, not just an over concentrated crowd of half naked men. The many wars written in the books were much bigger than the wars shown on TV.
Now I’m not suggesting that Game of Thrones should have been an animation, it’s a cinematic marvel and we should leave it at that. But D&D, in their many interviews admitted that they had to accept these real world restrictions and find a way around them. George Martin too conceded to the fact that the series would never visually be like his books.
Disney’s Oscar winning Inside Out features protagonist Riley’s imaginative friend Bing Bong. Bing Bong is a kind-hearted cat-elephant-dolphin hybrid whose body is made of cotton candy, he wears a purple bow tie and cries chocolates instead of tears. Bing Bong is the manifestation of all things Riley loves. Bing Bong is one character I’d never want to see played out in real life. He exists as a thought, a child’s thought at that too. A live remake of Bing Bong will break Bing Bong’s magic. Thus, erasing his very purpose.
Mulan is getting a live action remake sometime next year and, to the annoyance of many, the filmmakers wrote off Mushu, the Chinese dragon and Mulan’s guardian dragon (ahem angel). A talking, hand sized dragon would have been difficult for them to pull off anyway.
Another thing about animation is the control it gives to its creator. A second in animation consists of 24 frames. And each frame is tightly controlled by the artist. Hand drawn or stop motion, everything that happens is as the director wants it to. And the work and patience every single detail takes is something I can’t even begin to imagine. I sometimes find myself holding my breath when watching an elaborately drawn scene in animations – Kimi no Na wa’s color concentrated landscapes and Disney’s Coco’s entrance to heaven comes to mind. In animation every single detail is given a lot of thought. I can bet that an animated movie would never leave behind a Starbucks cup in any of their scenes unless they’re taking a shot at humor.
There are also stylistic elements in animation that largely affects a movie’s flow of storytelling. Stop motion animation entails building models and manually moving them for physical functions. Meaning the movement is never seamless. It’s static and sporadic. Remember Shaun the Sheep? Abrupt movements that come out in spasms. Hand drawn animation, on the other hand, feels organic. It’s almost dizzying to think that everything you see in them has a human’s touch. That is actually a wonderful thought to mull over.
What I’m thankful to animation is for how it values individual thought. They make castles on air and dolphin-elephant hybrids real. In that way, they tell you that your craziest ideas can become real too. They also tell you that your thoughts are important and unique. And especially in today’s times, that’s a very important thing to be told.