The Situation of Animation

Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive. This facility makes it the most versatile and explicit means of communication yet devised for quick mass appreciation.

-Walt Disney

One thing that I can’t help but love, and come back to again and again and again in my life is animation. Through games, through film, through television, and in every way, animation has a beauty and a way of communicating that is not only highly undervalued, but even flat out rejected. To many people, animation is still characterized by simplicity, juvenility, and cartoonishness, when in fact it can show off emotional complexities, visual artistic beauties, and world understandings, better than live action ever can. It allows us to expand our minds beyond the mundane laws that we live by, and allows us to let go so that we can enjoy things for what they are. It would be easier for me to look at three different pieces of animation, and talk about my love for them in turn. Talking about Disney’s Fantasia, Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, and Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly.

Fantasia was, at one time, the crowning achievement of animation, and is arguably the greatest piece of work that the Walt Disney Studio has ever created. Fusing some of the greatest pieces of music ever composed, with technical detail, creativity, and infusions of brand that made Fantasia a masterpiece.The educational value of that one piece alone is incredible. How many children have been exposed to music they never would have otherwise? How many imaginations have been spurred on by its images? It brought together the modern and the classical in such a seamless fashion that it still holds up almost 80 years later. More than that though, it brings the music to life. It’s difficult for people to sit through classical music, and especially for children to. Fantasia brought to life, stories that some would have found hard to understand in a purely audio format. You don’t just hear the music in the background of the animations, you experience and understand them. How many people know Rite of Spring? Or that it was written by Igor Stravinsky? And yet an entire generation of children, knew that the music within that one piece of animation, was to the stomp of dinosaur feet, and the whirling turn of nature in time.

A Night on Bald Mountain - Fantasia

Spirited Away is undoubtedly the front runner for the greatest animated film ever made, and is so strong as to contend with the best of the best live action films in terms of cinematography. Miyazaki understands people on a level that many only dream about. From the tiniest of idiosyncrasies, he develops character that are not only completely unique, but feel alive. We identify with them, and understand them because they are so artfully created. This humanization is wonderful, but what makes them incredible are the fantasy elements that he weaves into them along with the atmosphere of each of his films. In his films, monsters, spirits, and gods run here and there as a natural part of the world, and yet fit more naturally than if they were not included. They exist in such a way, that if we let go of our need to understand everything, and simply feel his films, we understand them more deeply. When you watch his movies, it’s not what we can explain, but what we understand.

One more reason for why I love animation. It’s weird. There are animated events that we can watch that we could never stomach in realism or in live action. From gory eviscerations, to strange psychedelic manipulations, to disturbing conversations, there is a strange variety to animation that allows a maturity in thought to run. For example the animated adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s, A Scanner Darkly. A disturbing, dystopian story, the animation adds to the tension, the questions that we have as to our narrator’s reliability, and the creeping sense of dread and uncertainty that permeates the tale. The way in which animation shifts and blurs our visual ability to understand what is occurring on screen, harmonizes with so much of the story being about what our narrator questions, understands, and perceives of the world around him to be true. With live action, we would slough off much of it as strange, not quite fitting, or it would feel off. As an animation, it’s more easily consumable and enhances the flavor of the story. The animation itself adds an incredible layer to the terror that already exists, by mapping visual disruptions on to real life actors, to create a sort of nether image. Animated obviously but real enough to be distorted rather than generated.

A Scanner Darkly

Animation can be beautiful in the ways of children: simple, beautiful, colorful, but it can also be dark, and deep, and intelligent, and insightful. The stigma around animation should get swept away. There’s too much to it to simply label it under Saturday morning cartoons and resign it to goofy characters and high pitched voices. It should be seen for what it can become, and often is: art. Art in a unique blend of visuals that speaks to us beyond what live film can, beyond what still artistic images can, and beyond the rules of explanation that so much of modern creativity feels bound by. It exists as it is. A way for us to empathize, understand, and experience our own subjective views of the world, through a medium that distorts and reflects.

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