Friday, October 1, 2010

October is... NOT going to be Traditionally Animated Dreamworks Month

Yeah, I'm going to do more blogs about old dinosaur art and other things. Because I have watched the five (only five!?!) hand-drawn animated features by Dreamworks. And, well...

First off, I made the mistake of watching three of them in one night. My dreams -those awful way-too-vivid dreams that leave you more exhausted than you were before you fell asleep - were a blur of weird character designs, pop-composer songs, and random celebrity voices.

I feel as though the Dreamworks "Tradigitals" (their term) are not nearly as interesting as the story behind them. This old, old, old Entertainment Weekly article describes the world in which Dreamworks animation was formed quite well. It's The Land Before Pixar, really, and Jeffry Katzenberg is ready to show up his old bosses at Disney by making the most EPIC animated feature film ever made.

That would be "The Prince of Egypt", and all things considered, it's the only one of these movies that's worth a damn. OK, that sounds mean. It really is every bit as awesome as Katzenberg wanted it to be. There are some moments in it that are among the best pieces of animation ever created. It stayed with me for a long time after viewing and is one of my favorite religious films.

Even so, it suffers from the one problem that brings down each of these movies: They tried way too hard to make this film, "Everything that we assume people loved in 'The Lion King' -- but MORE." And that means more random and distracting celebrity voices, more big damn epic ballads (this movie's Obligatory Disney-Style Oscar-Baiting End-Credits Ballad has Witney Huston and Mariah Carey, which was a huge deal back then), more musical numbers, more action scenes, more big special effects showpieces, and more people falling off of high places. (And it is worth noting here that for the longest time, the Dreamworks/PDI animated films were "Everything that we assume people loved in 'Shrek' -- but MORE." If I ever get around to making my list of "Movies That Are Good But Have A LOT To Answer For", "Shrek" would be almost guaranteed to be at the top of that list.)

Even with these flaws, "Prince of Egypt" is very, very good. It is well worth a revisit if you haven't seen it in a while. The same cannot be said for "Joseph: King Of Dreams"; probably meant to be a follow-up film and dropped onto the direct-to-home-video market instead. It's instantly forgettable aside from the very bizarre casting of Ben Affleck as Joseph.

"The Road to ElDorado" starts out fun. And then it feels more and more like a cute little box stuffed with
everything the directors ever pitched during the production. By the end, it just wound up being confusing and annoying. It also shows how quickly something that appears to be a can't-miss premise a few years ago ("Timon and Pumbaa stole the show during 'The Lion King', so why don't we just cut out the boring lead characters and make the cute funny sidekicks the main characters?") can come across as weird and dated.

And that brings us to the movie I dreaded having to watch again for the purpose of this project: "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron". I went ahead and wrote a long review of this beautiful disaster over at The Realm of Madness. Even so, I will sum "Spirit" up with the following macro:

Lastly, we have "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas". It has some fun action scenes. The designs of the monsters are awesome and very creative. I want to say they are by Nicholas Marlet, based upon the sketches that can be viewed in the DVD special features. And there is some fantastic effects animation whenever Eris shows up. And it is otherwise boring as hell, coming across more like a half-hearted "Pirates of the Carribean" cash-in than a movie the studio had real faith in.

So it's hard to decide exactly what to say about Dreamworks' traditionally animated films. I guess I'm glad I watched them all just to say I did.

More Animation Marathons

* - The Chronological Disney Animated Canon

* - Don Bluth Month

* - Dreamworks' "Tradigitals"

* - The Short Animation Blogathon

* - My Summer of Sequels

* - Random 90's Animation

* - The Princess Project


Sketch of the Day! Bit of a grab bag on this page:

9.17.10 Sketchbook Page


Zach said...

See, I thought "Road to El Dorado" was pretty good, although I don't like the singing. It's such a blatant Disney trait, and I don't even know why animated movies like this HAVE to have songs.

I recall the love interest in that movie being a little too jiggly and voluptuous for a kid's movie, too. Maybe I'm misremembering (it happens).

I would LOVE to see a rant-blog out of you about Shrek, Trish. I certainly like the original, but it feels designed by a committee.

Trish said...

^ Zack, you've just pointed out another very strange thing about each of these movies that I completely forgot about: They go way the hell out of their way to *not* be kid's movies. You are not misremembering, the animators must have really enjoyed drawing Chel. Oh, and there's also that scene where we've apparently interrupted her and Tulio having sex.

Yes, really.

Furthermore, "Prince of Egypt" has great fun showing the plagues in the most horrifying ways possible (also drowning babies and slave abuse), "Spirit" opens with a mare giving birth to our hero, and Eris and the sirens in "Sinbad" are essentially fanservice on the hoof.

Of course, the Animation Age Ghetto exists, so whatever Dreamworks intended by all of this was to no avail.

Anonymous said...

You know, odd thing; I loved Spirit, ElDorado and Sinbad... but was pretty 'meh' about Prince of Egypt. I bought it, watched it once, and had no desire to see it again. Which is pretty weird for me because I'm an animation freak. To each their own, thats for sure! I'm not so sure that I'd want a kid watching a few of those scenes in Eldorado... but I sure enjoyed it.