Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tales from the Dork Age - Thoughts on "Dream On, Silly Dreamer"

It is weird as hell that "Dream On, Silly Dreamer" (available through the official website or for around two dollars on iTunes) is more accessible than "The Sweatbox" since it is, by a country mile, the more damning Disney animation documentary.

This is the tale of the events leading up to what could be called The Day The Magic Died. March 25, 2002, that awful day when over a thousand Disney animation artists were fired. This led to the shutdown of the auxiliary animation studios, and to the very darkest period in Disney animation history.

In "Dream On", this story is told through the words of those then-freshly fired animators.

As you might imagine, this film will probably make you very depressed.

However, it's fascinating to hear the story of the rise and fall of Disney animation during this time period from the artists who lived to tell about it. We don't see much in terms of animation art, and the archival footage is essentially the same as in "Waking Sleeping Beauty" (and presented in a grainy, blurry state at that), but the stories the animators tell are enthralling and heartbreaking. If you were disappointed that we do not hear much from Andreas Deja in "The Sweatbox", I can assure you he has a lot to say here.

We learn that one of my longtime suspicions is indeed true: the astonishing success of "The Lion King" spoiled the hell out of everyone involved in Disney animation. In that moment, the business side of Disney animation took over the art side, executives became ravenously greedy, and everyone contracted a fatal case of Small Name, Big Ego. From then on, the reputation of Disney films began to suffer, as the Disney name was suddenly associated with Lucas-level marketing orgies (does anyone want a Quasimodo stuffed doll?), an emphasis on spectacle over story and character, and -worst of all- a seemingly endless stream of cheap direct-to-video sequels.
The film gives us a better name for the Dork Age: the Greed Age.

Ultimately, the executives start to assume that there is no future for hand-drawn animation because of the higher box office numbers achieved by PIXAR films. While this joke made more sense in the age of "Chicken Little" and "Dinosaur", I still secretly want the executives who came to this conclusion to write a five-page essay entitled "Why PIXAR's Scripts Don't Suck".

The film has a sobering take-away message: Animation is not easy. Animation is really freakin' hard. Indeed, being an artist is a hell of a career choice because half the time people think what you do is some kind of magic trick or special effect and the other half people wonder why you don't have a real job. Furthermore, it's physically and emotionally draining. The good old "actor with a pencil" metaphor is brought out again but no actor has ever been asked to work for twelve hours straight staying in character the entire time and exercising only one set of easily-fatigued muscles.

The film ends on a colossal downer, with the interviewees facing an uncertain future and Disney's reputation squarely in the crapper. Oddly, the official companion website has no updates on any of the artists interviewed, so their fate largely remains a mystery. Overall, t
he film is a fascinating look into a very strange period of animation history.


In happier animation news. Hey, does anyone remember that weird "Guardians of Childhood" thing William Joyce and Guillermo Del Toro and Leonardo DiCaprio of all three people were working on together that involved a whole bunch of childhood folklore characters saving the world or something equally ridiculous?

Yeah. Well, the trailer's out and it turns out that the crazy-sounding project looks, and I apologize in advance for this mom, f***ing AMAZING:

I believe I will now trust these guys with anything. My God, the hummingbird-like fairies! The Ghibli tributes conjured by the Sandman! TATTOOED BADASS SIBERIAN SANTA CLAUS!!!


Sketch of the Day! I have drawn for you less popular folklore characters!

2.26.12 - Less Popular Mythical Beasts

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