The toons that won't be "King"
BY GREGG KILDAY (06/02/00)
"The Lion King" continues to haunt Hollywood's animation industry, but for more than its stellar box-office returns. Its success has prompted Disney to release a series of increasingly formulaic pictures with bland, interchangeable stories, chosen more for their marketing appeal than artistic merit. Disney's consistently bland output in recent years bears more responsibility for the relatively lackluster performance in theaters than the medium of animation, as Kilday implies.
-- Brendan Smith
It's ironic that Disney has recently bought the rights to the films of Japanese anime director Hayao Miyazaki. Often touted as the Walt Disney of Japan (a title I would find both honorable and a bit insulting), Miyazaki has been bringing quality animated films to Japan for over 20 years. And his films are NOT musicals. They are, in fact, quite intelligent commentaries on growing up, the environment and the horrors of war (to name a few topics). And none of it is watered down. Are most of them still appropriate for children? Absolutely. Is Disney caught in a rut? Has the monopoly lasted too long? Yes and yes.
America has to get over the idea that anime ("cartoons") is just for children, or that anime is really a genre in itself. Just because a film is animated does not mean that it must be a musical, it needs to possess talking animals or it must have a happy ending. Japan has known this for years. Live action and animation are equally valid, but possess unique nuances. It's the difference between a painting and a photograph. You can successfully animate any genre of film just like you can shoot any live action one; very serious, even emotionally devastating films have been animated.
So the "good old days" of Disney were simply a period sparse of any true creativity, without diversity or competition, relying on a format bent on a simplistic formula. The fact that people will not go see such masterpieces as "The Iron Giant" (no music, no talking animals) just because it does not "follow the format" really depresses me. I agree that "The Lion King" had a damaging effect, but only because it helped to enforce the format, not because it brought competition.
-- Josh Conterio
I think Kilday is still under the impression that animated film is a niche market aimed solely at kids, and this is where all the talk about the saturation of the market comes into play. If animated films of the quality of "Akira" and "Ghost in the Shell," both Japanese films aimed squarely at adults, were Americanized and marketed to a more adult audience, Hollywood would suddenly find a whole new audience to exploit.
More films made and produced in Japan are animated than live action, and "Princess Mononoke" was the largest-grossing film ever in Japan, proving that animation isn't just for kids. But Hollywood doesn't want to stray from its tried-and-true (and profitable) method of appealing to kids and having them drag their parents to a mediocre show. Ultimately, movie animation shows little signs of maturity in the U.S.
-- Nelson Oliveira