Friday, October 19, 2012

Five Animated Features: A Book?

Edited from a note to Tim Perper.

Once I'd finished my Dumbo project I decided that “Hey, I've got a book here, Fantasia and Dumbo.” The book wouldn't be a general market coffee table book, of course, but a serious analytic study of those two films for a sophisticated (and heavily academic) audience. I've already got THAT one well-mapped out so I know more or less where this thing would be going.

But I'm considering extending my coverage beyond those two films to include several others:
Porco Rosso
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
That gives me five feature-length films. I'd want to devote considerable time to each film, so I'd have to cut back on the Disney material. Which is OK, because I've got all this stuff online for anyone who's interested. The addition of the three other films broadens the scope of the book, which should broaden its appeal.

And it also helps one of my methodological points, which is comparative analysis. As you know, I'm big on description. And, as you also know, description is not at all a straight-forward business. Not at all. It's tricky stuff. Because these things we're describing are complex. Just WHAT do you describe, and why, and when do you stop?

Well, one way to focus the descriptive effort is to look at several examples—you know, “comparison and contrast” from composition 101. You focus on what's similar across your examples and what's different. Depending on what you're looking at, you've still got a tricky job, but at least this gives you some direction.

The addition of the other three films opens up the analytic/descriptive space considerably. Obviously I'm not aiming for a comprehensive study of feature-length animation. I just want to explore some things, both thematic and methodological, and, above all, make the point that: This is serious art worth careful and serious consideration.

So, the addition of the two Japanese films brings in 1) another culture, and 2) (arguably) the most important contemporary animation tradition. The addition of Ratatouille brings in CGI animation and, as well, a pretty interesting film. Those three, taken together with the Disney (especially Dumbo) allow me to explore relations between the human, the animal, and the machine.

While Porco Rosso isn’t Miyazaki’s best-known film, nor is it his most luxuriously beautiful (that would be Spirited Away)—though there’s an evening flight scene that’s achingly beautiful, it is a very fine film, and arguably as good as any he’s done. And it’s particularly interesting in the context of the relations between humans and animals and humans and machines. For our protagonist is a human who, for some reason, has the head of a pig and who is also a superb airplane pilot. The films could almost have been subtitled “A Story of a Man and his Machine”—except that there’s his relation to women as well, something that doesn’t exist in the two Disney films.

As for Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, aside from the fact that it’s a gorgeous film—though gorgeous in a noir Blade Runner style rather than a Disney or Miyazaki “sunny” gorgeous—is as interesting an exploration of the relationship between man and machine as I can think of. And now that I've been into the animal stuff with Dumbo I'm getting a better sense of what Oshii's hound is doing in that film (I watched it again last night). And the line about children being allowed liberties that adults are not, and thus somehow not being quite or fully human, that's beginning to fall into place.

In fact, one might almost read that remark—which is made by the cyborg forensics expert, Harroway, visually modeled, I’m told, after the theorist Donna Harroway—as a comment on animated films in general, as some very many of them have been targeted at children.

But, of course, these are not child’s films. And that too is something I’ll have to deal with. And that’s a multi-dimensional issue. None of these five films were made for specifically child audiences, and the two Japanese films weren’t made for a child audience at all. But there’s another side to the issue: And what IF it is a child’s film, what’s wrong with that?

How can a culture possibly hang together if it doesn’t have stories that both adults and children can enjoy together? THAT question is loaded with assumptions, assumptions I can open up and explore while also exploring these five films.

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