Welcome to Our World: Introduction

Posted by on Dec 29, 2011 in Welcome to Our World | 0 comments


“I met a wonderful man.
He’s imaginary, but who cares?
You can’t have everything you want.”
– Mia Farrow in The Purple Rose of Cairo

Walt Disney’s Alice in Cartoonland, one of the first mixtures of animation and live action, proved such a financial success that it helped Walt secure funding for the early projects that led to the so-called “Golden Era of Animation” (from 1928’s Steamboat Willie to 1942’s Bambi). Decades later, The Incredible Mr. Limpet and Mary Poppins ushered in a new era of animated filmmaking. Animation has always been noted for its versatility over its live-action counterpart, but these two films from 1964 removed the boundary entirely to have the best of both worlds, so to speak. The result was a huge success and mixed action films of all kinds were showing up on the big screen. The sub-genre enjoyed a run of popularity for more than 30 years – though not all were matches made in heaven (Cool World) – until a newer brand of animation overpowered it. When traditional cell animation went out the door, there was a time when computer-generated animation continued to use the aesthetic. It wasn’t long, however, before CGI squashed out the look of cells and began an era of mixed animation that took pride in the fact that viewers may have a hard time figuring out if a character is real or not.

Star Wars and Lord of the Rings convinced us of how flawless this tactic can be for “cartoony” characters, while Sky Captain and the World Tomorrow showed filmmakers that you don’t even need actors for the live action look. Now almost every fantasy release uses these tactics, but the feel of the original mixture is absent. The world of animation – of Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse – was an establishment in itself, with its own rules and norms. The same held true for the world of live action, in which we already understood the rules and appeal. When filmmakers combined them, it gave viewers the feeling that the animated characters were in fact real, and the combination of completely different worlds created something unexpected. How will these two worlds and their citizens collide? How will a live action character survive among chaotic toons? The answers were diverse, but always interesting, and we loved watching how they’d unfold.

Unfortunately, CGI films did not establish a world unto its own, but instead hoped to carry the understandings of animation over. But with the images so resembling live action, it became hard for us to understand which rules apply. In a way, the use of CGI for animated characters blends the mores of animated character and live action character into one. But instead of creating a brand new type of character, they’ve merely taken bits and pieces from each.

Though the successful run is over, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit looks to keep the belt for best in the sub-genre, every so often someone revives the now-nostalgic formula (e.g. Enchanted) and we suddenly remember what it feels like to be welcomed into another world.

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