*Note this is a partial response to Thomas’s truly terrible take in his Animation and Society piece.
I don’t know why people like live-action so much. Or rather, after many examples of a certain film series simply not working, we seem to double down on it. Perhaps this is filmmakers simply chasing the high that a truly well-done live-action adaptation provides. The inevitable is that there are very few Peter Jacksons who can pull off a Lord of the Rings that feels synonymous with the books. Or a Harry Potter series that defines how we see the characters within the books. Or most definitively how Marvel has made their movies so iconic to the effect that the comics are a second thought for many.
Then there are the other ones… Basically, every D.C. live-action movie (the Dark Knight Trilogy is a stand-alone and, thus, does not count) are movies that don’t work. In this, I include the D.C. tv shows that just keep getting made. Every single Disney live-action REMAKE (scammers) pales in comparison to the originals. The Smurfs had a live-action movie. Tom and Jerry are getting one.
If all these are terrible or mediocre, then why are they continually being made? That’s easy; money. Perfectly understandable. No one goes into business to build a charity. And boy, do some of these movies make money. Multiple Disney remakes have made over a billion dollars at the box office in recent years. It’s a win-win for them. They save time, effort and minimize risk by using an already established property that will bring in parents eager to show their kids the Disney ‘classics’ they grew up with. While kids are presumably just happy to get a sugar high that only movie theater snacks can adequately provide. Other live-action remakes can rely on already established properties and presumably save quite a bit of money using real-world characters and scenes, with perhaps a funny animated character being edited into the background.
As the observant reader can probably gather from this entirely too long and personal monologue, I think some movies should stay in the realm of animation. In today’s day and age, in the West, at least, animation is for kids. And because of that fact, animated movies are only made for kids. The attempts to live-actionify (technical term) are merely a marketing ploy. Which, of course, all films are in the end; it just depends on the level of cynicism involved. To be blunt, this is a shame.
There is a place in the American/Western movie canon for animated movies centered around more mature plots. This should not be all there is to be sure, but with all the movies mentioned above, they were better when they were animated. While the best Batman movies could be realistically claimed to be the Dark Knight Trilogy, a runner-up to these would be Batman and the Mask of the Phantasm, which, it can be argued, is the TRUEST Batman movie. The Hobbit, whose trilogy is just a mess, plain and simple, was originally done as an animated movie.
Movies like The Secret of NIMH and Titan A.E. are good examples of animation telling mature tales. The Secret of NIMH is ostensibly a children’s movie, but it tells a rather dark tale. Titan A.E. is, for all intents and purposes, an action movie.
Animation has the opportunity to my mind to be a unique medium in American cinematography. It can more readily portray a genuinely fantastical world on a cheaper budget. Which is to say there can be more flops, more experimentation. We can make ‘cartoons’ that appropriately bring across an American view of how these things should be done.
Fundamentally, though, I don’t want to see my heroes. In a conversation that Thomas and I had months ago about separating art from the artist, a thought occurred to me. While I may be able to separate the art from the artist, it does not mean the artist can. Johnny Depp will always be Johnny Depp, no matter what role he plays. The same could be said for many other character actors. They come across one way and one way only. A fully-developed animation industry would allow for more variety. It would allow this art to be made its own, without the art overcoming the artist or vice versa. I want my heroes to stay in the land of the mythical. For them to not walk down the street.