Just because I live in Manhattan doesn’t mean I always see cool things weeks ahead of the rest of the world. For example, I only just saw The Triplets of Belleville (the new French-Canadian-Belgian animated feature) last night, ten humiliatingly long days after Cinetrix ordered her readers to go and do likewise. If you haven’t done so, read her post now, then go see Triplets at once, preferably this afternoon, or tomorrow if absolutely necessary. If you’ve already seen Triplets, read her post anyway, because it’s really smart.
I do have a few small things to add:
I really liked Finding Nemo. But every time I see a Pixar movie, I think of the dead end down which the Disney animators of the Thirties and Forties charged so heedlessly. Artist for artist, the Disney team packed a greater technical punch than any animation shop in history, but its product got duller and duller, while the Warner and MGM cartoons of the same period became more vivid and witty with every passing year. What made the difference? Disney’s creative team was fixated on the chimerical goal of realism, whereas Chuck Jones and Tex Avery knew that no matter how well you drew it, an animated cartoon was going to look like drawings of a talking animal.
This sounds like a debate over modernism, doesn’t it? Well, that’s just what it is. You can’t watch a cartoon like Jones’ “Duck Amuck” or Avery’s “King-Size Canary” without understanding that what you’re looking at is a cartoon. Both men accepted the inherent limitations of their chosen medium, thereby freeing their imaginations to run rampant within those limitations. Not so Walt Disney, whose goal was to make his studio’s cartoons look as real as possible, meaning that the imagination of the artists got tied up in knots. (Unlimited virtuosity can be a trap.)
I know there’s more to animation than animation, so to speak. Pixar’s features are good not just because of the way they look but also because of the way they’re written and voiced and scored. In those departments, Pixar stands head and shoulders over just about everybody else’s stuff. But the best animated feature of the past decade, Lilo and Stitch, is just as imaginatively written and voiced and scored–but also makes generous use of hand-drawn characters and hand-painted backgrounds that don’t aspire to Pixar-like hyper-realism. I can’t help but think that this is part of the reason why Lilo and Stitch touched me, whereas Finding Nemo mostly only charmed me.
I quote that posting at length because Triplets is an eye-opening example of how highly sophisticated digital techniques can be employed in a non-naturalistic way that makes full use of the medium’s potential without falling into the trap of hyper-realism. It completely changed my feelings about digital animation–though not about the expressive limitations of the Pixar house style.
All of which, in case you hadn’t guessed by now, adds up to a hats-off rave. The Triplets of Belleville is wonderfully funny, miraculously well-made, and unoppressively clever. Thank you, Cinetrix, for being so insistent in your praise. I owe you one.