Horse Vs. Chimp

What makes a a great actor?

As we move further into this digital revolution, I find myself frustrated on occasion by our refusal to admit that some of our best acting isn’t being done by people, but by animated characters.

And I’m not talking about motion capture actors.  I find the whole idea of motion capture to be rather silly.  It’s a strange crutch that allows certain people to relax and enjoy an animated film.  And while Avatar certainly would have been a commercial flop if it’d been a straight animated film.  But that’s mostly what it was, with a few live action bits.  Though the promotional material does its absolute best to avoid that label.  It even turned it into a selling point by having special features that amount to “Look how hard we worked on making this cartoon.”

Frankly, I find it annoying that animated films never really get the credit they deserve.  While recently watching Tangled, I was struck by just how great a film it is.  And, sure, people might acknowledge the writing, the music, the characters.  But they so rarely acknowledge one of the most important elements of the film.  It has absolutely amazing acting.

In fact, Tangled is pretty damn awesome all around.  A lot of hard-working, talented people made this film, and it’s a shame that, aside from perhaps a nod to voice acting, most viewers will just take it for granted.

Most probably, it’s because we can’t put a name to the countless number of people behind the scenes.  They’re invisible.  Would people marvel at the acting of Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes if there wasn’t a face to put to it?  Maximus the horse is a wonderful character without a single line of dialogue, but because he’s a horse played by a team of nameless animators in a film based on a fairy tale, few people will put him in the same category.  Certainly, they’ll be no talk of a best actor nomination for an animated horse.

There are other elements to this lack of respect.  Tangled is an all-ages film based on a fairy tale while Rise is a dark sci fi tale.  Tangled has old-fashioned musical numbers, broad (and subtle) comedy, and worst of all, an unapologetic happy ending.  You’ll never be taken seriously if you do that.

This doesn’t change the fact that Tangled is a really great film.  It’s fun.  It’s lively.  The writing is sharp.  The animation is beautiful.  And, yes, the acting is flawless and as good (if not better) than anything you’ll see in any other film, animated or live action.

My personal favorite moment (among many) is the moment Rapunzel first descends the tower and touches the grass.  The moment is absolutely beautiful, accompanied by a wonderful song.  It really makes me smile every single time.  The movie is full of this flawless combination of character and emotion.

Yet it’s nothing new.  Animation has been doing this for years.  Pixar may have started the trend, but Dreamworks and others have certainly risen to the challenge of late.  And traditional animation is still going strong on TV, creating some of the best adventure / fantasy fiction you’ll find.  My love of superheroes, for instance, survives almost entirely because of television animation.

Tangled, Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon, Wall-E, The Incredibles, Batman: The Animated Series, Avengers, Justice League Unlimited, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  The list goes on and on and on and on.  And it only gets stronger every passing year.

So the next time I hear someone praise Caesar the chimp, I think I just might go ahead and mention Maximus the horse.  Maximus is every bit as good an actor, but also has a terrific knack for comedy.  He’s also not too shabby with a sword either.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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One Comment

  1. Fels
    Posted September 11, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of the digital revolution, why can’t I buy your books for my Kindle in Germany? Publishers are complaining that people are illegally downloading ebooks, but when we want to buy them they don’t let us.

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