Cartoon Future

January 12th, A. LEE  MARTINEZ APPRECIATION DAY!! approaches.  I know you probably don’t need to be reminded of that, but I’ll go ahead and mention it anyway.  If you’re a true A.Leean (I’m trying to get that to catch on because, hey, it’s cool to have fans who don’t mind nerding out over me), then you don’t need me to tell you how to traditionally celebrate this glorious day.  But for those who are new to the party, it’s pretty basic:

– You play some kind of cool board or card game.  Might I recommend Sid Meyer’s Civilization: the board game by Fantasy Flight Games or the always engaging Sumo Ham Slam by Gameswright.  But hey, it’s your game.  Play whatever you want.  Even *shudder* Munchkin, if you are the sort who can enjoy that terrible, terrible game.  Not that I’m judging you.  I leave that to The Mighty Robot King, may he have mercy on your soul.

– You watch a monster movie.  It Came From Beneath the Sea or Godzilla: All Out Monster Attack are both excellent.  But if you prefer your monsters less city stomping, you can always go for Predator or Night of the Lepus.  You are also allowed to substitute a superhero or animated movie.  For best results, go with The Incredibles which is animated, has superheroes, and a giant robot attack for the A. LEE MARTINEZ APPRECIATION DAY!! trifecta. 

– You push my books on somebody.  Friends, family, strangers, mole people.  I don’t care who.  Just spread the word, if you don’t mind.  Much appreciated.

But enough about A. LEE MARTINEZ APPRECIATION DAY!!  It’s time to talk about important stuff.  It’s time to talk about the death of the traditional action film.

Action adventure is dead.  At least, as we might traditionally define it.  Or as I might.  And since it’s my site, I get to set the terms.

In fact, I predict (perhaps prematurely and foolishly) the death of live-action adventure in a few years.  We’re already halfway there.  Movies like Tron Legacy and Clash of the Titans are as much digital animation as live-action.  And while neither is a great film, they still are just part of a continuing trend.  Iron Man and Iron Man 2, both Hulk movies feature cartoons as their stars.  Well, not really.  Because live-action directors don’t generally enjoy working with cartoons, so we end up with films that feature actors delivering clever lines with bits of superhero cartoons thrown in reluctantly.

It’s not hard to figure out why.  Live-action directors like working with live actors.  They just aren’t comfortable with cartoons.  And who can really blame them for that?  All their experience, their training, their comfort zone is built on working and relating to real living people.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s a great skill, and I in no way want to fault traditional acting and directing.  They are fine traditions and will continue to be so.  But they really don’t serve us well in the action adventure film genre anymore. 

Some might argue that we don’t want cartoons, but that’s only because they aren’t being honest.  There’s a little film called Avatar that made a gazillion dollars at the box office, and for all its hype, for all its talk of revolution and cutting edge, Avatar is just a really, really expensive cartoon with a few live action shots spliced into it.  The bulk of the film was created on computers.  It’s true that James Cameron used a lot of motion capture on the actors as sort of a crutch for him and the audience, but Avatar could’ve easily been done entirely via animation and it wouldn’t have suffered for it.

Well, it wouldn’t have made as much money.  I’ll admit that.  But the days of animation as a sub-genre, as a very specific type of film, are rapidly drawing to a close.  Every year, we get more and more animated films.  Sure, they continue to pretend that they’re not cartoons, but they are.  And there’s great reason for that.  Animation gives us tremendous creativity in direction, especially in fantasy realms.

I was thinking this when I watched Megamind.  Why would anyone bother making a live-action superhero film?  Everything about superheroes works in animated form.  In live-action, it tends to look silly.   And while Megamind is a fun film, The Incredibles remains the greatest superhero movie ever.  Don’t even bother arguing with me about that.  The Incredibles has everything a great superhero movie should have.  It has adventure, great characters, an engaging storyline, robot fights.  And the acting in the film, from voice to animation, is topnotch and more subtle than anything you’d find in any of the Spider-Man films.

It’s time to admit that virtual acting is just as powerful and legitimate as the tried-and-true flesh-and-blood version we’re accustomed to.  And that as we continue to wade deeper and deeper, as the line between live-action and digital become murkier and murkier, that there’s really nothing live-action can do that animation can’t.  Especially in terms of fantastic realms and unbelievable action.

Live-action will remain viable.  It’s fine for producing most types of stories.  But if you want to do a kick-ass lightcycle race, a giant robot fight, or go to Mars, animation is the way to go.  And since animation can produce brilliant acting too, I just don’t see why we can’t admit this.

Naturally, there’s resistance.  Most of it comes from the studios themselves, who are so accustomed to marketing via famous actors that they really aren’t sure how else to get people to see a film.  So they’ll make a big deal about the voice actors because that’s something they can grasp.  Yet Pixar continues to shine as the preeminent animation studio and rarely, if ever, resorts to this promotional tactic.  They’ve proven that animation can be hugely successful without having to rely on go-to marketing ploys.

Once the studios relinquish their reliance on “movie stars” (which is still a long way off, I’ll grant), as a new generation of animation directors continue to push the boundaries of digital adventure, and as animation technology continues to advance, we’ll really have no choice but to move forward.  Live-action will always have a place.  It works beautifully for most stories.  But the second you throw a giant robot on the screen or have a horde of aliens or decide to blow up a planet, well, it’s time to think about whether or not you’re making a cartoon.  Because you probably are, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Rippley
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 2:02 am | Permalink

    Mr. Martinez,

    There are exceptions to the cartoonaverse you have romanticized: 1) Beetlejuice and 2) The Mask. Both Beeetlejuice and Mask started as live-action movies, and both were transformed into Saturday morning cartoons. The live-action films were box office hits–not intended to be hits–whereas the cartoon version of these shows were crappy marketing ploys. I only have the two examples in mind, but I’m sure there are other cartoons that fit this criteria.

    I love cartoons! I’m a cartoon nut! Yet, there are some media I don’t want entering cartoonland. I don’t want a cartoon version of Kick-Ass. And while it already exist, I don’t want porn invading either (what the hell is up with you people?). If they ever make a CSI: Miami cartoon, I’m going to Hollywood and a lot people gonna die. Same goes for any formulaic cop dramas. But I’m fairly sure it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen, because it’s too hard to digest (especially the porn you sickos). These examples are evidence that cartoons remains a sub-genre. Some things are too, I don’t know the right word, “real” to be rationally put into cartoon form.

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted January 8, 2011 at 4:35 am | Permalink

      Well, I thought Beetlejuice was far more interesting as a cartoon than a movie, but I’ve never been a big Burton fan. Never saw the Mask.

      I definitely think live action will always be important. But animation is able to take the imagination and make it much more accessible. I really do think the future of action will be animation. It already is, but I mean undisguised animation that doesn’t require justification via motion capture or other such gimmick for the audience to accept it.

  2. Posted January 8, 2011 at 2:15 am | Permalink

    OMG, you showed me there is another try at Sid Mier’s Civilization as a board game. I gave on the first Sid Meier’s, it needed way to many mods to work.
    At ConDFW Glenda and I’ll try to show RoboGeisha, or at least the conclusion with the giant robot, or the ass sword fighting scenes, somewhere.

  3. Posted January 9, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    well I for one am glad that there will not be an animated cop show (aren’t there way too many already, live action or not?) But I agree with Mr. Martinez. I think CG is cost efficient, allows us to create the impossible, and can successfully produce a film that will bring tears to the eyes of thousands within the first 10 minutes ( Pixars UP). Whats not to like? I think for certain movies animation works well. But for films with too much CG they loose character. Its clean, flawless, sterile. Like the original Star Wars compared to the new cartoon version. A New Hope compared to Clone Wars? Original kicks clone ass. There were beautiful sets, muppetry, costumes, a different feel altogether.

    I think when the audience walks in the theater and is expecting a cartoon, then it is accepted (like The Incredibles). But if a film gives the illusion of being live action and is mostly composed of CG I think the audience feels cheated (Like sky captain and the world of tomorrow). The Lord of the Rings did well because they incorporated both digital effect artistry and live action beautifully. But ultimately my heart still belongs to the old school action fantasy films from the 80s like the Neverending story, Princess bride, and Labyrinth. Those were the best.

  4. DeadlyAccurate
    Posted January 11, 2011 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    As it so happens, I have the board games Roborally, Last Night On Earth, and Betrayal At House On The Hill coming in today. Who knew I was subconsciously planning to celebrate your appreciation day? I shall destroy an enemy robot and/or zombie in your name.

    Happy birthday!

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted January 11, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      Roborally was the first board game that really captured my attention, leading me down the path of game afficianado. So it’s an excellent choice.

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