Bold Decisions that defined Film Animation

Background note: This whole post was inspired by a comment by probrown1896, “Wall-E’s first dialogue-less 40 minutes are the finest 40 minutes in film animation, ever.”


This got me thinking “Was it?… I know it’s up there in the finest moments of film animation, but finest “ever”?… I racked my thoughts to see if I could think of a better sequence. Like probrown stated,  I could “come up with dope scenes/sequences but I can’t think of 40 straight minutes.”

Then late last night it hit me what was wrong with my thinking. It was the “40 straight minutes” line  that got me tripped up. I was trying to come up with ONLY 40 minutes, and I believe that its not fair to judge films on snippets and sequences. For example, even though Wall-E‘s first half was SPECTACULAR, honestly the 2nd half was less than inspiring, the movie was still great mind you, but still I had to take into account the film as whole. Compared to say Nausicaa, which didn’t have the long awe-inspiring sequence, but was a little bit stronger and more consistent as whole. But all this is subjective (like all the reviews we do), so I tried to flip the script and make this objective. Here’s my attempt:

I went back and re-watched the sequence from Wall-E, still good as ever btw. Looking back though, it really  wasn’t “40 straight minutes.” There were more moments that stuck out more than the all-out 40 minutes. And apparently, even though, animation wise, it was still technically good, crisp, and posed well, Kung-Fu Panda was even more crisp, more fluid, and more well thought out in terms of animation (according to some animation students and teachers I asked) hence the reason why KFP won all the Annie Awards and Wall-E got nothing

So what made those first 40 minutes of Wall-E so memorable and one of the finest moments in film animation?

It was the bold decision by Stanton and crew to have no dialogue and focus entirely on character acting, gestures, and  lil bit of sound as a means to convey story and emotion. This approach is nothing new in terms of animation. See the classic short “The Old Mill.”

What made Wall-E different was the scope of the “no dialogue” decision. This was a feature length CG animated movie not some animated short. Plus many animated films now-a-days focus waaay too much on dialogue. Famed animation director Chuck Jones once stated that a way to truly find out if your animation worked is to turn off the sound. If you can follow the story on animation and character acting alone then you have succeeded. Unfortunately, I think many newer animated films have lost their way. Hopefully, this bold decision by Wall-E will help define the next batch of animated films and we see more emphasis on character acting and pure animation as opposed to dialogue, cutesy characters and special effects. 

Which finally brings me to the main point. Here is a (my) list of 5 Bold Decisions that defined Film Animation (keep in mind, some of these decisions didn’t turn out for best):

Honorable Mentions:

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? 1988

Bold Decision: Not the first to integrate live-action actors with cartoons, but the first truly realistic intergration of animated characters with live actors. 

Impact: Paved the way for CG special effects in many of our favorite comic book movies. Space Jam was maybe a step backwards!

Coraline 3D 2009

Bold Decision: First true 3D animated movie, used 3D more as a means of theatre rather than gimmick. NOTE: According to chats I’ve had with other animators, the other 3d animated movies, (example Nightmare Before Christmas 3D) were horribly frankensteined and spliced from their originals. 

Impact: Can’t tell yet. Still split as many people I have checked in with think it was still gimmicky, where others (like myself) believed it enhanced the experience. I’ll check Monsters vs. Aliens 3D and Up 3D and we’ll find out. 

Nightmare Before Christmas 1993

Bold Decision: Stop-motion full length animated film with character and story depth. 

Impact: Without Nightmare Before Christmas, nobody would attempt a mainstream stop-motion full length animated film. All stop-motion films are compared to this one. 

The List:

Fritz the Cat 1972

Bold Decision: Full length animated feature for ADULTS ONLY!

Impact: Proved that animation can be a tool for adult themed stories as well. Unfortunately the adult only/ mature themes animated films haven’t really taken off in the US/ World. 

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within 2001

Bold Decision: The one movie that doesn’t fit in the same vein as the other classics on the list, Square’s epic blunder was the first attempt to make a convincing realistic CG animated movie. 

Impact: Yes Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within failed epically in trying to convey a realistic world with real people, but that hasn’t stop other movies like Beowulf, and Polar Express from epically failing as well. Hey, they’ll get it right one day. PS: Square finally made all the Final Fantasy fanboys happy with Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children based on Final Fantasy VII, the best known game in the Final Fantasy series.

Toy Story 1995

Bold Decision: First CGI only animated movie, but made was able to make a film that appealed not only to children but adults as well.

Impact: If this movie sucked, Pixar, Dreamworks, etc… would not be around. Think about that…

Fantasia 1940

Bold Decision: No dialogue, just a musical score!

Impact: Music was always important to animation, but after Fantasia, a outstanding score was crucial in making a great animated film. Unfortunately Fantasia 2000 didn’t capture everyone’s imagination like the original. I still like it though. And mark my words, there will be a hip hop-like Fantasia in the future, I might have to make it though. But imagine this:

Mos Def: “This next animated piece is called “Champion Sound”  and will feature sounds from the late great J-Dilla”

Common: “Mixing and scratching will be done by DJ Q-Bert” 

It’s going to happen… really!

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves 1937

Bold Decision: Not the first full length animated, but the first by Disney, and the most ambitious animation project at the time.

Impact: This movie started film animation. I remember first watching this movie at my auntie’s house in San Diego in the 80’s, it was a marvel to look at some 50+ years after its initial release and today some 70+ years after its release still stands as THE BEST example of fine animation. 

There’s the list. I tried to be objective, may not have entirely worked and probably went waay off tangent, but hey… whatever.

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