I just watched The Castle of Cagliostro, Hayao Miyazaki’s first feature-length animation as director and obvious forerunner to his Studio Ghibli stuff. Here’s a scene demonstrating why it’s worth a watch:
My heart aches when I watch sequences like this (mostly in Ghibli or Pixar movies, who each seem to constantly one-up each other for ambition and emotional devastation – which is fine by me) because I’m not an animator and I doubt I ever will be – short of figuring out how to co-ordinate my hands and a pencil in a way that seems like competent drawing – but the thing I love about these films is that they’re full of joy and invention; you’re constrained to the technical ability of the people working on the film, sure, but aside from financing that’s really your only constraint.
Animation be much bolder than live-action in what it believably portrays because it’s (usually) presented in a consistent way with what else we’ve seen of the world. Dragons quite often look rubbish in movies and TV (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones), but when I watch Spirited Away I really believe that’s a dragon being papercut to death, and I hold my breath because I need to know what’s going to happen to him.
It’s something ‘real’ movies still haven’t mastered: how to make us care for an animated character. The exception of course being Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, in which the cartoons are much more overtly unreal than in, say, Tron: Legacy. Maybe it’s because we subconsciously know Roger Rabbit isn’t trying to fool us that we accept it so easily (and why so many guys feel it’s perfectly acceptable to mention getting a stiffy over Jessica Rabbit – she’s pure fantasy). It’s the middle ground that’s tougher, because your brain doesn’t want you to be tricked, even in the cinema.
I don’t really think the ultimate goal of CGI should be verisimilitude anyway. Why would I want to see something I’ve already know but slightly wrong (*coughyoungjeffbridgescough*) when I could see something I never have before? World-building. Unique, memorable characters and storytelling. Unbelievable stunts (like the one above) made believable. Breathtaking cinema. That’s what animation – all kinds – is to me.
Come to think of it, that’s what films are to me in general. But you know what I mean.