Emotional Value through Animation
Childhood and family life can be greatly influenced by animated cartoons and feature films. Throughout the latter part of the twentieth century, animation has undergone tremendous change. Forces including technological advancement and the increasing desire for higher profits have shaped this genre and caused it to cycle through periods of dormancy and innovation. One such resurgence occurred during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, a period marked by the popularity and success of 2D animated entertainment, exemplified by Disney’s blockbusters Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. The shift to computer generated 3D animation that gained popularity with Pixar’s 1995 feature Toy Story, has led many to question the relevance of hand-drawn animation (Sito, 1). While the evolution of animation has led away from 2D renderings, the impact of these films and series cannot be denied. The differences between hand-drawn, 2D animation and 3D computer generated features extend from the process of creation itself to the function and method by which these films communicate with their viewers.
While this shift in the art form of animation may seem as though it was sudden and abrupt, CG animation was slow to develop. Evolution away from 2D animation occurred within the general context of change surrounding the increasing development of computers and incorporation of digital technology into all aspects of life that took place during the decades of the 1980’s and 1990’s (Jones & Oliff, 26). Audiences were primed for this transition by ever more realistic effects in movies. The aesthetic value, or “wow factor,” of computer created graphics created excitement, while Disney’s story lines suffered from a constant desire for larger box office revenues (Jones & Oliff, 27-29; Sito, 2). Jones and Orliff have cited three reasons that contributed to the success of CG animation, including changes in the aesthetic taste of viewers, stories that broadened the audience for animated films, and the relatively unappealing stories told in 2D animated films of the same period (Jones & Orliff, 26).
While the economic consequences of this shift had a profoundly reorganizing effect on the film industry, the most marked changes occurred in the nature of animated films themselves (Sito, 1-8). Animated characters became rounded, expressive, and were able to convey subtle emotion to the audience. As a result, many of the communicative devices used in traditional animation were lost. Songs became less important, strange voices were no longer as prominent, and the nature of the characters themselves changed, becoming somehow more human and realistic.
One poignant example of the change in the content of animated cartoons can be seen in the use of character names. Once computers enabled animators to imbue their characters with subtly expressive faces, the use of descriptive names was no longer necessary. The use of this device is evidenced in a variety of examples, including most famously Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Smurfs. In both examples, the characters were given names that described their personalities. “Grumpy” the dwarf was grumpy, and “Bashful” was shy, “Brainy Smurf” was smart, while “Lazy Smurf” was narcoleptic. Less obvious examples include the frightening dragon “Maleficent” in Sleeping Beauty, “Snow White” who was beautiful, pure, and innocent, not to mention the myriad of allusions to “beauties” and “prince charmings.” In the spirit of classic fairytales and parables, the names given to cartoon characters communicated traits associated with values, particularly regarding good and bad, and clearly exemplifying behaviors to be emulated or avoided. [pic]
In contrast, the CG blockbuster Toy Story featured characters without such associative names. Although bad and good characters continue to be given names that fit their role in the...