Monday, July 30, 2007
Two Trailers; Two Tragedies
While I'm in favour of copyright, allowing creative artists and their heirs to financially benefit from their creations, what do you do in cases where the heirs have no reservation about trashing the work they own in exchange for a few bucks?
I am not under the illusion that Alvin and the Chipmunks is, or ever was, great art. It started out as a novelty 45 rpm record by Ross Bagdasarian, a musician behind other novelty records of the time including "Witch Doctor" and "Come on-a My House." The chipmunk record took off and led to an early animated TV series and some merchandising. Bagdasarian was no Cole Porter, but at least his work was inoffensive.
What is it about toilet humour and animated films? We've gone from fart jokes to characters defecating on screen in Open Season to characters eating each other's waste material now. When did family films look to John Waters and Pink Flamingoes as a model? When did a porn fetish become children's entertainment? And who, at the MPAA, approved this trailer for all audiences?
My objection is not to the obscenity, it's the complete and total lack of imagination. In a medium where characters can do anything, they choose to do this? With the entire history of film comedy to draw on, this is the best they could do?
(And what about the general cheapness of the trailer? No shot combining Jason Lee with the animated characters? Not even an over the shoulder shot? Not only can't they write, they don't know diddley about directing either.)
No doubt the Bagdasarian family is hoping that this film spins off sequels and perhaps a new TV version. Much as I like to support creatives, I hope this project fails in a big enough way to bury the chipmunks for another generation.
Over at Blue Sky, they're adapting Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who. No question that the art direction is attractive and they've done a great job of making Seuss's characters believably dimensional. However, good looking visuals are not enough. Seuss's language was at least half the appeal of his work and it's totally missing here. How many of you can recite some of Green Eggs and Ham by heart?
They've also failed to capture Horton's personality. Jim Carrey is fundamentally miscast as Horton, a character who can best be described as a plodder. Carrey is too high energy. The animators have no choice but to move Horton in unelephant-like ways in order to match Carrey's reading.
Furthermore, whoever is behind the screenplay doesn't understand how to write for animation. There's way too much dialogue and the animators are stuck looking for gestures to keep the characters alive while the dialogue drones on. I don't envy the animator stuck with that Steve Carell scene. It's a tough challenge, but he or she is making it worse by using gestures to illustrate words and phrases as opposed to thoughts. The character is overly busy and the gestures are mostly empty of emotion.
I once had great hopes for Blue Sky. Except for the first Ice Age, the visuals have accompanied structurally flawed stories. There is no question that they bring an enormous amount of art talent to each of their films, but there's a sharp divide between their visuals and their scripts. Either Fox is not giving Blue Sky enough freedom to rework scripts into animatable form, or Blue Sky itself just has no talent for story. They wouldn't be the first studio to have that problem.
These projects make it hard to justify the existence of copyright past a creator's death except for financial benefits. I can't believe that if the chipmunks or Seuss's work were public domain, we'd be doing any worse in the way of film adaptations. It's clear that the heirs don't understand what they own. What a shame that we have to witness the degradation of any creator's legacy at the hands of his or her heirs.