Juan Jesús Yborra Golpe


The history of animation started much earlier than many people would expect. In fact, the first examples of animation date from circa the 16th century, when flip-books became quite popular in Europe, usually depicting sexual acts by its drawings. Then animation started to evolve through history, being present in optical toys during the 19th century, or working together with the cinematograph to produce the first animated films in history. Nowadays, thanks to computer science, animation is constantly developing limitlessly and every new animation film can boast of using a new animation technique. Among the vast number of different animation studios existing nowadays, we are going to choose three of them: DreamWorks Animation, Pixar and Studio Ghibli. The first two work with CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) animation, whereas Ghiblis’ sign of identity is working with 2-D/cel animation, even though this is a harder, slower and more expensive kind of work. The purpose of this essay is to discover how these three studios use animation in order to depict the preoccupations of society and why animation is capable of achieving this where other forms cannot. To achieve this, it is crucial to determine and establish the kind of audiences these studios aim to reach, as well as to understand each studio’s philosophies.

How is animation used to reflect the preoccupations of society?


One of Pixar’s main achievements has been to be able to fill the movie theatres with both children and adults. The way the managed to do that in fact could seem a bit egoistic but thanks to that, that is why they are so successful. What Pixar does is in some way to forget about children, they just create films they would like to be able to see on the theatres, films they think they are funny, interesting and emotive. This is the reason why such a wide number of adults are eager to see their movies. They are adults that make films not for children but for themselves, adults too.
“I don't think of my audience as being a particular age, because we try to do what we think is funny. I don't set out to hook four-year-olds, but it just happens that four-year-olds find it addictive.” (Rob Gibbs, Pixar animator.) Obviously, almost everyone working at Pixar has a very unique personality, if not, it would be impossible for them to have fun in creating the way of films they do. “We think of it as family entertainment as the label, but honestly we make movies for ourselves. People get this idea that when they tradition to young adulthood that they have to get rid of the "kid" part of themselves[...]But I play every day here at work. It's about being excited about the work, loving it, playing with these amazing tools -- that's play!” (Dylan Brown, creative director, Pixar Canada.) Pixar’s view of society Unlike its parent company, Disney, Pixar does not use fairy tales to depict inspiring values, it stories reflect the worries and personalities of their creators. Pixar has been able to develop a new model of masculinity in films, in Toy Story (Lasseter: 1995), Cars (Lasseter: 2006) or The Incredibles (Bird: 2004) an alpha male has to face the limits of its power and go through a period of solitude and personal development until he finally finds out that he has to embrace the traditionally feminine virtues of teamwork or cooperation to be able to achieve its goal. Thus, the finally understand what it means to be a man.

Another theme in Pixar’s films is a warning not to hide or forget your individual or unique gifts and values and fall in the conformism. This can be seen in either The Incredibles, when the superhero family is obliged to hide their powers or in Wall·E (Stanton: 2008), when we discover humanity has fallen into laziness and gets manipulated by a machine. They are encouraging a non-conformist society. It is also in Wall·E where they warn us about the peril of infantilised societies in which self-centred indulgence becomes predominant. This is a good example of what Pixar tries to talk about in its films. Rober Velarde, in his book: The Wisdom of Pixar: An Animated Look at Virtue, attaches a certain moral value to each Pixar film, being some of them: Identity: Toy Story-You are a toy! Justice: A Bug’s Life (Lasseter: 1998)-For oppressed ants everywhere! Friendship: Toy Story 2 Lasseter: 1999)-You’ve got a friend in me. Family: Finding Nemo (Stanton: 2003)-I have to find my son! Ambition: Ratatouille (Bird: 2007)-I want to make things. Technology: Wall·E- Everything you need to be happy. These are good examples of what Pixar tries to highlight in its films.

Audiences On this occasion, we find a completely different approach. While in Pixar they make films for adults who still bear a kid part in themselves, in DreamWorks they create films intended to reach both adults and the adult that exists in every kid. “There was this wonderful great mission statement that Walt Disney had ‘I make movies for children, and the child that exists in all of us’. And 14 years later at DreamWorks I can say ‘We make movies for adults, and the adult that exists in every child’.”(Jeffrey Katzenberg, Dreamworks.) DreamWorks’ Postmodernism

And the way they usually do that is by means of parody, satire and developing characters that are a little irreverent. That is applying postmodernism to film animation. In postmodernist film the mainstream conventions of narrative structure and characterization are turned completely upside-down, creating a work in which a less-recognizable internal logic holds the film narrative structure. And this is what happens in a great amount of DreamWorks films like: Megamind (McGrath: 2010), Kung Fu Panda (Osborne: 2008), Puss in boots (Miller: 2011) or, its major success, the Shrek (Adamson: 2001) saga. In all of these films we are shown a deconstruction of the classical Manichean dualism of Disneys’ fairy tales. Evil characters are not that bad, they are just because they have no choice, and a stinky ogre can be a better person than a prince, for instance. Shrek as an example of DreamWorks’ approach to society That Shrek has become DreamWorks’ cash cow is widely known. The secret of its success lies, excellent marketing campaign apart, in the way it approaches postmodernism, covering these three main topics: intertextuality, selfreflexivity and ironic interfacing. By turning the classical fairy tale upside down, we get a broader view of reality. Things are not black or white, in real life things tend to be grey. “The result of seeing from another’s perspective is generally a broader understanding, a more balanced judgment, and a kinder heart. Maybe Captain Hook really is misunderstood; perhaps the hideous step-sisters have some inner beauty; and maybe, just maybe, an ugly ogre is better served as an analogy for postmodernism than a Broadway musical.”(Fitzgerald: 2009.) This is the reason why it has become so popular among people (adults and children) that already knew the fairy tales mentioned in the film. It achieves to twist them and make them fun by satirising them as much as possible. But that leads to a question. It is true that the film’s humour works now but that is only because we recognise all the characters that are mentioned in the film and we know their stories but, what would happen in 10-20 years? Will they lose their humour if original tales are forgotten?

“I thought Hoodwinked and most of the Shrek series were hilarious[…]. But even if you ultimately reject their messages, old-school fairy tales are part of our cultural vocabulary. There’s something a little sad about kids growing up in a culture where their fairy tales come presatirized, the skepticism, critique and revision having been done for them by the mama birds in Hollywood. Isn’t irony supposed to derive from having something to rebel against? Isn’t there a value in learning, for yourself that life doesn’t play out as simply as it does in fairy tales?” (Poniewozik: 2007)

Audiences Although Studio Ghibli is composed by a lot of people, we will focus on Miyazaki Hayao, the most remarkable animator in the studio. For him, children have always been the main audience, so he differs from both Pixar and DreamWorks about which layer of society should they aim to. Thus, we could say that his first films were quite naïve, even childish until its way of making films radically changed. “I can’t make films that are, you know — slay the villain, everybody’s happy. I can’t make those kinds of films. I think that when children become three or four years old, they just need to see Totoro. It’s a very innocent film.” (Miyazaki) But then, after Porco Rosso (Miyazaki: 1992), something changed. His next movie, Princess Mononoke (1997) was a really adult movie, full of despair and war. It could be said that most of Miyazaki’s previous movies’ innocence was gone. This was because even though he did Porco Rosso thinking about a children audience again, the breakout of Yugoslavian conflicts influenced the audiences, making adults to go massively to watch the film. “But then Yugoslavia collapsed and all these conflicts broke out in Dubrovnic, Croatia and the islands which were my setting. Suddenly in the real world it became a place where battle was happening. So then Porco Rosso became a more complicated film. It was a very difficult film and I was so disappointed that I’d made something for middle-aged men, because I’d been telling my staff always to make films for children.”(Miyazaki)

This led Miyazaki to make a completely different movie, Princess Mononoke. Miyazaki had experienced war happened and all that feelings made him create the most adult movie he had ever done, which became a success among adults and children alike. “It was a huge risk, totally different from when I was making Kiki. I’d had that experience with Porco Rosso, the war happened (in the former Yugoslavia), and I learned that mankind doesn’t learn. It felt like children were being born to this world without being blessed. How could we pretend to them that we’re happy?[…] But when I finished, I didn’t understand it: ‘What did I make?!’ At first I decided, ‘This is something children shouldn’t see,’ but in the end I realised, ‘No, this is something that children must see.’[…].” (Miyazaki) His two following films, Spirited Away (2001) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), even though not as mature as Princess Mononoke, they still remain being more adult than his early works. However, this changes with his last film, Ponyo by the cliff on the sea (2008), where he decides to create a film more orientated to children again. “I also thought maybe we’d travelled too far away from children, that we should go back to the five-year-olds. But I can’t go back and make the same innocent ‘Totoro’ kind of film. So I put in more complex things” (Miyazaki). Apart from Miyazaki, we should at least mention some other Studio Ghibli animators such as Takahata Isao whose films depict Japanese society in quite a realistic way and which are full of sensitivity. Themes and Motifs According to Collin Odell and Michelle Le Blanc, there is a series of recurrent themes and motifs in Studio Ghibli’s films. Of these, the following ones could be of interest for our investigation: Enviromentalism A key theme for Ghibli is how mankind interacts with nature. There is a slight conflict in the way Ghibli debates the use of technology and machinery. In Castle in the sky (Miyazaki: 1986), for example, minery is seen as a good thing because it defends a community work ethic whereas in Princess Mononoke as they are producing weapons in the factory, this places them in

conflict with nature, for the deliberate destruction of the forest in search for fuel. Technology then, is not a bad thing itself, but we have to consider how it is used and to what extent. Children Having a child as a main character gives children a greater identification with the film and it also enables adults to return to youth. Besides, all the children appearing in Ghibli’s movies have strong moral values, much better than adults in many occasions. Worlds Within our Own The existence of parallel worlds in Ghibli’s movies is quite common. Most times, only children can enter or understand them because the rationality of adults is not capable of viewing the magical or spiritual. In some way, these magical worlds help a society such as the Japanese one, which has suffered a lot in the last years (nuclear bombs, tsunamis, earthquakes) to escape from reality. Social Community Immoral values are often punished, Chihiro’s parents are turned into pigs because of their consumerism and disrespect, selfishness and pride lead to despair in Grave of the fireflies (Takahata, 1988), etc. Furthermore we see a preference for the traditional values, living in the countryside, respecting tradition that could be related to the traditional way in which these movies are created, approaching animation as a craft. Japanese Culture There are many Japanese culture symbols in all Ghibli’s films, themes such as trains or food that is not very well known in the occidental world, or even Japanese customs and traditions help to defend and strengthen the culture. Thus they make people in their country of origin recognize themselves in their own customs and values and of course, they also make it interesting for foreigners.

Why Animation?
Being animation studios, Pixar, Ghibli and Dreamworks choose titles and topics which the best way to develop them is by use of animation. In Pixar, for example their main goal is to tell a story. Thus, they try to do photo-realistic films avoiding depicting reality. They want us to know we are watching a cartoon, but they try to make this cartoon look as real as possible. “At Pixar, we like to think we like to think we use our tools to make things look photo-realistic without trying to reproduce reality. We like to take those tools and make something that the audience knows does not exist. Every frame they know this is a cartoon. So you get that wonderful visual entertainment of, ‘I know this isn’t real, but boy it sure looks real’. (Lasseter in Schaffer, 2004: 83 – 4) To achieve this, they try to make films adapted to the best and most advanced CGI techniques in that moment. Thus, in Toy Story it was the use of plastic textures, in Monsters, Inc. (Docter: 2001), the fur texture, In Finding Nemo the water and so forth. “We pride ourselves in choosing subject matter which lends itself to our medium…Great animation is where the subject matter matches itself to the medium in which it is made, so that you can’t imagine it being made in any other medium.” (Lasseter in Schaffer, 2004: 83 – 4) DreamWorks’ case is similar, they also work with CGI and even though they do not pursuit the same ideals as Pixar they choose themes that are quite related to 2D animation like superheroes or fairy tales and convert them into CGI. And eventually we find Ghibli. One of the few studios that still works (and will keep on working) with 2D animation. The reason why they choose to do that is, as it was said before, that they consider animation as a craft, and this sense of nobility of craftsmanship. They work with traditional animation and spend much more time than any other studio coping with all the details. “When building a house, traditional Japanese builders start with the tiniest detail and gradually expand from there. Western builders are the opposite. They start with the picture of a whole and add details to it. When Westerners look at old Japanese buildings, they often wonder how the builders drew the blueprint for such a complex shape. But the secret is that there never was a

blueprint. It is this fundamental difference in approach that makes Japanese buildings fascinating to their eyes. The same thing can be said about animation. The way we create large images for movies is similar to that traditional architectural method.” Suzuki explains.

It could be said that even though these three aim to produce their films to different kinds of audiences, they have managed to gather a huge mass of fans, mesmerising adults and children alike. The way they manage to do this is by giving their best and pushing themselves beyond every time they create a new film. Depicting social issues and troubles in a unique way, they have achieved to reach all layers of society. It is their dedication and their love for animation what has made them create so many masterpieces. Thanks to animation they manage to create, new, exciting worlds that would not be possible for us to find in any live-action films so the less we could do is at least to thank them and encourage them to go forth in this task.

Cavallaro, D., The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki (McFarland: 2006) Hopkins, J., Shrek: From the Swamp to the Screen (H.N. Abrams: NY: 2004) Fitzgerald, J., “Postmodernism, The Big Green Ogre”, Curator Magazine, 10 April 2009: http://www.curatormagazine.com/jonathanfitzgerald/postmodernism-the-biggreen-ogre/ Jacobs, T., “Studies That Stretch to Infinity, and Beyond”, Miller-McCune, 17 June 2010: http://www.miller-mccune.com/media/studies-that-stretch-to-infinity-andbeyond-16570/

Odell, C., Studio Ghibli: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata (kamera books: 2009)

Poniewozik, “Is Shrek bad for kids?”, The Times, 10 May 2007: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1619573-2,00.html

Schaffer, W., ‘The Importance of Being Plastic: The Feel of Pixar’ in Animation Journal, v.12 (2004), pp. 72-95. Velarde, R., The Wisdom of Pixar: An Animated Look at Virtue (IVP Books: 2010)

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful