I've just been reading the posts of my new colleague Peter Emslie on his blog,
The Cartoon Cave. One recent post discussed a Cartoon Network show based on a short film called ADVENTURE TIME, which some other blogs have praised and which Peter dislikes.
At first I couldn't watch this for more than ten seconds...the style was unappealing in the extreme. Then I remembered what my dear teacher and friend Ken O'Connor (a 50-year veteran of the Disney Studio) thought about THE SIMPSONS...Ken was hostile to the show because of its style, even when I argued that a more conventional cartoon style would be detrimental to the writing and absurd characters that made the show well worth watching.
So I tried to give ADVENTURE TIME another chance. I still couldn't watch more than three minutes. I lost interest almost immediately in the characters and their inexplicable transformations. And it wasn't because it was a 'non Disney' design. (I dislike imitation "Milt Kahl" style as much as poorly designed shows like this one.) No, there was a basic problem: ADVENTURE TIME was simply not appealing to me in any way--design, animation, and especially story.
I'm discussing linear and nonlinear storytelling in my lectures, and I'll be showing examples of both types of films for the remainder of term. I have always taught that there is no 'one way' to animate, design characters, or (certainly) to tell a story. But this film fails me on a very basic level: it does not entertain me, or make me interested in what any of the characters are doing. That, in the end, is all that a story should do: keep viewers interested in seeing what happens next.
ADVENTURE TIME is all over the place. It doesn't have the unifying elements that are found in the very first Terry Gilliam short film, STORY TIME; in "Doug the Cockroach" Gilliam parodies a linear story and has secondary characters run away with the film when the hero proves to be completely uninteresting, with no conflicts in his story. The second half of the film, "THE ALBERT EINSTEIN STORY" does have a structure to its nonlinear madness. The words 'Hands', 'Foot' and 'Dance' lead the action in an unconventional, but weirdly logical, direction.
The Christmas cards at the end are unified by subject (Christmas) and develop their own logic from the shapes and characters found in the standard card designs. A church steeple looks a little bit like a missile, therefore it becomes one. The Wise Men follow the star, so the star 'leads'--though not very well. A chickadee killed in one card falls into another card's scene, where it is suddenly violently out of scale. There is a highly entertaining logic in these unexpected developments that puts Terry Gilliam's work head and shoulders above ADVENTURE TIME, even though it may be no better animated in the 'classical' sense.
All films have structure, even the so-called 'experimental' ones. There is a development and variation, whether in color, music, or pacing, that serves to unify the film.
And I agree that Simon's Cat (which has a new example up, in addition to the two older, even more hilarious films) would be a far more appealing cartoon series than ADVENTURE TIME. I love these simple, well made little shorts and find them hugely entertaining.
But that's just me. And a few million others, from the number of hits on SIMON'S CAT'S videos.
De gustibus est non disputandum, but some things just are intrinsically better than other things. The artist 'becomes' an artist by learning the difference between mediocrity and quality. It's a good thing to aspire to in other aspects of life, as well. And no, it has nothing to do with budget, the number of drawings, or the number of big stars (animated or live) attached to the project. There are all sorts of big budget animated turkeys that don't have the charm and appeal of SIMON'S CAT.