My Problem with CGI Films

As readers of Studycove will definitely know, I rarely review CGI films. So far I’ve only reviewed two, one of which was for my “Oscar Nominations Month”. Considering that CGI films have been around for almost twenty years now, people may be wondering why I have avoided films done by Pixar, Dreamworks and others, and have been doing films by Madhouse, Ghibli or more recently, Les Armateurs and Cartoon Saloon. Well mainly it’s because I haven’t actually watched as many, and for a lengthy reason.

I’m guessing if you watched TV in the 1990s you’ve at least heard of Animaniacs, it was a Warner Bros animated TV show consisting of several mini-shows, most famous of which involved the Warner siblings Yakko, Wakko and Dot, Pinky and the Brain and Slappy Squirrel. It’s main style of humour and entertainment was satirising the more older Warner Bros cartoons, pop culture references and gags, the occasional puns and risque jokes. It’s predecessor, Tiny Toon Adventures, did it first but Animaniacs did it better in many people’s opinion.

Then fast forward to 2001 and despite making the commercially successful features Antz (which I actually think is criminally overshadowed by Bug’s Life) and Prince of Egypt, Dreamworks Animation finally gains international recognition with Shrek, a film which satirises classic Fairy Tale Stories, uses pop culture references and risque jokes, does that sound familiar? In fairness, Shrek was a fun movie. You had Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy at their best, there were good jokes and the whole idea that you don’t have to be a handsome prince and a beautiful princess to have fairy tale romance was a change of pace and a twist on the fairy tale formula.

Since it was clear that CGI films are gaining more interest and the structure they had works it was inevitable that a sequel was in the works. Like the original, Skrek 2 was also a fun movie because it still had tricks up its sleeve, had other great actors like John Cleese involved. It’s only flaw, not a glaring one at this point however, was that it’s main entertainment value was the exact same as the first. Then came Shark Tale which did the same instead using fish and city life, the Madagascar with Zoo Animals stranded on an island, Over the Hedge with forest animals in modern day suburbia and so on. Basically, what made me gave up on Dreamworks was that outside of characters and plot, there was nothing really unique or special about what we got on the table, and it had gotten to the point where it was really predictable. While I did watch Flushed Away and had a “meh” reaction, and I found Kung Fu Panda enjoyable when I saw it one year after it’s release, my view on Dreamworks animation made me initially skip later releases and sequels, one of which unfortunately was How to Train Your Dragon which I was glad to see that it moved away from the typical satire and pop culture.

What bothered me was that it wasn’t just Dreamworks that was using this. Blue Sky Studios made Ice Age, which had lovable characters, good humour and even a fun sidestory that added to the original plot. Then you had Ice Age: The Meltdown which for reasons which still baffel me why there was unnecessary pop culture references at all, then came Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs which I swear went too far with pop culture and risque humour. Then there barely remembered Robots had the same thing with mild success. Despite the good things I’ve seen from Horton Hears a Who I hope they don’t go the same route with their upcoming title Rio.

So you might be asking what point am I trying to make? What do I think these CGI films need to be like? What about studios that don’t do these? Or simply, what about Pixar?

Well since it’s impossible for one person like me to change an entire industry, I will at least make some points.

  1. Stop Relying on Popular Culture: If animation wants to be taken as seriously as it did several years ago, it should stop going to the lowest denominator of humour entertain audiences. If watching foreign animated films has taught me something, you don’t need to have humour in a film in order to make it worth watching, and even if you want humour, pop culture isn’t the only way, so why do several CGI films have so many of them?Now I know why they are used, it’s as simple as adding two small numbers, this is something everyone knows about, make it funny so everyone will get it. I’m not saying to remove it altogether, since if it can fit well into a scene and there is effort in it to make it worthwhile, it works. A good example is the Anime Parody Scene in Horton Hears a Who, everyone I knew who saw the film mentioned it as being one of the funniest scenes in the movie.
  2. Tone down the Risque Jokes: Is there this mental stereotype in America that animation is just for kids and the only way for adults to be entertained by them is to add mature jokes every now and then. If they are subtle, so only those who actually get it can have a chuckle at it knowing other people couldn’t, then it’s not a problem. If it isn’t however, it’s makes a movie more immature than funny.
  3. Don’t Repeat, If Not Needed: At the end of the day, not every film can be or has to become a franchise. If you want to set up your film to at least have an open ending for the possibility of a sequel, go ahead because I won’t hurt you for it. If you do make a sequel, make sure it is a sequel. By this I mean nake sure it follows on from the original, make sure you add further development to the characters and show that the two films link together tightly. You can even get a third film to work if you keep up the process but if you want it to be positively remembered in the long run outside of making lots of money, make sure that when it’s clear that it has ended, IT HAS ENDED. After that, move on to something new so your audience has something refreshing to look forward to.

Now with good CGI films such as ones from Pixar studios. Yes I watch them, yes I enjoy them, yes I can see what they don’t do and I’m glad for it. Will I review them? Maybe but for the time being, no I won’t.

As a reviewer or critic, I’m a hobbyist. I don’t get paid to watch a movie and tell people why they should or shouldn’t watch this, and whether I will or not will depend if my small viewer base is good enough for someone to hire me. I watch movies because I enjoy watching movies and I write reviews because I like finding what I find good and bad and trying to explain it in a way so someone who has never seen the film before might understand if they should watch it. However, if I want to achieve that goal I’ve got to be original, give a differing opinion and bring up points that several critics don’t bring up. This was why I found it difficult to write a review on Spirited Away, it’s a film everyone knows, everyone knows how great it is and why it’s practically the only Anime film nowadays that BBC shows during the day time. This goes into the same way with Pixar movies and films as good and recognised as it, they are brilliantly animated, each new film shows a new level of CG animation and the stories are timeless, memorable and relatable no matter what the context is, so what’s new?

One day I will review more CGI films that come to me, and maybe I will find something unique to say about them when they arise. Tell me what you think of what I said and if you do have suggestions for animated films I should review, tell me in the comments.

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2 thoughts on “My Problem with CGI Films

  1. Ipodman says:

    I totally agree with you that the pop culture references in children’s movies should be kept to a minimum… especially in Shrek and its endless sequels. Having said that, I love CGI animated movies from Disney/Pixar and Dreamworks (well, most of em)… but Ice Age is the one that I’m iffy on…

  2. […] the relationship between Shrek and Fiona in Shrek, most of the problems in these sequels go into my Problems with CGI Films as a whole, but it doesn’t exclude from the fact that they don’t expand on their stories as much […]

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