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"I'm Voting For The Future of Hand-Drawn Animation"

by Gene Deitch
January 4, 2014 3:00 PM
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Editor's Note: Oscar-winning animator and Academy member Gene Deitch (Best Animated Short, Munro, 1960) is still going strong at age 89, producing short films from his studio in Prague. In this piece below he laments the current state of the art - and explains why he is supporting the few hand drawn animated features released during last twelve months. - Jerry Beck

Ernest 1

Is Ernest & Celestine  the animation feature we've been waiting for?

Ernest & Celestine is a charming, inventive, meaningful story, under-stated, and packed with sly humor.  It makes the very most of modest means; exactly the basic drawn animation we should be supporting.  In my view, not a relic of the past, but an indicator of the actual unlimited future of cinema animation!

As a longtime Academy member, with strong ties to the animation community, let me explain my view!

Last night I viewed The Hobbit Part 2 screener, and this evening I looked at EPIC.  Aside from the hubris of naming a simple-minded fairy tale "Epic", I was struck by the story similarities, except for the fact that The Hobbit had no cute girl love interest. (Tolkien was a stuffy legend assembler; no sex allowed.)

In my own tiny Hobbit film, I did insert a cute princess love interest for Bilbo Baggins, because I was under orders to meet that requirement.  In that regard, Epic, makes the cut, not hesitating to include all the pot boiler ingredients of every sexy fairy tale ever filmed, though dressed up to the max in High-Techery.

Epic has all that I dread for the future of animation; the closest possible simulation of live action backgrounds, and characters that are nearly indistinguishable from those in all the other ultra-realistic animation features now streaming onto our giant screens.  Only the gadgetry is varied, but the stories are ladled out of the same pot, and all are striving to outdo each other in the mimicking of live action.

Is this what we cartoonists really want to do, when the whole world of graphic art could lend our productions originality and stimulate the imagination of audiences?

The last animation feature I saw, which pointed to the path less travelled was the Irish film, The Secret Of Kells.  That was an animated film that did not pretend to be anything else, It expanded the graphic possibilities of feature film animation, and told a story not in the cookie-cutter mold.  The visual promise of that film has been largely ignored in the present dash toward realism.

Ernest 2

And so I'd like to give this French production, Ernest & Celstine a loud fanfare!!!  Among all of the animation screeners I've been sent, hoping for my Oscar vote this year, it's one of only two drawn-animation films. I realize that the Hollywood majority will not want to give the Animation Feature Oscar to a foreign production, considering the monster American studios’ investments in mega pixel, hyper-realistic dazzlers.

This is not a statement of what my vote will be; there are many factors involved in Oscar voting; but is an expression of my feelings about the current trend of animation features’ intense, and I feel mis-guided effort to imitate live-action movies.

The end credits of today's big money animated films, almost feature length in themselves, indicate how hopeless it seems for individual creators to get their ideas onto movie screens. They will have to think big on small screens.  We can hope that the new media will develop a viable market for individual innovation. 

Drawn animation has gone on since the stone age, we should not let it be erased or deleted in the age of The Cloud! It would be an artistic calamity to allow the long tradition of movie cartoon graphics to sink without a trace.

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More: Ernest et Celestine, Academy Awards


  • Mark Waters | January 6, 2014 6:01 AMReply

    The best subversive film of the decade .A joy for the young and us grandparents .....An inspiration to my 7 year old grand son who started drawing a cartoon script over Xmas.

  • GREG JONES JR. | January 6, 2014 5:01 AMReply

    I saw this movie last year and was enamored. I really hope it gets a blu-ray release by G-Kids. If it does consider my money already in their hands.

  • Joseph Martinez | January 4, 2014 9:20 PMReply

    While Deitch's comments on Epic are legit, that's not any different with what Disney was trying to acheive with Bambi.

  • Mike Oldfield | January 4, 2014 5:49 PMReply

    I could not agree more. There was a special magic to hand-drawn animation, especially the backgrounds. I still marvel at the beautiful layouts of Walt Disney's "Bambi" and "Pinocchio",
    the great living room and city backgrounds of Hanna/Barbera's "Tom and Jerry" cartoons and even the stylized backgrounds to be found in many of the Warner Bros. cartoons. They were a treat for the eyes and just one of the many reasons that these animated features are considered classics.

  • Alex Dudley | January 4, 2014 3:25 PMReply

    Why do so many big name animation studios spend so much money to promote their films to earn an Oscar? What good does an Oscar do for these studios? Smaller foreign studios benefit from an Academy Awards because it brings awareness to the greatness of their work, and opens doors to more opportunities for them. Big studios like Disney and Pixar are already world renowned and at the top of the heap, and others make almost a billion at the box office. What good is an Oscar to them?

  • Tainá Ribeiro Nepomuceno | January 5, 2014 9:05 PM

    Well, even big studios aren't tottally self-funded. They need money of partners that will spend millions helping then. But even if those big-studios earn a lot of money, movies aren't a safe investment, a movie that has everything to make money can, just faill, wasting all the money invested in it, as well as the money of those investidors.
    The Oscar is a guarantee. It's the affimation: "We still have the talent, you can invest your millions on us than on the others studios"

  • Brian O. | January 5, 2014 12:22 AM

    "What good does an Oscar do for these studios?"

    Ego satisfaction.

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