Friday, August 24, 2007

For Your Consideration

promotional poster for No Time for Nuts © Blue Sky

Damn this is good, but is it the pinnacle of animation? Oh boy, here I go again, stirring up trouble on the subject of animated shorts from big, successful studios. At least I am back to talking about poses and how they can be pushed.

Well? Really! I must say! I post my thoughts about a double pose found in a still from an animated short from Blur and I get three times as many replies... and that's if you don't count the personal emails, online chat, and phone conversations. What is it with my readers? Apparently, you people only like controversy. ;) Ok, so I posted a critique of A Gentleman's Duel that wasn't written from the vantage point of a geeky, devoted, 'fan-boy' in that it was actually... um.... critical. Oh my. Just consider the source and get over it!

Still image from No Time for Nuts © Blue Sky (click to enlarge)

Ok, everybody likes a little drama now and then. That's a lot of what is behind good stories... drama. Or comedy, for that matter. In fact, in traditional Greek theater comedy meant a happy outcome and tragedy meant a sad outcome. By that standard, No Time For Nuts would be a tragedy. I'm going to go out on a limb here and call this animated short a comedy. A superbly crafted, entertaining, and beautifully executed comedy. If you have watched the original Ice Age movie, then you know the motivations of the main character of No Time For Nuts. Based on prior history watching Scrat struggle through the challenges of an 'Ice Age' planet you can identify with him in a big way.

That is a valuable starting point for any story teller. Scrat is a memorable character outside of any particular story that focuses on him.

On a similar note, Chuck Jones was responsible for creating many memorable characters during his career. We enjoy the many, many animated shorts he directed because we know who the various characters are over the history of these Warner Brothers animated shorts. The reality of Jones' characters: Pepe le Pew, Road Runner & Wile E. Coyote, Tasmanian Devil not to mention how other pre-existing characters such as Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fud, and Daffy Duck all found an individual voice, unique to each, under the direction of Chuck Jones. Audience expectations play a critical part in how these Warner Brothers characters entertain and how the stories created with them have a life outside of any particular animated short.

From a marketing stand point, they are a highly valuable properties outside of any particular animated production. The same is true for Scrat. We know his motivations and state of mind and he exists as a character in spite of any particular production or story. This is meaty stuff for any good writer and the creators of No Time for Nuts take full advantage of the story potential provided by Scrat. Watching the short you see a masterful use of tempo as the main character is rapidly zapped from one reality to another, each setting up a gag of positioning Scrat at the pinnacle of impending doom. In each case, his only way out is the same way he got there in the first place... by randomly hitting buttons on the time machine found in 20,000 B.C.

The gags work on many levels making each more enjoyable than the last. Not only is Scrat whipped through a series of dangerous scenarios, each more deadly than the last, but the first half dozen or so are references to other films including one blatant plug for the original Ice Age film. You can get the inside jokes or not, either way its funny. Which brings me to the next image...

Still image from No Time for Nuts © Blue Sky (click to *ehem*, enlarge)

Its a pretty funny gag, particularly when you see it as originally edited in sequence. The transportation of Scrat through time and location reaches a furious pace pausing only at this moment seen above in the Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence Italy [thanks to Kate for the correction]. The exasperated Scrat exhales emphasizing the hilarity of the double entendre. You can get the joke... or not. The joke is not critical to the story, nor does the joke distract from the story. The creative people who crafted this juxtaposition can claim that they are only showing the main character in a location that is easy to identify historically. Any baser meanings perceived by viewers are simply in their own dirty, little heads. (*wink wink*)

This is the kind of adult entertainment found in movies prior to the toppling of the Production Code in 1967, and that is sorely lacking just about everywhere else today.

So, is this high art deserving of the highest honors? Apparently the Academy thinks not, instead giving Torill Kove top honors in 2006 for The Danish Poet. Extremely well written, directed, and produced, No Time for Nuts did receive a 2006 Annie Award for "best animated short subject." Directed by Chris Renaud and Michael Thurmeier, No Time for Nuts may not be the pinnacle of animation today, but it is up there, honoring the Termite Terrace shorts from which it draws so much inspiration.

Here is a link to the official site for No Time For Nuts at Blue Sky.



davidmaas said...

It's interesting to put "Nuts" up against "Poet" this way. I liked them both and wouldn't want to have to choose one over the other - they both work in such completely different ways. As for the choices the Academy makes - that invisibly omnipresent force (who are they?) - I stopped questioning their wisdom one indiscriminate morning after ChubbChubbs was selected for an Oscar. And MoCap for animation.
It's a moot point. Like the festivals, its a Zeitgeist and mood driven entity that has different faces each year.

I really appreciate your putting the double-entendre humor in the context of the Code... and the links. I wouldn't put this in the "adult-humor" corner... its that universal shame reflex, doubled with us being so far ahead of the character on-screen. That said, the ability of 'family-entertainment' to work on multiple layers and include adult humor will be increasingly important for animated features and I'd like to see more varied approaches than the tired Shrek2 approach. That the tongue-in-cheek naivety in the Scrat piece works as well as it does is a wonderful lesson. Keep it simple.

Erik Westlund said...

Hey David,

Thanks for stopping by again. I always appreciate your input.

Like you I wouldn't want to have the responsibility of judging "Nuts" against "Poet". I agree that the strange zeitgeist that is Academy opinions/values can be puzzling and at times very frustrating. Perhaps they wanted to send Pixar, Blue Sky, etc. a message... 'don't take this award for granted; you aren't owed this honor.'

By 'adult-humor' I am referring to people who are mature (hopefully) adults, as opposed to 'x-rated.' I have to say, we do tend to be hung-up on such things here in the US.

That's what made the code so powerful of a force in making screen plays that much better. Audiences wanted the 'naughty' humor but nobody wanted to admit that is what they were seeking for entertainment. The double values created the need for doulble entendre.

A similar need exists for 'family entertainment' in which jokes for adults (adult-humor) must run in parallel to entertainment for children. The humor becomes a kind of "young lady/old woman" double image. As you point out, simplicity is key.

glumnmum said...

"David" was at the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence last time I saw him. Otherwise interesting post continuing the thread on humor and art.

Erik Westlund said...

Ouch. Ok, well I needed to do my homework about where "David" is located. I was relying on my recollection from the last time I was there in person... in 1976.

It seems my memory is a little off.

Glad you find the subject of this post interesting.

Anonymous said...

Haben Sie Lust, Florenz - die Wiege der Renaissance - zu besuchen und die Geheimnisse und Schönheiten der Stadt zu entdecken?
Möchten Sie die mittelalterlichen Gassen durchstreifen, die traditionsreichen Geschäfte und Werkstätten, die historischen Plätze, die Künstlerhäuser, die wichtigsten der zahlreichen Kirchen kennen lernen?
Dann wenden Sie sich an uns !