Western Animation and Being an Obtuse Tool

Sausage Party is the dumbest, most obnoxious, most nihilistic, most self-important trash that has ever had $30 million and eight years of people’s lives wasted on it. It’s a monument to how stupid Hollywood thinks you are and how intellectually superior many celebrities, movie executives, and critics believe themselves to be even though they haven’t read an actual book since college. It’s also coming out on August 12th of this year.

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My feelings exactly

But I’ve already ranted about this before, elsewhere. Instead, I want to briefly tackle the idea being bandied about, especially by film critics, that Sausage Party, if successful, will help to “legitimize” animation for adult audiences in the West. After I was done breaking all of my worldly possessions in outrage over this sentiment, I thought it might be an okay idea to talk about why this thinking is dumber than hell and shows a complete disregard and condescension towards animation in general.

To start with, this is an incredibly modern idea. El Apóstol, an Argentinian political satire created in 1917, is largely considered to be the first animated feature film in history, making animated movies almost a century old. A CENTURY. If you’re the sort of person who thinks that in that time no animation has been produced that can appeal to an adult audience, I suggest you stop drinking lead-based paint. The idea that animation is meant almost exclusively for children is a largely American idea that appeared around the 1950s-1960s, when big budget movie studio animation started dropping off, in favor of much cheaper and simpler animation produced for TV, and geared towards children rather than audiences composed of a wide age range. This continued up through the 1980s, with cartoons that are largely extended toy advertisements: Transformers, He-Man, G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, etc. Around the beginning of the 1990s, animation made a resurgence as studios like Disney came back into their own, producing some of their more popular and successful films, as well as cable television leading to better produced and wildly popular animated shows. All of this eventually leading us to where we are now, where animation is big business, but still largely considered “kid’s stuff” unless it’s grossly crass or meaninglessly dark or both. A more in-depth rundown of all of this would be gigantic and I’m too lazy to spend much more time on it, but TV Tropes has a pretty decent take. Have a gander at that, if you’re so inclined.

  1. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AnimationAgeGhetto
  2. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/UsefulNotes/TheGoldenAgeOfAnimation
  3. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/UsefulNotes/TheDarkAgeOfAnimation
  4. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/UsefulNotes/TheRenaissanceAgeOfAnimation?from=Main.TheRenaissanceAgeOfAnimation
  5. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/UsefulNotes/TheMillenniumAgeOfAnimation

To be very brief about my second point, the South Park movie released in 1999 made around $83 million worldwide, and the Simpsons movie released in 2007 made around $527 million. So to even begin to suggest that Sausage Party is somehow unique or special for being a widescreen, blockbuster release of an animated film in which “adult” means 90 minutes of dick and fart jokes is to have the most selective memory imaginable.

And that segues into my final complaint, which is that Sausage Party is a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. So that was sort of my very first point, but sssssssshhhhh… Beneath the attempts at stoner and shock humor layered over innuendo, including an eight-minute long food orgy (because Seth Rogen wanted to see what he could get away with), Sausage Party does have a point. It’s just a point so juvenile and thoughtless that it continues to disturb me that any adult can take it seriously or find it meaningful in any way. The CGI food living in the supermarket believe that the humans shopping there are gods who’ve come to take them to their paradise, called The Great Beyond. Of course, if you’ve seen any of the trailers, that’s quickly revealed to not be the case. The food is “murdered” as people prepare and eat it. This leads to all sorts of unanswerable questions if you think too hard about it (why are meat products alive? weren’t they already alive? and why are some toiletries alive, but not other products?). But the ultimate message of this is a sophomoric Epicureanism I never thought I’d see outside of a high school or a freshman-level philosophy course. “God is dead, so let’s just smoke pot and have sex until we die.” The movie takes this to the level of suggesting that if Israelis and Palestinians would just stop being SO superstitious and abandon their silly religions and traditions and hold hands, it would all work out okay. Because no conflict in the history of the world has ever been over money or land or resources or politics. No, religion is responsible for all the world’s ills, and the great philosopher Seth Rogen has come to show us the way. With talking CGI hot dogs having sex and pontificating. For thirty million dollars.

So that’s what makes it “adult.” Not any real exploration of the human condition, not any sort of high drama or beautiful artwork, but endless sex jokes and the same sort of nihilism that adult-oriented animation has been clinging to on this side of the world for at least a decade. Oh, but I forgot about shows like Rick & Morty and Bojack Horseman! So much DEPTH! After all, animation can only ever really be mature when it declares that life is meaningless as loudly and as long as possible, so that a bunch of miserable twenty and thirty-somethings can feel better about their empty lives, because at least they’re not the only ones. GO OUTSIDE. PET A DOG. GET A HOBBY. TALK TO A FRIEND. READ AN ACTUAL BOOK. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?

The script for Sausage Party was leaked during the 2014 Sony hack, and I’ll link it here if you have any interest. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend it. I found myself depressed for a couple of days afterwards, just thinking about all the waste of the thing and how there were people who already love it.

Click to access Sausage%20Party.pdf

God have mercy on your soul.

But to end on a not-miserable note, I’m also going to suggest what I think are some far better animations that you could watch instead of Seth Rogen’s greatest crime against humanity. Many (but not all) of which are more adult in tone than what people in this country tend to associate with animated work. Of course, I’ll also be sticking to strictly Western animation, just to prove my point. No anime. My apologies to otaku everywhere.

Heart String Marionette1a

I already talked about this one in my previous post, and surprisingly it’s still good. Shocking, I know. Here’s the link to the movie again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJp0jIZNPhk

The Adventures of Prince Achmedachmed

A 1926 German silent movie, this is the oldest surviving animated film, its two predecessors sadly having been lost or destroyed. It was produced with a style of shadow puppetry, using cardboard and lead cutouts, and it’s gorgeous to behold in motion, especially alongside the orchestral score. The plot is largely taken from a story from the One Thousand and One Nights, but the real draw here is the animation itself. TCM runs this every now and then, so catch it there if you can. Here’s some clips: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXG71sTbRgE

Anomalisaanomalisa.jpg

I’m not really a fan of this one. While the stop-motion animation itself is technically impressive, the story and characters kill me. I just find it all so self-absorbed and pathetic. Michael Stone, a customer service expert, finds himself socially and emotionally isolated from all the people around him, to the point that they all appear to have the same face and voice. But then at a business conference, he meets a young woman who appears distinct to him from everyone else, and starts a romance with her. It’s written by Charlie Kaufman, the same guy behind Being John Malkovich and Synecdoche, New York. Both of which I also didn’t like. Still, there’s a germ of something there far more worthwhile than anything you’d ever find in Sausage Party. Trailer for your perusal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQkHA3fHk_0

The Separationseparation

The Separation is a 9 minute short film by a British filmmaker named Robert Morgan. It’s about a pair of conjoined twins separated in childhood who later try and reattach themselves as adults. This one’s a little bloody and disturbing, but the most graphic moment happens offscreen. That doesn’t stop it from being a pretty horrible moment, though. It’s rather heartbreaking and very much worth a watch if you don’t find yourself turned off by Morgan’s style: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltIG3v_ySuU

Dante’s Infernodante

This one may not technically count as animation, but my blog, my rules. A modernized version of the first part of The Divine Comedy done entirely with paper puppets on a small stage. Set in an urban Hell, full of lots of social and political commentary, and pretty damn funny, too. Have a trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whHDbGeJcts

Mary and Maxmary and max

Mary and Max is one of my favorite movies, as well as the funniest movie I think I’ve watched in years. A lonely eight-year old Australian girl and an overweight, shut-in New Yorker become pen pals and lifelong friends. That may not sound like much, but it’s a genuinely engaging movie, as well as touching and hilarious. Here you go: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVdivjF-9nw

Fantastic Planetfantastic planet

Fantastic Planet is a 1973 animated French science-fiction film and BOY DOES IT SHOW. You thought Zardoz was trippy 70s scifi nonsense? You have seen nothing. In the distant future a giant blue race of humanoids have enslaved humanity and brought them to their planet, using some of them like lapdogs while the rest are left to fend for themselves in the wild. Until one of the humans breaks out of captivity and learns some of their secrets and starts a rebellion against them. So it’s basically Battlefield Earth, but French and on more drugs. Not a great movie, but worth watching at least once just for the strangeness of it all. Take a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgCxCZNkQ9E

The Maxxmaxx

This one is not a movie, but an animated miniseries that aired on MTV back in 1995. A homeless man, who thinks he’s a superhero known as The Maxx, has a mysterious connection to a freelance social worker named Julie Winters, and both of them are being stalked by a serial rapist and murderer with strange powers known as Mr. Gone. Honestly, The Maxx is a tricky show to talk about because there’s so much going on. There’s themes of trauma, repression, escapism, feminism, subconscious desires, the nature of justice, depression, suicide, and on and on. The animation can also vary wildly in style from scene to scene, which is kind of nice. Everything from CGI to a very flat, cartoony style, to the highly exaggerated and detailed style in the picture above. Excellent show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGw0-gLZaMA

It’s Such a Beautiful Daydon

Don Hertzfeldt is a legendary independent filmmaker and animator, who you’ll know from the short film Rejected, if you know him at all: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yH4h73RDeE

Released over the course of three years as three separate short films and then compiled together as one in 2011, It’s Such a Beautiful Day is his most critically successful work, and arguably his best as well. An ordinary man named Bill discovers that he has some form of inherited degenerative brain disease, slowly driving him crazy and possibly killing him. As Bill struggles to hold on to his sanity as the disease progresses, he ponders on mortality, family, modern society, love, existence, and the meaning of life. The first third of the movie is up for viewing on Hertzfeldt’s Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IUX0Qy-IDM

The Secret of KellsKells

Secret of Kells is the kind of movie I imagine the sort of person who would like Sausage Party would either dismiss outright or hate on principle. It might be because the two protagonists are children, because it’s fairly supportive of religion, or because it’s generally optimistic in tone. Or maybe just the bright colors. It’s the story of a boy named Brendan, living under the care of several monks and his uncle, Abbot Cellach, in an abbey in northern Ireland. A wandering monk named Aidan visits the abbey, carrying an illuminated manuscript he’s spent his life working on. He befriends Brendan and sees in him the potential to become an apt pupil, so he enlists Brendan’s help to finish the manuscript. Another one of my favorite movies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lw2_HZTuQBE

The Lost Thinglost thing

And finally, The Lost Thing. This is the second shortest one in the bunch, clocking in at around 15 minutes. A boy named Shaun finds a Thing on the beach that everyone else seems to ignore, befriends it, and tries to find where it belongs in the world. This one is mostly here because Shaun Tan, the creator, is one of my favorite artists, and if I can introduce more people to his work, then I’m gonna. Ultimately, I’d say it’s a movie about trying to find wonder in the mundane and the everyday. And luckily, there’s a version up online. It’s in a pretty low resolution, though: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1JoliFXH74

 

So that’s all I’ve got. For now, anyway. And if you think my taste sucks or I’m just being a snob, I still urge you to not watch Sausage Party. As someone who loves animation and all the creative and artistic potential it has, I’d really like to see the trend of it being used as little more than a soapbox for miserable Hollywood types and their ill-conceived opinions end. So please don’t go watch this soulless garbage, or any of the other soulless garbage that passes for “adult animation” in this country. No Rick & Morty, no Bojack Horseman, no Family Guy, no whatever new flavor-of-the-month is airing on adult swim. We can do better. Much, much better.

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