Last week I went to see Sony's newest CG offering Monster House. Three teens have discovered that the house across the street hates kids and comes alive when no adults are looking.
This movie has an excellent story and very well written, believable thirteen year old characters. In fact, the most enjoyably part of this movie is watching these kids be kids. They don't save the world or get involved in plots that should be reserved for adults. They are not concerned with the affairs of the adult world. They exist in the wonder and excitement of a kid's world. At one point in the movie I leaned over to my girlfriend and said "I wish I were a kid again". I wanted to have as much fun as they were having on screen.
But don't let this fool you. Monster House is not a movie for young kids. Parts of it are downright scary. The house is evil and very menacing and I was actually shocked at how scary it was. But this was due to some excellent directing of Gil Kenan and convincing performances by the main cast (Mitchel Musso, Sam Lerner and Spencer Locke).
Which brings me to what I really want to talk about.
Monster House is the second movie to be made by Robert Zemeckis using the motion capture process. That is, actors wear many little markers at each joint to indicate movement when tracked by a computer program. Whatever the actor does, the character onscreen mimics perfectly. This adds realism to the movements of the characters and especially adds believable features to the faces of the characters (a process that has greatly improved since 2004's Polar Express).
Which brings me to what I really, really want to talk about. Mick LaSalle, Film Critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote a review on Monster House that has got every animation blog up in arms. If you haven't read the article yet I would suggest doing that now. Click Here. But here is a little taste:
Animated films always had the advantage of being able to go anywhere and show anything, to defy the laws of physics and follow the imagination as far as it could go. But they never had the ability to show the human face. There was never any point to a close-up in an animated film -- there was never really anything to see. But with the motion-capture process, real actors give their performances with computer sensors attached to their face and body, and that recorded information becomes the template for the computer animation. If an actor is bug-eyed, the character will look bug-eyed. Moreover, if the actor is thinking or is full of doubt, the technology will be able to render subtle qualities of pensiveness or doubt in the animation.
Imagine what Disney might have done with this in the creation of the Seven Dwarfs. Imagine all the things that will be done with this in the future. "Monster House" looks like the ground floor of something important.
LaSalle's obvious lack of knowledge of the art of animation has really touched a nerve with everyone that has love for traditional 2D animation.
The whole reason that Snow White was so groundbreaking and well-loved over the years is because the animators were able to show realistic emotion! To say that animators can't show emotion through their characters just shows ignorance of the craft.
If LaSalle has only seen shows like Dora the Explorer then I can understand his comments. But it seems to me that he has not seen any animated films that convey poignant emotional moments like Bambi realizing that his mother had been killed, Lilo being taken away from her sister by social services or Simba upon finding Mufasa's dead body. Any Miazaki movie is a perfect example of emotion through animation!
LaSalle really needs to open his eyes and see that motion capture is actually taking away the creativity of the craft and replacing it with button pushers who create movies that probably should just be live action anyway.