Monday, 26 August 2013

Let's Talk About The Animation/Live-Action Crossover

I'm going on record on here to tell you that my absolute favorite movie in the whole wide world is Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It may not be the very best film and it may be partly due to nostalgia clouding my judgment, but I still think that it holds a close place in my being as both a person and as a "creator". Whilst I would love to enjoy gushing about the movie as a whole, I would instead like to gush to you about what the movie is categorized to be, an animation/live-action crossover. What Who Framed Roger Rabbit managed to do was turn a simple special effect gimmick into a selling point for a story.  Back then, when you thought that cartoons and people were going to be in the same place, all you could think of was some Disney schmultz (ironic that I say that) or Gene Kelly in a sailor suit dancing with Jerry. It was never thought to be anything more than that. Who Framed Roger Rabbit put forward a concept of putting the skill of the brush with the skill of the flesh together as one whole structure and trying to cement concepts from both worlds so that they could gel together in a narrative instead of leaving to simple suspension of disbelief. That's not to say that the two being more mixed together wasn't happening back then. If one recounts The Three Caballeros, Donald Duck and two other feathered friends go about with more realistic fellows and senoritas. While I do find myself liking the movie, it wasn't done right. You knew that when you saw the drawings with the live-action, it didn't feel like the two were truly in sync. The premise didn't help since it wasn't very cemented and focused more on silly visuals.

Now it is true that the last bit does apply partially to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but it had a point to why it did what it did. What made it so great wasn't that it was doing something new with such a combination but that it was doing something new with the way that they combined the live-action with the animation. The animation along with the live-action served to build up an atmosphere rather that one or the other being some sort of way to transition or serve as an effect. In the world, the animated characters which they call toons are considered actors and work on cartoons which is basically their movie/TV deals. Right there you see a role that is given to the animated portions and how it relates with the rest of the world around them. It also gives a sort of indication as to what the animated characters are capable as it gives you insight on how they function in the world. They're basically indestructible (which is why they're great for the slapstick) but when presented to a mixture of paint thinners and removers, they can be killed. In a very subtle way, they're giving the animation a biology to it and they indicate why it's there. The realism of how the toons were in the world certainly helped to drive this further as it shows that the animation is rooted in the story rather than a simple set piece. That sort of an animation/live-action crossover is brilliant and leads to an ample amount of possibilities. The problem? Well, it hasn't been that explored. 

Why could it be? Is it because of cost and tools? Well, if I believe that James Cameron can make Avatar (which is a CGI pseudo-version of the concept) with the amount of money that he did, I don't doubt that there is a possibility that the cost could maybe be overlooked. It's more within the interest of others in the concept. Sure, it could be an affordable venture to make the film, but is it going to get its money back? Most likely not. Only people interested in this sort of thing are losers like me. CGI animation, if it wanted to, could work as an animated/live-action crossover, but it's more used to add details or make things fly out without having to pay for the thing and the explosives to make it fly out (remember, you want to make your money back and more for a profit). So if say we wanted more traditional animation, then we might as well just shoot ourselves now. Not many people are thinking that the venture is worth it since people are forgetting now what that means. That's not to say there isn't a market for it, but it's very limited. With CGI though, we could have it looking more traditional and Flash also serves to be closer to that department. Both pose some problems, but it is capable to make the effect and make it work. Either way, there needs to be interest and it seems like there isn't. I can't say why, maybe it's the scarcity of seeing something rooted with the label of "animation/live-action crossover". It could also be of the troubles that two particular films made to the idea.

The first one is the R-rated wreck of Cool World. As much as I don't like this movie, the one thing that I'll give it credit for is adultizing cartoons. Ralph Bakshi being able to add more grit into animated movies is something that is to be respected considering every single flick that happens to be animated always falls into the "family-friendly" category. It did also have some interesting concepts, even if they sound stupid, such as a toon (or in the context of the movie, a doodle) having sex with a human and what would that bring as well as the extension of an artist's imagination when he/she sees it fully realized. The problem that was faced as with most bombs of Bakshi is that it was a very forced and clumsily handled insertion of the adult material. The logic that came from the world was not centered well enough and when animation would appear it was more so distracting in either its use or consistency. Now I don't mind that you don't fully see the potential of the effect realized in this movie as you did in WFRR, but the reasoning behind it wasn't clear and it failed to work. And I understand that cartoons don't need to make sense, but if you're going to mature the medium (even if it is a more exploitative way), you have to add more details to it or give more indication that there's no rules instead of staying in this bizarre middle-ground. As such, this movie not only gave the concept a bad name, but also gave the idea of maturing cartoons for the big screen a very slim chance. 

It's not to say it killed the idea dead in the water. When WB had to revamp one of their greatest franchises they figured why not add that guy from the Mummy, Dharma from Dharma and Greg and that guy who'd go on to remake the Pink Panther into the mix? That would go on to be Looney Tunes: Back In Action. I know that there was another WB revamp that involved those wacky toons meeting humans, but I don't speak of Space Jam here. Why? Well, Space Jam, while a fun movie, was terrible and centered more on a gimmick rather than being a satire. Looney Tunes: Back In Action was more of the opposite, basically mocking spy films, sci-fi and the Looney Tunes themselves. It also managed to have similar effects to WFRR, allowing for greater comedy to flow from it. If there was any film that could be considered as the follow up to the best animated/live-action crossover, it'd have to be this one. So...with that said...why did it flop? Was it competition? Well I guess, The Matrix Revolutions and Elf is a tough cookie to beat. But I think the greater issue came less with the idea and more with the presentation. The voice actors behind the toons did fine, the animation did fine, but the live-action portion seemed lukewarm. I'm not just saying that to rip on Brendan...well I kind of am, but even a guy as animated as Steve Martin didn't seem to be at his all when doing the film. That and I guess maybe it could have gone further. Less cultural references and more mocking of the genres would have worked for its benefit. If it doesn't manage to make it's money back, there's not much chance that Hollywood will do the same...

With both of these films being able to bring something to the table by one being more adult and another one using the animation to aid with parody, what they seem to have lacked is a better presentation and dedication. Don't get me wrong, the people that were working on both films seemed to have put a substantial amount of effort into the work. Or at the very least the animators did. The writers, actors and directors (to an extent) perhaps could have used more effort by structuring the worlds better. It really requires more attention to detail than one would think when you mix the two. Sure, it's easy to have something animated be superimposed on something real, but for it to have a point and a purpose takes time. WFRR knew that and tried to clean up the details as best as it could and keep consistent with what occurred in the world. It didn't side-track itself too much with the zany effects, it rather conserved that for when it was necessary for a joke or building the environment. Cool World did it in a drive-by manner and while in some cases that works, it doesn't help when you do it all the time. If you do that, you might as well make a mindless cartoon. Instead of simply spitting out references, it allowed for the references to be more built into the narrative. It also managed to satirize better by building both the parts that it could subvert for humor but maintain for drama and atmosphere. It might have been hard for Looney Tunes to do that, but What's Opera, Doc? managed to do that. If there isn't that sort of attention provided to the film, it loses the chance to be something truly great, and in this sort of genre, truly great is the minimum to break even. 

To fix this from an industrial standpoint obviously requires people to care both from the viewing aspect to the creating aspect. Real passion and energy helps to make this work. Even if people are that dedicated, it wouldn't hurt too much to find ways to cut costs. I'm not sure how that would work out, would it mean there's less action so that less cash is put towards how to create the effect that the cartoons are there in real life? Would it have to require a cheaper animation tool? Would you just need to hire a few actors? I'm not sure which one to go to, but if you find a way to reduce costs, breaking even becomes less of a stretch. Another way that it could do better is to make it more original. Rather than associate the animation with a famous brand like the Smurfs or Garfield, it should try to be more independent. This rings very true with CGI because a good chunk of those cartoons just look bizarre in 3D. That really seems to be the only major parts that could help it from the technical standpoint. We might have to wait a few years for this to take effect (if anyone was listening to this), and obviously the build-up to this idea will also take time. 

With all of that said, I'd like to tap into concepts that the animation/live-action crossovers could tap into. As stated above, there is the maturing of the animation allowing for the production to be more adult and being able to use animation as an extension of the satire (which also kind of happened with Enchanted, so don't say I didn't bring it up) along with the idea that the animation is a realized version of the imagination of one character. I'd like to tap into the last one because I don't think that Cool World really did what it should have with the concept. Art is a way to convey current emotion and to lose oneselves in their own fictional paradise. It also serves as a gateway to how one's mind works. Having the animation being able to exaggerate the emotions or ideas that the character holds true allows for them to analyze them and see if they are proper. It could also be a way of the character confronting the fears dead on or being absorbed in the madness that is caused by what the animation brings forth. The animation itself could also be more centered around the story. Most animation is considered very childish, goofy and silly, so having the animation try to become more serious with the world or try to bring more of the light-heartedness to a se-oh...well WFRR did it but it could be done in many other ways and lead to many other results. Filling in the details leads to a great amount of possibilities and there's probably more that are in store if one prods further (such as the animation being able to consume the reality of the person, the nature of the animation and the live action pretty much represent the same world in different ways, the animation changing as the world changes, etc.). 

I know that for a fact, very few people that are willing to carry this out into the film industry are going to do so. I'll be surprised/glad if any of them have come across this and actually say something about what I've written here. What I do know is that the idea of mixing animation with live-action can be much more than a gimmick. It has the potential to span out into the territory of great art and can reveal a lot of parts of humanity in a new and interesting light. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was proof of that and while Cool World and Looney Tunes Back In Action had it flaws, it showed that it could carry out those ideas and develop them to something greater. Both animation and live action film making require a lot of creativity, artistry and passion for them to succeed and to see both of them side by side, sharing that energy and putting it to the fullest that it can is something that I want to see again because it's beautiful to see it. It says to the audience that there is something more to the film than merely drawings over film. It says to them that both can make an experience and they can make it well. That one must maintain their imagination and use it in any way it can to help themselves. Maybe I'm just a fool to be overthinking this. Considering that there's such a thing as Smurfs 2...I most likely am. 

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

How Did Kevin James Get A Career?

Often there are questions in life that can be answered by embarking on a journey. It could be one of one's self, it could be a road trip where you encounter alien women or it could just be surfing the net constantly until the answer pops up by pressing "I'm feeling lucky" on Google. This is sort of all three, because this a question that has challenged many a mind. Sure, many have had difficulty figuring out the meaning of our existence, but their search of spirituality being able to provide meaning whilst also analyzing the known universes' wonders is somewhat pleasant, even if one comes to a grim conclusion. Mainly because it doesn't involve your mind feeling as though it's about to explode with the mere thought of realizing such an idea is plausible let alone delving deeper to understand it. I've worked with many good friends who once they've pondered this question, they've gone without sleep, without food and on the extreme cases, without water, wishing that something would come out and give them a sign that they would be graced with an answer, or at the very least a clue. Some have gone off the deep end, killing others and themselves, turning into twitching trainwrecks and cutting themselves to write messages of help with their own blood so that their adamant obsession with such a riddle will be cured. Nevertheless, I feel like I can take on this task because I have what remains of my fallen comrades and I am desensitized enough to take up such a mind-shattering perplexfest-of-a-question as this one. It won't be easy, but I don't have much of a choice on the matter, because my mind will not cease to dawn on the idea. So I sat down, looked at myself on the reflection of the computer and said:

How did Kevin James get a career?

First, before you go any further, don't repeat the phrase too much. This has been known to lead to spontaneous combustion, so make sure you're near any body of water if you're going to think about it. Even if you don't know who this man is, it's dangerous to say it. Still, I believe that I should inform you about who he is and show you his career growth to showcase why it would be asinine for one to think that he'd have one. Kevin James or as he's originally known as, Kevin George Knipfing, is a New York loveable lummox of a man who started his "career" as a comedian. A stand up comedian no less. Now, as is typical of stand up comedians, you're supposed to stand up in front of an audience and tell jokes to them in the hopes that you hear a wave of laughter coming towards you. That's the sign you're doing something right in the business. With Kevin James, you see some of his act and you think to yourself, "Hmm...I don't really see why I should be laughing". He's not downright grating mind you, at least not yet. As a comedian, he's more like a wannabe Chris Farley, both in the style and appearance, but even that's being a bit generous. Take a look at one of his stand up bits. You see he has a sense of energy resonating with him, but his content seems to be mixed in direction. The delivery feels unfocused and as if he's trying to be someone else. Not only that, but if you listen to the audience, they sound like they're humoring him more than genuinely laughing at his jokes.

If he continued to try in the field and actually grew to be more resonant in the comedy industry, maybe it would have sufficed that he would have what he has now. But he moreso seemed to jump into trying to do something on TV. That something being cameo in a few episodes Everybody Loves Raymond as Kevin and as a "character" named Doug Heffernan. Here we start to see why asking yourself "how did Kevin James get a career" is volatile. See, in the history of sitcoms, there's one that people often consider to be the pinnacle of below-mediocrity, and that is Everybody Loves Raymond. Why? Is it because it uses the age-old "idiot/ugly/fat guy gets smoking hot girl" trope? Is it because the characters are generally unlikeable? Perhaps it's because the only seemingly entertaining actor in the show is sidelined to being a bootlicking ball of envy? Well aside from all of them it's because the show lacks anything funny at all and abused the canned laughter tactic terribly much before the times of Big Bang Theory. It also seemed to kill the careers of the main cast, including the lead character, who decided to sell his soul to Blue Sky Studios so that his mediocrity could be entirely immortalized in ice. To imagine that Kevin James would be in such a production and still be a name that we'd know today is much more than a mere miracle. It's a conspiracy. For you see, instead of his career going nowhere and him perhaps trying to improve his standup to become credibly entertaining, he got a vague spin-off to that show called The King Of Queens. And by vague spinoff I mean that Doug Heffernan was in two episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond and he's apparently the lead in The King Of Queens.

Maybe I'm being harsh here, after all, when one makes the leap from stand up to sitcom, perhaps they do better. Jerry Seinfeld is great in standup, but in his eponymous show, he made comedy gold. Kevin James could possibly offer the same, can't he? I mean, he has Jerry Stiller, one of the actors in the Seinfeld show in his cast. Well, I'm sorry to report that The King Of Queens was nothing more than another "fat-husband-hot-wife" sitcom. I don't use this term to mean that all sitcoms that have a fat husband and an attractive wife turn out to be nothing more than lazy, terrible writing. I wouldn't even go as far to say that most of them do so. As much as it pains me to admit this, According To Jim had its fair share of amusing moments. It's just that there's a select amount of them (oddly enough one of them being According To Jim) that exemplify the terrible aspects of this set-up, and King Of Queens shows it in its most boring and lackluster of ways. Kevin James plays as a manchild for most of the time, and the wife is probably dealing with him more as a child than an actual partner, which makes the feeling of romance very contrived and incredibly wrong. That sliver of the possible comedic appeal he could have had as a stand up is thrown away at the very sight of this show. If his career died after the show, that would have been fine. Yes, he still had a semblance of a career, but it's short lived. There's many short fuse careers in entertainment. Unfortunately, he got into films.

His early career in films is nothing to really glimmer at, but once I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry hit the scene, there was something glaringly wrong about his rising star. In that, it rose alongside Adam Sandler at the time when he started to throw away any semblance of talent he harbored in exchange for killing brain cells and aspiring talents. Kevin James not only became worse with his comedy, but he also stooped down to the levels on Sandler (who by the way, basically ruined the original script of the film with his brand of "humor", so much to the point that one of the writers almost wanted to Alan Smithee his way out of the production). Much to the chagrin of audiences with sensible tastes in entertainment, this actually topped #1 in the box office and got some contrarian critics to call it a modern classic and hold it up to Brokeback Mountain. Yes, a movie with more gay stereotypes than an episode of Will and Grace and a yellowface Rob Schneider is being considered on par with Brokeback Mountain. What's worse is that Kevin James continued to live in films, with the so-so You Don't Mess With The Zohan, the "all-hope-is-lost" Paul Blart: Mall Cop, the homicide of comedy known as Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2, and his magnum opus of Zookeeper, where more of the comedy came out of people doing loops of the trailer instead of the film actually being funny.

So, if we were to look at this sanely, we'd see that his quality throughout his career has been abysmal and it should have been detached a long, long time ago. Yet it still lives, as if some sort of dark magic is keeping it alive. The question that I pose still remains unanswered, how did he get a career? If one considered how his career has maintained itself in the latter years (aka, right now), we'd be privy to say that Sandler is the one that has supported his trainwreck. It's not an absurd conclusion to come up with as Sandler has made maintaining on the entertainment scene by doing nothing but pure garbage seem like a fine art and most of James's "successes" in film do have Sandler sewn in through one means over the other. I don't think that's really what occurring here, because if that's the case, I'd have to believe that all the other imbeciles that were in Grown Ups are under the debt of Sandler as well, and they seem to be fairing fine. Besides, why would Sandler focus his energy on trying to ruin something that was never substantial enough to be ruined? With Dana Carvey, there was a funny beating heart inside of him that he could rip out and swallow. Kevin James has a beating heart, but it doesn't glow with the shine of comedy that is ripe for the massacring. It's more trying desperately to continue working even though it just wants to stop so that it no longer has to deal with the jokes that harbor in his talentless vessel of a body. In which case, what could be the cause of his success?

I recently searched both Kevin and James on Google as I was told to by one of my friends in the nuthouse. As I looked around, I found both names belonged to saints. Not only that, but both these saints were big with the concept of asceticism. Basically this meant that they wouldn't have any sexual activity or drink alcohol as they embark on a quest to find inner peace through spirituality. St. Kevin seemed to be the more radical version of this as in a folk song, he's claimed to have drowned a woman that was coming on to him, although that could just be the Irish trying to make another shanty for a night out at the pub. He was also known to live as a hermit, living amongst nature, sometimes sleeping on rocks and having little to eat, slowly gaining followers. St. James, on the other hand, was called James The Just and was one of the people that saw the risen Christ and was important to the Christians in Jerusalem. At first, this meant absolutely nothing to me, when I associated it to Kevin James. Both of these saints were devout in their religion (as any saint should be), and they have standards. Kevin James is nothing short of the antithesis of this. As I looked, I couldn't find anything else that could connect. I tried to tie Kevin Kline with James James, but there was no way that Otto West in A Fish Called Wanda could have anything to do with the man who wrote the Welsh national anthem. The only one that made the most sense was this connection, and even then, I found myself doubting the correlation.

Weeks went by where the only thing I'd eat was cardboard and invisible steak dinners served by my rabbit friend named Harvey, and I felt that soon I would be joining my friends in the looney bin. It was only until I slept for the first time in 20 days that it came to me in a dream. All I saw was that good-for-nothing hack praying in front of an Indian priest with a ying yang necklace. It was there that it came to me like a ton of bricks, which is pretty much how I felt after I woke up from that dream. As I took two full containers worth of Advil, I saw why Kevin James got lucky and won the lottery of being able to make money with no effort at all and getting a smoking gal to boot. Asceticism relies that a person undergoes certain conditions to achieve enlightenment and be whole in mind, body and soul. This is related to Buddhism and Hinduism. Both of these religions believe in the idea of karma; you do good, you receive good in return. It's very evident that if both did enough to be considered saints, they would obtain some sort of reward in return. Considering that both of these saints had to go through hardships, with Kevin having to overly-minimize his lifestyle and restrain from any sexual desire, and James having to be in charge of the Christians and the council in Jerusalem of all places, it would be expected that their reward should be ultimate enlightenment and standing alongside God to fully soak in the answer to all of the mysteries in the universe. In Hinduism though, the belief is that when one dies, they are reincarnated, and connecting itself with karma, if they do good, they are reincarnated as something better. So therefore their lifestyle that is much less demanding and their rewards are given to them more easily. What more could exemplify that as none other than Kevin James?!

If we truly think about it, his comedy has always been light-hearted and he's always had that sensibility of innocence and purity to him, much like the saints have. Sure, he participates in crass comedies and he's incredibly childish, but in truth, no matter how hate-filled someone makes a hyperbole directed to Kevin James, his bad movies have really never harmed anyone. In its own way, Zookeeper shows the principles of St. Kevin as he befriends the animals that are around him. St. Kevin is also redeemed for his celibacy and fasting by being able to become a glutton and getting it on with Steffiana de la Cruz enough to have three kids. Where does St. James come in to the mix? Well, if you watch Barnyard, you'll find that it shows the story of a cow (voiced by Kevin James, no doubt) eventually accepting responsibility and leading the animals in a barn after his father died. Not only does this sound like it might be Animal Farm for kids mixed with a bit of The Lion King, but it alludes to how St. James eventually became a bishop and gained prominence in the Christian religion. Only in St. James's case, it didn't involve coyotes or actors feeling ashamed after being in such a production. Where as St. James had to work hard to lead people that followed his religion properly and make critical decisions that would either serve him well or doom him forever, Kevin James doesn't have to worry about the implications of his choices as they seem to not have any setbacks to them at all. So the next time you find yourself cursing the name of Kevin James and finding yourself frustrated that he has a career, his past lives, he was a saint. And they need a reward for all the troubles they've had to endure.