Monday, January 09, 2006

How the Looney Tunes gave Birth to South Park

Sort of.

You see the earliest cartoons were largely celebrations of the art of animation; the ability to create drawings that come to life. That's pretty amazing; but we are used to it now, and so don't think of it. But when animation was new, people could hardly help commenting on the newness factor.

Moreover, Walt Disney, one of the early big names in animation, was very interested in pushing forward the technology of animation. He wanted each cartoon to look better than the last, and looking at technological innovations, there's little doubt that what he did was very impressive.

There's also little argument that Disney crafted some particularly beautiful cartoons.

Warner Brothers, on the other hand, could not compete with Disney in the realm of Animation. They weren't going to out-Disney Disney. Rather they had to find another path to success. And that path came in the writing and gags of their cartoons. Disney cartoons can certainly be funny; but there are generally more jokes in one Bugs Bunny Cartoon than there are in five Mickey Mouse Cartoons. And the jokes are funnier and more tightly staged. When you don't have that much to begin with, you have to make everything you do have count.

I don't want to make it seem like the Warner Brothers were lazy or lax in their animation; they weren't. Rather the animation of those cartoons is still impressive, and there was a substantial amount of innovation. I only wish to suggest that what makes the Warner Brothers cartoons stand out is the gags; without tightly written jokes, the animation wouldn't have carried them forward. In contrast Disney's version of the Nutcracker Suite (in Fantasia) has almost no humor (save one amusing toadstool), and yet it is still very interesting to watch.

So you have Warner Brothers seeing great success and lasting success, not in their animation, but in their writing. And of course the turn towards writing and gags as the secret to animation success has continued on down to our day. The Simpsons, King of the Hill, South Park; none of these shows are triumphs in the art of animation. They aren't badly animated, and in some cases are very stylishly done. But what sets them apart is the writing and the gags, not the animation.

So you have South Park, which is barely animated at all, and yet still successful and celebrated because of it's writing.

Just think that is interesting.

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