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Monday, April 16, 2007

An Open Letter To Filmmakers: Enough With The Live-Action Versions of Animated Films, Already!

I really shouldn't go to the Big Cartoon Database.

But to feed the huge, gaping maw that is this blog, I had to. I'm in the midst of writing reviews for two oddball little Paramount/Famous obscurities: GRATEFUL GUS and FINNEGAN'S FLEA. Well, "oddball" doesn't begin to describe these cartoons, but more about that later.

After learning of the death of Hawaiian entertainer Don Ho (whose song "Tiny Bubbles" made me want to scream--my dad had a tape of it that he played constantly) I picked up this disturbing bit of information about an upcoming live-action version of SPEED RACER.

I realize I'm only about the 3, 892, 425th person to say this (a rough estimate, I admit) but to quote Wile E. Coyote, "stop in the name of humanity!" Please!

I wasn't always opposed to live-action interpetations of cartoon characters--in fact, I once embraced them. Growing up, my introduction to the "Blondie" comic-strip characters actually came from old reruns of the 1950's TV series with Arthur Lake and Penny Singleton. If anything, I was a bigger fan of it than I ever had been of the actual comic strip, which says something about the abilities of Lake and Singleton. But that's about the last time the transition from pen-and-ink to screen actually worked.

I had even been initially excited years back when I first heard about the live-action FLINTSTONES, and that John Goodman would play Fred. If anyone were born to play a live-action Fred Flintstone, it would be John Goodman (though the animated version's original voice, Alan Reed, personified Fred even more). Then I saw the movie, and it finally occurred to me why such adaptations are a bad idea at least 99.8 percent of the time.

Why they don't work is simple--and yes, I realize that again I'm hardly the first to point this out--first, one can't make the transition from animated cartoon to live-action without losing something in the translation. Second, and perhaps most importantly, live-action versions of cartoons are an all too unpleasant reminder of how "unreal" the animated world truly is. Suspension of disbelief? Forget it--it crumbles into dust.

There are just some things that only "work" in animated form--that's why they're in animated form to start with. They can't be done in live action. In the animated realm, I can believe Fred Flintstone can drive to work in a foot-powered car, lounge on stone furniture, and operate a dinosaur crane. When I saw the live-action Fred doing the same things, it fell flat for me. Everything looked ponderous, ugly, and dull--in contrast to the the unlimited and unusual palette of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons, in which a yellow sky and magenta palm leaves hardly looked out of place.

There's been talk of a JETSONS movie, too. Care to imagine how the show's Rube Goldberg futuristic gadgets are going to look? I don't. And UNDERDOG, which takes place in a world in which humanized animals and humans interact, will fare even worse--especially considering they're going to use a "real" dog. Not that a CGI version would work any better. Imagine a four-foot "live-action" Mickey Mouse, and you see what I mean.

Scooby-Doo? The less said about that, the better. The ugly CGI dog in the live-action films, again, only worked against the fantasy element, not for it. Although I must say, Matthew Lillard is indeed "Shaggy" in the flesh. Sometimes even movie studios can get some things right.

Now we're getting SPEED RACER with living, breathing humans. Considering it was originally a manga, and then an anime series, and anime is generally grittier, and at least somewhat more rooted in cruel reality than the American product, maybe it'll work. Maybe. But I'm not willing to stake nine or ten dollars on it.

I more than anyone want to see old animated series preserved--just not like this.

Oh--the Don Ho connection? He apparently appeared in a direct-to-video Scooby movie. Why does the fact it's direct-to-video not surprise me?

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