This 'Adventure Time' thing has been taken up as a series by the Cartoon Network. I have to admit, the short had passed me by completely until I saw Cartoonbrew posted the new about the series a few days ago. I watched it, didn't really like it and left it at that.
But then, yesterday, I saw Pete Emslie posted about it here. It offended Pete a little more than it offended me but I was really glad to see the post as most of what was in the Cartoonbrew comments was gushing and Mr.E's post added some balance.
The main things Mr.E first points out are the main reasons I didn't like the short - it's written to be random and that just doesn't do it for me. It's not that I don't love surreal - check out a couple of the blog links to the right to see some of my favourite surreal and hilarious posters. But this Adventure Time thing wasn't really surreal. More just... random. To me, that seems like lazy writing. But, hey, some people loved it so who cares what I think, right?
But Mr.E, an artist of such ridiculous talent, knowledge and experience, took issue with another major aspect of the short - what he called "child-like minimalism", when referring to the design. As soon as I read that I knew what he meant. To me, this thing is expressionless. As Mr.E points out, watch it without the sound and you'd have no idea what the characters are feeling. So that, plain and simple, is not acting. It's not life. And, if it's not life, it doesn't warrant the term "animation".
Sounds harsh? Yeah, it sounds harsh as I write it but it's just part of a thought process here.
But something really didn't sit right about what Mr.E said about it in his post. A part of me wanted to jump to its defense. Why?
Well, you see, the thing is, I love preschool animation. I love shows for the younger children. And I love child-like minimalism. I do. I think it gives a show charm, sweetness, innocence. I love it. And, as a sweeping child-like minimalism generalisation goes, I feel the need to defend it. Pocoyo has really simple designs and that is fantastic. So does Pingu. Peppa Pig - who couldn't love Peppa Pig?! That's totally child-like and mimimalist. And there are many more examples that I can't think of right now (it's early).
I would vehemently defend child-like minimalism.
It's not as easy as you might think too. A show I worked on several years ago had very simple characters and was designed to be child-like. The difficulty was that animators kept over-thinking the emotions, putting in too much of an adult thought process. Children's emotions are very simple, very extreme. And there is no thought required to switch from one to the other - children just react. It's not what adults do and it seems harder for animators to achieve without constantly being reminded that the characters must act like young children. Pingu does this wonderfully.
But these preschool examples have expression. If you turn the sound off, you know what the characters are feeling. Some of them don't even have dialogue. It's all in the acting.
All in the acting.
A cartoon needs expression. And I think that's what's missing here. And while I don't think 'Adventure Time' is totally without merit (I do think the design of the dog is quite funny and something about the colours appeals to me) I think Mr.E is right. When you turn the sound off, you can't tell what the characters are feeling. And that's a problem.
I do think it would have been possible with these designs. I think they could have worked really well actually. There's a huge amount of potential in the body shapes and even the very simple faces could have been used to get across exactly what the characters are feeling. But it doesn't seem to have happened.
But, yes, I would defend child-like minimalism. I love it.
Actually, I had started to write a different post and then got sidetracked on to this one but the other post was about something I'm seeing where I am right now, something I'm doing myself too - killing scenes. And it relates to this. I'll continue that thought tomorrow.
If I remember.