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Grown up and animated

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader


There was a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s when writers and directors started making animated features for grown-ups. My guess is their thinking was that the generation of baby-boomers who’d gown up on Looney Tunes, Disney animated features and Jonny Quest was now adults and were ready for animated films that were directed towards gown-ups and had adult themes.

Unfortunately, the boomers weren’t ready and none of the animated movies for grown-ups released during this period caught on and only a few films ever ended up getting made. But it doesn’t mean that these movies weren’t hugely influential. That would just take time.
In 1978 animator Ralph Bakshi created his version of Lord of the Rings. This Lord of the Rings featured wholly animated characters as well as actors filmed on a stage where the film was processed in such a way to make them look animated as well. In some scenes completely drawn characters do battle with masses of actors dressed as orcs and goblins who kind’a sort’a look animated.

I’d say the 1978 Lord of the Rings isn’t completely successful, but it’s an interesting piece of work none-the-less.

Also in 1978 the movie Watership Down was released. About a warren of rabbits, yes, rabbits, in Watership Down the rabbits are characters with their own voices and world-view who’s place in the countryside is tenuous between their natural predators and mankind.

I mostly remember seeing this movie when I was way too young. Part of Watership Down deals with the warren of the rabbits being bulldozed under when “man” goes to build something on the their land. And the descriptions one of the rabbit survivors tells the others of what happened — of the rabbits being buried alive — gave me nightmares then and still scars me today!

My favorite of the animated bunch is the movie Heavy Metal from 1981. Based on the comics magazine of the same name, Heavy Metal features several interconnected sci-fi/horror stories that take place from the past to the future including things like a cab driver in a run-down futuristic NYC to the crew of a B–17 during WW2 fighting zombies and even a barbarian warrior on some far-off distant planet too.

Both Watership Down and Lord of the Rings are rated “G” while Heavy Metal is rated “R”, deservedly so, and is such an odd/unique/wonderful movie because of it. In fact, while I don’t like every story in Heavy Metal — the segment “So Beautiful and So Dangerous” is a little bit slow and “Taarna” is a drag — the stories that do work, like “B–17” and “Captain Sternn” and “Den”, more than make up for whatever might be lacking in other parts of the film. I’ll still watch Heavy Metal today if I happen to catch it on TV.

But still, even though 2d hand drawn animated movies for grown-ups never quite caught on, that’s not to say that the idea didn’t catch on. In fact, most big budget movies today are live action with extensive animated elements added in. Except now those elements can be hidden/photorealistic whereas in those movies from the 1970s and 1980s they could not.

Don’t believe me? Just look at the three biggest movies of 2015: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. All of these movies look like traditional films with real actors in all the main roles. But looking closer, all actually use massive amounts of 3D computer generated animated elements, scenes and even whole animated characters too.

From the Millennium Falcon chase in Episode VII which was totally computer animated, the character of Ultron in Age of Ultron which was based on the same kind of performance capture used in the 1978 Lord of the Rings to the dinosaurs of Jurassic World… the list of animated things in these movies goes on and on. I guess the dream of making animated movies for grown-ups wasn’t as much abandoned as deferred for a later time when the animation could be seamless blended and hidden in live action elements.

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