A few more thoughts on reality and its place in Animation:
Animation serves two purposes, in my mind. Both are necessary, and without either one the art loses something. On the one hand, animation is the most advanced study of the real world imaginable: animators are challenged daily to look harder, to dig deeper into what they see in order to create believable, realistic characters and environments that must be as or more convincing than the live-action elements they supplement. Moreover, even animators working in a cartoony style have to be deeply familiar with the rules of motion and physics. They have to know which ones they can break and still convince people that their stylized characters really exist. You cannot animate if you do not understand motion, and to make a film you also have to have people who understand how light works, the material properties of objects, fluid dynamics… everything.
But animation also has to reach beyond reality. That has always been the strength of the medium: it goes places live-action cinema cannot, or tells stories that live-action cinema would not. This is what unites films like Wall-E and Kung-Fu Panda with Jurassic Park, Spirited Away, Mirrormask, and Gertie the Dinosaur… They all step beyond the “real” world, into a greater world of hopes, dreams, and impossible visions.
Now, I love movies grounded in reality. Reality is where I live, most of the time, and there is a comfort in the familiarity of realism that does not depend on subject matter. For example, both Love Actually and The Dark Knight would be lesser films if they did not feel like they took place in the real world.
But every so often, it is nice to see a director look at what is real, and see past it. It is nice when they reach for something beyond, something they want us to make us believe is real, just for a short while. Directors like Guillermo del Toro understand that; Dave McKean does too, and I respect him all the more for it.
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