No, this will not be a long post about if animation can be considered art or not. There is no question for me, an animation is a form of artistry. When I talk about art in this article, I am writing about the composition of the whole, while animation is the movement or the picture the art creates. Both elements are important for an animated movie, and you often have to combine the talents of different people to get the perfect result. Mary Blair for example might have been Disney’s greatest Artist. Her work influenced the studios profoundly during the 1940s and especially 1950s. But she was not an animator. Ward Kimball was Disney’s best character animator and I think there has never been one who could created characters as expressive as he could, but his paintings are in my honest opinion nothing to write home about. There have been a lot of examples of animators who are great in both, art and animation – Glen Keane immediately springs to mind – but just was often an animated movie is the result of a great artist working together with great animators. “Sleeping Beauty” is a prime example of that. But today I don’t want to talk about Disney, but about two movies which came out in recent years: “Secret of Kells” and “Song of the Sea”.
I admit it outright: I am not a big fan of “Secret of Kells”. It’s a movie I respect deeply for what it is trying to do, but when I watched it, I found the movie lacking. And I think my biggest issue with it is the animation.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, “Secret of Kells” is beautiful to look at. You could take stills of any part of the movie and it would work perfectly as a painting. But the movement of the characters are very stilted, their faces nearly without expressions and some animation and art is reused in a couple of scenes. The geometrical shapes of the characters fit into the style, but they also spare the animators a lot of extra-lines. It’s like the production cut corners wherever they could without being too obvious about it in order to afford the art in the movie. I don’t blame the studio for that. It is hard to realize a movie project and for a first try, the movie was outstanding. Nevertheless I stand by my opinion that the movie has great art but barely decent animation.
“Song of the Sea” is another matter though. The artistry is still there, but the animation has improved tremendously. The movements are so fluid it is a joy to watch (and I could watch this particular video all day):
Also the characters are so expressive, it is easy to route for them. The story is less told in words and more in expressions, art and symbolism, it’s the perfect use of the medium. Here we have an example of a movie which does deserve to be mentioned side-by-side with the most memorable animation out there. In addition the studio also improved on the storytelling. The way legends parallel real live and issues like grief get addressed is thoughtful and very, very well done. I don’t begrudge “Big Hero 6” the Oscar win, it was well deserved for multiple reasons, but if there should have been an outrage for another movie out there, it shouldn’t have been for “How to train your dragon 2″ and certainly not for ” The Lego Movie”. It should have been for “Song of the Sea”.