I’ve been a cartoon fan from way back… worked at the Disney Store, collected all the Disney movies that came out on VHS; was even disgusted at my own willingness to repurchase all the same movies once DVDs became de rigeur. I also embraced the Dreamworks feature length animated films when they came along – the more the merrier! Hell, I even considered studying animation at one time, but went for photography instead.
Anyway, I went to see Dreamworks’, Turbo with the Small Child and I’m finding myself becoming increasingly disenfranchised with the entire genre… honestly, I’m getting sick of seeing the same characters turning up again and again and again. Of course you’re going to have your protagonists and antagonists like any good story should, but I’m getting a little sick of the protagonists being so stereotypical. They’re become so predictable as to almost be an identical character in different digital clothing and it’s being rolled out over and over again. The protagonist in this particular story is Theo, aka Turbo the snail, who wants to be a race car driver… err race snail. driver. thing.
Which is fine. But it’s becoming the ONLY formula for recent animated movies. Little creature X isn’t happy with their lot in life and wants to be/do something else… for examples see: Nemo in Finding Nemo, Flick in A Bug’s Life, Remy in Ratatouille, Ralph in Wreck-It-Ralph, Merida in Brave, Po in Kung Fu Panda, etc. etc. etc! This list goes on and on, once you start looking for it – and they’re all the same fucking character! Seemingly small insignificant creature decides he doesn’t like the reef/colony/rats nest/computer game/clan/noodle house it was born into, and thinks himself a special little snow flake with big dreams, and as such, aspires to travel/see the world/cook/be nice/not marry/claim martial arts fame etc,… and leads everyone on merry chase to inevitable happy ‘Disney’ ending… yes, Dreamworks do the ‘Disney’ endings too. Blargh.
However, it’s one thing to do the same old ‘snail out of the garden’/’fish out of the reef’/’ant out of the colony’/’rat in the kitchen’/’avatar out of his game’/’panda out of his restaurant’, thing over and over… but it’s getting a little lazy when the rest of the ensemble cast are becoming completely recognizable caricatures as well. I’m only going to give a few examples (else, I could be here all day) but once I notice them, I see them everywhere!
For example, there is always The Naysayer. In Turbo, it is Chet, brother to Theo/Turbo, who is less than supportive of Turbo’s dreams to race… in fact, he’s pointing out the futility of Turbo’s plans at every opportunity and constantly reinforcing how it will just about be the end of snail-kind should Turbo continue on his foolish path. He does of course eventually wind his head in and is proud of his brother in the end.
Which sounds remarkably like all the Daddy Downer Naysayers, yes? Marlin from Finding Nemo, Fegus, from Brave, Django from Ratatouille and Triton from The Little Mermaid, Dracula from Hotel Transylvania. Then there’s Emile, another Naysayer brother this time, also from Ratatouille and Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc. (who both do double duty playing The Dopey Sidekick btw) as well as Atta the party line ant from A Bug’s Life, Melman in Madagascar… blah blah blah. Too many to count.
Also in the standard cast line up is, The Sage: In Turbo we have a character called Whiplash with his ‘been around the block before’ street smarts. Finding Nemo has Scar with his tragic past and special brand of fishtank wisdom, Cars has a ‘seen it all before’, Doc and Ice Age has the savvy survivalist sabre tooth tiger, named Diego. The Sage is initially dismissive and condescending towards our little protagonist snail/fish/car/mammoth… but plays his part in eventually bringing the little guys around to seeing things from a different perspective and/or balancing out The Naysayers and encouraging them on their way.
Then we have The Dopey Sidekick. These guys seem to be in every movie! The new one is White Shadow from Turbo, but there’s Mater from Cars – Dory from Finding Nemo – Emile in Ratatouille – The Little Mermaid has two of them, the seagull, Scuttle and Ariel’s fish friend, Flounder – Madagascar has Marvin – Donkey from Shrek – Sid the sloth from Ice Age … and so on ad infinitum. Just pick any animated movie and you’re falling over the Dopey Sidekicks.
Old school Disney almost ALWAYS saw the main characters sailing into the sunset to marriage and happily ever after, because this is where true happiness was found in the 20thC. These days, however, animated films tend to be more focused on the ‘follow your dreams and break out of the predestined life bestowed upon you by the virtue of your birth’ plot, and less focused on the traditional, ‘you can only find true happiness with your soulmate and are heading down the socially acceptable aisle’, plot.
Not sure what sort of message this is sending to our kids…? But it has led a decreased value on romantic achievement in kids movies and an increased value in unrealistic worldly achievements, and subsequently the rise of the Alluded to But Rarely Realized Flirty Love Interest character – Atta from A Bug’s Life, Sally Carrera from Cars, Angie in Shark Tale, Burn is the chickie of choice in Turbo… all kinda distant and patronizing and/or exasperated and condescending at first, but eventually brought around by the charming and determined ways of our aspiring ant/car/fish/snail protagonists but no more marching off to wedded bliss at the end of the movie.
The we have the The Silent Industrious Guy with the weird personality issues. He/she never says much, but he’s ridiculously fastidious and has a bag full of mental quirks coming off mad as a cut snake half the time… Guido with the pathological shyness from Cars – Jacques the OCD tank cleaning shrimp in Finding Nemo, the deluded love sick Dragon in Shrek, and of course, Scrat the neurotic prehistoric squirrel from Ice Age. Probably joined by a host of other mentally challenged characters if you dig a little, because, well… poking fun at Eeyore sold plenty of toys whilst glossing over the serious issue of chronic depression! So why not?
And I’m sure there are plenty of other way too similar characters out there as well should anyone choose to write a dissertation on the topic. It’s starting to feel like today’s animated storytellers have maybe a dozen stereotyped caricatured characters up their sleeve, and they summarily chuck them in a box and pick out say, half of them, and use those to make the same damn story with the same damn plot! We’ve had fish, ants, rats, cars, toys, furniture, snails, all anthropomophrized into cartoon characters… what next? Pencils? Potatoes? Planes?
Oh wait. That’s next week. I haven’t even seen it yet, but over half the characters are already familiar just from the trailer!