The Way of the Word

23. February 2011

RIP Dwayne McDuffie

Born February 20, 1962; died February 21, 2011, from complications after emergency surgery at the age of 49.

Sometimes, these things come as a surprise and a shock. As in the case of Dwayne McDuffie, a prolific and extremely gifted writer. According to all sources, he seemed to be in fine health when he attended the All-Star Superman DVD premiere a few days earlier. According to reports, he died from complications from a surgical procedure performed on Monday night. So far, details are not known.

After a stint at radio and copyediting for a financial magazine, Dwayne had joined Marvel Comics as an assistant editor, and started to write for them in 1988. He went freelance in 1990, and founded Milestone Media in 1992. Milestone Media was a coalition of African-American comics creators, in order to express a multi-cultural sensibility that he felt was missing in comics. Several Milestone series were eventually published by DC Comics.

In the course of his career, Dwayne worked on high-profile series and characters such as Fantastic Four, Justice League of America, Batman, Iron Man and Spider-Man, to name just a very few. However, other than the Milestone comics (of which some characters, such as Static, became iconic in their own right), he definitely made his mark in animation.

Dwayne’s version of the Justice League in the animated Justice League Unlimited is lauded as perhaps the best version of these characters and concepts ever produced. In 2008, he revamped the Ben10 franchise. His most recent releases were the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and All-Star Superman animated movies.

I didn’t know Dwayne in person, but we did interact online a couple of times. He was a smart, witty and very personable man; if you didn’t like Dwayne, there was something wrong with you.

He was a fantastic writer, a gifted writer, with a vision. He influenced a great many people in comics and animation not only by being there for them, but also by example. His passing is triply sad; not only did it seem that he was on the verge of receiving the recognition he deserved, not only was it too sudden and too soon, but it also robs the rest of us of those stories he hadn’t gotten around to telling yet.

3. November 2010

Review: Megamind

USA 2010. Directed by Tom McGrath. Starring Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill. Runtime: 96 Minutes

The rivalry of Megamind (Will Ferrell), the coolest villain ever to torment Metro City, and his annoying arch-nemesis, the goody-two-shoes Metro Man (Brad Pitt) has lasted since their childhoods. Now Megamind has the perfect plan to defeat Metro Man: he kidnaps Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey) — again — and tricks Metro Man into thinking that they are in the old observatory outside the city. Metro Man walks right into Megamind’s trap, Megamind unleashes his death ray — and succeeds in killing Metro Man.

Unexpectedly.

Now Megamind is King of Metro City, master of all he surveys. And it bores him to tears.  He misses the fights against Metro Man. He misses the challenge.

What’s a supervillain to do?

Why, create a new superhero, of course. Using a sample of Metro Man’s DNA, Megamind creates a process that can bestow Metro Man’s superpowers on an ordinary human. By accident, it’s Roxanne’s cameraman Hal (Jonah Hill) who gets the powers. Megamind trains Jonah to be the hero Megamind wants to fight. As it turns out, however, Hal (now Tighten) is far too selfish, and becomes the world’s greatest villain. Now Megamind is forced to become a hero and save Metro City.

I’m somewhat ambivalent about Megamind. The animation is top-notch, and the in-your-face “look, it’s 3D!” effects aren’t very annoying. (Actually, Megamind is another example for why 3D should be restricted to animated movies. They at least get it right.) The movie is funny, and Megamind’s journey from villain to hero is quite believable. He’s also a lovable kind of villain: throughout the story, he is shown as not evil, just juvenile. If you accept that, the premise of his evolution makes perfect sense. (It also explains the really annoying habit this movie has: Megamind’s minion carries a ghetto blaster and plays a kind of soundtrack for its master. Among others, Highway to Hell and Bad. To which Megamind dances. Like a teenager would.)

Megamind also provides some metatextual commentary on the superhero genre. The title character is an old-school villain. Death rays, giant robots, elaborate traps and schemes. He engages the hero, loses, and is sent to prison, from where he escapes to try again. Part of his character evolution comes when he realizes that Tighten doesn’t play by the old rules.

If you’re familiar with the superhero tropes, Megamind offers nothing original. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s exciting and for once the 3D actually helps the movie instead of just looking silly. The characters are believable, and very very likable. I can’t imagine anyone not liking Minion, for example. (Seriously: if you liked Despicable Me‘s minions, you’ll love Minion and the Brain Bots.) The movie is charming, the production values are first rate. It’s definitely worth your time and money.

It’s just… Don’t go in expecting the next Incredibles. Megamind falls a bit short of that benchmark.

Verdict: recommended

19. February 2010

Stepfather of the Animation Age

Filed under: Animation,Commentary,general,movies,TV — jensaltmann @ 10:20
Tags: , , , ,

My wife and I translate Japanese anime for a living. This month, we had worked on two very different anime series. One was from the early 1980s, the other was from 2009. My wife asked me about the target groups for those two shows. Specifically, the ages. Because the anime from the 1980s was much, much simpler. Not just the design or the technical aspects. The voice actors made far less effort towards realism, there were hardly any sounds like sighs or grunts or groans. The stories were simple and straightforward. The new show was essentially a regular action-adventure show, only animated instead of live-action. The characters and themes, the entire storyline, were complex and thought through. I guessed that the old show would be tagged for ages 12 and up, while the minimum age for the new show would be set as 16.

Animation really isn’t for kids anymore. It used to be, though, when I was young. Back then, animation was for children. And rightly so. There were programs like Sealab 2020 and Star Trek the Animated Series and Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle. Or, if you prefer, Scooby Doo and Casper. Or even Captain Future. The following decade saw shows like Thundercats or Transformers. But even in the 1980s, these shows were fairly simple matters. By todays standards, they were childish.

Disney had absolute dominion of the feature animation market, and made sure that their animated movies were suitable for even the youngest children.

When you grew into your teens, you had become too old for animation. At least you wouldn’t admit to liking it. But that was okay, animation didn’t seem to age with you, so you left it behind for the younger generation.

These days, however, most animation is on a level where adults can enjoy it as much as children. I am not only talking about anime, which has grown up considerably. Or would you let a child watch something as scary, complex and bizarre as Paranoia Agent?

Instead, modern animation is written on different levels. The Incredibles, Up, Wall-E have layers that a child can enjoy, while adults can enjoy these movies as well, if for different reasons. Even the standard Disney animated movie is far more complex and even violent than its predecessors.

What happened?

Now, bear in mind that I don’t have insider knowledge, so I can’t know for certain. I’m operating from my own memory here, and I can only speak for the western world. I’m sure that in Japan, anime simply became increasingly adult and complex to meet the demands of their evolving marketplace. I imagine it was a process similar to the increasing complexity of US comic books.

I believe that what happened here in the west was Ralph Bakshi. Fritz the Cat

Heavy Traffic and Coonskin, to name just three of his earlier works, were quite anarchistic and subversive films that used animation as a form of expression. The films taught their audience that just because it’s animated doesn’t mean it has to be for children.

When Bakshi served the audiences with The Lord of the Rings (1978)

and Fire and Ice (1983),

he went beyond the fringe movements and entered the mainstream. Suddenly, everyone got to see that animation was capable of a lot of the same things as live-action movies. Teenagers, who used to think that animation was beneath them, rediscovered a whole new world.

If you look at the release dates of these movies, one thing becomes obvious: the people who were young when Bakshi’s movies came out are now themselves working in animation. (Even if, like me, they only translate anime.) Modern animation doesn’t just reflect the different technological possibilities, it also reflects the altered perspective of a generation.

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