Dr. Toon: Wielding the Hatchet
The vast majority of these, sorry to say, are bloggers. Many of them take their cue from more reputable and established critics and allow themselves to become wannabees who cannot evaluate a film through their own filters and come up with profound thoughts of their own making. Some are more intelligent but not well-versed enough in film theory and criticism. Educated, experienced critics are a treat to read but are vastly outnumbered by amateurs.
Animation fans are particularly susceptible to this disease, since they are genre-based evaluators. To be fair, an animation critic needs different skills than a live-action film critic. For example, no matter what you think of Cary Grant's performance in Arsenic and Old Lace, you don't have to consider whether he was well-drawn or stayed on-model throughout the picture. There is a different set of rules for evaluating animation, making the burden of fair critique a bit more difficult.
This month's essay is really a plea for film criticism to be practiced as an art. Because balanced, thoughtful critique is important to a culture, we have an alternative to postmodern subjectivism, the most incomprehensible, arguably laziest form of critique ever devised.
The Oscar-nominated Disney film The Princess and the Frog provides us with some wonderful examples of what to avoid when evaluating an animated film. There are four areas I would like to address:
After one noted critic mentioned in his review that Dr. Facilier seemingly had no motivation for his evil and that the audience never really knew what he wanted, scores of other evaluators jumped in to say the same. Pity that, since Dr. Facilier actually gave us the answers during the film -- twice. Those who watched the movie closely instead of reading someone else's review noted that the bad doctor was in hock up to his skull-and-crossbones to his "friends on the other side." As he begged them for one last shot using Prince Naveen, he was at the supernatural equivalent of being kneecapped or worse. Even earlier in the movie he reminds Lawrence that they will split the LaBouff fortune 60-40. Why did so many people miss this or worse, ignore it?
The answer lies in a genuine flaw that is fair game for criticism. Who was Dr. Facilier? Is his title self-conferred? If he was a real doctor, what did he study? Did it bring him in contact with supernatural forces? Was he somehow chosen by them? Was he once a decent, kind doctor who was manipulated into evil by his dark masters? Why is he in their debt? What reduced him to the lowly level of street magician? Ultimately, all we got was an admittedly terrific villain with no discernable backstory, something the 11 writers could have fixed with a few well-placed lines. This error was the only one worthy of critical focus.