Dr. Toon: The Animation Critic's Art - Part 1
Most serious books on animation study kick off with a history, an overview or an explanation of what the medium consists of. Not here. The best way to begin a study of the critic's art is to ask: "How much do I love animation?" "How much does animation enhance my life?" "If I never saw another cartoon again and had to be content with memories, could I live with that?" In short, you have to truly and deeply love animation. Moreover, you should be passionate about this love and aware of it every time you attend a feature, watch a TV series or purchase a DVD.
I recall a conversation I had several years ago with John Kricfalusi. He told me that one of his heartfelt goals was to watch every theatrical cartoon made since the inception of animation. He was getting pretty close, and the pride in his voice was palpable. I did not bother to ask John why he had this goal in the first place; it was evident. This is a man who loved and studied animation to the point of complete saturation. That, my readers, is the sort of love you need. It means spending time after your day job watching and studying films across decades, totally convinced that animation is the equal of any other cinematic form and deserves just as much attention.
Loving animation means spending a goodly sum of hard-earned money on video resources, printed materials, TiVo and classes. You do not blink at this; you enjoy animation too much to think about the cost. Your spare time is spent surfing and searching, following one link to another and another, relentless in your pursuit of animated joy. It means watching endless hours of cartoons, regardless of quality, not for the sake of learning your art but to admire and touch the creativity of others. Before you acquire any other skills, before you think critically about any film, and long before you are ready to commit your analytical judgments to others, you must first love animation with all your heart.
How sad I feel when someone tells me, "Oh, I don't watch cartoons." To the animation critic, this is a person who has chosen to practice artistic self-deprivation. You can be sure at one time that person spent enchanted hours before a TV set or delighted in a Disney film, but then decided to leave such things behind, save for an occasional episode of The Simpsons. Such a person is excluded de facto from truly enjoying animation to its full depth, much less evaluating it.
You may pause here, raise an eyebrow, and exclaim, "But Dr. Toon, how come there's so much stuff you don't like and go on rants about? You sure don't think all animation is good, so how can you sit here and tell us to love it with all our hearts and souls?" That, my friends, is a terrific question and we will discuss it in due time. I can't answer it in entirety without getting far ahead of myself, but just for now, ask yourself this: Does anyone ever become a film (art or literary) critic solely because they hate film, art or literature? Of course not. This brings us to…