Dr. Toon: The Animation Critic's Art - Part 1
That would be curiosity. Curiosity is, for the critic, a multilayered concept. At the most basic level, it indicates a desire to know how art works, how the components of art function together (or don't), and what sort of meaning or message the creator intended. The best critics can pick out hidden meanings or subtexts but they must be curious enough to do so. Critics love their chosen mediums and their jobs because of this one attribute, even if they dislike a particular piece of work. Curiosity is a means to self-exploration, and no critic can have a voice without it. It is the sister concept to loving animation, since few people are curious about things they are indifferent to and tend to reject things they hate.
Simply put, after watching, say, a Daffy Duck short or an episode of Naruto, you should have thoughts that arise naturally from what you have observed. Starting from the ground up, before any questions are generated about CGI techniques, digital paint programs, and storyboards lies the most seminal of queries: What was this piece of animation trying to do and how well did it accomplish its goal? Only after answering that to your own satisfaction can you explore your curiosity regarding more technical and creative details. Don't get me wrong -- those things are indeed important -- but that's for a later discussion.
Curiosity leads one to seek out information that one did not previously have, or to view out a comparative piece of work to seek linkages in style or content. Curiosity leads one to see (or even imagine) how another artist might handle the same work, or how the same cartoon might have looked in a different era. It leads one to wonder why a certain sequence was put in a film, or why another one might have worked better. Most of all, curiosity leads you to question yourself and your reactions, and this is the heart of becoming a critic. If you can watch a piece of animated work and simply walk away without a second thought or feeling about what you saw, there may be a sizeable hole in your aspirations.
If, by this point, your love of animation borders on the fanatic and your curiosity has seduced you into taking that love as far as you can go with it, congratulate yourself; you are on the road to becoming an influential animation critic. Mind you, this is only your breastplate; there are still many tools and weapons to acquire before conquering the heights of critical proficiency. We'll talk more about it next month.
Monthly assignment: Recall the very first animated show or movie you truly loved as a child and examine why. How was it a part of your young lifestyle? Did you watch it faithfully? Collect the licensed products? What did it touch in you, and how do you feel about it today? Think about a show or film you call yourself a fan of today; how was it alike or different from the first one? Do they relate in any way?
Recommended Reading: Saturday Morning Fever by Timothy Burke and Kevin Burke (St. Martin's Press 1999).
Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.