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by Heather Kenyon

A hopeful sign...

The dust of summer has barely settled, an especially late ending as a result of the odd Phantom Menace phenomenon. (A glut of films came out in a clump late in the season, all fearful of being caught in the boxoffice Star Wars turmoil.) Now we are getting ready for the fall and the holidays and, of course, the new crop of big films. Stuart Little, Princess Mononoke, Toy Story II and Sleepy Hollow will all grace the big screen this winter. Here is a collection of films that while each has a different style and appeal, are all "animated" in some way. From traditional to CGI to effects, this is a good example of what is exciting in feature animation today. The success of these films, in all their varied formats, is going to keep the animation industry on its current high and ever-expanding plateau. Long plagued with sharp peaks and low valleys, the animation industry has been braced to begin that slow downward slide again. However, while we are not at the dizzying heights of the early to mid-'90s, the awful downward spiral for feature films does not seem to be appearing on the horizon. (As for television we'll have to see how the upcoming glut of new primetime series do...) Indeed, as Heikki Jokinen suggests in his "The Long Shadow Over The Atlantic," the feature film boom might just be reaching its full stride in some locations.

This range of films is what the industry needs to stay vital and glowing. However, I am still surprised when I share my belief that Titanic is technically an animated film, how family members and non-industry acquaintances look at me with raised eyebrows and wide-open eyes. When I explain that almost every frame was altered in some way, frame by frame, then they see my point and say, "Interesting...I hadn't thought about that." This is what needs to be done (as I have said here many a time). The shifting of the audience's perception of what an animated film or television show can be, is the next great leap that needs to happen. Some folks still seem flabbergasted that The Simpsons does not always make the perfect baby sitter. "It is animated...but it isn't for children, you know..." You are quite right. It isn't and no one ever said it was. Animation can be many things and there are two films coming out that will hopefully help shift this perception.

The first is Princess Mononoke. What a refreshing film. I enjoyed the film immensely because the Japanese story telling structure is very unique to a typical US viewer. One sits there really not knowing what to expect next. Talking animal spirits, tree planting monkeys, little white ghosts rattling their heads and an industrialist who is both cruel and kind...What is going to happen next? Well, I can tell you for sure that when I saw Princess Mononoke, I really had no idea, and that was wonderful. The animation is absolutely fantastic, from hand animated rain drops and worm encased demons to the quiet characterization of such characters as Yakul, the protagonist's loyal, silent, red elk. This film is an important film for the questions that it poses and answers regarding nature in an industrial world. No one is good, and no one is bad. (Is Lady Eboshi just a greedy capitalist? No, she takes in society's unwanted and makes them useful.) A middle ground needs to be found between man and Nature. This is a universal theme that we should all be thinking about. It doesn't matter whether you like animation, or even anime, or not. This is an important film in any medium or style. Hopefully, people will go see it and be surprised by its refreshing structure, wonderful animation and universal theme. Let's hope audiences are open-minded and curious enough about Japan's highest grossing film of all time to go see it and it doesn't become The Iron Giant's runner-up, to most worthy but under-attended film of 1999.

The other film is positioned to be a real breakthrough as it is backed by the power of Disney. Fantasia did not do well when it was originally released. However, Fantasia 2000 might be a different story. We now have a culture, ready, eager and waiting for every new Disney adventure...well, this one introduces new styles, experimental themes and adult vignettes mixed in with comedic, more cartoony sequences. This might be the "different" animated feature that every family in America and beyond goes to see. Fantasia 2000 is like a miniature film festival all in one sitting. Laura Schiff in "Fantasia 2000: Millennium Magic For A New Generation" describes the sequences and I think that after reading it you too will be excited about these possibilities.

As Andrew Osmond concluded in "Cartoon Movies: Acting Their Age?": "One thing that can be said for the current animation environment is that there's indeed no shortage of new potential trendsetters, and with them new hope."

Until Next Time,

Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.