In Defense of Healthy Cynicism


In an essay for Animation Scoop, author Charles Kenney observes that the animation industry lacks a healthy degree of cynicism, and that's a problem:

What prompted this post is the 'honest' trailer for the Lego Movie that was released this week by Screen Junkies. Its satirical reasoning is that the film, while exceptionally entertaining, is essentially a toy commercial and nothing more. Holding that it is a wholly artistic endeavour that just happened to be commercially successful ignores the realities of the situation, namely that it was a commercial film that happened to be artistically brilliant. In other words it is unprincipled to hold either one view or the other; a degree of cynicism helps balance them out so you can hold the correct view that as entertaining and creative as the Lego Movie is, it ultimately owes its existence to the world's largest toymaker who used it to sell toys.

I don't mean to pick on the Lego Movie, I really don't; it just makes for such a good example; any commercial feature is playing the same game in a more subtle way. Yet I keep contrasting the view of many western artists who adored the film with that of Miyazaki. He often takes a very cynical view of the Japanese industry, but only because his sheer devotion and passion for animation shape his belief that it is headed in the wrong direction; and he sees the fans within the industry as being part of that problem.

Miyazaki dished out his own acerbic observations about animator-fans during an NHK broadcast during the production of Ponyo:

You see, whether you can draw like this or not, being able to think up this kind of design, it depends on whether or not you can say to yourself, "Oh, yeah, girls like this exist in real life." If you don’t spend time watching real people, you can’t do this, because you’ve never seen it. Some people spend their lives interested only in themselves. Almost all Japanese animation is produced with hardly any basis taken from observing real people, you know. It’s produced by humans who can’t stand looking at other humans. And that’s why the industry is full of otaku.

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