There’s a interesting new trend in animation going on, if that’s what you prefer to call it, of directors in animation suddenly drifting into live action and, in some cases, staying there for long periods of time.
From the most famous examples like Brad Bird, who went on to direct Mission:Impossible – Ghost Protocol and is now at work on Disney’s Tomorrowland, and Andrew Stanton, another Pixar alum who directed John Carter (also from Disney), to now guys like Carlos Saldanha, a Blue Sky staple and director of both the Ice Age and Rio films, who will helm a live-action adaptation of Royden Lepp’s graphic novel Rust. Even recently, while a slightly different example, Frozen co-director Jennifer Lee has been announced as the primary screenwriter for an new adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s seminal science fiction novel A Wrinkle In Time (no director has been announced at this time).
This ‘trend’ is nothing new, really. Andrew Adamson, the co-director for the first two Shrek films, was also responsible for the first two Narnia movies, while Gabor Csupo, Rugrats producer and co-founder of the show’s animation company Clasky Csupo, directed Disney’s Bridge To Terabithia and Lionsgate’s The Secret Of Moonacre. Another major (and earlier) example is Rob Minkoff, director of two Roger Rabbit shorts and co-director of Disney’s The Lion King, went on to direct Stuart Little 1 and 2, The Haunted Mansion, and the Jackie Chan/Jet-Li film The Forbidden Kingdom.
So obviously there’s a history of directors from the animation world going into live action, some more successful than others, so why the recent uproar?
Perhaps this so-called exodus can be attributed to two major reasons. The first is of a reasonably plausible nature: a director who’s honed his skills and talents in animation will feel like wanting to spread their wings creatively, and as such they take their expertise into the live-action field.
One complaint I hear is that animation directors often float on over to live-action and stay there for a long periods of time. This argument has truth to it, but I don’t think it’s necessarily something that the director should be criticized over. It could be that he or she may have ideas for live-action films that they want to do, or they grow to prefer directing live-action over animation. Which leads me to the next argument.
Another major reason, one that I have mixed thoughts on, is that animation in the US is more creatively strained than live action. Not very many companies are willing to make different types of animated films and often resort to simple ideas and contrived tropes as a consequence of the perception that animation has to be kid-friendly (or more bluntly, dumbed-down).
There’s also truth to this statement as well. It’s certainly true that the creative opportunities of animation have been stunted by this perception (to put it lightly), but on the other hand, we are seeing more and more films take storytelling risks that would have been unthinkable six or seven years ago.
Which leads me to my main point: I’m not exactly worried about directors leaving animation for live action. Sure, we may lose several of our most talented in the process, but if my list of five directors in animation to watch is any indication, there are still a handful of visionaries who continue to breathe new life into feature animation.
Furthermore, why can’t one dabble in both mediums? Tim Burton is probably the most major example of this. Rob Minkoff would eventually return to animation to direct this year’s Mr. Peabody & Sherman. And even Carlos Saldanha will be going back into animation after Rust to helm an adaptation of Ferdinand at Blue Sky.
So if there’s anything to take away from this, it’s that whatever way you think about the subject, there’s still room to do both!
And with that, I end by saying that it would be interesting to see more live-action directors take a crack at feature animation.
How do you feel about this subject?