There has been much critical hand wringing about the fate of traditional animation in the digital age, most recently in last week’s New York Times article by Charles Solomon, who decried the wonder-killing yakkety-yak nature of today’s CG-animated characters. In his alternately inspiring and depressing documentary, Dream On Silly Dreamer (2004), animator-turned-director Dan Lund pinpoints the exact moment when animation’s identity crisis set in and goes a long way toward measuring its human toll. The date was March 25, 2002; the place, not so surprisingly, Disney’s newly built Burbank animation facility. That’s when and where Disney animation president Thomas Schumacher announced the layoffs of some 200 traditional-animation artists and their replacement with a stripped-down crew of digital animators. Remarkably, Lund, one of those let go, had his camera rolling minutes after the announcement, recording the poignant reactions of the fired artists, most of whom had considered working at Disney to be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. In the film’s first half, Lund captures the shape and power of that dream in close to a dozen interviews with former employees, and through a series of traditional animated sequences that attest to the expressiveness of the medium. Along the way, Lund makes room for the foibles and faults of the animators themselves, who readily expected endless rewards after the animation renaissance of the late ’80s and early ’90s that culminated in the wild success of The Lion King. Such evenhandedness makes Dream On much more than a bitter jab at management or a Luddite screed. It is rather an intimate insider’s account of the quicksilver relationship between art and commerce in Hollywood.
Other recommended new releases: The Children Are Watching Us (DVD); King Kong (VHS-DVD); Robot Chicken, Vol. 1 (DVD). Also released this week: VHS-DVD: Memoirs of a Geisha. DVD: Arizona; Avatar: The Last Airbender: Book 1, Water, Vol. 2; A Boy Named Charlie Brown; The Cutting Edge: Going for the Gold; Degrassi: the Next Generation: Season 3; Doctor Who: The Beginning Collection; Guardians of the Frontier; Hot Wheels AcceleRacers, Vol. 3: Breaking Point; Karol: A Man Who Became Pope; Kibakichi 2; Knots Landing: The Complete First Season; Northern Exposure: The Complete Fourth Season; Quantum Leap: The Complete Fourth Season; Ron White: You Can’t Fix Stupid; Six Feet Under: The Complete Fifth Season; Sleep-Paralysis; Sliver; Wonder Showzen: Season 1.