Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Animated Tales: Not Just for Kids Anymore Cartoon Techniques Offer Filmmakers the Chance to Inhabit Odd Worlds and Build Fantastic Stories

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Animated Tales: Not Just for Kids Anymore Cartoon Techniques Offer Filmmakers the Chance to Inhabit Odd Worlds and Build Fantastic Stories

Article excerpt

Who says movie cartoons are only for kids? True, most animated films are geared to G-rated territory, remaining mostly safe for children even if their producers throw in jokes and references aimed at parents in the audience.

This tradition helps explain why classic cartoons from studios like Warner Bros. and Walt Disney Pictures exert broad appeal across the generations. It also explains why the basic subject matter of most screen animations is simple enough for instant understanding by everyone from toddlers up.

Still, some cartoons deal with subjects that resonate differently for grownups and children, as in the "American Tail" pictures, which show the adventures of an immigrant family struggling to put down roots in a new land. Others conjure up images scary enough to warrant a PG rating, as in "The Black Cauldron," a sword-and-sorcery adventure produced by the family-conscious Disney studio. And occasional animations, by provocateurs like Ralph Bakshi and some Japanese "anime" producers, plunge directly into adult material. Some of the newest cartoons on American screens make an obvious pitch for adult spectators while keeping their overall tone wholesome enough for mature youngsters. The most eagerly touted is "James and the Giant Peach," a Disney presentation based on a book by Roald Dahl that has attracted readers for the past 3-1/2 decades. One of its producers is Tim Burton, of "Batman" and "Edward Scissorhands" fame, and its director is Henry Selick, whose previous extravaganza - "The Nightmare Before Christmas" - had a similar PG blend of lighthearted whimsy and dreamlike delirium. The hero is James, a boy who's lived with two awfully unpleasant aunts - their names, Spiker and Sponge, convey their personalities - since his parents were devoured by a rhinoceros years ago. His adventure begins when a mysterious stranger gives him a bag of "crocodile tongues" that he accidentally spills onto the ground, causing a humongous peach to grow in the yard behind his house. The selfish aunts promptly turn this into a money-making tourist attraction, and it appears James's life will remain bleak forever. But then he ventures into a tunnel running through the giant fruit, where he meets an assortment of insects who become the best friends he's ever had. Together they launch the peach into the Atlantic Ocean and set off for New York City, where they're convinced that happiness awaits them. The scenes of James's pre-peach existence are shown via regular live-action cinema. But the movie's most memorable portions - about 45 minutes' worth, shot over a two-year period by 130 technicians - are created in stop-motion animation, an excellent medium for filmmakers seeking the combination of lifelike detail and dreamlike strangeness that director Selick and producer Burton fancy. …

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