Sunday, March 25, 2012

Un-Animated Cartoons

Doncha just hate it when there's a commercial on TV featuring your old favorite animated cartoon characters, only they aren't really animated? Oh, they're moving alright, complete with fluid motion and shading and shadows in places where there shouldn't even be any shading or shadows; I guess it's that air brushed Roger Rabbit look some people think all cartoon characters need nowadays. The characters move, but there's something... dead about them. They're sort of "unanimated," going through the motions while the voice over babbles something about anyone being able to handle our finances. In a current Met Life spot see the Peanuts gang walking through a field smiling. Just smiling. Just walking and smiling. Walking and smiling. Weird. Where's the dialog? Why isn't Lucy crabby? Why isn't Snoopy fighting the Red Baron? And Charlie Brown does not smile! These characters are not alive. Maybe the animators have been watching too many episodes of "The Walking Dead."

And then He Man rides by. What?! And then the Jetsons show up. They can't be here; they're in the future. And how did Mr. Magoo get in this? Fat Albert? And we all know Speedy Gonzales wouldn't hang out with this bunch. And why are Yosemite Sam and Quick Draw McGraw walking arm-in-arm as if they're about to exchange vows and light a unity candle? What's going on here? Who came up with this? The whole thing is kinda like the way your drunken uncle tries to tell a bedtime story?

And so the evil queen put a spell on Cinderella that she would fall asleep and never wake up until the beast came to kiss her before Frodo threw the ring down the toilet. But then, Darth Vader showed up and took her to the Death Star... and then Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones came and blew it up... but they got her out first... and then Rudolph pushed Chewbacca over the cliff and saved Christmas. Uncle Bob's gotta see a man about a horse now, so go to sleep, kid.

What? That never happened to you? Oh...

Well, anyway, this Met Life spot is supposed to be heart warming, I guess, in that all these cartoon characters are coexisting in a sunlit live action world of peace and harmony, which is supposed to make you feel all gooshy inside when it comes time to pay your premium. But for me it comes across like that episode of "The Twilight Zone" where everybody's happy... because they have to be. It's as if the characters are all on Prozac and at any moment they'll start playing hopscotch off a cliff. Their soul is dead.

I've seen this sort of thing before in other commercials. General Mills... sorry, I guess they prefer to be called "Big G" now. Anyway, Big G ran this spot - you know there's an ad agency middle manager somewhere bragging about having produced a Big G Spot - that has all the cartoon icons representing their breakfast cereals just sorta standing around, smiling. Sonny doesn't go cookoo anymore, the rabbit (Does he have a name?) doesn't try to trick anybody, and the lephrican is as sedate as the Escape channel on my satellite radio. They all look at each other as if they share the love that dare not speak its name.

It's not that I think having cartoon characters in commercials is bad. In fact, some of my fondest childhood memories are of cartoon commercials.

This spot could still work today, even if it is a little anti-feminist. It has a story, action, music, and it's pretty hard to watch it and forget the name of the product and what benefits it supposedly had. When you watch "Superman: The Movie" a generation of kids got a moment of comedy relief from the Cheerios box on Clark Kent's breakfast table. This commercial shows you why. Even years after these Kid Cheerio spots stopped running they were well remembered. But these days, Cheerios is marketed at the same generation as a way to keep our cholesterol down and not have a heart attack. Breakfast used to be fun; now it's another medicinal marketing opportunity. For kids today, there's no winking in joke during "Superman;" the cereal box on Clark Kent's table just looks like another product placement.

And I seriously doubt any of today's breakfast cereal commercials will ever become pop culture references. Tony the Tiger is still around, but these days he's confined to tossing a ball in a live action world. He still gets to say his signature line, but beyond that he gets treated like Richie Cunningham did after the Fonz took over the show: just stay in the background, buddy.

I'm not sure who Met Life is aiming at with their commercials: kids might be lured by the animation and color, but most of these characters were created long before their birth and have nothing to do with Japanese video games. And besides, the message of financial security goes a little over their heads. But if the advertiser is aiming at people my age, we're too busy wondering why all these characters are together out in a field somewhere doing absolutely nothing.

Maybe these characters just don't work for this kind of product. On the other hand, maybe if instead of crowding in every character an ad agency can manage to proudly put on display in one spot, they could show Woodstock (Snoopy's little yellow bird friend) building a nest only to have a storm blow it away and then Met Life helping rebuild it. It should be kept simple. It should be produced in the style of the classic Peanuts cartoons. But most important, it should be produced by someone who has actually read the Peanuts comic strips.

And let Lucy be crabby. If you're going to use animation in a commercial, let the characters be animated.

1 comment:

jasonwhited said...

Seeing my favorite childhood cereal mascots animated in CGI sharpens me up and makes me ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence. (Name that film)