Monday, January 3, 2011

A Note on Including Puppetoons

Including the Puppetoons in a "cartoons" blog is not entirely clear cut. It comes down to a question of what constitutes a cartoon. Many people disagree that stop motion animation of this type is a "cartoon". Leonard Maltin's Of Mice and Magic, for example, does not include them in its filmography, when they constitute a big enough set of films in the right time period made in the right country to include; the implication was that Maltin does not (or did not at the time) consider them cartoons. Perhaps the simplest (most glib) justification that they are cartoons is that Paramount referred to Puppetoons as cartoons, seen in this ad in the December 25, 1943 BoxOffice:

The overall upshot is that I am including George Pal's Puppetoons in this blog, in the official count of shorts.

The following is the most fleshed out of my responses on the issue, from a GAC discussion thread (with a spelling correction of two here). The opening sentence makes more sense when read in context, where it is in response to Fibber Fox (Yowp) saying that "Cartoons are simply a form of drawing":

"Yes, a _form_ of drawing. (I would also say a _form_ of scuplture, or a _form_ of painting; I would not say a form of acting, but others might.) So in other words, in "Snow White", Dopey is a cartoon character, but Snow White isn't, because she is not that type of drawing. In "Gulliver's Travels", Gabby is a cartoon character, while Gulliver is not. The Incredibles in "The Incredibles" are cartoon characters, while no one in "The Polar Express" is. Jasper in "Jasper and the Choo Choo" is a cartoon character, while no stop motion character in a Tool video is. The Mad Hatter in Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" is a cartoon character, but the Mad Hatter as played by Edward Everett Horton in the 1933 live action "Alice in Wonderland" is not.

So there is then a question of: is a work a cartoon if it has no cartoon characters in it? I think it could be, but it would have other cartoon elements. Think of a late Tex Avery "Of Tomorrow" cartoon that doesn't have many characters, and could exist without any characters with a few different gags. It does have things drawn in an amusing way. But simply having something animated in drawings does not make a cartoon. I don't think UPA's Tell Tale Heart is a cartoon, as it has nothing amusing about its visuals.

So, does having any amusing drawings make something a cartoon? In other words, is "Snow White" a cartoon simply because it has Dopey and other amusing drawings in it? If so, then you need to class Last Action Hero and Mrs. Doubtfire as cartoons. My thinking is that there needs to be a certain amount of cartoons in a piece to make it a cartoon. That is of course extremely vague and ill defined. But I would say that Snow White has enough to qualify, and Last Action Hero does not.

So, to Fibber Fox's "comedy or drama makes no difference whether something is tv or not" point. This illustrates that the aspects of whether something is a comedy, drama, an amalgam of comedy and drama, or another parallel or overlapping category, are immaterial to whether something is a television show. Similarly, there are many things that are immaterial to whether something is a cartoon or not. But we do not all agree on what the defining characteristics of a cartoon are.

A group appears to have taken the following position (or something close to it; it is simplified as it is not my view): all drawn 2D animation pieces are cartoons, no animation that is not drawn 2D animation is a cartoon. This differs from my working definition, which is: hand created art (including sculpture and computer wire frames) which is abstracted into an amusing form and which is presented in a filmic way (generally but not necessarily animated) are cartoons; no filmic piece which does not use hand created visuals abstracted in an amusing way is a cartoon.

The definition of cartoon has varied over the years; I'm sure there were art historians objecting to when humorous black and white drawings were referred to as cartoons, when that violated the meaning they assigned to the word, meaning rough sketches for tapestries. And I'm sure people cringed when people referred to something like a Mickey Mouse film as a cartoon instead of as an animated cartoon, since actual cartoons could only be two dimensional drawings on paper. And even now, people in this forum object when humorously designed stop motion animation is referred to as a cartoon, although Paramount was doing so in 1943 (see ad at the bottom of this post). But the lexicon soldiers on, and while some people are truly sincere that "cartoon" should apply both only to what they think is a cartoon and should always be applied to all the animation they think is a cartoon because they think to do otherwise somehow demeans animation into only being humorous, such sincerity does not make their argument rational."

You can see some of the discussions of the issue at GAC:

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