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Why Live Action Cartoon Movies Are Boring

Cartoonist and cartoon historian, Koriander seeks to preserve the magic of animation.

"Tom & Jerry: The Movie" (2021)

"Tom & Jerry: The Movie" (2021)

Live Action Cartoons Don't Get the Source Material

Your local movie theater has them. Cartoon Network is playing them. Every streaming app you subscribe to is backlogged with them.

And yet despite an overabundance of live-action cartoon films with big Hollywood budgets, one of the major reasons why these films are terrible to watch is because very few of them even follow the source material.

Jem's Jerrica is a business owner by day, rock star by night. She isn't some emotional teenager living in a soon-to-be foreclosed home with an aunt nobody ever heard about, but thanks to some corporate jockey's "re-envisioning," her claim to fame involves a YouTube video and none of the work in the source material.

Sonic wasn't raised by an owl, Tom is not Jerry's best friend, and yet despite armies of fans demanding accuracy via social media, the consumer's voice is drowned out so a corporation can tell the story they want, like a fanfic writer who just won the lottery. If it comes at the expense of your childhood, they want you to deal with it, because you're not a child anymore. "It's not for you, it's for the kids" as they say, but then if that's the case, then these next problems need to be addressed.


The Government Bully

An army man with severe arrested development is barking orders at the Fantastic Four, ignoring every piece of information on the Silver Surfer.

An old general is bossing around a Muppet bear and talking openly about usurping control of an alien species he knows nothing about.

Nothing slows an action-packed movie down like some screaming man in a uniform bossing around characters from your favorite cartoon or comic book. Be it a member of the military or some government leader in a gray office, the characterization is always the same with the same, tired formula.

General follows cartoon character.
General kidnaps cartoon character.
General screams at cartoon character.
Cartoon character tries to tell General what's going on.
General bosses around cartoon character.
General nearly gets everyone killed.
Cartoon character has to escape to save the day.
General looks like a dolt.

Sprinkle in paragraphs spoken by the character about protocols and you have the cure for insomnia.

"Looney Tunes: Back in Action" (2003)

"Looney Tunes: Back in Action" (2003)

The Corporate Jock

In the 1980s, these greedy, screeching characters in polyester suits served a purpose. They were used as a way to speak up about corporate greed and about how many of the 1% in their ivory towers will stoop to any illegal activity necessary to buy out the "little guys" and assert dominance over corporate America.

But in family films, they just stink.

Like the government bully, these oddballs are one-dimensional, aggressive, and often eat up too much time between scenes. They're rarely funny, they're generic, and worst of all, their catchphrases are just nausea inducing.

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"The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" (2000)

"The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" (2000)

The Jokes Are Bad

It seems the writers for these films want so badly to be able to relate to the teenage babysitter in the audience, but alas, they don't know how. So they resort to peppering the script with the most awful jokes and one-liners.

"Sorry to interrupt your TED talk" quips a preppy character out of context in Tom and Jerry. Another line parodies Facebook while another smashes together Twitter and Instagram. These are lines written by someone just plucking random words from Google.

As if not knowing what social media sites are in with the kids wasn't bad enough, there's always the looming threat that the joke will end up dating itself by the time it hits DVD. Many of these kids films have aged poorly with jokes thrown at celebrities like Britney Spears and Michael Jackson.

Another big problem is when the film tries to spice things up with a lewd joke or a scene involving a character's bottom. For the TV-14 crowd, this is fine, but for the TV-Y and Y7 audience, do we really need a blue joke?

"Fat Albert" (2004)

"Fat Albert" (2004)

Too Much Drama

The ads for many of these family films will have you believing that your kids will be howling with laughter at the same style of humor you grew up with when they watch this movie about your favorite cartoon characters.

And no greater lie has been sold to your little ankle biter than that.

Fat Albert slows down to a crawl whenever Doris starts to remember her real grandfather, who not only died, but is Albert's alternate universe self that Bill Cosby is making money off of. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck have to put their friendly feud on hold because Jenna Elfman's character is jaded against cartoons, and woe be onto Rocky and Bullwinkle who can't focus on Mr. Big sending Boris and Natasha after them, because their sidekick is throwing a pity party for her inner child.

A wedding is off, a financial deal is falling through, these scenarios barely sound appetizing in an adult's film. Why would anyone think that a child would want to sit through some adult's life crisis?

"The Smurfs" (2011)

"The Smurfs" (2011)

The Human Babysitter

These boring, dramatic, bossy characters are an absolute plague in this genre. They exist to babysit the cartoon, and they add nothing of value to the plot.

Remember how Sonic was a fully capable hedgehog leading the Freedom Fighters against Dr. Robotnik? Now he's lonely and trying to buddy up to some nameless face on a poster.

You know how the Smurfs are their own species with their own civilization? Not anymore. They're being babysat and hidden by a guy who is usually asking people if they've met Ted.

Rocky? Bullwinkle? Bugs Bunny? All of them now need a nanny to tell them where they can go and what they can and can't do around regular humans.

In most of these films, the new human becomes the star of the film, not the cartoon character you paid to see. This babysitter is usually stressed out, embarrassed that this cartoon character is here, brings with them a ton of relationship and/or family drama, and now 70 of the 90 minutes of this film has to be spent watching this character whom you do not care about, who is not part of the original canon, learn about the value of forced friendship. Yuck.

"Yogi Bear" (2010)

"Yogi Bear" (2010)

Can We Make a Good Live Action Production?

Believe it or not, examples of how to do a live-action cartoon justice already exist.

In 1914, Windsor McCay delighted with Gertie the Dinosaur where he filmed himself in live action, playing with a cartoon dinosaur.

Walt Disney thrilled with his Alice Comedies from 1923 to 1927, having his staff animate Julius and future Mickey Mouse villain Pete around a live-action girl and occasionally bring in her live-action pals.

In 1940, Porky Pig went on a wild ride around the Warner Brothers studios in You Ought To Be In Pictures, and Cartoon Network's Gumball had the entire cast animated in front of real-life photos and film. It's not surprising when you see how long Space Ghost Coast to Coast ran with cartoons interacting in real time with celebrities or how many times Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law slipped in a live-action hybrid sequence.

If you want to make a live-action cartoon film the right way, follow the source material, leave the pop culture slang at home, and just let the cartoons interact with each other while the humans just serve as background extras.

If more films did this, the sequels would sell so much better.

© 2021 Koriander Bullard

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