It shouldn’t really surprise anyone that these two should do this well, especially considering how well movies such as Rango and How to Train Your Dragon have done. Not to mention Toy Story 3 and the other Pixar films. And other Blue Sky — the makers of Rio — films such as Ice Age and Robots.
Also, you have to consider that the budgets for these movies are as crazy as their cast. Rio stars the voices of Jesse Eisenberg, Jamie Foxx, Anne Hathaway, Jayne Lynch and George Lopez, among others.
I, for one, welcome our new animated overlords.
Animation has come a long way since the early days of Disney. Who would have ever guessed that a cartoon — a title that this genre has long outgrown — about a toy cowboy and a toy astronaut could move adults and critics to such emotional states? And get a best picture nomination?
Why do these movies draw us in so much?
I might be able to explain that with an exercise I saw in a book about comic books (Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics) way back in college.
First, all you have to do is smile. How did you see yourself when you smiled? Chances are, when you imagine yourself, you imagine a very simplified version of yourself, much like a smiley face. When we watch drawn or animated media such as TV shows, movies, video games or comics, it is easy for us as humans to identify with the most simplistic of human drawings with vague physical features like Stan or Kyle from South Park. It’s what made that old Wal-Mart marketing smiley-faced thing that bounced around and looked happy so effective.
It’s also the reason that the lastest Beowulf movie looked kind of creepy. You start reaching an area known as the “uncanny valley.” Think of animated realism as a chart, the closer you get to being human, the more we can empathize with the character. That is until you reach a certain part of the chart and the line dive-bombs into an area known as the uncanny valley.
The idea is, if something is very inhuman and given human features — think the robots from Wall-E or the birds from Rio — we are endeared to it because we notice the humanizing features. However, if something is very close to human, well, we tend to notice the flaws like in the characters in the aforementioned Beowulf and also movies such as Polar Express.
So next time you want to discount animation as kids stuff, remember that sometimes animation can be more effective than even live action at telling a story.