This month, Disney introduced it is going to be closing Blue Sky Studios, the 20th Century Fox animation division acquired throughout the 2019 takeover. The news drew quick anger from the animation group, particularly as a result of the studio had solely ten months of manufacturing left for its subsequent image, a feature-length adaptation of the fantasy webcomic Nimona. Additional complicating the difficulty is the ever-looming presence of Disney’s quickly encroaching monopoly over the leisure and particularly animation industries.
However as we speak I’d wish to rejoice the successes of Blue Sky Studios, which, for all its faults, remained a drive of animation to the tip, with excellent artwork course and a robust grasp on visible storytelling. The studio’s artists created work that was distinct and had nice respect and love for the historical past of Western animation particularly. Let’s look again on the filmmaking of this once-great titan of animation.
By far Blue Sky Studios’ most financially profitable endeavor, Ice Age was launched in 2002, within the early days of CG animation. With a “journey” construction and a buddy-cop bent, the plot follows a trio of speaking primitive mammals taking a human child again to his early-human tribe. Revisited in 2021, this film holds up shockingly nicely. The artwork course, particularly the backgrounds and character design, have an angular, virtually expressionist high quality to them that helps disguise the restrictions of 2002 CGI rendering know-how.
Regardless of these limitations, the characters nonetheless transfer fluidly and expressively within the movie, which is directed by studio co-founder Chris Wedge and co-directed by Carlos Saldanha. The character animation is excellent, particularly contemplating the variations within the characters’ physique sorts. Manny the wooly mammoth walks with a heavy, deliberate gait that makes him really feel like the largest character in each scene. Diego the smilodon is lithe and light-footed. Sid the sloth is clumsy and bumbling.
And but, nowhere is a personality extra well-expressed than in Scrat, the silent mascot of Blue Sky whose slapstick antics run beneath the remainder of the movie. Scrat is sort of a Warner Bros. character delivered to the trendy age. He has a single, easy objective: get his acorn and retailer it for the winter. His pursuit of this objective leads him into conditions of animated bodily comedy that may be simply understood by anybody. Easy need, easy character, and easy comedy constructed on visuals without having for dialogue.
This love for traditional Western cartoons is current all through the entire Ice Age movies, and certainly all of Blue Sky’s movies, even because the collection begins to put on on and the writing begins to deteriorate. The important thing to the primary movie is motive: all three of the protagonists have completely different causes for embarking on their journey collectively, resulting in a robust pressure that builds up as they inch nearer to their objective.
Subsequent installments of the Ice Age franchise — the primary two of them directed by Saldanha alone — lack this battle of curiosity, resulting in a quickly increasing ensemble that by no means feels as real as the unique trio. However, the collection maintains its love for traditional Western animation and slapstick comedy all through its 5 movies and a number of Scrat-themed shorts.
The second movie from the studio — once more directed by Wedge and co-directed by Saldanha — maintains the core strengths of the primary: a definite artwork type and expressive characters. The world of Robots has a 1950s know-how aesthetic, and the movie is a visible delight because of this. Sequences of devices and equipment transfer with the identical environment friendly precision that makes industrial documentary footage and Iron Man suit-up sequences so satisfying to observe.
The robotic characters dwell in a robotic world that’s crammed to the brim with enjoyable and unusual visible comedy, and the staff at Blue Sky Studios mines it for everything it’s value. However regardless of the comedic bent, it’s a film with plenty of coronary heart and bit to say about consumerism, classism, and self-image within the trendy age.
The film’s major weak point is its overreliance on Robin Williams as comedian reduction. Robots is humorous sufficient by itself deserves, however the necessity to drive in Williams’ character to take advantage of the casting price range actually drains dramatic pressure, particularly in later scenes. Moreover, the morality story does type of fall flat when one recollects the Blissful Meal tie-in and toys that this film bought as a part of its promotional marketing campaign.
Regardless of that, Robots doesn’t really feel outdated. The artwork type makes the visuals maintain up, and the story’s relevance doesn’t appear to have aged a day. Like Ice Age, there’s a strong understanding of tips on how to arrange and repay bodily comedy that pulls from the historical past of cartoons just like the Looney Tunes and MGM shorts. And, in fact, the animation fundamentals are sturdy and expressive. Robots is a forgotten masterpiece.
Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! (2008)
Blue Sky Studios’ second-best rated film is an expanded Dr. Seuss adaption that, like Illumination’s The Lorax 4 years later, was tasked with taking a kindergarten studying degree e book of, at most, seventy-two pages, and turning it right into a full-length function movie. And but, Horton Hears A Who! actually does work. The studio’s demonstrated excellence at physicality blends remarkably nicely with the Seussian aesthetic.
Robots artwork director Steve Martino was one of many administrators of this image (with former Pixar animator Jimmy Hayward), and he put the teachings he realized from that movie into animating the weird structure and unusual machines that outline the artwork of Dr. Seuss.
The creator’s widow, Audrey Geisel, served as a supervising producer and allowed entry to an archive of authentic drawings, materials from the 1953 musical function, and even memos to legendary animator Chuck Jones for the 1966 How The Grinch Stole Christmas TV particular. Horton Hears A Who! actually does appear like a Dr. Seuss e book delivered to life, proper all the way down to the font selections. Even a few of the jokes are written to rhyme or be in any other case vaguely Seussical. The film additionally options just a few brief however distinct moments the place the animation type adjustments, showcasing the filmmakers’ love for the medium.
Rio opens with a musical quantity with the power of a Disney renaissance movie. It’s visually beautiful and units up a spectacular journey that did fairly nicely critically and on the field workplace. However only one yr prior, Disney launched Toy Story 3 and Tangled to an excellent reception. And DreamWorks set their very own new visible commonplace with How To Prepare Your Dragon. The flip of the last decade noticed animation as a complete trending towards what the know-how might do to be extra reasonable, and with that got here a decreased curiosity within the type of exaggerated expression and animated appearing that characterised Blue Sky Studios’ strongest work.
Competitors apart, Rio additionally suffers from its real-world setting. Blue Sky’s prior movies distance themselves from actuality, and the suspension of disbelief that permits the viewers to imagine a mammoth and a saber-toothed cat can staff as much as deliver a child throughout a whole bunch of miles of frozen tundra is similar degree of suspension of disbelief required to simply accept that a few of the antics they get into wouldn’t kill them. By integrating real-world settings and issues, the slapstick turns into absurd.
Rio is additional hampered by its reliance on movie star stunt casting. That is one thing to which Blue Sky movies have been topic earlier than, however as the strategy is strained, the failings that have been at all times there grow to be extra pronounced. And the 2014 sequel fails to repair any of those points. Nonetheless, each Rio movies have been helmed by Saldanha, the primary one being his first authentic IP within the director’s chair, and his love for his hometown of Rio de Janeiro oozes from these motion pictures within the visuals, tradition, and environment.