Bob Clampett had a strong presence at this year’s Ottawa International Animation Festival. A retrospective collection of his Warner Brothers shorts was screened in addition to a seminar by John Kricfalusi on the influence Clampett has had on his own work.
Clampett’s influence on John K’s cartoons is undeniable. His work is crazy, often crude, exaggerated to the max, and, well… just plain cartoony. John K’s insistence, however, that Clampett did everything better than all other animators of his time (or now) certainly sparked some debate among several of the people I talked to throughout the festival. Does every piece of animation have to have bulging eyes and rubber-hose limbs to be a real cartoon?
I agree that many of the cartoons on TV today with minimally animated talking heads don’t hold a candle to the fluid, manic creations of Clampett and the other animators from Warner Brothers, or to the original Ren & Stimpy series, for that matter. After all, I personally can’t stand The Family Guy. But certainly there are certain stories and emotions that benefit from more subtle styles. Would the opening scene from The Lion King be improved with that over-the-top Clampett look? I think these arguments possibly stem from a lack of distinction between “animation” and “cartoons”.
Maybe in reaction to this criticism, John K has recently posted a list of many of his other artistic influences to prove that he’s a sum of many parts and not solely a strict Clampett devotee, as one might otherwise surmise having read his blog lately.
The festival also screened a collection of “rare” John K shorts including episodes of The Ripping Friends and Ren & Stimpy: The Lost Episodes, which I truthfully found excrutiatingly tedious to watch. I think the reason John K loves the Clampett look so much is because it’s perfectly suited to his sense of humour: naked boobs and fart jokes. Now I love naked boobs and fart jokes as much as the next guy, but unfortunately these shows had no sense of timing; they were just long, drawn-out gags that while great to look at, left me aching for a little substance (or at the very least some brevity).
Luckily his fast-paced music videos for “Weird Al” Yankovic (clips of which can be seen here) and Tenacious D were fantastic, and I’m happy I got to see each one twice. I think John K is perfectly suited for music videos because his sense of humour almost demands that the action and gags be sped up. A 4-minute music video of naked boobs and farting beats a 20-minute cartoon of naked boobs and farting any day.
Finally, a somewhat last-minute addition to the festival’s line-up was The Waif of Persephone by Ottawa animator, and John K cohort, Nick Cross (who also participated in the Bob Clampett panel). Nick has chronicled the production of this short film at his production blog (previously), and the end results of his five-year one-man effort were spectacular. With The Waif of Persephone, Nick has done something that John K failed to do with his take on Clampett: he proved that one can use that exaggerated slapstick animation to tell an actual story with some maturity and depth — in this case, a retelling of the Greek myth and the conflict between nature, industry, and government (and happy little elves, of course).
After John K’s Clampett seminar I overheard some students speak very excitedly about seeing the Clampett retrospective. As much as I disagree with Kricfalusi on some points, you can’t deny that (especially with his blog) he’s getting a whole new generation of animators to actually think about the extreme possibilities of the artform — animation gives a cartoonist not just a forum to tell stories and jokes, but a playground for artwork and drawings unlike any other.