The Timeless Power of AnimationDenise McArthur 03.10.2015
Last week, Disney announced that they were rebooting the beloved animated series DuckTales. That same day, Netflix revealed that they would be doing the same for Inspector Gadget (and four other cartoons from yesteryear). For a generation of kids that grew up fantasizing about diving into a pool of gold, as well as parents who instinctively smile at the words Go-Go-Gadget, these developments mark a major victory for nostalgia. But the true winner here, and what inspired these reboots in the first place, is the timeless power of great animated storytelling. And since that’s something we strive for here on a daily basis, we thought it would be a good idea to explore some of the elements that made those shows special.
Well-Defined Characters: Personality-wise, Inspector Gadget and Scrooge McDuck have little in common, but they have one important similarity: a clear and unwavering motivation. Above all else, Inspector Gadget wants to solve crimes and Scrooge McDuck is obsessed with making money. Whether we admire these traits or not, their unyielding presence creates a sense of consistency that allows us to feel like we understand the character. This is critical, as it makes the adventures that ensue significantly more accessible; like a family member, there’s an endearingly familiar logic to their actions. And when telling a story, be it over 30 minutes or 30 seconds, accessibility is the key to evoking an emotional reaction.
Details, Details, Details: Now, just because we understand a character, doesn’t mean we necessarily like them. Being aware of this fact, however, the creators of both DuckTales and Inspector Gadget create affection for their characters through a clever use of whimsical aesthetics that deepen their personality and add a spirit of fun. With Scrooge McDuck, his miserly sentiment is covered up through eccentric attire (tophat, cane and monocle) and Inspector Gadget’s frustrating ignorance is trumped by the ingenuity of his gadgetry. But it’s not just the character details that serve to endear audiences, it’s the little details that really count. For example, instead of having Inspector Gadget just meet his boss at headquarters, Police Chief Quimby is always introduced in a silly disguise. And instead of revealing the face of Gadget’s foe Dr. Claw, the animators exploit the value of perspective and always obscure his face. On the surface, this may seem like a fun gag (which it is!), but it also serves a narrative purpose of building curiosity. And that, along with countless examples big and small, demonstrates how top-level animators can use detail to harness the power of story.
Memorable Images: A powerful story is what we at IdeaRocket strive to create, as we believe that’s the best way to impart a clear and compelling message. But in addition to clarity, we also focus on the oft-forgotten value of longevity. Not only do we want our videos to be re-watchable, more importantly we want to make sure that the message within is retained for a long period of time. And in the case of DuckTales and Inspector Gadget, a pair of decades-old cartoons that still resonate with viewers, there’s an opportunity to examine why this is the case. Part of this, of course, is due to the aforementioned details and characters, but another part of what makes these shows so memorable is that they contain images tailor-made for our memories. Whether it’s Scrooge McDuck luxuriously diving into a pit of money, or Inspector Gadget recklessly flying the propeller blades jutting out of his head, both shows seem to constantly come up with ways that leave tiny two-dimensional photographs in the minds of their viewers. This kind of lasting impact is a tough feat to pull off, but when it’s done right it can transcend the art form. And that’s why, with the news of these shows returning, we’re waiting with bated breath to see what they come up with next.
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