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Welcome to All Movie Talk! In this audio podcast, Samuel Stoddard and Stephen Keller talk about old and new movies, famous directors, historical film movements, movie trivia, and more.

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Wacky Animals

Suddenly, this year, we got a humongous wave of CGI animation, surely enough that we'll get five nominees in the Best Animated Feature category at the Oscars. (Below a certain number of eligible features, there is only three; only once in the history of the category has there been five.) But here's my problem: seemingly, they are ALL about comic-relief talking animals. Not only that, but comic-relief talking animals loosed in a human world and discovering things like pizza and traffic and so on.

I'd say it started with Madagascar, which made a fortune in a summer without any other alternatives for the target demographic. I'd say that, that is, except that it takes years to make an animated feature, and most of this year's were surely in production before Madagascar racked up all that cash a year ago. But so far this year, we've got The Wild (the most blatant copycat), Ice Age 2 (the most unlike the other animalted features this year, but you still can't give a sequel credit for originality), Over the Hedge, Barnyard, Open Season, The Ant Bully (we needed a third ant cartoon?), Flushed Away (paradoxically, about animals *leaving* the human world), Happy Feet (the most promising of the group, IMHO), and -- although the medium and the inspiration are different -- Curious George. This last is the only one I've yet seen, and it's pretty cute -- certainly better than the terrible trailer made it out to be, but it does lose its way in the second half and winds up fairly disposable as entertainment.

Pixar's Cars was said by many to be good but still their weakest film to date. Still, it must be a relief to see an animated movie this year that does something a little different. Ditto Monster House, which looks like a blast, but perhaps fell victim to a terrible release date, coming out as it did so soon after Over the Hedge and Cars.

Any one of these titles, some more likely than others, could wind up being a movie I really really enjoy. But only Monster House excites me by the mere prospect, as had, for example, last year's Wallace and Gromit, Corpse Bride, and Howl's Moving Castle, or The Incredibles and Shrek 2 the year before. Well, Happy Feet, too. But how much of that anticipation is because of the prospective movie, and how much is because of how cool a penguin tapdancing to Stevie Wonder in the trailer is?

It's weird. Except for Curious George, which opened back in February and vanished without a trace, all of these movies are CG animation, even Flushed Away, from the studio that produced Wallace and Gromit. Last year, a big deal was made over CG giving way to more traditional animation, what with CG being shut out of the slate of Best Animated Feature nominees in favor of claymation and 2D anime. It was a silly observation, of course, just the consequence of Pixar and Shrek happening to take the year off. But 2006 does tell us something: CG ain't just for the inspired artists anymore, and it ain't a guaranteed cash machine anymore either. That's what happens when you have some big critical and commercial successes in a new medium, and the progress of technology makes it cheaper and cheaper (if still expensive) for everybody else to jump on the band wagon.

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