I just read the following comment in Michael Barrier’s review of Monsters vs. Aliens:
Like many other CGI films, Monsters feels unfocused; the technology has absorbed so much of the filmmakers’ attention that more important matters, like the story, have been neglected.
Comments like this bug me, as they do many people who work in the field. I don’t mean to pick on Barrier here — I like reading Barrier’s thought’s on animation, as his ideas are usually thoughtful and well articulated. I’ve read comments like this made by many other people, about any number of animated films — this comment is just the latest. Critics and passionate fans are often quick to make assumptions, based on their reaction to what they see on the screen, about what the filmmakers thought or did.
I think what Barrier meant in the above comment was something along the lines of: “The technology of the film, the rendering and stereoscopic effect and so on, were all accomplished and well done; the story, however, wasn’t to my liking.” The difference between the two comments is that the first conflates two independent processes (story and technology), and assumes that telling a satisfying story is simply a matter of desire.
If only it were so easy. But making an animated CG film isn’t a zero-sum game. Efforts put into the technical side aren’t necessarily paid for by the creative side (thought they might be if the budget is sufficiently tight). More importantly, no amount of effort guarantees a successful, satisfying story. One need not be neglectful to miss in the story department.
I had a student who recently made a similar comment: “DreamWorks doesn’t care about story as much as Pixar.” Uh, no. There’s a small army of very talented story artists and writers at DreamWorks, who work very hard to earn their pay. Both studios care very much about telling good stories, and if you judge by how many people pay to see their films, it’s hard to argue who’s been more successful.
The simple fact is, those two studios aren’t trying to tell the same kinds of stories. Here’s another way to put it — I’m not a fan of opera, and I love the blues. When I hear opera on the radio, I turn the channel. Just not my cup of tea. But as I’m turning the channel, I don’t assume that the opera singers are failed blues singers who just aren’t trying hard enough.