Friday, September 23, 2005

All are tales of human failing

It's that time again - late September - which means that the Ottawa International Animation Festival is on; and, as usual, I've done the volunteer thing in order to get a free screening pass. I've tried in recent years to pick volunteer positions that get me places otherwise not accessible to the public, and the addition of the Television Animation Conference to the program is perfect, in that regard; yesterday, I managed to catch part of a new format of pitch session while manning a sticky door in the Ch√Ęteau Laurier. The pitch I saw - Gumnutz - encapsulates, more or less, everything that could possibly be wrong with television animation. First, it was derivative. The concept of anthropomorphic animals operating a secret magical juice factory in the woods seemed a bit less strained twenty years ago with The Gummi Bears, but, hey, this pitch set the whole thing in Australia, and that could potentially overcome the copycat vibe. More problematic, however - and I was happy to see the entire panel of programming directors from Cartoon Network, Teletoon, Kids WB and Nickelodeon call them on this - was the substitution of multiethnicity (or, to be less kind, what used to be called "comic accents") for genuine characterization, in some sort of bizarre affirmative-action 'casting' policy. Yes, Australia has large Greek and Lebanese populations. So? What does it add to the character of the goofy lizard mechanic to say that he's Lebanese, or to make the mad-scientist henchman of the chief villain a turban-wearing Indian snake? I don't think the characterizations quite veered into genuinely offensive territory, though the Yiddish and aggressively fey bodybuilder characters (as Nickelodeon's Peter Gal pointed out) came awfully close. I don't blame the producers for falling so far into the trap of writing for a PC audience. After all, it's just being Tolerant and Inclusive, right? Even if it ends up being a series set in the Australian Outback with exactly four characters out of a large ensemble cast who aren't defined in terms of what kind of hyphenated-Australian they are? That, while annoying, may be a necessary evil; I know Australia has a domestic film and TV-subsidizing bureaucracy much like Canada's, and pandering to those bureaucrats for grant money may entail some degree of kowtowing to Goodthink. That's only the most significant problem, however, among an unfocused and overambitious plot arc, some surprisingly dark subject matter, and a blandly traditional design style. I'd be surprised if Gumnutz is ever produced - at least, in any form resembling the current pitch.

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