Over the last decade, advances in graphics hardware and the popularity of video games and Animated Movies have led to an increasing number of applications for entertainment and education that utilize the immersive nature of such environments. With the availability of affordable processing power these environments have become very complex. For the user of such an environment, a virtual camera is a window into the environment’s virtual world. Far from being a simple, static viewport into the world, however, a camera is a powerful communicative tool that visually conveys information to a viewer. Film directors and cinematographers, for instance, have successfully used cameras to tell immersive stories that appeal to vast audiences.
But are the stories better told in this way? This topic aims to examine if stories can be told more effectively through animated movies than ‘real’ films. It provides an analysis of ‘Tarzan Animated Movie 1999 (written and visual), including brief overviews on some other successful animated movies of the decade.
Narrative and Narrative Discourse
Prince (1987) defines narrative as a recounting of a sequence of events. The recounting of a sequence of events, in itself, may not be interesting. Only certain narratives actually tell an interesting story. These narratives have certain properties that distinguish them from other form or narratives, like a list of random events. Specially, story-based narratives have a plot. A plot is the list of important events that form the outline of a story, a recounting of the order of events in time that follows a certain pattern (Chatman, n.d.) . Narratology is the study of such story-based narratives in media such as text and movies. Narratologists typically divide the narrative into three levels of interpretation. These three levels are:
- Fabula: Fabula includes the story world, with all content, characters, actions, events, and settings needed to describe the rich setting of the story. Fabula includes the main events in a narrative that make up the general theme and influence the content of the narrative. Events in the fabula occur in the same chronological order in which they occurred in the story.
- Sjuzet: Sjuzet is a collection of events drawn from the fabula, selected and given an ordering by the author for communication to the viewer. Not all events from the fabula are necessarily included in the sjuzet, for instance, when their inclusion would make the story overly detailed or when their presence could be readily inferred by the viewer. The ordering of events in the sjuzet might differ from the ordering of those events in the fabula, for instance, when an author makes use of ashback or certain types of foreshadowing.
- Realization Medium: The surface-level communicative form, such as words and sentences in the textual medium that the narration takes.
The classification of narrative into these three levels is somewhat artificial. Authors often do not use three separate, clearly depended processes to create each of these levels. The construction of the sjuzet often influences the requirements of the structure of the fabula, prompting revisions to both structures. Specific properties of the medium also lead to corresponding changes to the sjuzet level.
Over the last few decades, scholars have looked at various media texts to develop an understanding of how audiences may engage with those texts queerly. While these analyses occasionally fixate on stars themselves (Dyer, 1986), the majority of these academic endeavors focus on the texts in which those stars appear, including the specific characters and narrative devices contained within those texts. Academics have also examined comic books, perhaps most infamously by psychologist Frederic Wertham (1954), who found the idyllic lifestyle of Batman and Robin to be tantamount to “a wish dream of two homosexuals living together” (p. 190). Of course, Wertham’s goal was not to celebrate subtextual queerness, but to demonize it, arguing that it was an insidious queer trap designed to attract young readers to the queer lifestyle. While scholars have presented a number of academic analyses of Superman as well, these studies have been largely non-queer in nature, although Battis (2006) provides a useful exception.
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Analysis of Tarzan
In her study of the Western, Jane Tompkins cites statistics attesting to the ubiquitous grapes which that genre has had on twentieth century popular media. In addition to the Western novels, comprising hundreds of titles and millions of copies sold, Western permeated American popular culture through “hundreds of nationally distributed features films,” through radio programs in the thirties and forties and, eventually, with TV series of the fifties and sixties. “John Wayne,” she further reminds us, “the actor whose name of synonymous with Western films, became the symbol of American masculinity from World War II to Vietnam”. Her confident conclusion, that “In one way or another Western – novels, animated movies and films – have touched the lives of virtually everyone who lived during the first three quarter of this century” provokes no serous disagreement.
But along side this most popular and indigenous of American genres arose a fictional American character which enjoyed a greater popularity than that of any one Western fictional hero; this character, moreover, had an equally ubiquitous grasp on 20th century entertainment media. In other words, to play with Tompkins’ words a little, it is also true to say that “in one way or another Tarzan–the novels and films—has touched the lives of virtually everyone who lived during the first three-quarters of this century”. Let us consider these statistics: twenty-four Tarzan novels published between 1914 and 1965, drawn from twenty-five pulp magazine stories published between 1912 and 1941; two additional Tarzan novels written for children within that same period; eight silent films, released between 1918 and 1930, followed by thirty-two more films in sound (and eventually color) from the thirties through the late sixties.
The Tarzan character populated other media as they rose to prominence, too. Since 1929, a Tarzan comic strip has been in continuous production. In the 1930s, the character aired on radio; in the 60s, he featured in a primetime TV series, and in the 70s, Tarzan joined the Saturday morning line-up of children’s cartoons. Over the next two decades, the character returned to the movie screen in three quite different film amid at teen and adult audiences, and also in an animated Disney production for children. In the 1990s, too, a cable series, The New Adventures of Tarzan, ran for a few seasons, offering sword-and-sorcery plots similar to those of the popular Xena: Warrior Princess. Finally, Tarzan and Edgar Rice Burroughs have a number of websites devoted to them; one even published weekly electronic fan magazine on the author and his character. In short, like the Western, Tarzan has inhibited the landscape of American popular culture continuously, in greater and lesser waves of intensity, throughout the twentieth-century. With that said, it is nonetheless true that the relative statures of the Western and the Tarzan stories diverged sometime around the middle of the last century. While both “genres” have dwindled in terms f quantity, the Western proper (i.e., as opposed to such later permutations as the science-fiction or space western) still exerts influence in shaping modern American masculinity of a mass audience. It remains I other words, a viable popular genera for producing and circulating America’s myths, that marriage of narrative and ideology through which a culture orders and interprets its history and in so doing helps create its identity in the present. For the most part, Tarzan no longer speaks to mainstream popular culture as a model of ideal American manhood. He may resurface as a Rambo, and remarks of the original story may continue to appear periodically, but I suspect the 1999 Disney production and the cable series have predicted the character’s fate for the twenty-first century: he represents either children’s fare or sword-and-sorcery fantasy for a limited adult audience.
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Tarzan story was created as an animated movie by a production team directed by Daniel St. Pierre. It was produced and released by Walt Disney Pictures in 1999. It is based on the story ‘Tarzan of The Apes’ by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which used 3D painting as backgrounds and rendering technique known as Deep Canvas. Deep Canvas was designed to accomplish a very loose, brushstroke-based style without hard edges, expanded to support moving objects as part of the background. The result of using this technique in Tarzan was stunning, and had paved the way for other such animated movies, such as Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet
Analysis of Superman
Over the years, Superman has appeared in comic strips, radio, television, and film, as well as at least one Broadway production. He has also been a theme, if not a character, in a number of songs (Taylor, 2006). Given his ubiquity in this regard, I focused my study on film and television manifestations of Superman since 2000, providing me with several contemporary examples of Clark Kent’s/Superman’s identity negotiation. These texts included the first seven seasons of the television series Smallville, the live action motion picture Superman Returns, and two animated motion pictures, Superman: Brainiac Attacks! and Superman: Doomsday. I began by transcribing relevant passages, tracking detailed verbal elements such as dialogue or tone, as well as the visual and/or technical elements that coincide with specific dialogue (Rose, 2000).
Superman, as both fictitious character and popular culture icon, has an undeniably complex history. While much of what contemporary consumers understand about the character is arguably rooted in recent mediated texts, an equally viable source for understanding and analyzing this figure—and using him to illustrate a new take on the closet—can be located in both the early development of Superman as well as the early years of the character’s dissemination. Here, I attempt to use Superman’s vast and nuanced mythology to illuminate the myriad channels that are open to consumers for interpretation
Technological advances in media eventually allowed Superman to move beyond the printed page. He first appeared on the radio in 1940 in The Adventures of Superman, a program that first bore the famous opening catchphrase, “Faster than an airplane, more powerful than a locomotive, impervious to bullets! Up in the sky, look! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!” (Jones, 2004, p. 157). Because the radio program supported the comic strip, and vice versa, one of Superman’s “handlers” in the early 1940s claimed that approximately 35 million people were exposed to the character in some form (p. 158). His expanded popularity at this time led to immediate licensing for toys, games, books, and cereal, with such items proving popular both in the United States and abroad (p. 158). He became extremely popular very quickly.
The character first appeared in serialized adventures on movie screens in 1948, and by 1951, Superman’s owners realized that, given his popularity, he would be a natural fit in the new medium of television. Here, George Reeves famously embodied the character in The Adventures of Superman. However, the writers downplayed some of the more sensational comic book aspects of the character in the new format. As Reeves stated at the time,
we’re all concerned with giving the kids the right kind of show. We don’t go for too much violence. …Our writers and the sponsors have children, and they are all very careful about doing things on the show that will have no adverse effect on the young audience. We even try, in our scripts, to give gentle messages of tolerance and to stress that a man’s color and race and religious beliefs should be respected. (as cited in Jones, 2004, p. 259)
The program, in a more amiable and family-friendly form than found in Superman’s comic book adventures, proved to be a success, allowing Superman’s owners to maintain his popularity despite the decrease in comic book sales that resulted from the advent of television and a public outcry against comic book violence.
During this time, the Golden Age of comic books that nurtured Superman’s popularity was rapidly concluding, partially due to Frederic Wertham’s assertion that comic books were linked to a rise in juvenile delinquency. Yet, by the early 1960s, the comic book industry had already started to rebound, in part due to a new, reimagined version of the comic book character known as The Flash. Soon, other comic book companies followed suit, and this new era, known as the Silver Age, was characterized by “superheroes becom[ing] more human and multidimensional, as a character’s particular mythos and personality became just as important as plot and action, if not more so” (Weinstein, 2006, p. 61). Superman’s popularity continued expanding beyond the comic books, with the character maintaining his presence on television, including a much publicized guest role on an episode of I Love Lucy. He was also used for product endorsements (including his own product, Superman Cheese), and he even turned up in his own Broadway production—It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman (Taylor, 2006).
Yet, in the early to mid-1970s, comic book sales once again began to decrease dramatically, as did Superman’s popularity. Aside from three animated series that were directed at children, the character had not been featured in a television series since the cancellation of The Adventures of Superman in 1958, and the last feature length motion picture based on Superman had been 1951’s Superman and the Mole Men, both of which starred George Reeves (Daniels, 1998). To ensure their character maintained some measure of popular culture appeal, his owners decided to produce a motion picture that would incorporate “the gloss, the special effects, and the star power” (Jones, 2004, p. 315) that characterized many of the well-known disaster films of the 1970s, including The Towering Inferno, thus refashioning the character for new generations of audiences. While tales of Marlon Brando’s $3 million dollar earnings (for 12 days of work) and Mario Puzo’s exorbitant salary (for an unfilmable script, no less) made news, Siegel and Shuster earned nothing for their character’s grand celluloid reintroduction (Jones, 2004).
With Superman: The Movie introducing the Man of Steel to new generations of audiences, Siegel and Shuster—at the time, both were in their sixties and plagued by financial problems and health woes—managed to strike a new deal with the film’s producers after journalists caught wind of their mistreatment decades beforehand. As a result, their names were added in the film’s credits as Superman’s creators after having been absent from myriad texts since the 1940s (Daniels, 1998). Regardless of such behind-the-scenes maneuvers, however, the film proved to be extremely popular and profitable, due in part to Christopher Reeve’s approach to the character. As he stated at the time, Reeve wanted to accentuate the character’s dual identities, arguing “that there must be some difference stylistically between Clark and Superman. Otherwise you just have a pair of glasses standing in for a character” (as cited in Daniels, 1998, p. 140). Reeve highlighted the self-assuredness of Superman and the bumbling foolishness of Clark Kent, thus bestowing the character with a fresh, readable humanity that was not as evident in his various comic strips. The success of the film prompted its producers to develop a series of sequels, all starring Christopher Reeve as the superhero (Stanley, 2006). Additionally, a 1984 spin-off film, Supergirl, attempted to further capitalize on the character’s comic book canon, but, like the later sequels, it was considerably less successful.
Around the same time that audiences eagerly consumed Superman: The Movie, the comic book industry gained increased popularity in what is now viewed as the Bronze Age. As O’Rourke (2008) points out, though, “the Golden Age is really the only age that applies to comics as a medium; the rest refer specifically to the superhero genre” (n.p., original emphasis). Either way, Superman and his comic book contemporaries once again found audiences for their comic books, this time featuring more adult subjects and themes, more depictions of culturally diverse characters, and new formats that would eventually help usher in graphic novels (Kaplan, 2008).
Since the release of the final Reeve-fronted film, the critically panned 1987 feature Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Superman has maintained his popular culture footing. Like Supergirl, the 1988-1992 series Superboy explored previously unfilmed canonical narratives illustrating lesser known aspects of Superman’s fictional existence. Producers then developed the 1993-1997 television series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and aimed it at adult women in order to use “the hero and his secret identity as an object of romantic fantasies and an embodiment of the complexities of sex and gender in the modern world” (Jones, 2004, p. 334). Ironically, Superman’s comic book scribes were hoping to publish a similar storyline that culminated in Superman marrying Lois Lane, but because of Lois and Clark’s impending production and its obvious romantic themes, the comic book writers devised a different kind of story: Superman’s demise. Even though they had to scrap their original idea, Superman’s death at the hands of Doomsday in Superman #75, titled “The Death of Superman,” broke comic book sales records and “proved to be the most widely discussed and publicized story in the history of the [comic book] medium” (Daniels, 1998, p. 167). His death, of course, was temporary, but his popularity soared.
Superman’s prominence continued into the late-1990s and early 2000s as well. A number of animated television programs and animated movies appeared, including the animated television series Superman from 1996-2000, the animated films Superman: Brainiac Attacks! in 2006 and Superman: Doomsday in 2007, and a number of animated movies and series in which Superman joins various super-friends to defeat evil villains. In 2001, producers also developed the live action television series Smallville, targeting adolescents and adults alike with the drama and action of Superman’s teenage years growing up in Smallville, Kansas. More recently, the 2006 film Superman Returns (Taylor, 2006) presented an entirely original live action narrative depicting Superman in modern day Metropolis once again contending with his arch nemesis, Lex Luthor.
Throughout the last two decades, Superman has continuously appeared in new comic book adventures, both live action and animated movies and television programs and feature films, and he has been the main character in popular culture texts as varied as literary and graphic novels, popular songs, and even video games. In fact, Superman’s omnipresence in the media has bestowed him with a rather unique honor: he is the only superhero to have received nominations for Emmy, Tony, and Academy Awards for his work on television, on Broadway, and in film, respectively (Ebenkamp, 2006). With popularity that never seems to wane, and with profits from the franchise exceeding $2-billion (Stanley, 2006), Superman appears to be a particularly enduring popular culture icon that has had few difficulties attracting an audience.
Because of Superman’s ubiquity in popular culture, I limit the analysis that follows to live-action, post-2000 mediated depictions—specifically, the television series Smallville (Gough & Millar, 2001), the motion picture Superman Returns (Adler, Peters, & Singer, 2006), and two animated features, Superman: Doomsday (Timm, Montgomery, & Vietti, 2007) and Superman: Brainiac Attacks! (Dean & Geda, 2006). This helps ensure my sample’s manageability—indeed, there are hundreds of possible Superman texts scattered across the media landscape—and it allows me to focus on those texts that are arguably more familiar to contemporary audiences. Live action and animation also help provide embodied nuance that is unavoidably limited in print depictions where such rich human traits as vocal tones and fluid expressions are constrained by two dimensionality and comic book frames. Additionally, Superman plays a central role in each of these texts, unlike in texts such as the animated series Justice League of America in which Superman’s narrative is just one of many intertwined superhero storylines. Because scholars and consumers can read “queer” in myriad ways, I focus primarily on how Clark Kent/Superman wrestles with his special brand of difference before discussing how his “closet” provides polysemic layers available for queer analysis across all of these texts.
Superman Across Four Texts
As previously noted, Smallville tells the tales of Superman’s adolescence growing up in Smallville, Kansas. This one-hour young adult serial revolves around the angstfilled teenage years of Clark Kent as he attempts to embrace “normalcy” despite the rapid development of his well-known cache of superpowers. In an attempt to distance the program from more common iterations of Superman—the creators embraced a “no flight, no tights” policy (Boedeker, 2001) in developing the program—the show focuses primarily on Clark Kent’s dilemmas with school, romance, and family. In other words, Smallville weaves a narrative that involves Clark Kent grappling with teenage identity and, as it happens, (super) difference. Yet, in order to stay true to the mythology, the writers also provide him with weekly opportunities to thwart the nefarious plans of an endless parade of wily antagonists—including his “friend” and future enemy, Lex Luthor—forcing Clark to negotiate his “super” persona alongside his “normal” adolescent identity on a weekly basis. Many of his adversaries, nicknamed “freaks of the week” (FOTW) by the show’s writers and producers (Levin, 2002), have similar powers as Clark, primarily due to genetic mutations triggered by the meteor rocks that accompanied Clark on his initial journey from Krypton. These characters are often Clark’s classmates and, thus, experience similar struggles with their identities as well.
As an episodic text, Smallville offers an extensive number of examples that deal explicitly with Clark Kent/Superman’s identity negotiation. As Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the show’s creators, point out in the seventh season DVD collection, there are 152 episodes in the first seven seasons, resulting in more than 100 hours of potentially analyzable scenes from Smallville alone. Of those installments, approximately 56 episodes involve some aspect of Clark Kent’s (or some other em[super]powered character’s) non-normative identity negotiation, with those episodes garnering a total of 118 distinct scenes and exchanges for this analysis.
If Smallville represents Superman/Clark Kent’s early years, then Superman Returns helps flesh out his adulthood—indeed, one of the character’s “latest” adventures, at least as depicted on television and in film. Superman Returns is a live action motion picture with a stand-alone narrative. Here, the character—older and wearing his familiar costume—returns from a trip to the farthest reaches of outer space only to discover that Lex Luthor has developed yet another diabolical scheme. Relationship issues emerge in this text as well, with the eventual revelation that Superman fathered a child with his now off-again romantic foil, Lois Lane. Interestingly, because openly gay director Brian Singer helmed the production, fans, studio executives, and critics all began speculating about just how queer the character would be (Butler, 2006; Jacobs, 2006) even though Singer himself referred to the character as a “Judeo-Christian allegory” (Lipsyte, 2006, p. 11a). Regardless of such speculation, not to mention this text’s tangible evidence of Superman’s heterosexual coupling, approximately nine scenes in Superman Returns involve Superman’s identity management and are productive for queer reading.
Superman: Doomsday and Superman: Brainiac Attacks! are both animated movies depicting Superman defending Metropolis from a number of evil threats. In the former, Superman must contend with Lex Luthor and Doomsday, a super-powered being who is the Man of Steel’s eventual assassin per canon. In the latter, Lex Luthor uses the computerized Kryptonian villain Brainiac to try to destroy Superman, yet with results that are expectedly unsuccessful. While both films are relatively short—by comparison, Superman Returns has a running time of 154 minutes, while the animated films each run for 75 minutes—they present five scenes apiece that are productive for queer reinterpretation.
It is hard to deny that there is a certain appeal to children’s animated movies, evident in their popularity at the box-office (Mulan grossed over $300 million worldwide during its release and Shrek over $480 million). Such animated movies, with their optimistic portrayals of the world as an ideal place, are seen as light-hearted and endearing, and are thought to be relatively innocuous (Lippi-Green 1997; Pandey 2001).
The popularity of animated movies is evident from the fact that while Disney’s Tarzan (1999) grossed $435 million dollars at the box-office worldwide, its next movie, The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), grossed just $160 million. Two major factors in Disney’s drop in popularity were the increasing popularity of computer-generated imagery (CGI) as an alternative form of animation, and rising competition with other production companies (such as Pixar and DreamWorks) that were making use of CGI for animated movies(Mitchell 2002). Children’s animated movies made after 2000 were usually animated using CGI and were often not produced by Disney exclusively.
The increasing popularity of movies made by production companies other than Disney and the increasing use of CGI animation affected the appearance of animated movies, and perhaps even affected their tone as different production companies may have distinct styles and approaches to movie-making. If indeed the appearance and tone of these movies have undergone changes, this may perhaps shed light on the finding that 7 of the 13 bad SBE-speaking characters occur in pre-2000 movies. The changes may indicate that portraying SBE speakers as “evil” represents an older idea of the “villain” popular in older, pre-2000 movies, but less popular in post-2000 movies. Moreover, 5 of the 13 characters occur in the movie Shrek (2001), a movie that could be viewed as a parody of traditional fairytales (do Rozario 2004). As a parody, Shrek contains (and then proceeds to challenge) many “classic” elements of fairytales (an issue that will be addressed again later). This may indicate, then, that a portrayal of SBE as villainous may be a classic fairytale feature. If this is indeed the case, then, taken together with the previous finding that 7 of the 13 characters appear in pre-2000 movies, this suggests that SBE as evil may represent an older, classic idea of the villain in animated movies.
Overall, I believe 2009 has been the best year for animation. For the past few years, clearly the animated movie kept raising its bar higher and higher. Some would argued, that 2009’s crop of animated movies such as The Princess and The Frogs, Up, Fantastic Mr.Fox, Coraline, 9, Cloudy with the chance of Meat balls and Ponyo, to name a few are far superior to all the fancy live-action movies that come out in the same year. This debate concludes with the released of Avatar in December 2009, which became the first film to gross at more than $2 billion, and has been nominated for nine Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. The films from the masters Pixar, Disney and Miyazaki may not be the best they have ever produced, but they are still better than most other movies made so far. Beauty and the Beast was nominated for Best picture in 1991.
Animation is the perfect way to execute Tarzan story. The character is so lithe and animal-like, it would have been nearly impossible to achieve those effects with live action. Apart from bringing the self-descriptions to live, animation enables a complete reinvention of the way Tarzan moves. This character could never effectively appear in other medium other than animation.
In my opinion, Animation is not a genre, but an artform. It is medium capable of telling a better story of any genre. Animated movies enhance plot and storylines; draws on pure emotion and effectively more thrilling than the movies of the traditional setup.