Cartoons.

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It hurts like a cracked tooth.
I don’t like them much. And I never eat candy. Cheap animation used to cripple me as a kid. My imagination was forever sent away on crutches. Projects like Christmas Comes to Pac-Land and Fonzie’s Time Traveling Machine had me reeling backwards faster than a cracked tooth. Those hand-scribbled images shattered the root, and I could successfully stick my tongue underneath the exposed cavity. Sometimes the lead filling would pop out, and, oh! The pain. Experiencing animation on the upscale of my Gen-X childhood was excruciating and quite comparable to having a respiratory disease caused by some creeping virus. Call it: Saturday Morning Rubella.

Also embedded deep in my chest is an immoderate disdain for robots. They are taking over the world, and that’s the reason I declined to sign up for direct deposit. Blame Andy Kaufman and Heartbeeps. The cheapness of its bolt-like ways ruined and ruptured that soft spot on top of my head. Thing is, Kaufman’s Val and Bernadette Peters’ Aqua looked like robots. You could tell they were made of metal and Capri Sun pouches. The same can be said for C3PO and R2D2. It’s 1978. You wouldn’t have found yourself in the mall, tripping over a trashcan shaped droid, questioning the humanity of it. There’s no possible way you’d mistake it for a little kid or a midget.

No way.

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Pretending to be human.
Then comes Haley Joel Osment, Asimo, and Hexa. These living, breathing synthetic organisms don’t quite look human, but they are striving to achieve cell-laden skin. And a free thinking intellectual brain chip. It’s just like what happened in the Matrix. Robots are going to keep expanding and growing until we can’t differentiate between them and Ted Danson’s bald spot. Very soon, within our lifetime, they’ll have us growing out our Smith-stache, rapping our own Android-killin’ theme song, and screaming, “Oh, Hell No!"

The same thing is congruently happening with animated projects. Cartoons used to be just that. Cartoons. Now, they are being photo-realistically rendered for our feigned enjoyment. Cartoons don’t want to be cartoons anymore. They want to be “real” movies. Call it, “The Pinocchio Syndrome.” The movement has been moving like a freight train. We can’t possibly stop it. This Pixel Expressionism Period in Art History is comparable to the Harlem Renaissance movement.

It’s not going anywhere. It’s here to stay. It’s popular, like Classical Chinese Black Mountain Surrealism. More importantly, it’s commercially empowering and lucrative. Especially for it’s creators; something Neo-Plasticism never managed to be. At one point, certain advocates for the CGI society of anachronisms speculated that our need for flesh and blood actors would diminish. Then along came a little something called Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. And it proved them all wrong. Al Pacino’s S1M-One helped to drive that nail home. Actors are, and always will be, a needed commodity. Even when creating a completely facsimiled theatrical environment.

But guess what? Not too many actors will be needed. Actually, we will only need a handful, as Robert Zemekis’ new wonderwork proves. Yes, in The Polar Express, Tom Hanks damn near plays every character. Mike Myers has it. Eddie Murphy has it. And now, too, so does Tom Hanks. This entrenched bone hubris that has driven them to play every single oddball in any given project that comes their way. I didn’t think Tom would do it to us. I thought Mr. Hanks had some manners. The first sign was Cast Away, also directed by Zemekis. What kind of asshole presumes that people only want to watch them on screen? Acting against themselves? The types of assholes that made Cast Away and The Polar Express. That’s who.

Isn’t Tom Hanks supposed to be Mr. Nice Guy? He basically told us, the audience, that every single actor he has ever worked with is beneath him. A sham. “See this Volleyball?” He held it up in our illuminated faces. “I can get a better performance out of this husk of rubber than I could ever get out of Meg Ryan. Watch me emote.” That’s what Wilson was. A metaphorical representation of every single thespian Hanks has ever had to work with. And now he’s going on to prove that motion by expanding, overtaking and staking a heart into every onscreen persona that comes his way. “No more co-stars for me. F*ck them. I don’t need them. I can only act opposite myself, for I am the only actor with the ability to out-act myself.”

I might be able to forgive him that grievance. Hanks has been, and always will be, one of my all time favorite actors. But then he goes and buys the rights to a very secular book. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I think The Passion of the Christ is one of the best movies of the year. More so for its artistry than anything else…

The thing is, that movie was about pain and suffering. It wasn’t this, “Hey, kids, climb on board and lets have fun!” endeavor. It wasn’t about exclusion. Here, we have this awesome ride. But certain individuals aren’t asked to hop on board. Why? Because of their certified religious beliefs. Weird, since this film’s underlining theme seems to be about the conscious exception of belief as a founding part of childhood.

The Polar Express. They should have just called it The Auschwitz Express, because it’s headed to the North Pole and Jewish kids aren’t allowed. Neither are Muslims. Atheists. Buddhists. Or Scientologists. “Get off this train, Jew Boy!” Hanks, as the Conductor, might as well yell. The child’s not going to care about who or what Santa Claus is anyway, right? Just as some small Christian fifth grader isn’t going to care who the Hell the Maccabees are. This trip is strictly for anti-Semites. Where is the Menorah Tram? Or the Kurban Bayram Amtrak? Or the Publications Day Subway? Nowhere near our precious silver screens. I’ll tell you!

Psyche!

Yeah, like I care. F*ck the Jews. F*ck the Buddists. And F*ck everyone else. This here cartoon, trying to pass itself off as a real living, breathing movie, is destined to become a holiday classic. Roger Ebert said so. Just like he did about so many films before it. (Miracle on 34th Street, Elf, Die Hard, Bad Santa, The Grinch, Gremlins, I could go on for days…)

I mean, what makes a true holiday classic? One simple word: Christmas. It’s a nine-letter formula that’s as easy as pie. And tastes even better. Never, in the history of cinema, has their been a December landmark that was about anything other than Santa’s most cherished celebration. Anything different is a non-existent list.

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Pac-Man Isn't afraid to embrace his back alley animation

heritage.

8 Crazy Nights? Sure, a single viewing could have defeated the Hellenists, but that certainly does not make it a classic movie. It’s a wretched stretch of poopstink that, while it looks like a cartoon, failed to ignite the traditionalists. And it alienated a huge portion of Sandler’s fan base. Fiddler on the Roof is a popular December rental, but lets face it…It’s not exactly a celebration of any particular Holiday. The only other widely recognized slice of Chanukah entertainment is a Rugrats Nickelodeon Special.

Hmm.

That sure doesn’t say much. And here I thought this industry was being run by the Jews. I guess they hate the holidays. There are a few Buddhism flicks, but, for the most part, they’re in another language and unsubtitled. All the Scientologists of the world can count their blessings. At least they have Battlefield Earth: The Saga of the Year 3000.

The sad thing is, I honestly don’t care. If there were a really good holiday movie based on a faith that excludes the popularity of Saint Nick, I’d probably never go out of my way to see it. It wouldn’t interest me. You see, the thing is, Christianity is one of the few faiths that took the opportunity and time to create a fictional character loved by all. Kris Kringle? He’s a classic, like Godzilla, and he can inhibit thousands of stories. Who wants to sit on L. Ron Hubbard’s knee? Not me.

Really…

I genuinely like Christmas stories. They are a movie house staple, and this year is ushering more than a few into the Maitreyaplex. Most of these new projects look like dookets simmering on a craps tablet (Christmas with the Kranks, anyone?). But, quite honestly, I think the critics might be right…

The Polar Express does stands alone as a neo-classic. It’s sure to be around for decades. And, I liked it. I didn’t love it. But it’s tolerable in a quaint, heartwarming way. That is, If you can get past the look of the thing. It’s like an African-American child that refuses to be “down” with his heritage. He doesn’t want to be black. As much as this doesn’t want to be a “cartoon.” Sadly, that’s exactly what it is. And more than anything, it’s flesh and blood posturing excels at creeping me out.

It’s given me nightmares.

Some of the imagery in this flick is horrifying. And disturbing. The little black girl looks like Gollum. And Eddie Deezen’s adult voice coming out of a small child’s mouth is enough to petrify the spine of any moviegoer. I had a hard time overlooking this. It ate into my overall enjoyment.

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Knows he's a robot.
Like many Robert Zemekis films as of late, he has a hard time keeping the lag out of the storyline. There are boring stretches here that are as quiet and uneventful as those 30-odd minutes in Cast Away, where there’s absolutely no dialogue. And no soundtrack music. Just the wisp of the wind and the rush of a rolling wave. That was done in an, “Oh, neat, look at me trying something new” type way that overlooked the ability to be worth watching. The whole opening of The Polar Express is like that. It’s quiet and unmoving. It lingers on every day occurrences that are supposed to have us in awe and wonder. Why? Because these pragmatic elbow bends and cheek muscle scrunches are being done with a hand-painted technique. Wow, watch that ticket flit about the sky like a real paper punch card (as Blake Snyder pointed out, this is a direct homage to the feather in Forrest Gump).

Whooptie-doo.

I’ve seen Orcs charge headfirst into battle. I’ve seen the more obvious parts of Star Wars. I know what can be done with this technology. Showing off at this juncture is a moot point. For the first twenty minutes, I just sat there, staring at the screen, not caring one bit. “Experience the Magic…Of Boredom.”

It was the hangover. It was killing my will to stay satiated by this erstwhile motion capture experiment. I didn’t know what was going on. Did this story have a point? It’s just a bunch of kids on a train. Where the f*ck are they going?

Inches away from falling into a coma, the film must have realized my twittering synapses. Suddenly and without warning, this army of computerized, mustachioed men barges into the baggage claim and start singing about Hot Chocolate. This one scene nearly lodged me out of my hard seat. It scared the beejezus out of me. These animatronic Pixeled creations look as if they were conjured up in the mind of Satan himself. I was horror-struck. Yikes.

Still, this scene came as a lively overture. And the rest of The Polar Express hums at an enlightened speed. Good for it. That’s what it needed.

I stayed awake for the duration of the film.

I guess, what I’m trying to say is, even though it sidesteps a plethora of faiths for its own mere adulated joy, The Polar Express has me accepting and coming to terms with cartoons. Like I said, I’ve never really been a fan of the genre. To date, my favorite animated film is Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure. It scared me as a child. That edible revulsion stuck with me into adulthood. This thing, here? It’s equally traumatic. And I’d like to call it out as genius, only because it, too, has rubber-cemented impossibly horrible images into the deep, dark recesses of my brain.

Oh, and also because it re-teams Peter Scolari with Tom Hanks in a buddy role that could be seen as a precursor to them starring together in Bosom Buddies. Knowing that these small children will grow up to be two of the ugliest transvestites television has ever seen left a smile on my face hours after leaving the theater.

So, Cartoons want to be Live Action now? If they’re as cool and creepy as Zemekis’ uber-weird The Polar Express, I might be okay with that.

Maybe.

But Robert, if you ever make another film starring Jodie Foster, you’re going to have me yelling, “I hate you. And your stupid movie.”

You f*cking cocksucker.

Cartoons are Evil. And I hate them.

Yes. I do.