2004 Year in Review
Fred Patten | The most interesting—and the best—animation productions that I saw during 2004 were The Incredibles and Shrek 2. Any year with those two would have to be a landmark in quality. The Incredibles proves the value of a strong story and good characterization above all else, and that it is not necessary for CGI animation to be photo-realistic to be convincingly realistic emotionally. Shrek 2's animation of Donkey and Puss in Boots proved that CGI has reached the level of being able to create photo-realistically convincing anthropomorphized animals (even if Stuart Little 1 and 2 already made that point). Japan's Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence features excellent eye-candy CGI but a plot that is too coldly cerebral. Its TV counterpart, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, although less-impressively animated, has a more emotionally satisfying human-interest–driven story. Korea's Wonderful Days/Sky Blue has a beautiful visual composite of CGI backgrounds and 2D animation over live action miniature sets. But the Metropolis-derived plot—let's kill all the striking workers to increase production  (?!?)—proves again the need for a convincing story and characters with some emotional depth. The latter is also what Shark Tale lacked; despite its visual quality, I could never care for it more than "ho-hum."

Father of the Pride, although flawed, at least is an encouraging sign that higher quality CGI will become more widespread in TV productions. Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends and the spread of Flash animation show that imaginative limited animation can still stand out over unimaginative higher-quality animation.

The most interesting animation of 2004 that I have not seen yet but am looking forward to is Hayao Miyazaki's new feature, Howl's Moving Castle, released November 20 in Japan. Distributor Toho reports that its opening two-day box-office topped the previous record-setter, Miyazaki's Spirited Away, by a whopping 40%! I certainly hope that it will get an American release during 2005.
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