Thursday, November 6, 2014

"You Will Never Hear An Animated Character Asking For More Money"

(That’s just an eye-catching title.  I will not be talking about that.  Though I shall remain identifiably in the neighborhood.  There was in fact an actor on one of my shows who continually pestered me, not for more money, but for more lines.  He was eleven.  At the time, it did not cross my mind to wish I had written an animated version of the show.  I did, however, have regrets about giving the protagonist and his wife on that series children.)

A while back, I had mentioned a situation on Major Dad, which took place after my full time participation on the show ended, though I remained on board peripherally as a consultant.

After I left, the show’s star (and contractual Executive Producer) began to exert an increased influence on my replacement, the result being that, instead of the once carefully calibrated adversarialism I had crafted into the series’ concept (between the no-nonsense Major and his progressive-thinking new wife), a structural imbalance had developed, wherein the Major’s character began to noticeably (and deleteriously to the concept’s assiduous duality) dominate.  This deviate from the original template led to a meeting which I was invited to attend, during which the actress portraying the wife on the series complained,

“What happened to my character?”

My point today is:

A confrontation of this nature can never occur when characters on the series are animated.

Think about the things… wait.  One more thing about Major Dad.  This recollection  just popped into my mind.

This is not a criticism; it appears to be human nature.  The star of the show, in this case an actor portraying a Major in the Marine Corps, begins to believe that, more than just playing a role in a sitcom, he is the personal standard bearer for “Macho Mankind Throughout the Ages.”

This metamorphosis is set off when it gets back to the star of the show (as it did via well-meaning troublemakers) that simply by permitting an equality demanded in the show’s concept, he is “allowing that woman to walk all over you.”  Such howling critiques behooves the star of the show to take ameliorative action, in the form of a demand (either hinted or overt) that his character inevitably comes out on top and is never required to listen. 

I am sure this happens with female stars of the show as well.  (Rosanne, Grace Under Fire and Cybil spring readily to mind.)  “Throwing your weight around” is hardly “gender specific.”  But the behavior seemed, at least when I was working, to occur more frequently with men.

They want to continually appear manly. 

It is possible that this is not a concern for them personally.  But they go to a party or a bar, and they hear, “You’re a big ‘girly-man’ on that show”, and you can bet, there will be a subsequent meeting and, backed by belligerence, “juice” and/or muscle, an adjustment. 

And from there on, they’re Superman.

Animated characters, by contrast, can be anything the writers want them to be.  Why?  Because they are too non-existent to fight back.  As a result, and to the liberation of the writers, barring the intrusions of the censors, the sky is creatively the limit.

This, for me, explains why I have gotten more big laughs out of Family Guy than I have from any live action comedy series.  With the notable exception of Seinfeld, wherein, unlike other comedies populated by human beings, the actors (ostensibly following the lead of the show’s co-creator Larry David) appear to be willing to say anything. 

(NOTE:  See also yesterday’s post wherein I argue that certain behaviors – and let me now add attitudes – are more acceptable coming from drawn characters than from real life human beings.)

I don’t know if you know Family Guy.  Or The Simpsons, in which the male lead character is virtually identical.  But imagine either of them demanding a meeting with the show runner, at which they angrily complain,

I do not want to be stupid anymore.  I want to be drawn taller, thinner, and with more hair.  I want some legitimate accomplishments, to be a role model my children on the show can look up to.  I want to be respected by men and attractive to beautiful women.  And I refuse to any longer be sexist, racist or have the reasoning power of a mosquito.  Oh, yeah, and I want more money.

“These are my demands.  And if they are not met, I’m walking.”

You know what would happen if they did that?  This is not my idea.  I vaguely recall it from a cartoon in which, in an anthropomorphic switcheroo, Daffy Duck or someone of equal animated loftiness stomps into his boss’s office to complain. 

“No more thpeech impedimenths!” or some such demand.

At the end of his tirade, I recall an unseen “Authority Figure” wielding an enormous eraser and, little by little, he erases the suddenly mortified and remorseful – Daffy Duck into oblivion. 

It may be mean-spirited, but that image of a demanding actor being rubbed off the page up to his beak – and perhaps even further – brings an appreciative upcurl to the corners of my mouth.

It is so much easier when your personal irritants are erasable.

3 comments: said...

I think the scene you're thinking of is at the beginning of WH FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? , where the animated baby finishes his scene, whips out a cigar, bitches a bunch about his pay and working conditions, and stomps off to his trailer.


Stef said...

No, it was Daffy doing the complaining, and in the end, when we pull out from the scene of the hand wielding the pencil that is erasing him, we see the artist is Bugs Bunny. I remember it well

Rebecca said...

Stef is correct, it is Daffy complaining and Bugs turns out to be the artist. The cartoon is "Duck Amuck."