Let's think of the action as an expression of the body. In his memo to Don Graham, December 23, 1935, Walt (Disney) chided us saying: "The animators go through animation and don't make the positions of the body express anything." How often do we do that? We just make 'em move and accept that as being animation. It's certainly difficult to express a positive thought when we move the character all over the screen, failing to accept the fact that such action so often destroys personality, making it impossible for the audience to appreciate and relate to our animated character's emotions.
Are we in CG animation going through our own "make 'em move all around the screen" phase? Dunno for sure, but maybe we're in a groove collectively where the characters are moving soooo much that it can be hard to dial in to who they are and what they are feeling on many occasions. I really liked Madagascar. Really neat designs, functional story, interesting characters, some good funny bits and some amazingly wild animation. Fun stuff. It looked like the animators were having a blast. But there were times in the film where I did wish things would take a breather and just BE. Robots left me with the same feeling (except the enjoying the movie part. I imagined homemade flyers all over telephone poles in NYC that read LOST: One feature film story. Black with white spots. Responds to the name Bucky. If found please call Fox).
Perhaps this hyper-kineticism of motion is just a symptom of growing pains as Cg breaks free of the constraints of lower technology rigging solutions? I got the sense that Madagascar had rigs that could do some pretty fun things deformation wise and those guys were having fun taking their new toys for a spin. I'm guilty of it as well. I tend to go for the bigger action and then dial back from there. And with every new rigging achievement for greater deformation I say Hey, let's try this move. Look man, I got me a new toy and dangit I'm gonna use that puppy. Heh. I know when we got some more stretchy squishy rigs at work we had a time of trying to figure out how to use them. Some of the first tests were pretty wild to say the least.
Maybe it's the fact that we have a whole industry of animators groping along the learning curve that represents the typical maturation of a medium. I think folks are experimenting with styles, working to establish a motion lexicon that has more entries in it besides "Pixar Style".
Perhaps another thing that may be contributing to this is cultural- Maybe we western animators are afraid to let things breathe? Miyasaki (who's film "Howl's Moving Castle" is out and I plan on seeing it) has been quoted as saying a defining aspect of his movies is that he takes care to let the characters breathe. He described it as the enjoying the empty space between the clapping of the hands. We western animators tend to like to make the noise in the clapping. More noise and faster. I think maybe we need to allow the quietness between the claps to breathe a bit. It's that contrast between action and stillness that we need. We're pretty solid on the action, but could use some more stillness.
Heck, sounds like our American society as a whole, don't it?
I think the stillness is key to how we dial into the mind and soul of the character. Maybe we can't plug into a soul that's always hopping around like a maniac all the time.
I'd be interested in your thoughts.