A Year in Shorts Day 198: "Technological Threat"
A while back we discussed Tin Toy, the Oscar-winning Pixar short that was as revolutionary as it was completely terrifying. (Don’t worry, I won’t be forcing you to look at that baby GIF again.) The success of Tin Toy heralded the rapidly approaching era of Pixar domination, and, by extension, computer animation as a whole. But one short dealt with that idea a bit more directly, and it’s the subject of today’s post- 1988’s Technological Threat.
Directed by Bill Kroyer, Technological Threat tells the story of a wolf working in an office whose entire staff is slowly replaced by robots. Desperate to keep his job, one lone wolf starts using cartoon hijinks to fight back. It is a very simple, old school kind of formula, and that's absolutely by design. You see, Technological Threat was made in the early days of computer animation; the robots and backgrounds are all CGI, overseen by the film's technical director and cowriter, Bill Jennings. But the animals working in the office were all drawn by hand. I don't think it takes much effort to figure out the metaphor here- computer animation was seen as a threat to hand drawn animation, and this short reflects that early anxiety. And unfortunately in the years since, those fears have often proven to be pretty valid!
Even without the metatextual angle, Technological Threat works as a fun and fast-paced cartoon. But that extra bit of information really enhances the entire short beyond something that's just entertaining. Suddenly, the classic cartoon violence isn't just slapstick for the sake of it; it's a bit of social commentary! And it must be said that the decision to use robots was a wise one. Not just for metaphorical reasons; computer animation was really not at a point where you wanted to attempt live people. For that reason alone, I have to give this short the edge over Tin Toy.
But apparently I'm in the minority on this one, as Tin Toy won the Oscar instead. And it's really not surprising; computer animation was the new shiny toy on the block. (Plus, considering the shit that beat Luxo Jr., I guess the Academy really owed Pixar a makeup Oscar.) And luckily, despite the short's fears, hand drawn animation didn't die completely. It may not be as common as it once was, but there still countless artists out there showing it still can be done. And, on occasion, they even win an Oscar for it.
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