Call it a Toontown conspiracy, perhaps, but the movies this summer seem to have gone cartoon crazy. No less than five current or recent features, in fact, use animation in their main titles (the initial credits).
Taken together, City Slickers (a cowboy lassoing the titles), Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (a marauding nanny), Drop Dead Fred (stick figures come to life), Oscar (an animated puppet rendition of The Barber of Seville), and Soapdish (splashy pop art replete with bubbles that spell the film’s name) represent the biggest draw of animated titles in almost 30 years.
”It’s most unusual,” says Wayne Fitzgerald, one of Hollywood’s top title designers, who recruited animator Bob Kurtz for Slickers‘ cow-guy-with-a-lariat sequence. The proliferation of cartoon titles is probably a result of animation’s resurgence in general, as Hollywood studios have reestablished their cartoon shops and the influence of TV’s Simpsons stretches far and wide.
Shamus Culhane, the veteran animator and author of Animation From Script to Screen, dates the cartoon title back to Michael Todd’s 1956 classic, Around the World in 80 Days. Other late ’50s-early ’60s pics — from Sean Connery’s 007 adventures to Rock Hudson-Doris Day romps to The Parent Trap — followed that lead.
But these days, such titles cost ”at least five times as much as you’d normally spend,” says Fitzgerald. Brian Gaidry, the animation director of Don’t Tell Mom, says the opening took three months to complete, even though the budget prohibited him from exceeding half a minute of animation. This resulted in an awkward shift to live action midway through the credits. Oops, don’t tell the producers the babysitter’s too expensive.