200 Words with Paul Dini #18 – Cartoon Characters Talk Too Much

June 12, 2008


I’m looking forward to Pixar’s WALL-E as it appears that the title robot has few motivations other than curiosity, loneliness and love, and expresses himself mainly through pantomime. That will be a nice change from most other contemporary cartoon characters, many of whom babble at length about their hopes and dreams in tiresome clumps of “aspirational” dialogue. For instance:

“I may only be a hillbilly tow truck, but by golly I’ve got a dream and my dream is to bond with my estranged helicopter father while a chorus of dancing lemurs sings ‘Rose of Ol’ Pawnee.’ ”

“That’s some dream, hillbilly tow truck.”

“Thanks, anxiety-ridden fish with parenting issues.”

I guess the best thing I can say about scenes like those is they give me five minutes to zip out to the candy counter for Milk Duds and not miss any action, provided the movie actually has some. Also, I don’t have to stay to see the end of the picture as I know that no matter how contrived or improbable it might be, the finale will feature a beaming tow truck flying off with his helicopter dad as lemurs dance to a hip-hop remix of “Rose of Ol’ Pawnee.”


Paul Dini is the Emmy and Eisner Award winning writer of Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Detective Comics, Countdown among many, many other things. You can find him online at either kingofbreakfast.livejournal.com or http://www.jinglebelle.com/.


  1. It is so fucking true.  Speak it Dini, speak it.

  2. Exactly! And when they’re not spelling everything out for you, they’re trying wat too hard to be snappy and clever.

  3. This columnis a boon, an absolute boon. I cannot agree enough. WALL E looks awesome, good potential for a date movie and a nice all around experience.

  4. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve recently been thinking of the cartoon and cartoon films i grew up with and how much I miss what some of those brought. Namely the films of Don Bluth. Yes those films had characters with emotional cores and problems, but I felt like they were explained as the story went on not stopping the movie dead in its tracks to TELL the audiance what the characters want. It’s the basic thing of Show don’t Tell. A great example is the Land Before time (the first one only).

     Plus I wager anyone with a heart to watch Land Before Time and not get a bit lumpy in the throat. 

  5. So … pantomime will solve this problem? I’m sure WALL-E will be great, but I’m most interested in the nomadic human population.

  6. I’m looking foward to Wall-E big time.  Not looking forward to the 8 million clones it will spawn with its success.

  7. I’m really looking forward to this movie and hope it doesn’t get lost in all the superhero fanboy love going around this summer. I totally agree with Dini on this point, too. It’s the one thing I point out to people whenever I mention the movie. I can’t wait.

  8. I agree – but remember that we are not exactly the target audience for these films.  Younger and less sophisticated audiences need to have those kind of things spelled out for them.

  9. NJBaritone – We’re not the target audience for Pixar films?  How do you figure?

  10. LOL While I steadfastly refuse to grow up, my little nephew still has more "CARS" toys than I do. 

  11. I don’t think younger audiences need things spelled out. I think they are less bothered by things being spelled out. A ton of the pixar shorts are dialogless, everything is expressed through action, body language and facial expression. Also, kids are impressed by mimes. Explain that one, doubters. Kids get things much more than people give them credit for.