Special Guest Writer: Jacob Jones
Since the dawn of movies, animation has been one of storytelling’s most essential mediums, from stitched photography to the first hand-drawn renderings of dwarves and fair women to digitally enhanced visual effects (which are, in effect, an animation unto themselves) to the movements of clay through any number of frames. Animation is even so essential to filmmaking as to render otherwise unfilmable stories accessible to a wide scope of audiences – such was the case with “Flee” (2021) during this past year’s awards season. But not since the days of “Toy Story” (1995) has this filmmaking medium taken such a gigantic leap as in December of 2018, when “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” swung onto silver screens to chronicle the ascent of one Miles Morales from a semi-known comic book/video game character to the throne of all Spider-Man movies.
If one pays close attention in the viewing of “Into the Spider-Verse,” it can be seen that the characters in each frame are moving at about half the rate that the rest of the movie is, lending the film a sort of page-turning feel, as if one is riffling through the pages of a physical comic book, each movement updating where the characters are and how they traverse the world within. This is also assisted by the textures of the frames themselves, dots and added text not only informing the world but creating it wholesale.
“Beyond its innovations in the physical renderings of its immaculate design, however, “Into the Spider-Verse” also contains one of the greatest Spider-Man stories ever put to screen, one that only could have been done in this format.”
And yet, there is not one moment of “Into the Spider-Verse” that feels as if one is slowing down to flip the page themselves. Each passing frame is as fluid as the last, and the variety of fluidity between character and background texture – while it may seem more obvious now – was a revolutionary idea that’s already begun to influence animated projects in this film’s wake (one need only see the trailer for “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” to understand this).
Beyond its innovations in the physical renderings of its immaculate design, however, “Into the Spider-Verse” also contains one of the greatest Spider-Man stories ever put to screen, one that only could have been done in this format, with this sort of freedom to include as many idiosyncratic and unusual elements as possible. Because one accepts more bizarre concepts in animated form, a talking pig, a black-and-white detective, and an anime-inspired robot not only feel plausible, but accessible. And yet, none of these characters, with all of their own backstories, quips, variety of shading and fighting styles, or hilarious jokes, overshadow our central Miles, whose inclusion is never rendered bizarre or unusual, as his colleagues’ are. The odd ones are meant to elevate his story, not overwhelm it.
It is no accident that Miles Morales is the first on-screen Black Spider-Man, nor that his is the first story to deliberately tell an audience that anyone can wear the mask. As Miles ascends in the film’s climatic shot, so too does ever marginalized, multi-cultural, or unseen person in the world. If anyone can wear the mask, so can you.