Friday, April 2, 2010

Animated Films: A Rant

Today I'm going to stray away from the usual rigging posts, and talk rant about something that has been bothering myself and others in this industry for a while. Ready?

Animated is NOT synonymous with "kids' move"

Where to begin...

Today, I was browsing Facebook, and noticed a post a friend of mine had made about the new Dreamworks film How to Train Your Dragon. He said he enjoyed it despite the fact that it was a kids' movie, and it was followed by a slew of comments saying things to the effect of "kids movies suck" as well as "I'm glad I'm not the only one that likes lame movies," etc. I see this every time an animated movie comes out.

Wait, what?

Sure, How To Train Your Dragon is certainly a movie that can be enjoyed by a younger crowd, anywhere from 6 upwards, but that film had some darker and emotionally heavy elements (I'm not going to post spoilers, don't worry.) Also, the demographic that that film, as well as most animated films are targeting, is around 10 - mid 40s. They want kids to want to see the film, forcing their parents to take them, but they also want the parents
to enjoy it. And, they're targeting teens as well. The DnD character? Not something a 6 year old would get. So why is this film, along with many other animated films, dumped into the category of kids' movie?

Is it because Toothless is so adorable? Image Courtesy of IMDB.

Lets reverse this for a second. Say HTTYD had been done live action with CG, and slightly less stylization. It would now be considered an action flick geared towards young men from their teens to mid twenties, as most action films are. Now, lets say Avatar had been all 3D, with a bit more stylization. Automatically, it becomes a kids movie. Don't believe me? Ferngully. There. And jeez, Ferngully had some dark elements to it. So did Watership down. But, for some reason, in this country, animated means kids.

Totally kid appropriate.


So now I'm saying animation and stylization will automatically designate something as geared towards the younger crowd. True in this country, but what about Japan? There, anime is made for all ages, from 3 - 70+, for all types of people. Granted though, there is an aspect of stylization that appeals to each age group. Shows for younger kids are often heavily stylized and cute, while shows for older groups are more "realistic," or as much so as you can get with the style of anime. That said, Japan, as well as a few other countries, does not automatically lump animated into a genre for kids only. And it didn't used to be like that here. So what happened?

There are a few things. Cartoons or heavily stylized characters are less easily sympathized with, so cartoon violence has less of an impact. Look at the roadrunner cartoons, where Wile. E. Coyote is constantly getting blown up, and more. If a show like that existed with people, and was live action, it would be pretty violent, and a lot less entertaining. This cartoon violence, which has been around since the beginning of "cartoony comics," has shaped the way this culture views animated characters. In more realistic comics, such as the superhero graphic novels, etc., the animated shows are toned down a bit. But Dark Knight, a live action movie, was pretty dark, and pretty violent. The Spiderman series, Iron Man, Dark Knight - all of those films, while aimed at a younger demographic, are by no means "kids'" movies. But if they suddenly were animated instead...Bam. Kids movie.


...Something went wrong with the special effects in Avatar.

I'm by no means saying that this is the case for all animated shows. Dora the Explorer is certainly a kids animated show, and Family Guy is an adult animated show. The Suite Life of Zack and Cody is a kids live action show, and Friends is an adult live action show. Spongebob is a show that many kids enjoy, but also many adults secretly enjoy, because there are a lot of adult elements. Granted, Spongebob has been marketed to the younger crowd, but what about older shows - Ren and Stimpy, Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill, even the Simpsons? These are all good examples of more adult shows, that have a young view base because parents (sadly) think that since they're cartoons, they're fine. How bad could a cartoon be?

The industry is trying to break out of this stereotype, but sadly, it's these ignorant parents that have caused a lot of this drawback. I'll use Pan's Labrynth as an example for this one: before Pan's Labrynth, which is primarily a live action movie, came to America, it was marketed here as a kids movie. "It's about a Faun, and a little girl, and fairy tales, and there's CG in it" was the attitude. When it was released here it was rated R, because it is a pretty violent and depressing movie. Yet when I saw it in theaters, parents had kids as young as three in there, and then promptly stormed out to complain to the theater after the scene where a guy gets his face beat in with a bottle. "This has animation! How can you expect parents to know that this film is so violent!" And it continues. 9 didn't do too well at the box office, despite the fact that it was a visually stunning movie with fantastic art direction (but a severe story and pacing problem) but also because, again, despite the PG-13 rating, people were bringing their 3 year old kids to this animated film.

Totally kid friendly.

But if a live action movie came out about a post apocalyptic world destroyed by a machine, and the only object left were puppets created by the soul of a man who mostly die horrible deaths by getting their souls sucked out anyway, I doubt we'd see many kids in the theater.

There's also a certain "guilt" factor that many adults seem to have. There are a lot of people from their teens and up who won't see an animated movie on their own for fear of being made fun of. This is true for more than movies - there are special versions of Harry Potter printed with a plain cover so people won't be embarrassed reading it in public. However, adults talk more about going to see live action movies that are considered kid ageish - Harry Potter, Twilight, etc. than they do about going to see something like Kung Fu Panda or WallE. Even a movie like Up, where the first 15 minutes were something out of a drama as opposed to a typical animated movie, was shunned for being a kids film. And it goes on. The surprising number of people who go see Hot Tub Time Machine but won't touch How to Train Your Dragon is appalling to say the least.

In the future, I really hope things change. I'm happy that the industry, for the most part, is not catering entirely to kids, and that they are trying to lure the older crowd in more and more. I hope that the trend continues until people wise up a bit.

Bottom line: give animation a break. Animated doesn't always mean kids, live action shouldn't always mean adults. Sheesh people.

/End of Rant.


  1. Great post Psy. I of course completely agree with every point.

    I really loved your proof that a stylized full 3d Avatar would be called a kids movie. Ferngully really is all you need to say.

  2. Oh yeah, this sort of mentality has a lot of history to it that's been grounded into American culture since the 1950's.

    Animation was, at one point, adult entertainment. Not adult as in sexually explicit, but adult as in littered with contemporary references kids wouldn't really get. Merry Melodies (later Loony Tunes) was full of jokes and gags that a pre-adolescent would never understand. But watch some of those old cartoons, and you'll see they were really well animated and the writing had tons of clever wit.

    Where animation started to become synonymous as 'junk for kids' was the television boom of the 50's. The movie studios were scrambling to cram the airwaves with whatever they could to fill up 24-hour time blocks, and just threw whatever they could rights to or produce quickly. And since TV was essentially free viewing, the production budgets were way lower, so you'd see a lot of kid-oriented animated shows with poorly done animation and writing. A prime example were a lot of the Hannah-Barbara cartoons like Johnny Quest and Scooby-Doo: they did a lot of rinse-repeat writing and cut tons of corners on art and animation. Adults would see these and see them for how cheaply made they were, but kids don't have as high of standards, so they lapped it up.

    It's amazing the trend hasn't really changed all that much. Kids animation is generally pretty garbage, because it can be done cheaply and poorly, and make a good profit. Why do you think a movie like G-Force can do well in the box office despite terrible critical reception? I will say, the quality of animated productions has gone way up in the last five years, and studios are now starting to put a lot of effort into the story and character development. A lot of truly great movies have come out because of it, and they'll be movies we watch well into our senior years. But the cultural bias stemming from those crap TV productions is going to take a long time to wear off.

  3. You make a very good point there, Brody. It certainly explains why animation became a more kids oriented genre.

    However, the interesting thing about now it - movies like G-Force, Alvin, etc. have GORGEOUS affects and animation. Look at the animation on The Squeakquel, and look at how much went into the effects - crazy amounts of work. So at least movies themselves are raising the bar, even if the writing is crap.

  4. Right on! As Brad Bird says all the time, animation is a medium, not a genre.

    And as you said, in Japan animation is used for a far greater range of stories than animation in the US. And I think this is one of the things that draws me to Japanese animation. And despite stereotypes (due mainly to the low budgets of so much Japanese animation) there is some seriously amazing animation done in Japan even just from an animator's standpoint.

    Also, HTTYD was an awesome movie. Though the budding romance between Hiccup and Astrid seemed obligatory and tacked on to me. But still, awesome movie.

  5. I don't care about what the "industry" thinks or care to do...I'm here to make my own art and my own shit. I mean of course I will take a job right now doing something I don't really care for like a "kids" movie project or something. but one day when I has enough money to live, I'm going to make things in the way I want...

    I didn't go into the "arts" to just obey orders at a cost of my creative freedom, the people who "runs the show" in the animated industry isn't going to run my show if I can help it

  6. Great post Jessica! Its nice to see that there are still people out there who feel the same way I do.