A NEW Term in Gaming + CG Animation, and VFX, starts on JANUARY 4thJANUARY 4th & JANUARY 4th!  A NEW Term in Filmmaking starts on JANUARY 5th!  FREE Counselling!  Call 022 4235 4235 to learn more


New Course

New Course

Animated Film In America Is Still A Genre, Not Yet A Medium

Published on : September 24, 2013
Animated Film In America Is Still A Genre, Not Yet A Medium

took some heat last month for discussing the glut of mid-summer animated features in terms of their box office under the sub-headline “too much animation”. It can be argued, and has been argued by the likes of Brad Bird (The Iron Giant,The Incredibles, and Ratatouille) among others that one shouldn’t discuss animated films as if they are all to be lumped together, since technically the only thing they should have in common is the fact that they are not produced via live-action.  I wish that were wholly true. But when it comes to discussing mainstream animated films in America, it is unfortunately a question of genre. Artistically and especially financially speaking, films like Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 and Turbo are indeed cut from similar cloth in that they are basically targeting the same audience. We might decry this fact, but American animated films are still considered child’s play, a notion that heavily influences who they are aimed at and how they are made.

This is absolutely not a discussion of quality.  Longtime readers know that I’m a sucker for anything approaching quality animation on the big screen. I pegged Kung Fu Panda 2 as my favorite film of 2011, while crowning Up andToy Story 3 the two years prior to that. It is no more a strike against Over the Hedge as it is an excuse for Chicken Little. But at this point in time, American animated films are strikingly similar in that they are mostly G or PG-rated comedic capers with stories and characters intended to appeal to younger moviegoers. No matter how many potent the “old man comes to terms with death” themes of Up come across or how deftly Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda 2 gets across the occurrence of genocide as a plot thread, American animated films are still specifically targeted at younger children and fashioned in a manner to appeal to that specific demographic.

Yes Pixar’s Toy Story 3 works on a whole separate, gut-wrenching level for adults, Wall-E hones in on a sense of melancholy and moral defeat that kids that even begin to appreciate, and Illumination’s Despicable Me 2 functions asa mediation on single-fatherhood. But they are still basically intended to be broadly comedic adventures with kid-pleasing elements and goofy animal/creature comic relief supporting characters. American animated films tell different stories and have differing themes, but from a financial point-of-view, they all have the same goal: making kids laugh while entertaining their parents as a bonus, with an eye towards selling toys and other related merchandise as an inevitable by-product of box office success.


As Josh Spiegel noted upon the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki (his “Pixar Perspective” series is a must-read for animation junkies and fans of quality film criticism in general even if he’s a heartless fiendwho dislikes Meet the Robinsons), American animation is indeed somewhat smothered under the culturally-accepted notion that animated films are technically childrens’ entertainment. He and other animation fans express understandable annoyance when pundits like myself treat animated films as a single genre, yet sadly that is currently the case when it comes to the American (and consequently global) box office. As much as we may adore the best of Pixar or the best of Dreamworks, they are not truly adult films, but, and this is a statement of content as opposed to a criticism, kids’ films that happen to contain adult themes under the surface.

Animated films like Dreamworks Animation’s How To Train Your Dragon, Warner Bros.’ The Iron Giant, Disney’s The Lion King, or Blue Sky’s Ice Age (all of which I consider to be pretty great movies) may have weighty themes and adult thematic elements around the edges, but they are still specifically constructed to at least be marketed as for-all-ages action-comedies, with comical supporting characters, kid-friendly plot elements, and/or narratives that can skate by with a PG at worst. There are some exceptions, usually in the harder-action entries like 20th Century Fox's  Titan A.E. or Lionsgate’s (insanely underrated) Battle For Terra, but they usually die badly at the box office while the latest funny-animal caper cleans up at the box office.

I remember watching Dreamworks’ Monsters Vs. Aliens 4.5 years ago, reveling in the film’s magnificently scaled 3D IMAX presentation but wishing the film had the courage to actually be a straight-faced aliens vs. monsters adventure film instead of a goofy comedy that gently mocked the conventions of 1950′s sci-fi films while tossing in arbitrary and self-defeating pop-culture references. The reason of course is what audience Dreamworks was targeting and the expectations that come from being a big-budget mainstream animated feature. But aside from the exorbitant cost of many higher-end animated features, there really is no reason why studios can’t truly change the expectations of mainstream animation if they so choose.

Why can’t Dreamworks’ Penguins Of Madagascarbe a gruesome R-rated Michael Mann-style crime caper? Why can’t we have straight dramas, pure human comedies, and R-rated horror tales that happen to be animated?  Why can’t animation be a medium for the kind of comic book superhero film that would be much too expensive for live-action, or for the kind of R-rated superhero tale that can’t really justify the $150 million that a live-action version might cost?  The freedom that animation offers is arguably limitless, yet so much of it, the best and the worst, is intended as childrens’ entertainment and crammed into the same “kid-friendly and broadly comedic adventure” box. But for the moment, animation in America is indeed a genre, since most American animated films target the same audience with many of the same tools.

The same audience that saw Dreamworks’ Turbo is the same audience that Disney hoped would see Planes, which is the same audience that Sony SNE -1.22% hoped would see The Smurfs 2, all within the same month.  That same audience will hopefully flock to Sony’s Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 just as they flocked to Dreamworks’ The Croods earlier this year while flocked in massive numbers to Pixar’s Monsters University and Universal’s Despicable Me 2. So when we say that this summer had too much animation, what we mean is that this summer had too many animated films rated G or PG that contained broadly comic adventures specifically aimed at kids between 4 and 12 and/or their parents with time to kill and money to spend. In other words, there was too many mainstream American animated features during the same season.

Until animation truly diversifies itself, until films like Watership DownCool WorldWaking Life, and arguably Rango become at least a little more commonplace, we must unfortunately discuss the financial aspects, if not artistic aspects as well, of animated films as a genre, rather than merely a medium to tell all different kinds of stories in all different kinds of genres. Those who produce animated art and those who enjoy animated art don’t have to like it. I don’t like it much either, and we can encourage a change, but it’s the truth as of today. Until we have a wide variety of American animated films being produced for mass consumption, in different genres and aimed at different audiences, American animation is unfortunately a category unto itself. It arguably shouldn’t be the case and certainly does not have to be the case, but for now, it most certainly is the case. click here

2013 Forbes.com LLC™   All Rights Reserved

© Copyright 2022 FX School. All Rights Reserved.

Home  |  Privacy Policy  |  Terms of Use