I have to get this out because I feel like this stereotype is going on for a long time and with the emerging underlying themes regarding social issues in current Disney animated films and the growing reputation of Pixar films as more than just kids’ movies, I just have to create a post regarding this issue in my blog.
When we’re kids, all the movies we were allowed to see were kid shows and films that are made specifically for our age then. And then growing up, watching these movies would result to encountering people asking you, “Aren’t you too old to watch this show?” We have this mindset that animation can never be meant for adults and can never be mature. And that seems so demeaning to me.
Just because some adults don’t understand the appeal of animated films and shows, they feel the need to demean and judge people who enjoy them. But wait, there’s this exception, a supposedly important criterion on whether you are ‘too old’ to watch a certain show: is there obvious adult elements in it?
Animation studios have tried out putting adult elements in their animated films. When Shrek was released, it was successful especially to adult audiences, making the film a benchmark for animated films that is aimed for older audiences with their adult humor and pop culture references–things kids won’t be able to understand yet.
But even that sponge was completely squeezed out dry when the subsequent films aiming to appeal the same audiences as Shrek didn’t become commercially and even critically successful as the film. Turns out, trying to be more adult made the animated films more immature and childish.
That said, I don’t think ‘adult elements’ is necessary for animated films to be digestible to adults too. There are other ways for animated studios to move adult audiences. Pixar Animation Studios and Studio Ghibli produce films that are great examples to this.
Ever since its foundation and its first feature film, Toy Story, Pixar has never failed to produce amazing films, feature or short. There’s always that underlying theme that strikes the emotional cords of many adults. A layer underneath reminiscing our nostalgic childhood and the good humor. They always take one aspect of animation to a whole new level. And I’m always excited to what they have in store for us.
Wall-E, for example, hardly has any dialogues in most of the film but Pixar’s storytelling way made it understandable and they were able to convey what they wanted to tell their audiences. You can always guarantee that there is much more to Pixar films than their feel-good child-appealing humor which is why they also appeal to adults. But this is not something they give theirselves the entire credit to. Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer, John Lasseter admitted that whenever they’re stuck on something they take a break and watch one of Hayao Miyazaki’s films to be inspired.
Hayao Miyazaki, one of the founders of Studio Ghibli, is best known for his critically acclaimed works such as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle and many more. He usually relies on great landscape and his intuition rather than a storyboard to create scenes that could connect to its audiences emotionally.
The subtle way to which he guides the audiences of his films to learn the morals themselves while giving an entertaining story has always been something that made every one in the film industry respect Hayao Miyazaki and make him a great influence. Many of Pixar’s films have this element in their features and shorts. And Disney films are slowly incorporating it into theirs. Frozen teaches us how you can always cultivate love from your family and not just to some prince (or princess) charming. This year’s Zootopia in particular was one of the best movies I’ve seen this year especially with how it dealt with current social issues that we have in our world today. But I’ll save all that nerdy yammers for another post.
That said, animated studios are trying their best to appeal to more audiences and be taken more seriously and a subtle layer of something only adults can understand underneath that parents-approved entertainment. But that won’t happen unless you look at animated films in a different perspective. Here’s how you can start.
Animation is a medium; not a genre.
It will always be different from live-action because animation use hand-drawn or computer illustrations. One should not think of animation as a genre because it’s not. It’s only a way for filmmakers using this specific medium to create a compelling story.
There are things in a story that will not be made possible with live-action and thus, they are told through animation. But that does not make the story told through this fashion “for kids only”.