VIDEO: Why is western animation just for kids?

For all the adults and teenagers who have walked into a theater of toddlers and tried to enjoy a movie while feeling judged by their parents: this editorial is for you!

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  • detroitmechworks

    Interesting points, but…

    The problem is that overall animated
    film is seen as “Not Serious.” This is mirrored in the VO actors pay
    scales as opposed to the ludicrously high salaries of celebrity actors.
    Which is insane, considering the raw talent of many VO actors is far
    superior to that of their “Live Action” counterparts.

    the films are seen as “Disposable”, stuff to be added to the “Classics”
    collection if it hits, and to be conveniently ignored if it doesn’t hit
    the sweet spot.

    One final problem is the association with
    “Animation for Adults” with pornography. This unfortunately has to do
    with relentless failure to do mature themes without going as extreme as
    possible because of the “Hung for a sheep, hung for a goat” mentality.
    An example of this is the film “Heavy Metal” which had great potential
    as an exploration of more adult oriented stories, but ended up being
    about breasts the size of Nicaragua.

    I think Phil
    Foglio said it best when he said (Paraphrasing), sometimes when you’re
    trying to push the limits, you lose track of story with the urge to do
    EVERYTHING you possibly can.

    • $36060516

      I likes me some Phil Foglio.

      • Thomas Stockel

        Oh yes. I remember way, way back in the day when he used to have a comic strip in Dragon Magazine, What’s New With Phil & Dixie. Each installment would discuss Dungeons & Dragons game mechanics and the running gag involved the “sex and D&D” installment they never got around to doing.

        And of course there is Girl Genius, quite possibly the greatest web comic of all time. Yes, Phil Foglio is all kinds of awesome.

    • Joseph Patrick

      I’m sorry I didn’t respond earlier. I love feedback, and want to get to as many as I can.

      On a side note, I also think it’s pretty pathetic that most producers believe star-power can put butts into seats when it comes to animated movies. Just to show how absurd it is, Al Pacino left his role as El Macho in Despicable Me 2… 6 months prior to the film getting released! They get Benjamin Bratt to re-dub the character in Post, but didn’t manage to change most of the
      posters which still had Pacino’s name attached to it.

      I agree, it’s easier to produce a popular-generalized film; especially in a medium that takes alot of work in pre-production. It’s why CG tends to be the more economic choice of spewing out these films, which in effect can be detrimental. It’s why I’m never gung-ho when a Dreamworks movie comes out since they’re spitting out 2-3 animated movies a year. To bring up last year in animation, most people are only going to think of Frozen. Still shows how the balance is so off-kiltered between family and kids movies that you’d want at least a couple of adult-movies to bring it into balance.

      This is also part of the problem I felt when bringing up “Eight Crazy Nights.” When making an animated film aimed for adults, the film-makers confuse it for “making it sexier or bloodier” versus telling a good-appropriate story. What worked about “Heavy Traffic” that I feel gave the movie more of an edge over the other Bakshi movies is that its’ a reflective look at urban culture in 70s’ New York that uses cartoon symbolism to express the manic nature of living through it. For me, it’s the right balance versus what most Bakshi followed more exploitation for the sake of. Which is to say I’m still looking forward to his new short, “Last Days at Coney Island.”

  • John Wilson

    I had this idea for a live action/anime Roger Rabbit typo movie. The characters won’t point out the anime characters and things. It would just be a heavy stylistic movie with Christian themes to bring people in. It would either be a movie like “Spring breakers” or an action movie. Hopefully, it would shake up things:)

    • E.Buzz Miller

      Like Monkey Bone or Cool World?

    • Joseph Patrick

      As long as the story supports the technique, I don’t see why not! 😀

  • E.Buzz Miller

    Would Wall-E count as adult? I mean it has kid appeal for sure, but it also is mostly a pointed environmental film with a lot more strictly adult themes than most Pixar. It has adventure and jokes, but it’s fairly serious stuff.
    One could also argue Toy Story 3 wasn’t only for kids at that point in the franchise.
    But you are right, the really successful stuff tries and almost hide it behind something or in genre. The Incredibles is about a middle age crisis and arguably infidelity (it doesn’t say so, but that’s the subtext), but it still is a superhero film. Same with Up.

    There’s a definite stigma among some regarding animation as ‘not serious’ or for kids. I’ve had friends who refuse to take them seriously, and it’s blinkered thinking.
    I’d maybe look at which successful western films come from. There’s a kind of monopoly almost on successful box office animation, and it’s from studios, or affiliated with studios, who are primarily kids orientated.

    Is it that they’re scared of rocking the boat away from what they know works? I’d think so, and especially given the process of good animation of the Dreamworks/Pixar style is a long and arduous, not to mention expensive endeavor (the average Pixar costs 180 million, they’re not going to take too many risks with that overhead).
    There needs to be one that breaks that mold for it to be considered ‘safe’ probably, because at the moment most adult animation that’s not genre based seems relegated to the art house movie circuit, where most people first hear of them at the Academy Awards.

  • I suspect that in the West at least, only cartoonish looking movies/shows counts as animated in most peoples eyes, heavily CGI shows/movies that tries to look ‘real-life’ is perceived as live-action by the mainstream.

    • Joseph Patrick

      I have a feeling that’s what the most recent trend is showing with the CG-heavy movies coming out; as well as what I felt I covered in my last editorial. It will probably come years into the future when most historians will equate “Avatar” to being as animated as “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” but I digress.

  • Gallen_Dugall

    Before I watch I’ll just throw out my two cents and say “personal identity politics” which is to say that people avoid the reality of the horrible emptiness of their lives by celebrating and embracing things that appeal to their idea of what they want others to think of them while rejecting and disparaging things that do not. Of course “popularly accepted stereotypes” are the scaffolding that this tapestry of lies hangs on. Underneath the lie they present to the world as themselves the horrible nothingness gradually consumes their withered humanity.

    Or maybe I’m just depressed today. I’ll watch your video now.

    • Gallen_Dugall

      You make some good points top which I add that family films make a lot of money so saying something is a kids film is at least in part marketing voodoo. I’d also add that there’s no way that the live action Superman/Batman film is going to be as good as “The World’s Finest” animated feature and yet people look at live action as some ultimate goal – dismissing the animated medium almost entirely. The Avengers film (while an achievement) was not as good as any given arc in Earth’s Mightiest Heroes let alone Young Justice. Frankly I find myself more interested in the Star Wars Rebels animated series than I am in Episode VII.
      Also I’ll point to the lamentably low esteem in which motion capture actors and voice actors are held by the industry itself has at least something to do with how the masses view those arts.

      • And there’s no freaking way that said animated World’s Finest movie will be released to theaters (people will only pay to see a superhero movie made live action, not animated, since the word will be ‘I can see this on TV’), so you can forget it.

  • Alexa

    While this is a tv show, but I just finally watched and finished all of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and I feel that the show was a great example of mixing adult themes, but still being ok for kids to watch. It had a complex storyline, with complex characters all taking place in a complex and extremely interesting environment. Sure there were jokes, and yes some did feel forced at times, but the comedy didn’t get in the way of the serious and dramatic moments which could get pretty adult at times since they dealt with death, sacrifice, and it was one of those rare kid shows that didn’t have things as just black and white moral wise. I generally wish studios would quit treating animation as a way for them to show extremely dumb stories to kids, when this show showed that this medium doesn’t have to be so juvenile.

  • Muthsarah

    Joey, all I got is two questions:

    1. Have you ever actually felt judged by parents when paying money to come into a theatre to see an animated film? I’ve more than once been tempted to go out into the lobby, buy a large soda, then throw it at parents JUST for bringing disruptive children into said theatre without even attempting to keep them quiet for the greater good of the planet. If I ever felt they were ALSO giving me crap just for being there….well….I guess it’s SLIGHTLY more likely I woulda actually done that….which I’ve yet to have actually done. But still. **** those parents.

    2. All Hollywood cares about is the box office; I think we all understand that. So why is it that, just looking at it from a box office angle, animated movies are still marketed as kids’ stuff, when the most-profitable movies tend to be marketed as PG-13 or as cheapie-Rs? And for that matter, why are CGI films so much more profitable than traditionally-animated ones? Has there ever been a $500 million dollar-earning 2D animated film? Is it just a cost-balance analysis (if CGI is so much cheaper so long as you’re already in the $100+ million range), or do you think the public at large genuinely prefers to see CGI films? And if the latter, do you think they’re in any way wrong, mislead, or a threat to their own best interests, for doing that? Same for celebrity casting. Why do you think that works? And do you think it’s a bad thing for studios to pimp out celebrity voices and leave professional, talented, full-time voice actors out in the cold, even if their “names” (which, of course, would never be mentioned above-the-title anyway) wouldn’t guarantee the same box office returns?

    OK, that last bit was devil’s advocate. I’ve long since made up my mind already regarding that. **** those studios.

    • Joseph Patrick

      I’ll try my best…

      Hands down, it’s the parents that annoy me more than the child. The child doesn’t know any better, and I remember my parents rarely taking me out since it cost money. When watching a movie like “The Nut Job,” all I keep thinking to myself is that i’m writing a weekly review series out of my pocket to see this. A parent who takes their kids during the afternoon (some of which look like they’re in elementary school, mind you), I’m baffled that they would spend the time and effort to do that for a movie like that! And I’m the one they look at like the weirdo!

      I’m not sure I know what you mean there. The biggest money making animated movies are “Toy Story 3,” “Despicable Me 2,” and “Shrek 2.” The highest a hand-drawn animated movie grossed at the Box Office was “The Lion King,” and yeah, it does rely on strong adult themes mixed with traditional kiddie fare. Personally, it seems like the movies that are successful rely on formulas that do go back to Disney. I think it comes down to how many movies you can produce that takes less time and looks just as good. Just look at the machine-pumping giant that’s dreamworks making 2-3 animated movies a year. You wouldn’t have that 20 years prior to introducing computer technology. With celebrity casting, I personally feel that executives are under the impression that a familiar face will sell tickets; something that can compromise the character. Just look at the poster to “Epic” and you’d imagine that they’re selling the soundtrack as opposed to the movie with all the pop-stars they got to do VOs’ for!

      • Muthsarah

        But do you think celebrity casting actually works? Would Megamind (a modest hit, with an ad campaign built entirely on its cast) have done much worse without those names? Or could it have been a much better movie with professional voice actors, and thus gotten better reviews and better word-of-mouth? Frozen didn’t advertise its cast, and there were a couple big-enough names there. Do you think there’s enough out there to draw a trend between stunt casting and the box office?

        As for the PG-13 thing, since all the biggest-grossing movies have that rating, do you think a PG-13 animated (as in, all the way, not just cartoony effects reels) movie could do just as well, and is there a future market for animated movies marketed at the 12-30 moviegoing set? G-rated films, even the big Disney/Dreamworks hits, just don’t gross as much as PG-13.

        • Joseph Patrick

          I think it’s a double bladed sword. If we go to the source of the big celebrity voicing a cartoon character for a movie, there’s Robin Williams as The Genie. However what people forget was that it was a close collaboration between Williams providing his traditional-comedy and his Supervising Animator transcribing it to the character. Other times, it seems like a paycheck somebody waves to get them in the studio; and that’s when it seems obvious. So I guess you can say other factors contribute to it, but I don’t think it works on it’s own. It’s a possible discussuon future editorial.

          As long as film-makers realize that it’s a medium for endless storytelling and doesn’t have to be defined to one story; it’s possible to see a successful PG-13 animated film. Right now, it seems like the current trend is going in favor of CG heavy movies that rely less on cartoony effects to “realism” and what’s plausible while still being imaginative. I still feel that “Gravity” should not be discredited as an animated film, since it relies heavily on animation for the majority of the film; and I wouldn’t put it in the same genre as “Despicable Me 2.”

    • If you’re stupid enough to go during the afternoon, you deserve what you get. Stop complaining.

  • Zee Panda

    “Heavy Traffic” is great but, ugh, have you seen “American Pop”? Never before have I hated so much a movie I not only had every reason to like but was actively rooting for? “Fire and Ice” is ridiculous but I like it anyway. I’m sure you’ve read/heard Bakshi talk about his original plans for “Cool World” and THAT version I think would’ve been great.

    Anyway, I think the main reason Western animation is seen as being for kids is Disney. They’re the 1000 pound gorilla,. Their entire empire was built on making family friendly films and, let’s face it, if your business is making movies for money, you’re going to make what you think is going to sell. Since the Disney formula works most of the time, the money makers are going to keep following it.

    • Joseph Patrick

      Oh yes. Most of the movies that followed “Heavy Traffic” tended to go from mediocre to flat-out crap. I haven’t got the chance to see “American Pop” other than through clips, and I’m not looking forward to it. I do remember how he wanted to have the original cool world revolve around a mutant-cartoon/live action baby that had promise. Come to think of it… in this day and age with the CG/Live Action Hybrid, that would make for a pretty crazy film. Then again… wasn’t that the plot of “Son of the Mask.” Yeah, I take that back. That would probably suck!

      As I mentioned in the video, when disney strayed away from the formula, let alone taking baby steps away; they tend to bomb. I used Fantasia as an example because originally, it was a financial failure in comparison to the previous movies, and halted plans for a continuing series of films modeled after it. Though it also goes towards movies like “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and even “Atlantis The Lost Empire.” In short, I doubt we’ll be seeing Disney tackle George R.R. Martin or Frank Miller anytime soon!

    • Hey, I LOVED American Pop when I was a young man (early teens, I believe); it was (and still is) an amazing movie.

  • Misty

    I’d like to hope that animation will eventually be seen properly as a medium and not a genre, but it’s unlikely at this point. People forget that back in the day animated shorts preceded a live action movie, often one intended for adults. Even Disney has released shorts containing images and humor that could make some modern parents uncomfortable. The short that features Pluto willingly getting drunk (while having to watch his own kids) comes to mind.

    Also I’d forgotten about all those movies that apparently came out the previous year. Not that this year is starting out on a high note.

  • 8. Even better, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE go to Japan or to a studio in Japan and learn from them about how to wrote stories other than what’s usually the plot of a movie (I’d say about maybe a week or a few days, tops.) This will help you to come up with stories OTHER than Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs or Frozen (as popular as it is.) We should be seeing more movies like Titan AE and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within more often then we see films like Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs. As well, this CGI fanfilm of a certain 1960’s sci-fi TV show points the way too:

    • Muthsarah

      Those movies bombed so hard they killed their own studios (correction, one studio and one once-celebrated animator’s career). And they’re better-known for their art direction and animation than for their stories.

      Don’t misunderstand, I’m TIRED, TIRED, TIRED of the “young marginalized male hero stuck in father’s/older brother’s shadow must use magical inner courage some old person tells him about before they die or something, or not-too-girly man-friendship to save the day from the rest of the big stupid world who never listen to him, plus there’s always a girl in there who is basically a love interest, but sometimes she’s kick-ass (except in the last ten minutes, because she still has to be rescued by the very guy she beat up on-screen at least once prior), also there’s at least three comic-relief characters and at least one koot widdo animal wif big eyes” story formula. And the “tiny neglected teen girl who’s always a princess wants to leave the trappings of her home for a better world but can’t because plot involving magic or something until a guy comes along who whisks her away with his likeable scoundrelhood even though he’s usually lying about something big, and she always knows martial arts for some reason so she can beat up the guy at least once and then learns that love and friendship can trump even the most basic physics and there’s always at least three comic-relief characters and at least one koot widdo animal wif big eyes” one is no better.

      Frozen’s plot is probably about as good as we’re likely to see before the pendulum of original plotting swings back the other direction. There’s too much money on the line (especially with brand image and moichendising) for them to take any major chances with a formula that still works pretty well. TWO princesses who want to leave the trappings etc. is pretty innovative, as is something I won’t spoil. They’ve taken chances on these things before: Atlantis and Titan AE were almost straight sci-fi, and neither did well. Spirits Within was a financial catastrophe (but it was a Japanese movie, I think…). They’ve already gone to that well. Japan tends to do small/moderately-budgeted movies with very realistic plots (or fantastical stories with realistic characters) especially well. Hollywood doesn’t do such movies at all, at least not on a budget required for animation.

      • So, do you think that Hollywood would be better off in following Japan’s example and just make those kinds of small-to-moderately budgeted movies with realistic plots or do you see that only coming from the independent scene?

  • Dar

    An interesting video, but I’m not sure what the over-all point was?

    Is it that Western animation need to do more adult-oriented works?

    Is it about why it is seen as children’s fare?

    Is it why being children’s fare is considered bad?

    • Joseph Patrick

      More like “Has Western Animation become stuck as a Kids Genre?” Tangents kind of sprung from there, which is something i’ve been considering heavily when writing these editorials.

  • GaizerOfFire

    The world does NOT need kids stuff at all.
    Kids should be lonely and just suck mother’s tits until they turn 13.
    There should be NO kids media at all. Kids media is an OXYMORON. Deal with it.