Don’t you even dare call it a “kid’s movie.”
Animation has been around for a while now, starting with silent experiments such as Gertie the Dinosaur, followed by the more traditional Disney fare such as Snow White or Cinderella, and becoming more modern with another round of Disney hits like The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast but also with a touch of the outside thanks to Japanese imports like My Neighbor Totoro or Spirited Away.
But time and time again, the medium is relegated to kids duty. Like being sent to the smaller table at Thanksgiving dinner.
Brad Bird, director of The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, said it best when he referred to animation as a medium rather than a genre. Let’s define genre real quickly: “.”
So that doesn’t confine animation; instead, it opens up a world of possibilities that other live-action films in the same genre can’t touch. The Incredibles is a superhero film. Shrek is a fairytale. Beauty and the Beast is a period piece romance. Frozen is a musical. Spirited Away is a fantasy epic.
Too many times, this medium gets restricted to being for children and it doesn’t always help itself. Sometimes an offering such as Home from Dreamworks will come and throw the whole argument out the door because it relies on the immaturity of children to generate laughs and forgets that adults are going to the movie also and have to endure whatever is on the screen. Too many times, the movie feels the need to talk down to children, and that’s wrong because they aren’t dumb.
Animated movies can be such crucial teaching tools for children because they have such fantastical elements to them that they immediately draw the eye to whatever is happening on-screen. But they also have the ability to speak to kids on an innate, emotional level because children are so susceptible to media at a young age.
Look at the most recent Pixar film, Inside Out, which has the light moments of hilarity and fun but also contains a message that is truly emotional and resonates for kids who are going through the same portion of life as Riley is in the film. They may not be moving across the country, but their emotions and personalities are being formed at a time when they can giggle at what Anger (Lewis Black) rages over or cheer for Joy (Amy Poehler) as she saves the day, but also comprehend the message that sadness is a powerful emotion. It doesn’t mean it is a bad thing that should be hidden from sight.
One of the more eye-opening experience I had to the view of animation as an art-form and as a way to create movies was when I came across the “Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot” that The Hollywood Reporter released prior to the Oscars in 2014. The year was dominated by Disney’s Frozen, but even this voter didn’t have time for that film.
“I have seen none of them. I have no interest whatsoever. That ended when I was 6. My son dragged me to a few when he was 6; I would seat him and go outside and make phone calls. ”
Which brings me to the point of this rant.
These people, who we put in charge of judging a year’s worth of content in this medium, decided that animation either wasn’t worth their time or that it was something they felt didn’t need to be studied. As if the time put into these movies and the attention to detail are nothing to marvel at, on top of the stories that are as gripping as anything live-action.
Segregating this medium onto an island by itself is a disservice to the workers at Pixar, Studio Ghibli, Dreamworks, and Laika, not to mention to the art that is cinema. There is no denying that the ending of Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies is as emotional as something more highly revered as Schindler’s List, which is taking place at the same time period even if at a different portion of the world.
Don’t discount Up and the lessons it has on letting go of the past and kindness towards others just because moments of the film are occupied by a giant, squawking bird.
Animation is a medium. It can encapsulate any genre whether drama or comedy, romantic comedy or melodrama, western or arthouse film. It is so poorly overlooked and treated lesser by people who see the same values that these films have in other, live-action fares that aren’t as good.
So when you go to the theater with your younger brother or sister, niece or nephew, grandson or granddaughter, go in as a film fan and not as an afternoon escape to shut them up for a few hours, because that moment could be more telling to their psyche and personality than any beach day ever would.