I’ve spoken to a surprising number of people who deride animation, deeming it “kid’s stuff.” Many individuals scoff at the idea that animation can be anything more than a way to keep their hyperactive children occupied for a certain period of time.
Are they right? Is animation only for kids? As popular as this opinion is, it could not be any more wrong.
Animated films can be just as emotional, mature and thought-provoking as live-action films. (Shameless plug: if you’d like to see a few examples of this, see my article, “Three Animated Films that Treat Kids Like Adults”)
Quality is not limited to the realm of live action. In fact, Walt Disney, founder of one of the most well-known and successful animation studios in the world, holds the record for the most Academy Awards won by any living or dead individual. Many of these awards are for his animated films and film shorts. And for many individuals, Oscars are the go to source for judging a film’s quality.
Many animated films are written just as much for adults as they are for children. This is where most Pixar films, Don Bluth films, and the Disney Renaissance films shine. These films are written for all ages, possessing storylines, humor and characters that are equally accessible for both children and adults.
Moreover, some children’s animated films possess content and plotlines that seem more suitable for adults than for kids. For example, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm contains a dark, violent, and mature plot that focuses on a murder mystery, along with Bruce Wayne’s romantic relationship with a woman. Another animated film, Shrek, contains numerous innuendos and adult references throughout.
Not only are there children’s animated films written with adults in mind, but there is another category of animated film that is aimed solely at adults. Princess Mononoke is one of the prime examples of what I am talking about. This film involves a complex storyline, complex themes involving industry vs. nature, as well as a considerable of violence and gore. Other adult-oriented animated films include Ghost in the Shell, Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly and Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf.
This begs the question: why do people stereotype animation as a children’s medium? First, let’s look at the historical side of this mentality. In the 1920’s through WWII, theatrical cartoons were created for a general theatrical audience, which primarily consisted of adults. Popeye, Betty Boop, and even Looney Tunes were initially aimed at adults, containing humor and material that kids simply would not get. However, somewhere along the line, American filmmakers transitioned the emphasis of animation from adults to kids.
Why? Money was most likely the culprit. Filmmakers realized that they could generate a larger profit if they aimed their animated films at children rather than adults.
We can see this in today’s society as well. Frozen and The Lego Movie, generating 1 billion and 390 million respectively, blow the adult-oriented Beowulf’s 190 million out of the water. Moreover, studios are aware that they can sell much more merchandise when aiming their animated films at children rather than adults.
Consequently, the presence of commercials, toys, and other products – all aimed at children – perpetuate the mentality that animation is solely a children’s medium.
Sadly, this mentality will continue to be the predominant one. It’s best to ignore the naysayers and continue to enjoy the fantastic realm of animation. Have a friend who thinks animation is only for kids? Take my advice and show him or her Princess Mononoke.