A Media Comment: Animated Feature ≠ “Kid’s Movie”

"Hiccup" from DreamWorks' How To Train Your Dragon 2

“Hiccup” from DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon 2

Have you seen DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2 yet? If not, do so – it’s a fantastic animated feature that, in a roundabout way, is the basis for this post.  While I was surfing Facebook, I saw Moviepilot Animation’s article:  So Let’s Talk About How To Train Your Dragon’s Gay Character.  Upon completing the article, I read through a few of the responses, but the top rated response said:

“He is not gay…my god its. A kids movie..people are such idiots trying to make something out of nothing…get a hobby!”

While those of you who know me may think this will focus on the emergence of openly gay characters in animated movies, it won’t.  Trust me, I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a research article analyzing gay characters in animated movies.  That project looks more like a go every day.  Instead, I’m going to comment on why ANIMATED FEATURE does not equal KID’S MOVIE.

This is something that’s bothered me immensely over the years, leaving me curious to know:  Why do so many people say animated movies are just for kids? Is it the bright and bold color, the catchy musical numbers (ahem, Frozen - I know, I should just “Let It Go”), or is it simply because it’s animated? A cartoon.  I can’t figure it out.

Now, if you’re like me, you love animated features – and you like to go to the theater while schools are in session, so that you may enjoy them without all the chatterbox-children around.  But doesn’t it just so happen that kids are almost always on break when the animated features flood the box office? It does. Then, you go to the theater not thinking much of it and surprise! A million kids.  The kids aren’t the problem though, it’s their chaperoning adult(s), right?

I generally make it a point to see every animated feature that comes out.  I’ve loved them since I was a child – and since the emergence of Pixar, the ante’s been upped!  Many more animated features are sophisticated and contain social commentaries (ex. openly gay characters emerging in animated features), subtle humor and storylines for adults.  The [mostly] breathtaking animation is still there, but that’s for the enjoyment of everyone right? So I can’t figure out why when I walk into a theater full of kids I’m shot a dirty look from time to time.  Am I not allowed to see an animated feature in theaters if I don’t have children?  Because I’m seeing the movie alone, am I weird? …or worse, a suspected pedophile?

On countless occasions, I’ve had friends tell me they wanted to see whatever the newest animated feature was, but they can’t go alone because “it’d be weird.” Why is it weird? Why can grown men or women not go see an animated movie alone? Who says and what authority do they have? Then I think, it all comes back to this idea that animated features are “Kids’ Movies.”

Newsflash: They’re not.

Animated features, like all other Hollywood productions are rated in accordance with the MPAA.  Generally, these movies are rated G or PG (you can explore all that who, how, etc. here), but that alone doesn’t mean the movie is strictly for kids. When I envision kid-centric entertainment, I think of programming like Baby Einstein, or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, just to list some obvious (TV) examples.

Carl and Ellie from Disney-Pixar's Up

Carl and Ellie from Disney-Pixar’s Up

Have you seen the Shrek or Ice Age franchises? I don’t think I need to elaborate on all of that adult humor.  What about more subtle movies like Disney-Pixar’s Up?  The entire Carl-Ellie relationship is adult-oriented, as is the “Married Life” montage.  Sure, it’s brightly colored and full of wondrous imagination and imagery, but Up‘s core (its heart) appeals to both children and adults.  My point is, these animated features are made for the enjoyment of everyone.

By design, animated features resonate with each of us differently.  They could inspire a child to become an animator.  They are proponents of imagination (children may want to be ruling princesses or explorers imagining great adventures of their own).  In the same way kids are inspired, adults may find humor, they may reminisce of days gone by, or they may be inspired themselves.  An adult may write that book or screenplay they always wanted to write, or to take the adventure they’d always imagined (I went to New Orleans in 2012 because of The Princess and the Frog), or just to laugh and love as much as the animated feature suggests.  Through the lens of adulthood we “see” and take away more from animated features, we understand their souls and not just the pretty pictures.

Now please, don’t think my last statement discredits a child’s ability to understand a movie (or any piece of media or art).  I’m the last person that would do that.  In fact, in my own endeavors, I find myself fighting for the kids, saying they deserve complexity, subtlety and perfection in the media they may consume.  What I am saying, is that adults have a greater understanding (sometimes) and that just because it’s animated doesn’t mean it’s not for them too.

Call it a Family Movie or better yet, just call it what it is – an animated feature or an animated movie – but unless it’s directly stated to be so, don’t call it a “Kid’s Movie.”  Recognize they’re made for the enjoyment of everyone – take away the weirdness and the odd looks.  Give everyone the chance to be inspired, just because you’re grown doesn’t mean you don’t need it.   Go watch any one of your childhood favorites now, and as Beauty and The Beast suggests:

“There may be something there that wasn’t there before.”

I’d like to know, is there a movie you feel bridges the gap between childhood and adulthood?  What are some of your favorite animated moments or quotes?  How about your favorite animated characters and why? What themes do you see in animated features that appeal to adults?  Let’s talk in the comments section!

ENTERTAINMENT news: The Magical World of Disney

Disney LogoDisney has been the talk of Tinseltown this past week – from the strong weekend opening of Oz, The Great and Powerful ($79 million) to the announcement that Disney is shutting down their 2-D, hand-drawn animation division.  This week, Disney is adding more fuel to their blazing wildfire: they’re “re-imagining” Beauty and the Beast.  The newest feature in re-imagination-land is being titled The Beast and will utilize Belle’s beau as the central figure in a darker, live-action story.

Did you say “what?” Exactly.

Poor, or less than expected, box-office returns for The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Winnie the Pooh (2011) are being cited for the closure of the 2-D animation department.  Disney’s first black princess earned $267 million worldwide, while Pooh-bear only mustered $33 million in golden honey.  Unfortunately, both are being compared to Tangled (2010), the Rapunzel movie that embraced cutting-edge 3-D animation technology and tallied $590 million in worldwide earnings (nevermind the “new-animation” attempt that was Mars Needs Moms, remember that movie that cost $150 million and made $39 million worldwide?).

Disney’s decision is also largely based on the success of Pixar Animations like the Toy Story franchise, which to date has grossed just under $2 billion worldwide in original and re-release time periods. But will the elimination of the 2-D division allow Disney to carry “the magic” forward in their animated features?

It’s been suggested that Tangled had “it,” but there is a certain sense of nostalgia that will be sacrificed by solely embracing new animation technologies.  The problem won’t be the stories or the characters, they’ll endure the test of time, but the “cutting-edge” technology won’t, unless it’s executed perfectly.  For an example of this, you don’t need to look any further than Mickey Mouse then (ca. 1950) and Mickey Mouse now (ca. 2006).

Sure Mickey looks like the same mouse, but don’t you think he’s lost a little bit of “it?”   Hand-drawn animation, like the works of the classical painters and artists of yesterday, withstands the test of time, whereas the newer animation will cheapen and “discolor” in the wake of new styles and technologies.  It’s too early to tell which animated princess’ story will hold up better, Tiana’s or Rapunzel’s – or is it?  I would suggest that twenty, or even thirty-fifty years from now, people will more fondly remember The Princess and the Frog when compared to Tangled.  When compared side-by-side, The Princess and the Frog has soul and heart – it’s got the Disney-classic musical numbers and the crisp, timeless animated appeal.  Tangled, conversely, is a product of the times – from the dialogue and animation style to the clothing and hair choices.  Sure, it boasts some really fun and memorable characters, like Flynn Rider and Rapunzel herself, and it has that magnificent floating lantern scene/song, but in the long run, it’ll wind up in the Shrek category and look to the future like 1964’s Rudolph looks to us now.

It’s sad to think that even Disney is selling-out to become a profit-minded juggernaut, rather than a place for magic and memories.  It’s trading in its classic appeal for big box-office returns in a watered-down social culture and re-imagining some of its greatest, most enduring stories – which brings me to The Beast.

Beauty and the Beast is arguably one of Disney’s most beloved tales ever told.  “Re-imagining” the story, in live-action, accomplishes what besides allowing Disney to contribute to Hollywood’s re-make/re-boot era? Nothing. In fact, Disney has had only moderate success in this category, judging by 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, which didn’t outperform the original animated classic, or recoup it’s budget.  The Huntsman grossed $155 million (on a $170 million budget) in the United States, compared to the 1937 animated version, which boasts a domestic lifetime total of $184 million (on a $1.5 million budget).

MaleficentNext year, Angelina Jolie lends her star power to the Sleeping Beauty spin-off Maleficent and after that, The Beast will make his way into theaters across America.  Will these live-action fantasies live up to the hype and be able to topple their classic predecessors? It’s monetarily possible, but if Disney’s going to commit to a new direction, one of “re-imagination” and new animation, then they’ll need to work a lot harder to keep the wonder, heart, timelessness, and magic of their movies intact.  Anybody can produce for-profit-garbage – Disney should be above that, they have the ability to produce and inspire imagination and that’s a trait that may be lost if profit continues determining direction.

Look at the current number one movie, for example, Oz, the Great and Powerful – it’s been a critical failure for lacking heart and soul, and for being bland, despite its visual appeal.  An appeal that carried a $215 million production budget.  And even that too, is a re-imagination of a classic from 1939.  Maybe it’s time Disney takes a deep breath and returns to doing what Disney does, sooner rather than later.