Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, Illumination and almost every other major animation studio you can think of releases “kids” movies. And at some point, some adult would have derided you for watching cartoons even if it’s a 3D animation! It can get a little frustrating when something you genuinely enjoy is trashed on, so here are some movies and shows that show you why animation is not just for kids.
Into the Spiderverse
Yes, it features Spiderman, a well-known kids’ favourite but it is a disgrace to classify this film as “just for kids”. This movie follows the storyline of Miles Morales, who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes the next Spidey (classic story!). He teams up Spidermen (and girls!) from other dimensions to defeat his nemesis Kingpin. A tale that could have very well been told in live-action. How did animation make a difference here?
To start with this movie brought the comic book spiderman to life with perfection! A comic book tends to graphic, and punchy with lines like “BAM!”, “SPLAT!” jumping out and pulling you into the action! In a comic, you can get away with those things: exaggeration and packing each frame with such energy. All these are instrumental to getting Spiderman’s personality right, which is why it’s probably impossible to get Spiderman right in a live-action movie. Spiderverse gets this right by including dialogue boxes, lines of action for every bump and so much more to represent Miles’ hyperactive energy.
One classic example is how they used a change in frame-rates to represent the different Spidermen. Miles was just learning to be a Spiderman while Peter has been doing this for years. They used a lower frame rate to animate Miles and a higher rate for Peter to show the differences in their actions. Animation allows for such creativity.
In live-action you’d be restricted to the actors, or the location or in these days, what CGI could do. Even in CGI, looking realistic itself is a barrier. In animation, you could have explosions of colour, unrealistic action sequences, and who could question you? It’s an animated movie! This freedom is what allowed Into the Spiderverse to be the success it was. Animation allowed for the freedom of a comic book aesthetic while keeping to the Spiderman’s trademark snark.
The animation is a medium that can offer so much. Variety in technique, freedom to create and yet it is classified as a lesser medium. Or just for kid’s movies.
This is a major problem in the animated industry especially for movies like Spiderverse. This movie’s storyline wasn’t aimed at kids and neither was the marketing. Yet just because of the mindset of the people created over many years in which every animation studio has produced countless children’s movies, movies like these weren’t as great of a success. Commercially, of course. This is discouraging studios from creating animation for a wider audience, and again, reinstates the belief that animation is a medium for kids’. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be broken.
This is not to say that Disney or Pixar movies are flawed for making kid’s movies. They are adapting to the times. It’s just in a different way.
Zootopia is a movie about a bunny who becomes a police officer, in a world where predator animals occupied most of the force. This Disney movie is fun and light on the surface but the movie deals with themes of racism and stereotyping. In an age where racial profiling, caste-based judgements and many such social mentalities exist, this is an excellent way to introduce children to these themes without killing their wide-eyed innocence. And being a family movie, it is equally likely to make the parent generation think twice about their own mindsets. And all of this with just talking animals!
Another movie that made a difference, Coco is about a boy named Miguel who tries to balance his duty to his family with his never-ceasing love for music. Set in a colourful traditional Mexican landscape, this movie furthered both Mexican culture and their family values. From a studio that has never focussed their culture, this was seen as a big win for Mexican representation and anyone who celebrated the featured Day of the Dead.
Both of these movies address different modern-day issues: racism and lack representation. The one problem is that this doesn’t further the animation medium significantly. Yes, it is amazing that Disney movies have moved on from making just fairy tales to imbibing them with a message that connects kids of the current day. But studios still stick to putting these messages in a movie because that is what guarantees them a commercial success. Movies with animals have traditionally been successful so they just shaped up the old format! Movies like Spiderverse are making a difference, but even its box office numbers aren’t encouraging enough for the big studios.
But it’s a fast-moving age and a fast-moving field. And Adult animation in itself is a separate genre.
Have you seen BoJack Horseman? It may be animation, but there is no way you can call it a kids’ show! This Netflix original is about an anthropomorphic horse who was a 1990s sitcom star. His story revolves around his trials to rise to significance with an autobiography written by Diane, a human ghostwriter. It is set in a world where humans and human-behaving animals co-exist if that makes this any less weird. To give you a broad feel of the show, it has themes of substance abuse, celebrity culture, toxic personalities, self-deceit, failing to find fulfilment and death (can it get darker than that?). And these themes, unlike the previous examples, are shown openly in the show.
Shows like this are less common but are a growing niche. This show was inspired by slightly less-adult shows like Simpsons and Futurama. And we have many other shows coming up like “Love, Death, Robots”, and Rick and Morty which prove that Animation needn’t necessarily be a genre but can have multiple genres within itself. You may watch an animation for the nostalgia, or for the style or simply because you heard it was a good movie. Well, at least now you know that it has a lot more to it when someone says “It’s just a kid’s movie”.