There’s a bit of an ongoing debate about target audiences going on right now, especially considering the popularity of certain young adult novels in the not-so-young adult world. We have the idea that certain pieces of art are made for specific audiences, that there are things made for (and only for) kids, or teenagers, or women, or etc. etc. and that consuming any of this media means that your taste is not as evolved as someone who sticks to “serious” work. From a marketing standpoint, this has a ring of truth, since movies, for example, are definitely made and sold to specific audiences. However, I think it’s worth pointing out that a good work of fiction is going to transcend the little gimmicky things that get thrown in to make money, and that there are valuable narratives outside of the script of the white, straight, middle aged man.
In other words, I think that some of the things that we (as a society) don’t take seriously actually deserve our attention.
Case in point: animated films. Cartoons. Kids’ movies. Whatever you want to call them, they’re an underrated genre.
There are a couple of things that really get to me about a well done animated flick. (There are crummy animated movies and there are crummy live-action movies, but this is what I think really shines through in a solid animated film.)
- For one, there’s an element of style that has the opportunity to really excel in animation. There are a lot of live-action directors that have a unique feel to their movies (Wes Anderson, Tarantino) but I think the process of animation lends itself well to creating distinct styles, mostly because you have to create every aspect of the entire universe. To me, it’s easier to just look at something animated and take a stab at the identity of the studio or director (or at the very least “this universe reminds me of [X] movie”). And because these movies are often marketed towards children, they can be visually striking, especially through the use of color. Finally, characterization is dramatized through appearance; while IRL films can use makeup and costuming and acting to flesh out a character, animated movies can manipulate every aspect of a character’s appearance, down to features that are almost caricature-ish. Also, looking at the voices behind an animated character can be hella interesting, just from a curious cat’s view.
- There’s also the opportunity to explore themes that are overlooked in other films, especially due to the fact that sexual/romantic elements of these films are downplayed to the extreme. (This might be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t think that every single narrative needs a love story, and in many cases it distracts from the main message of the story.) A short list: friendship, imagination/creativity, bravery, selflessness, family relationships, adventure, and self-discovery. If you’ll forgive the language, these are compelling fucking themes that deserve respect.
- Finally, while there are a lot of movies for kids that have simple, trite plots, there are a number of gems that can manage to hold the interest of older audiences. These have a second layer, invisible to children, that contains cultural references and innuendo, making these movies into a sort of easter egg hunt. Some people don’t like this for their children, but really, kids don’t get this part anyway, and it makes it fun. They’re like a nod from the filmmaker to you. An example: in Despicable Me one of the characters goes to get a loan from the “Bank of Evil” which contains a little subtitle that says something along the lines of “Formerly Lehman Brothers.” (Cue laugh track.)
Rori’s Animated Flix Pix
Here are just a few of my favorite animated movies (links to trailers are in the year):
- SPIRITED AWAY (2001);; This is a movie that I watched a lot as a kid with my best friend in the middle of the night and it literally haunts me to this day. (In a beautiful way.) Not to wreck too much of it, a young girl gets trapped in a dangerous world of spirits, and has to save herself and her parents.
- HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (2010) & HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (2014);; I love these movies in such a huge way, and no, I’m not embarrassed about it. (Not embarrassed, at all.) The basic gist: Hiccup, a li’l viking guy, lives in a village that is under constant threat of dragon attack. However, when he sets out to slay his first dragon, he ends up befriending it.
- THE LEGO MOVIE (2014);; This movie is one that really relies on that second layer that I talked about earlier, because it’s full of star power and cultural references. (For example, there’s Will Arnett, as well as a little Channing Tatum/Jonah Hill nod in the casting.) I went into this movie very, very skeptical and came out on the verge of tears. Yes, it’s absurd on the surface, but it also plays out this little drama between Will Ferrell’s character and his son. Oh, and a song by Tegan & Sara. Overall, the story is fun (if a little draining) but the best part of the movie is catching all of the little details and throwaway jokes that make up the film’s easter eggs.