A few weeks ago, I read an article about how Frozen won the Best Animated Feature Oscar. I’d call my reaction « disappointment », but I’m so used to hearing people diss animation that this word doesn’t describe my feeling anymore. If I had to choose a word, I guess it could be “irate”, “livid”, or “fuck you”. I should probably have reacted at the time, but first, I had a screenplay to finish writing, and second, writing this article took quite a lot of research. But now, I have finished my screenplay, seen trailers, and counted things.
I probably do not need to show you the entire survey, since it’s been on the internet for weeks. A quick reminder though: it was a survey that appeared in an article on Cartoon Brew, titled “Definite Proof That Academy Voters Are Ignorant About Animation“. Only three of the seven voters mentioned in the survey saw all the movies nominated for Best Animated Feature, and they voted for Frozen pretty much by default. In general, I’d say that the voters showed quite a lot of ignorance regarding animation, which kind of says a lot about our industry.
This comment is not the worst, but it pretty much illustrates how little people care about animation in general. “I liked them all about the same”. That’s like saying you liked all the times you’ve had sex about the same. You either need to think about your lack of passion, or to experiment more.
However, the worst comment, the one that inspired this particular article, is this one:
Note that if people don’t like animation, it is their right. After all, we can’t all have a soul. Some of us have to go to some kind of hell, where they will burn for eternity. However, this comment, associated with the others, is the symptom of the general disdain people show toward animation, even in the industry. In a lot of people’s minds, animation is the “kids genre”, which, in those same people’s minds, means a whole lot of pretty bad things.
Well, today we’re gonna look at facts and think a little bit, people. Is animation for kids? Is animation bad? Is all animation labelled “for kids” bad? Is the devil nearby when a toast falls jelly side down?
So many questions! Let’s answer all of them.
First, a word about animation, because I feel like this isn’t clear for a lot of people.
Animation is NOT a genre.
Animation has been around for almost as long as live action productions. In our glorious western countries, the technique was developed by pioneers such as George Méliès, Emile Cohl, and Winsor McKay, then popularized mostly by Walt Disney. My point? Animation is a medium. A technique. Some would even say an art. Also, before Walt Disney started giving character to animation through his Mickey Mouse cartoons, animation was mostly a form of entertainment, and also how George Méliès realized his special effects. If you know a little about the history of cinema, you’ll see where i’m going with this. That’s right, peeps. Without animation, most of today’s CGI and special effects wouldn’t even be a thing. Animation makes every cool visual thing you like in movies possible. Respect, bitches.
But let’s get back to business. Animation productions are not of the animation genre. They are of whatever genre the story pertains to, and are executed with animation techniques, which is why there are so many different types of animated movies. Animation can be as close to or as far from reality as you want. It can be weird, it can be dreamy, and it allows you to basically transcend every rule of nature and physics if you just want to. The possibilities are endless.
You know what animation is not though? Labelled. In itself, nobody ever said that it had to be for this or that target audience. Nobody ever said it had to be “for kids”.
What do people mean by « for kids », you say?
A lot of teenagers and adults qualify animation as « for kids » as they grow up. When they say that, they usually mean: « it’s stupid and lame, and I’m too mature for this stuff ». This statement is completely arbitrary, as animation productions, just like live action productions, have several target audiences, and tones, themes, and stories to please those various target audiences.
Now, « kids » is a pretty vague term that can technically include anybody underaged, which is to say anybody under the age of 18 to 21, depending on the country. First of all, we cannot pretend that an 18 year-old, a 12 year-old, and a 6 year-old have the same experience, intelligence, and maturity. Thus, since they don’t have the same expectation regarding entertainment, we cannot honestly classify them as one giant target audience. However, the comment of that particular voter says that he takes his 6 year-old to those movies, that s/he himself stopped liking when he was about 6. Now that limits us a bit too much. For the sake of the argument, and because the industry also has a specific way of classifying audiences, let’s say that between 0 to 6, we have an audience of toddlers, from 6 to 12 we have the actual kids, and from 12 to 18 is the very scary, alien world of teenagers. 18 and up, I will simply consider adults, just because I can.
Now, let’s make some calculations, shall we?
55 animated films were released on the big screen in North America in 2013 (or at least, I could trace 55 of them). If I only count animated feature length movies who premiered in 2013, this number goes down to 44. I will also count Ernest et Célestine, despite it not having been released yet, just for the sake of including all the oscar contenders. So 45. Here’s a list of them.
Out of those 45 movies, 27 were targeted at and primarily seen by kids. That’s 60%.
60% is a big number. If this was an election, kids would be elected president of animated-movies-land for 2013. However, this is not an election, and just because a big part of the animated movies are principally made for children, we can’t just pretend that the remaining 40% do not exist. So, is a big part of animation produced for kids? Yes. Enough to label animation “for kids”? Hell no. 40% is not an insubstantial number. If I ate 60% of your plate of nachos, you would punch me in the face for stealing your food, but you would still have a good amount of nachos to eat.
Now, let’s look at those 60% more closely.
Among the 27 movies that were primarily targeted at kids, there are 12 of them that I would consider “family” movies. Family movies, in this case, are movies who are primarily for kids, but have been written to also please the kids’ parents, probably as an apology for making them spend an hour and a half in the dark with their hyperactive spawn. Disney is a specialist of this. Remember all those jokes, little events, or dialogue lines who only made sense when you grew up? Those, for me, are the mark of family movies. Kids movies that are made a bit more layered so we, fully formed persons, can appreciate them as well.
That said, how were all of those kids movies received? Are they bad, and if so, does that mean that all of animation made for kids is bad? Let’s take a look on Rotten Tomatoes, because I can and because they are probably the most accurate website I know when it comes to ratings.
Well, among our 27 kids movies, 5 are rated under 50% (or “rotten”), 6 between 50 and 75%, and 6 are rated above 75% (or “certified fresh”). Interestingly enough, that leaves 10 movies that haven’t been rated at all by critics, or so little that Rotten Tomatoes didn’t have enough data to calculate anything.
The most interesting fact appears when you look at what kind of kids movie received what rating. If you consider my personal two ratings (kids and family), 8 family movies are rated passable to very good, while 4 kids movies are rated passable to very good. Even more interesting, 4 of the 5 movies declared “rotten” are kids movies.
It is also interesting, and alarming at the same time, that animation productions targeting kids usually get better when people are also trying to please the rest of the family. To be direct (after hours and hours of bombarding you with numbers and facts that nobody but me cares about), the problem is not really that kids movies are stupid. It is that production companies think that kids are stupid.
There is some kind of vicious cycle here. Production companies think kids are stupid, therefore produce stupid movies for kids, therefore kids watch stupid stuff because most parents think kids are stupid, therefore production companies think that kids like stupid stuff, etc. It’s also funny that the only thing parents are never concerned about, when it comes to their kids, is the kind of movies they watch, as long as the kid sits down and does not move for a while.
People, you have no right to insult animation when you are part of the system that makes kids entertainment shitty. Animation is fabulous. Your lack of passion for good stories and your disdain toward kids are the problem. It shows every time you produce a new animated kids movie that insults everything that has ever been drawn. And, of course, it showed during the Oscars
This year, out of the 5 movies nominated for the Oscars, there were 4 kids movies (including 3 family movies, and one very good kid movie), and one adult movie. How was that a fair competition for the adult movie, since everybody thinks animation is for kids anyway? Yes, I am happy that Frozen won, and it would have been fair if the Academy knew what they were doing, but they obviously don’t. Yes, The Croods was bad, and Despicable Me 2 was just okay, but Ernest et Célestine was a flawless movie. In a fair competition, I’m not sure Frozen would have won so easily against it. Also, shunning Miyazaki for his last movie was not very nice, seeing as he made some of the best animated movies of all time.
So you know what, Academy people? Either get real animation professionals to vote for the Best Animated Feature Award (also available for Best Animated Short Award), or leave animation alone. We can have our own awards.
… That… will be for next time.