Does More = Good When It Comes To Animated Features?
Over at Pando Daily, David Larkin has a really interesting piece about the intersection of art and business that is films and takes a look at how the increasing supply of films does not necessarily mean better films, or indeed, better returns. Animated films have always been few in number but recent years has seen an explosion in features with lots of success. With even more being announced, is it all for the best?
The article itself is a great read, but the killer sentance is this one:
Filmmaking is a curious fusion of art and business, and each film is both a business that aspires to be a work of art and a work of art that wants to be a business.
That’s a spot-on assessment and one that really speaks to the current state of animated features. They manage to walk the very fine line between being financially successful and appearing like high art. As someone on twitter put it, they’re marketed as non-stop family adventures during their theatrical run, but come awards season, they’re suddenly a heartfelt artistic masterpiece.
As Larkin details quite exquisitely how the feature film market has become quite fragmented thanks to technology and changing consumer habits. he notes that the number of features being produced is growing rapidly despite the diminishing returns. In other words more producers are chasing an ever smaller piece of the pie but aren’t adjust their production processes to account for it.
As far as animated features are concerned (and I’ve voiced my opinion that we’re in a bubble before), while the number being released relative to live-action is still pitifully small, it is the fact that the growth in the industry has been not through a proliferation of genres, but rather through the archetype set down by Pixar that a film must be family-friendly, not a musical, and above all, a comedy.
Thus, more animated features, while good for the industry as a whole in terms of employment, revenues and audience receipts, may not necessarily be good for the technique itself. Given the risk averse nature of the film business, a decline in animated feature grosses in the foreseeable future will surely produce cutbacks across the board. No studio (at least in the US) is in a position to mitigate such a risk through the exploitation of any genre other than comedy. Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, is perhaps the closest that any studio has come to expanding beyond the comedy straitjacket but it must be noted that we’re closing in on ten years since that film’s release with nothing filling the gap in between.
So even if we are not in a bubble scenario, and the market can indeed support far more animated films than it currently sees, what does that mean for animated features in general? Is there a larger opportunity for something other then comedies? What about cheaper productions that could exploit such gaps through riskier storytelling? To consider another point, are animated features inhibited by the need for a theatrical release? Home media has long represented another option, but the decline in that market leaves a vulnerability that nobody has managed to fill with a digital alternative yet.
Equating more with good has always been a popular mantra when it comes to anything. It’s often seen as a sign of progress, and more often than not, it is. However we need to carefully consider whether more animated films is really a good thing or not, especially at this critical juncture that motion picture entertainment is going through.