The Acceptance of Animation By The General Public

Via: The Horror Geek (and I am grateful to Rob Zombie for making this so I don’t have to choose any of the other images that popped up after a Google search for “adult cartoon”, yeesh.)

Roger Ebert, perhaps the most widely known movie critic in history, has published what he considers to be the best animated films of 2010. Now I am not one to question his judgement, but once again it appears that animation is being considered as a genre rather than an artform.

Nonetheless, Ebert notes as much at the start of the piece, with the following statement:

My list reflects a growing fact: Animation is no longer considered a form for children and families. In some cases it provides a way to tell stories that can scarcely be imagined in live action.

I think this statement is in need of a wee bit of clarification, it’s not so much that animation “is no longer considered” but rather “is being accepted by the general public”.

Animation has been an adult-friendly artform ever since Ralph Bakshi burst onto the scene with Fritz the Cat. So it’s not really fair to say that it is “no longer considered”. It has been considered for quite some time, it just hasn’t been accepted by the public at large. Why this is so cannot be laid squarely at the feet of Walt Disney, he merely exploited a market, not pigeonhole the artform.

As Steve Hulett over at the TAG Blog is fond of pointing out, animation has some serious commercial weight behind it at the moment, with 6 of the top 15 film of the year (ranked by box office gross) being animated. This is good news for animation fans as it is proof that the artform is capable of reeling in the crowds.

The last great hurdle that has to be overcome is to make a mainstream animated film targeted specifically at adults. It’s already been proven in TV shows, now it just needs to be done by a major studio. The audience is certainly beginning to assemble, and the likes of Pixar have certainly proven that adults are capable of watching a well-written story regardless of the target demographic. So at this point, the excuses are becoming scarcer and scarcer.

The worry is, however, that with the theatrical film industry is rapidly approaching a crunch point, from which there is no escape and no return, it may be more difficult to even make an animated fim. The arrival of the internet and the disruption that comes along with it is likely to upend the traditional way of making films, whether the studios like it or not and animation, in its mainstream form, may find it much more difficult to traverse the ravine simply because of the increased costs that come with them.

Content will always be king and I’m confident that we’ll continue to see animated films regardless of what happens. The point is that wider acknowledgement by the public of what animation can offer will only serve to increase the appetite for such content, free or paid, old or new, and that is all that matters.

Roger Ebert’s Comments on The Last Airbender and Animation

It’s been established that I don’t really like film critics. It’s not a personal thing, for the most part, I tend to disagree with the way they review things. Having said that, I do hold certain ones in high regard, Roger Ebert being one of them. He’s pretty much seen everything at this point so he knows what he’s talking about when he says a film is pants. That’s not to say that you too will find it horrible, heck, he only gave one thumb up to How to Train Your Dragon and I absolutely loved it!

I am not certain whether or not Ebert is partial to animation or not, suffice to say that he does review almost all animated films being widely released. However, he is spot on with his review of The Last Airbender. He nails the movie itself, but his commentary on why it shouldn’t have been live-action hits the bullseye.

Leaving aside his thoughts on 3-D, the actors and the script, Ebert dives straight to what he sees a a fatal decision on behalf of the producers:

The first fatal decision was to make a live-action film out of material that was born to be anime. The animation of the Nickelodeon TV series drew on the bright colors and “clear line” style of such masters as Miyazaki, and was a pleasure to observe.

I tend to agree. Animated TV shows normally have a tough enough time succeeding on the big screen in animated form. To ask them to simultaneously make the jump to live-action is beyond even the best cartoons and Avatar is no exception.

Ebert declares his admiration for the clean, anime-influenced style of the cartoon. While it didn’t exactly set the animated world on fire, the show did draw deserved praise for its clever mixture of western animation skills and eastern looks. To the best of my knowledge, you can’t do something similar with live-action, unless of course your name is Quentin Tarantino.

Ebert also notes:

“It’s in the very nature of animation to make absurd visual sights more plausible. “

Which is why we can relate to a family with yellow skin and a talking sponge among other things. However, when taken to live-action, it is a tall task to ask audiences to accept circumstances and settings as being real. Sure we know they aren’t, but at least in animation we don’t expect them to be, in live-action we do. And no matter how technically perfect they appear, they still don’t seem real.

Would an animated version of The Last Airbender have been a better idea? Perhaps. It would certainly appeal to more fans of the original show and I am certain that it would not age as much as this new film surely will (think how old Lord of the Rings is starting to look, despite the bleeding edge technology that it used during production). As Ebert notes at the end of his review:

This material should have become an A-list animated film.

Except it isn’t. Let’s remember that animated films of animated TV shows make much more sense than live-action drivel.