Bojack Horesman is Netflix’s attempt to break into the lucrative world of animation that caters to that holy grail known as the male, 18-35 demographic. The innovation of course, is that this is from Netflix, the pretender to the HBO crown of critically acclaimed programming. For all the success of House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, Bojack fails to hit the same mark and provides the latest scrap of evidence that making animation for anyone older than 16 is a conundrum the continues to bedevil anyone willing to take a crack at it. Why is that the case though?
Over on the Animation Guild Blog, Steve Hullett posted a quote the other day from an article quoting Rango director, Gore Verbinski, where he states that he would like to see more mature animated films being brought to market. Ralph doesn’t reject the notion entirely, but he does point out that studios are in the game to make profits, not movies.
This is true, but it raises the important question of whether animation intended for mature audiences is even profitable to begin with.
The article itself has Verbinksi mentioning Ralph Bakshi as a possible reference point although I say that this isn’t necessarily the best idea. If you ask anyone (in the know) about adult animation, the answers inevitably contain either Heavy Traffic, Fritz the Cat, Ghost in the Shell, Akira and perhaps that particular genre of anime that I won’t mention here.
I’d also hazard a guess that mature animation has suffered more as a result of quality than anything else. Because the main studios won’t go near it, the independents have to take up the slack, and sadly they just don’t have the resources necessary to compete on the same level.
Mature animation can be profitable, provided it’s either done cheaply enough, or it maximizes its potential when released to market. Personally, I think that if a film as superb as the Secret of Kells can be made for about €6 million, there is absolutely no reason why studios are using costs as a factor.
There is a market for these kinds of films, it just hasn’t been tapped to its full potential. That’s an opportunity for someone to explore and when they do, there’ll be plenty of profits to be had.
Exhibit A, this quote from an article by Mark Harris in GQ Magazine (I profusely apologise, I would never consider linking to, much less blogging about, an article from such a rag unless it is under exceptional circumstances similar to this one) which came my way via Marco Arment.
As recently as 1993, three kid-oriented genres—animated movies, movies based on comic books, and movies based on children’s books—represented a relatively small percentage of the overall film marketplace; that year they grossed about $400 million combined (thanks mostly to Mrs. Doubtfire) and owned just a single spot in the year’s top ten. In 2010, those same three genres took in more than $3 billion and by December represented eight of the year’s top nine grossers.
Let me posit something: That’s bad. We can all acknowledge that the world of American movies is an infinitely richer place because of Pixar and that the very best comic-book movies, from Iron Man to The Dark Knight, are pretty terrific, but the degree to which children’s genres have colonized the entire movie industry goes beyond overkill. More often than not, these collectively infantilizing movies are breeding an audience—not to mention a generation of future filmmakers and studio executives—who will grow up believing that movies aimed at adults should be considered a peculiar and antique art. Like books. Or plays.
Where to start? If you have read the rest of the article, you will know that is a passionate lament about the slide of the quality of Hollywood films over the last 40 years or so. He talks about the seismic shift towards more family friendly films and how they are strangling the mature films that he decries as a rare find today.
In my (admittedly) hard-headed Irish opinion, it’s a complete load of bullshit that smacks of both desperation and a complete misunderstanding of the facts. He focuses solely on content and uses that as a crutch for why films made for adults are becoming more and more scarce. Harris bemoans the fact that R rated films have to be made on a relatively small budget. He goes so far as to say:
The economic pressures the studios are facing aren’t just an excuse—they’re real. Movie-ticket sales may be reasonably strong, but any number of economic forces are conspiring against the production of adult dramas. They don’t generally have the kind of repeat-viewing appeal that would make them DVD smashes. They often end up with an R rating, which puts a ceiling on their earning capacity and makes a modest budget absolutely essential. Oscar nominations or even wins can no longer be relied upon to goose a quality film’s revenues.
The kicker to the entire article is that it seems like one big advertisement for Hollywood, in particular the large studios.
Studios make movies for people who go to the movies, and the fact is, we don’t go anymore
Duh, no shit sherlock. It costs a fortune to do that and the films are generally not that great. Besides, I can’t watch the film in my underwear or drink beer at the cinema, which I can at home (not that I actually do, but it’s nice to have the option).
Harris completely (and I mean utterly) misses the point, which is that animated films have become successful over the last number of years because they’re great films, and their suitable for all ages too!
He fails to mention the seismic shift in cinema over the last number of years, namely the rise of the internet and the total failure of Hollywood studios to adapt a new business model. They keep spending tons of money suing fans that completely pisses them off and make life difficult for them to enjoy what they love.
Harris’ position is that because animated films are successful at the box office, they will eventually push out “real” films that are ultimately less profitable to make because they are appropriate for a smaller audience. As any business student can tell you, that’s basic economics. If a film is suitable for a larger audience, it will of course, make more money. That is a simple fact that has been true since the dawn of time. The only difference is now there are many more animated and family-friendly films being made than in the past. A fact that zooms straight over Harris’ head.
Overall, this article was not worth blogging about because I have only served to call attention to it and the nonsense contained within. The only reason I do so is because it is featured in GQ magazine, one that I can only presume people other than myself read and respect. As a result, I cannot allow such readers to believe that what the article says is the truth.
Animation is an artform for filmmaking. It does not purport to usurp the crown of the classic American dramatic film. It is also not guilty of ‘gaming the system’. many have tried that game and failed miserably. Hollywood as an industry is in a time of great upheaval and those who do not adapt are getting left behind. it is these tragglers that Mark Harris is lamenting, because there continues to be plenty of fantastic, dramatic films being made outside the system, and their often much better for it. This includes animation, the supposed slayer of the industry.
So don’t blame animation and children’s films for the demise of Hollywood, it’s their own damned fault.