This is a guest post by William Jardine, who blogs at a113animation.com.
The genesis of this article is thus: a few months ago I was asked to participate in a public speaking event; I was to prepare a speech and be ready to field questions on that subject from a panel of adjudicators. If you’re at all familiar with me, it should come as little surprise that I chose to talk about animation. However, I thought the occasion warranted something a little more articulate and profound than my usual strategy of telling people what A113 is, or why Disney’s great. The topic I chose to talk about is one that I know all animation fans take to heart: when it’s crassly written off as the kiddie table of cinema. The event came and went, but the subject stayed firmly lodged in my mind, so here we are.
I, like you presumably, given that you’re reading this, love animation. I love it for a whole host of reasons and, yes, one of those reasons is that I loved it as a child; there’s a certain nostalgia to watching a good animated (particularly Disney) film, that transports you back to a happier, more innocent time in life. I have ridiculously fond memories of watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at Christmas, of hearing the chimes of “When You Wish Upon a Star” at the start of Pinocchio, and indeed of all of Toy Story 2. And sometimes, when I’m not having an all-too-pleasant present, watching a film like that cheers me up enormously. But to say that’s all there is to a love of animation is ridiculously short-sighted and naïve.
If you went out and asked your friends what their favourite film was as a kid, odds are it would be animated one. If you asked them now, probably not. I don’t think this is because we grow out of animation, nor even because we like it any less, I think it’s because of this stigma, that animated films are perceived to be children’s films. If you say your favourite film is an animated one, you risk being branded as childish and asinine as the films themselves are perceived to be. Yet I proudly say: My name’s William Jardine and my favourite film, by a significant margin, is Toy Story 2. It’s a film that I only enjoy more and more every time I watch it and one that I easily rank above everything that came before and since.
While we’re on the subject of Toy Story, allow me to refer you to the original film. Would anybody call that a kid’s film? Toy Story is a film that deals with dark, complex, serious theme: abandonment, loss, loneliness and jealousy – feelings apt for children, parents, grandparents… heck, everyone! Are dark themes like these commonly explored in children’s entertainment? Because I don’t remember a lot of that in The Very Hungry Caterpillar. In fact, Toy Story was co-written by Joss Whedon, who’s immensely respected for his roles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and, most recently, The Avengers. Then, the third Toy Story was written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine), earning him another Oscar nomination and making him one of the most desired scribes in Hollywood – who now has the dream job of writing the next Star Wars film! Toy Story 3 was also, like Beauty and the Beast and Up before it, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. It does seem that Pixar are historically immune to the patronising disregarding of animated films.
If I was to ask a random passerby in the street what a good movie was, they might say Schindler’s List, The Godfather, The Lord of the Rings. If I asked why, they would quite possibly say because they won a shed-load of awards. Academy Awards, probably. The Oscars are, after all, the measuring stick of how good a film is – regardless of whether or not the Academy makes the right decision, as they often don’t, winning an Oscar is a cast-iron claim that your film is a d*** good one. Yet what man has won the most Oscars? Walt Disney. Disney, a self-made, all-conquering film legend, won 22 Academy Awards from 59 nominations (as well as four honorary ones), that’s thrice the nominations of Meryl Streep, almost twelve times the nominations of Daniel Day-Lewis, and eleven more than John Williams. Yet, despite having earned a tremendous amount of respect, Disney is still best-known as a purveyor of “kid’s films”.
Now there’s nothing wrong with entertaining children – in fact it’s a very noble profession to have – but to say animated films have no greater purpose than that is akin to saying that Walt Disney was nothing more than a children’s entertainer; rather than one of the most shrewd and successful businessmen of the past century.
On the topic of Walt, I think it’s pretty hard to argue that any of his first few films are for children. Bambi is allegedly one of the saddest films of all time; Dumbo reduces grown men to tears, Ricky Gervais included; Fantasia’s entirely based around classic music! Indeed, Walt Disney’s first film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, premiered to a standing ovation from Hollywood giants like Charlie Chaplin; it went on to become the highest grossing film of all time, before later being surpassed by Gone with the Wind three years later. Snow White is a beloved, respected classic.
Yes, there are poor quality, children-focused animated films, but there are also poor quality, children-focused live-action films. To get more adult-oriented animated films, you often have to look outside of the mainstream film industry: Japanese films like Grave of the Fireflies, spooky films like Coraline and more… sexually charged foreign films like 2010’s Chico & Rita. The quality and content is in no way linked to the medium.
That, in a nutshell, is the point that mass audiences just don’t get: animation is not a genre, it’s a medium. You don’t get action films, adventure films, comedy films and animated films; you get diverse and exciting combinations of all those genres and more! In 2011, we had The Adventures of Tintin, – directed, I might add, by one of the most respected directors of all time, Steven Spielberg – an action-adventure-animated film very deserving of its comparisons to Spielberg’s own live-action classic, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Because that’s the beauty of animation: it can be used to emulate live-action (like Tintin, like Pixar’s The Blue Umbrella), it can be used to be elaborately exaggerated and create shapes and movements that only animation can (like Hotel Transylvania, for example), it can mix and match mediums (Paperman, ParaNorman), it can be used for almost anything, because it’s not a genre, it’s a medium. Animation is the most versatile and exciting filmmaking medium there is, and it deserves more credit and more respect than being crassly and carelessly disregarded as children’s entertainment.
About the author:
William Jardine is the founder, editor-in-chief and head writer at a113animation.com. He is a huge cinephile – with particular adoration, obviously, for animation (chiefly, Pixar). Having loved animation all his life, he decided, in November 2010, to try and put this love to a more useful purpose than pestering his friends: thus A113Animation was born.
His favourite films include Toy Story 2, E.T., Inception,Raiders of the Lost Ark and Up. He particularly admires the work of Brad Bird, Pete Docter, Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg; his idols are John Lasseter and Walt Disney. He studies Computing, Mathematics and English Language at A-Level, with a view to studying Computer Science at university next year. He resides in Carlisle, England.