A big staple of the feature animation medium is the talking animal movie. You could say that it’s kind of a sub-genre within itself, even though the talking animal movie can comprise a number of different stories and genres. Much of the 2000s saw a market saturated with movies involving a cast of talking animals or talking animals in central or supporting roles. But now it appears that the tides are beginning to shift in that area.
By the end of the year, there will have been only three theatrically released animated films that featured an all/mostly-animal cast (The Nut Job, Rio 2, and The Penguins of Madagascar). By that same token, there will have also been only three films released this year that featured a talking animal character in a main/supporting role (Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, and Thunder and the House of Magic). Altogether, that’s six films this year that will have featured a talking animal in any capacity. In 2015, that number will shrink even more: only four films with talking animals will be released in the US.
Of course, that’s not to say that the talking animal movie is ‘dying out’ (that would suggest that the sub-genre was simply a fad of some sort), but it’s prominence in feature animation has been on a downward slope in recent time. There simply isn’t as many talking animal movies out there in comparison to 7-8 years ago. What exactly is the reason for that?
Like I said, we did reach a certain saturation point years ago with this type of film, so could it be that people just simply got tired of seeing so many of them? It’s a plausible point, if a bit oversimplified.
Moreover, it could be that studios have become more accepting of having animated films with human characters and casts and thus audiences eventually just became accustomed to it, a possible side effect of studios being a little more adventurous and risky than before. Adding to that is also the proven power of animal sidekicks who can’t talk, but can say a lot with their facial expressions and verbal actions (Tangled, Frozen, The Croods, and the How to Train Your Dragon franchise are a few major examples).
Again, this shift doesn’t mean that talking animals will go out of style. Dreamworks Animation still has the Kung-Fu Panda and Madagascar franchises, Ice Age and Rio are still going strong at Blue Sky, and 2016 will bring us Disney’s Zootopia, the sequel to The Nut Job, and an untitled pets film from Illumination Entertainment.
The talking animal movie hasn’t been completely thrown out, but I do think that, for it to have continued relevance, writers and directors will have to find unique ways of proving that the sub-genre still has some creative juice left in it.