Why don’t we see many kid characters in animated films?
Even in the animation industry, there lie questions that are simply too complex for any simple one-and-done answer. This is one of them.
That being said, the question does raise a good point. For an industry that is normally deemed kid-friendly (and regularly pigeon-holed unfairly as such), you rarely see an abundance of animated films where kids are the leading stars.
How Many are There?
Let’s take the the ‘top 5’ films of 2014, for example. How to Train Your Dragon 2 leapt forward five years to focus on a 20 year old Hiccup (with the rest of the gang in their late teens/early twenties as well). The Book of Life starts with Manolo, Maria, and Joaquin as kids, only for them to grow up into young adults. Emmet Brickowski from The LEGO Movie is established from the beginning as the Lego equivalent of a working adult (complete with his own apartment). The Boxtrolls and Big Hero 6 are the only two that actually qualify as having kid protagonists, with the latter being surrounded by college-age characters.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman, another 2014 film, also qualifies.
So that’s three major films last year that have had kid protagonists. That number gets a little bigger once you start to count some of the foreign films (Song of the Sea), but that’s still not as significant compared to the number of films that have lead characters of a considerably older age.
Even going back into the age where 2D animation was then the norm, you won’t really find any more films with kiddie-aged protagonists then you will in our current industry. The Iron Giant, An American Tail, and the first A Land Before Time are the only examples from that era that immediately come to mind.
Going back to the question at hand, why don’t we see very many kid characters leading in animated films? Again, I can’t offer an answer that will immediately make the most amount of sense. I will, however, give my own theories as to why that is.
It could have something to do with the general audience. An animated film is obviously going to attract young audiences, but nobody in their right mind will take the risk of tuning out the adults. It’s a start, sure. But as an actual argument it’s incredibly flimsy.
A much stronger argument can be made for the ways in which animation is trying to evolve from simply being a ‘kids-only’ playground. From being considered a ‘kids genre’ to an actual medium. That seems to better explain why we are seeing more teen/college-aged protagonists in animation, but it’s still no closer to answering that question than the last theory.
Is it Good or Bad?
But probably one of the most difficult things to consider about this question is whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that we don’t see kids as the leads of animated films.
I honestly don’t think it matters. Whether or not your lead character is 14 or 20 should not have anything to do with the quality of the flim itself. Also, having a character at a certain age can represent a certain set of challenges for the character itself. If having more characters in their teens and early twenties can mean a more challenging set of issues for a character to face in animated film, I say go for it. Animation is a medium, so it should be free to tell many different types of stories with characters of many different stripes.
Decide for Yourself
Alas, I can only conclude that there really is no simple answer to this question. I can only give you my theories and my opinions. But if there’s anyone out that who has a much better theory or even an actual answer, by all means step forward.
What are your theories regarding the question? What answer can you provide? Any other examples of animated films with kid protagonists?