To start off, I think the best way to sum up the 2014 year in animation is this: things can get a tad bit interesting when Pixar isn’t around.
To be clear, this is not meant to be a potshot at Pixar, but having them out of the spotlight for a while (and giving them time to get prepped for their 2015 return) really made a difference in some respects.
Putting it simply, this was a absolutely great year for animated movies. Whereas 2013 was rather lumpy and speckled with only a few genuine surprises, 2014 saw a dramatically re-energized industry turnout and a much-needed shot in the arm in terms of creativity, diversity, and potent singular vision.
But Pixar’s absence isn’t the only reason why 2014 was a significant year for animation and in light of our upcoming ‘Best of 2014’ episode of the Animation Addicts podcast, here are several reasons why this year was great for animation and what it may signal down the road.
1. Female Audiences = Box Office Power
In a post-Frozen pop-culture environment, the strong financial drive of female audiences simply can’t be denied anymore. They are, however slowly, being recognized as an important driving force in the movie-going public. And sure enough, this sentiment continued into 2014, with female audiences making up a large swath of box-office percentages for most of this year’s major animated features.
For example, audience participation for How to Train Your Dragon 2 was a mix of 53% female and 47% male. The turnout was even higher for The Boxtrolls and The Book of Life (57% female) while audiences for Big Hero 6 were also evenly split.
These number also prove another important point: that it’s absolutely possible to make animated films that audiences of both genders can enjoy (not necessarily being either ‘girl’ or ‘guy’ films).
2. Diversity in Genre
It’s also important to note that 2014 didn’t just give us a bigger slew of great animated films, it also gave us (perhaps more than any year) the most diverse set of animated features to date. From big, epic fantasy worlds (How to Train Your Dragon 2) to dark, quirky Victorian-era landscapes and colorful, Mexican-influenced period trappings (The Boxtrolls and The Book of Life), to vast, neon-lit cities with a unique near-future East-West fusion (Big Hero 6). To say nothing of the variety of animation styles, tones, and palettes that came with each of these films.
2014 was, of all things, a beautiful reminder that animation is a medium that’s just as capable of housing a wide variety of genres and settings as any other.
3. The Importance of a Singular Vision
It’s not particularly uncommon in animation for there to be two directors headlining a project. While the reasoning can be boiled down to the logistical demands required of an animated film versus live-action, there’s still a lot to be said about having one director with a specific vision carrying the film. This year, we saw not one, but two examples of this with How to Train Your Dragon 2 and The Book of Life. These two films are very clear showcases of a single director’s vision at work. Dean DeBlois’ ambition can be felt in his direction and his script, while Jorge Gutierrez completely makes The Book of Life his film, both visually and stylistically.
In a medium where directing is mostly a team effort, it’s easy to forget that the singular vision is just as effective in driving an animated film.
4. Warmer Waters = Brand New Faces
This year also saw an unprecedented number of brand new animation companies forming from all over. And given that this wasn’t too long after big names like Paramount and Warner Bros. announced their return to animation with Warner Animation Group and Paramount Animation respectively, this made for an industry that now looks a lot more crowded and competitive than it did five years ago.
In no particular order, these were the brand new names that we were introduced to in 2014 (either by way of being formed from the ground up or having grown to house feature film divisions):
- Brazen Animation
- Athena Studios
- 3QU Media
- Splash Entertainment
- Zag Animation Studios
There are two major takeaways from this. The first is that feature animation, once sidelined and considered an insignificant sideshow, is now being recognized for its prowess as a very profitable part of the film industry as a whole. The second is that now, as a rather interesting side effect of that, feature animation is no longer a playground dominated by and/or relegated to the big three (Disney, DreamWorks, and Pixar).
If anything is certain, these upcoming years may be some of the busiest for animation yet to come.
If there were ever anything that the animation industry could learn from 2014, it’s that change is on the horizon. Audience demand is rapidly changing, new voices are flooding in, and animation is starting to wake up to its true potential. In short, it might be time for the industry to evolve beyond its ‘kids movie’ image. And if there’s any good time to do it, that time may be now.
But then, where we go from here could be anyone’s guess. Hopefully I won’t be alone in finding out exactly where.
What do you think? How else was 2014 significant for animation?