Just Reflections
Just Reflections Podcast
Animation Is Under Appreciated

Animation Is Under Appreciated

Animation is often underestimated and overlooked as a form of high art and relegated to a children's medium. However, animation presents limitless creative possibilities to convey complex narratives.

This weekend, I went to a movie with my wife and some friends. We arrived a little early and, having secured our tickets, we decided to wait in the lobby. As we waited, a discussion started about an upcoming film I'm eagerly anticipating: Spiderman: Across the Spiderverse. If you know me, you're aware that I can become quite passionate when discussing movies like this. We were all talking animatedly about the excitement of seeing a black Spiderman again, when my wife, intrigued by our enthusiasm, wanted to know what film had us so thrilled. I promptly searched for it on Google and handed my phone to her. Her reaction is the reason for this rant article. She exclaimed, “Agh! Kanti ngoPopayi”, meaning “Agh, it’s a cartoon!”

She was prepared to dismiss it outright the moment she realized it was animated. This is how many people react to animation. The story, characters, and art can far surpass any other movie, but people are put off simply because there are no live actors involved.

Animation deserves better!

There's this prevailing notion that animated movies or TV shows are just for children. A glaring example of this misconception occurred during the 2022 Academy Awards. And no, I don’t mean the infamous incident with Will Smith and Chris Rock. Other noteworthy things happened that night, you know. The award for the best-animated picture was presented by three people: Lily James, Halle Bailey, and Naomi Scott. They all share a commonality—they've each played Disney Princesses in live-action remakes of Disney classics. Lily James played Cinderella, Naomi Scott played Jasmine in Aladdin, and Hailey is set to portray Ariel in the upcoming Little Mermaid. But what grabbed my attention was not their shared history, but their shared words:

“All these characters hold such a special place in our hearts. Because animated films make up some of our most formative movie experiences as kids. So many kids watch these movies, so many kids watch these movies over and over … and over and over and over again. I see some parents out there know exactly what we’re talking about…”

This speech infuriated animation enthusiasts everywhere.

Animation is rarely recognized as high art or “cinema,” even at a platform as esteemed as the Oscars. One would expect more enlightenment here. Unironically, the presenters were not part of the original animated movies, but the live-action remakes. Animation is consistently overlooked and underrated. For many, it's merely cartoons, “ngoPopayi,” child's play. To those who harbour such thoughts, I challenge you to watch this analysis of the Leap of Faith scene from Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse and tell me if you still believe this is only kids’ stuff.

I’m not really waiting to hear your opinion on this, of course, because this is a multi-award-winning masterpiece of a movie. Not convinced? Here’s another one; an analysis of Arcane:

Still sceptical? Perhaps an hour-long video essay on the subject could sway your opinion.

Seriously though, these are some amazingly skillfully done analyses. Check them out. And I agree with Mason one hundred per cent:

“I have always considered animation to be the purest form of filmmaking. With complete and total control over every single frame put on screen, animators can transport you to worlds unimaginable, captivate you with fantastical and whimsical characters that defy the very laws of reality, show you jaw dropping acts of gravity defying action and absolutely devastate your heart with one carefully drawn facial expression. Whether they are layered on a film cell, digitally painted, painstakingly photographed or 3D rendered, these films, shorts or television series can reach the highest level of adoration and praise from the public just as anything made in live action. And they have.”

Last year, Invincible, one of the year's finest shows, slipped under the radar until it presented one of the best season finales in television history. Give "Invincible season finale" a Google, and you'll see the internet is ablaze with praise. Interestingly, it aired concurrently with Falcon and the Winter Soldier, another superhero show that, despite being part of Marvel's much-anticipated Phase Four, fell flat. Yet, audiences seemed more inclined to watch the live-action series over the so-called "cartoon."

Now, I can understand why people would think animation is just for kids. Numerous animated shows target a young audience, and many of us consumed these shows primarily in our childhood. However, categorizing a film like Up alongside Dora the Explorer simply because they share the same medium is fundamentally flawed. This comparison is akin to equating Ridley Scott's Alien with Sesame Street on the basis they both employ puppets. It's a simplistic, surface-level judgment that overlooks the nuances of each work.

What many miss is the intentional choice behind using animation as a medium for storytelling. Certain narratives cannot be fully conveyed or appreciated in any other form. Animation unlocks potential that is often unattainable in live-action unless one has the budget of Avatar. Animation can recreate the comic book-like aesthetic in a film such as Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. It can also employ super realistic caricature as seen in Soul to delve into the complex journey of finding life's purpose. (I’m not even sure the phrase “super realistic caricature” makes sense, but animation made that possible.) Consider the epic narrative of The Prince of Egypt. Would it have been feasible to capture the grandeur of Moses' story in a live-action format?

On a side note, I have a deep appreciation for the fantastical genre. Creators of fantasy and science fiction showcase an exceptional degree of creativity. Beyond crafting a compelling narrative, they must build an entire world, often complete with its own unique history, culture, and politics. The world becomes a character in its own right, adding depth to the narrative. This is where animation shines; it allows for a seamless integration of reality and fantasy, thereby elevating the creative potential of these already rich genres.

Animation's public perception is somewhat skewed by the fact that many mainstream animated shows for adults are largely comedies. I honour the genius of The Simpsons, Futurama, Rick and Morty, and Family Guy, but understand that their humour doesn't resonate with everyone. Hence, I was thrilled by Invincible and Arcane. These mainstream animated shows, focusing on drama and action, brought a breath of fresh air to adult streaming platforms. DreamWorks has created several mature films, like Kung Fu Panda and Megamind, but they still incorporate whimsical elements and shy away from being wholly mature films.

The timing of the pandemic also provided a unique advantage for Arcane and Invincible to shine. They not only delivered but also held their own against non-animated counterparts. During my viewing of both Invincible and Arcane, there were moments when I had to pause, astounded at the masterpieces unfolding before my eyes. It's unfortunate that Disney and Pixar films typically garner most of the spotlight for animation. While I hold nothing against these powerhouses, their association with childhood viewing often leads people to pigeonhole all their productions as children's content.

Let me wrap this up with this quote from Alberto Mielgo, director of The Windshield Wiper:

“Animation is an art that includes every single art that you can imagine. Animation for adults is a fact, it’s happening, let’s call it cinema!”

I honestly want to give a huge shout-out to the animators and artists behind these shows and movies. Most of them are faceless and nameless to the audience, but they are the ones putting in hours and hours to create these masterpieces.

If this article has stirred your interest in exploring the rich world of animated shows, allow me to suggest a few recommendations:

  • Arcane

  • Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse

  • Soul

  • Love, Death, Robots

  • Invincible

  • Marvel’s What If

  • Moana

  • Encanto

  • Megamind

  • Rango

  • Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

  • Anomalisa

And here are some bangers that we wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for animation:

In fact, this article has got me hyped. I think I’ll go rewatch Akira now. Rant over. Okay, thanks, bye.

Just Reflections
Just Reflections Podcast
Impactful ideas that challenge my thinking. I hope they'll challenge yours too.