Animation Elation

31 October 2012

When I was fourteen, my favourite TV shows involved oversized weaponry and frenetic light shows masquerading as battles. Anime characters lost limbs on a regular basis. My unimpressed father proclaimed me “too old for cartoons”—a confusing assertion from someone who lists The Lion King as a cinematic masterpiece.

 Nevertheless, it’s a common claim: liking cartoons and other childish material has a price. The charitable will call you eccentric; the condescending dismiss you as an overgrown child. You will never be taken seriously.

It’s an exaggeration. Barring the grating Afro Circus jingle in the Madagascarads, animation is unquestionably art. It’s no less culturally relevant (or escapist) than any other form of entertainment. The best films of the genre are ageless. I know people who wept during the heartbreaking Toy Story 3. Many animated films from Disney and Pixar studios to features like Wallace & Gromit and Pirates! cater to children and adults alike. Thrilling, wacky adventures appeal to the kids (of all ages) while the adults get a chuckle out of comedy that may fly over the tiny tots’ heads. Not many children would have picked out Frozone’s (Samuel L. Jackson) scenes of browbeaten domesticity in The Incredibles and—as one YouTube commenter jokingly labelled it—“the Obama’s home life”.

While Toy Story 3 and many other animated movies and TV shows tell beloved children’s stories, a lot more are unnerving upon closer inspection.Avatar: The Last Airbender was on the surface a fun, light-hearted adventure series about a young Tibetan monk who could manipulate the elements, but actually depicted a child soldier whose race was wiped out. Its sequel, The Legend of Korra, provided more food for thought in its commentary on social privilege. Disney’s operatic Hunchback of Notre Dame contains a sequence where the abused Quasimodo tussles with his tormentor atop Notre Dame, culiminating with the villain falling into an inexplicably literal lake of fire.The Princess and the Frog involved vengeful voodoo demons, while Dreamworks’ The Prince of Egypt wasn’t shy about depicting Biblical plagues. Adding to the nightmare fuel is cutesy body horror Alma (available on YouTube). Not suitable for children? Most likely.

Naturally, there exists an entire section of animated programming that’s explicitly targeted at adults. Although the filmic contributions to this genre are usually thought-provoking (Persepolis, Waltz with Bashir), the TV shows are often openly vulgar and mildly horrifying. There are the snappy household sitcoms like The Simpsons, Daria, and Bob’s Burgers. The cruderFamily Guy is the equivalent of an embarrassing uncle with a beer belly and trucker cap; Metapocalypse is obviously the clan metalhead. Drawn Together_—a spoof of animated stereotypes and controversial topics such as rape and necrophilia—featured a racist, homophobic Disney princess whose genitalia manifested as a sentient Cthulhu-esque monster (‘Octopussoir’). _Archer — a spy series in the vein of James Bond—is equally morally questionable. (“You killed a hooker!” “She was a call girl!” “When they’re dead, they’re just hookers!”)

Despite the flak its fans receive, Japanese anime is a genre unto itself, and has done a lot to make animation a legitimate form of adult entertainment. Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki is responsible for Grave of the Fireflies (a World War II tragedy), Princess Mononoke (a gory, environmentalist fable) and the Oscar-winning Spirited Awa_y. Miyazaki’s favoured themes include but are not limited to the horrors of war, and the conflict between old-world tradition and the globalisation of modern society. Satoshi Kon’s _Paprika, which inspired Inception, involved similar skin-slicing in a complex labyrinth of dreams. The steampunk Full Metal Alchemist series boasts strong characterisation and messages about friendship and sacrifice. TheFinal Fantasy films’ sophisticated, photorealistic CG speaks for itself as an art form. I won’t go into hentai, but if you’re old enough to watch cartoon porn, I can’t stop you.

There really isn’t a point in life where you must stop enjoying animation, or any good story no matter the medium. There’s nothing wrong with being young at heart, and excessive concern about appropriate ‘adult’ behaviour can arguably hinder psychological progress. CS Lewis expresses it best: “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am 50 I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

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