Is Animation for Children?

Today I want to talk about a topic that is constantly at the forefront of the online animation fandom discussion.  Is animation for kids?  In fact, just last week I called in with a question to the Rotoscopers about why Hotel Transylvania 2 would have Mel Brooks, a star probably not familiar to children, for only 15 minutes of the film?  To me that makes no sense.  They had some insight but Mason said ‘animation isn’t for kids’.  So evidently Mel Brooks in his mind was brought into the film for the adults watching not the children.

Fair enough.  I can buy that but I do have a few things to say on this topic.

As far as I can see it you have 3 groupings of animated films. 

You have films made for just children.

movies for kids2
This collage is just 4 movies made primarily for children. Whether the are good movies is up for debate. The target demographic is why I picked them.

These are movies you drop the kids off and they have a great experience.  But they aren’t made for adults nor should they have to be.  There are even different ages of children films like say Sesame Street is made for kindergarten aged children and it won’t appeal to older kids.  Not everything should have to be everything to everyone.  That said it is not an excuse to be lazy just because ‘it is for kids’.

Then you have movies that are made for adults. 

OneDrive24These movies are often rated R or a hard PG-13.  They are pretty rare but they can be a beautiful part of the animated landscape.  In these films typically there is little to no attempt to appeal to small children as the content is not appropriate for them.  Whether they are fine for older children and teenagers is up to parents, but the primary audience is mature adults. These films I treat like any live action film for adults. Some of them have content I can tolerate and others are too much.

Then we get to movies that are made for both children and adults.

adults and childrenI would say this is the majority of animated films.  It certainly includes all the Disney Canon films, all Pixar, Dreamworks and Studio Ghibli.  None of these studios have made films that are exclusively adult that I am aware of.

Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame_gargoylesLet’s take a film like Hunchback of Notre Dame.  I got a lot of flack in my review for pointing out the marketing of the film.  I showed the Hunchback nursery rhyme tape and the Burger King kids meal tie-in.  Why did I do this?  Because it was to counter anyone who might claim ‘well that movie was made for adults’.   My response is ‘no it’s not’.  It was clearly made and marketed  to children; therefore, I have the right to call it out when I feel like the content is not appropriate for children.  If they wanted to make a movie like Akira or Chico and Rita that is for adults I would applaud them but that’s not what Disney did.  They added singing gargoyles to appeal to children so when I see disturbing violence and sexuality frankly discussed it is within my rights to say ‘wait a minute…’.

If you are fine with that content for your kids no judgement from me, but I at least think it is worth discussing the value of such content in a film aimed at children.  It was made with kids in mind therefore it should be judged as such.

return to ozReturn to Oz is another one people claim ‘it wasn’t made for kids’. Hogwash.  You don’t make a movie with a moose sled that sings if you aren’t trying to appeal to children. Therefore, it is appropriate to ask questions of whether the content is reasonable for kids.  Some say yes, I say no.   I guess that’s not animation but it scared the begeebees out of me as a kid. You’ve got a Dorothy tied down and given electro shock therapy and wheelies and a hallway of heads marketed and made for kids…Are you kidding me?

minions2Minions is another recent example.  It is a film clearly aimed at children.  They are the one’s who love the Minions most and yet we get boob, butt and torture jokes.  That’s not okay in a film for children in my book.  Perhaps I would have been less annoyed if the movie had been funny but it wasn’t so the inappropriate stuff bothered me even more.

But I feel like when I point these things out some are quick to say ‘but Rachel animation isn’t just for kids’.  I say some is, some isn’t and when something is made at least partially for them there are boundaries I don’t think should be crossed.  I just don’t.

Kids have a very limited time period to mold their intellects, moral centers and judgement, so the entertainment they see should be carefully chosen.  That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be challenged by a film like Wall-e or Fantasia that is artistically difficult or have an occasional joke that goes over their heads, but we should error on the side of caution.  It is also okay to introduce them to difficult topics like death, depression, or anxiety without it becoming unseemly.  Song of the Sea, Inside Out even Lion King are great examples of films for kids that helped them contemplate adult topics in an appropriate way.

over the garden wall5The other day a friend was asking me if I thought her kids would like Over the Garden Wall and as completely brilliant as I think the series is it was hard for me to answer.  It is pretty scary for a child under 6.  Scares are perhaps the area with the most leeway and variance depending on the kids.  Some kids would have no problem with Return to Oz but I did.  I hated The Rescuers because the idea of being abducted and forced down a cave was scary.  Other kids love that movie so that’s where careful parenting comes in.

The truth is I ask the same question of live action films like Marvel or Harry Potter but most of those films are made for teenagers over 13.  Most animated films are PG or lower and that means sometimes parents need guidance (Parental Guidance is what PG means after all!).  So as bloggers we can provide a service to parents to help them know what elements of a film are not appropriate for children.  I think that is a very good thing and I hope I help out my friends with kids in that department.

Regardless, I don’t think it is wrong to ask the question of an animated film ‘is this appropriate for kids’?  With the exception of the adults only films, most animated movies are made with kids at least tangentially in mind. I don’t know how that can even be argued.  As I see it, it is a fact and one the studios make billions of dollars on in merchandising and marketing.

So I will continue to ask if these animated films are for kids, and if they aren’t, I’ll tell you.  That’s my commitment to all of you!

21 thoughts on “Is Animation for Children?

  1. Very well said. Though I think that there are a few Disney movies which are made more for adults than children from the get go. Fantasia is one of them, Who Framed Roger Rabbit another. Atlantis is definitely more for older teens than children. The problem with Hunchback is that Disney apparently couldn’t decide on a target demographic, so it ended up being a movie which is appropriate for an older audience, but with strangely immature stuff thrown in. (They also have a few movie which address mainly children by design, like The Aristocats or Dumbo).

    1. I think you are right on with all your points. The early stuff I think there is more of an argument that it wasnt made for kids because the audience hadnt really been defined for most animation and Disney. They were still trying to hone that in. By the 60s it was pretty set in stone.

  2. Fair points, although I will argue that ‘Cars 2’ was made for both adults and kids in mind mainly because of the Michael Caine casting, but it’s debatable.

    I guess animation will always have an audience towards kids and it’s a stereotype that’ll be hard, and maybe even impossible, to break away from.

    1. I don’t think it is really a stereotype but more of a reality. With the exception of the all adult animation children are part of the intended audience for animation.

      I think John Lasseter has basically said Cars 2 was made for kids, which is why I picked it.

      1. That raises the question of how many kids would recognize the real-life voices associated with cars/racecar driving, or be interested in the commentary on alternative fuel.

      2. That’s fair. I think certainly the humor and colors and overall feel of the film is for kids and like I said I put it on the collage because of what the creators said.

        But really dont get hung up on the visual. My overall point is some films are made for kids, some for adults, some for kids and adults. As long as kids are in that intended audience it is appropriate to ask questions whether content is good for them or not. Just saying “it’s not made for kids” isnt true unless it is one of the very rare adults only animated films. Almost all are made and marketed with children in mind. Thats a fact, so in most cases animation is for kids at least tangentially

  3. Yeah, I agree with you. I don’t think it’s fair to lump animated movies together as being “for kids” or not. Different types of animated films have different intentions.

    1. The fact is most animated movies are made with kids in mind but that doesn’t mean it is any less of a medium. It’s tough to entertain kids. 🙂

  4. The whole subject of “is animation for children?” is a bit of a loaded question, because it implies again that animation is a medium directly meant for children, and all to often even the term “family film” gets swapped out with “children’s film” which again implies a lack of effort in storytelling and character development. Its unfortunately because of overly simplistic material like the Ice Age sequels or the weaker Dreamworks movies (and even the worst of Disney’s library) that really do nothing for the medium. Yes, the majority of animated films have elements that are catered to both children and adults and are able strike a right balance, but not many of them do it so flawlessly. At least, not as often in western animation compared to the works of Hayao Miyazaki.

    I want to challenge this perception. This Christmas holiday, I’ve actually set up a fortnight long challenge for myself and my family which consists of watching and critiquing animated films that raise the profile of the medium and tell compelling stories in their own right. Bear in mind, however, that if I did open the listings to the Miyazaki pictures a lot of films that I do want to show, as well as the ones my brother is interested in seeing again, would be able to appear on the list. In the Walt Disney bracket there’s: The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Mulan and Lilo and Stitch. In the Pixar Bracket: Toy Story, WALL-E, Up and Inside Out. For Warner Bros: The Iron Giant, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and The LEGO Movie, for Dreamworks we have: Shrek 2 (my personal favourite of the first two Shreks), How to Train Your Dragon, and Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Fifteen films spread out over fifteen days, all of which I believe challenge the stereotype of animation as just a “kids’ stuff” medium. Of course there are no doubt plenty more, not least of all from Miyazaki, but I think there will be more opportunities like that in the future.

    1. That sounds like a great project. I just think that unless they are making movies for adults, which is true for some animation as I noted, then animated films should be appropriate for kids. I just feel it is a bit disingenuous when I point out something that I don’t think is appropriate for kids and they say ‘it’s not made for kids’. Most of the time that is not true at least in part.

      It sounds like you are going to be watching some great films! And I don’t think any of them are not for kids. Not like a Persepolis, Chico and Rita, Waltz with Bashir or Akira, which are for strictly adults. It might be cool to include one of those in your project as a point of contrast.

      1. I thought I would update you on my much anticipated ‘Fortnight of Animation’ Project, which has actually started tonight with Beauty and the Beast!!

        And it got off to a good start… I believe. This was the first time in years that we as a family watched this movie, and I was expecting positive reactions across the board. My brother was thoroughly entertained, my dad was moved to tears and impressed by how much it held up over time. But my mum felt like the film as putting too much deliberate focus on a “male fantasy”; i.e. the delusional dream that Gaston has of trying to make Belle his wife, and that it’s too driven by catering to audiences with the “fantasy” undertones of the Beauty/Beast dynamic rather than tell a sincere story. While she said it was a well produced movie, that aspect of it was enough to lower her enjoyment of it. And honestly, I’m more lost and confused than anything else. 🙁

      2. Unusual argument but I’ve always thought the sincerity was one of the better parts of Beauty and the Beast because it’s about a relationship that grows authentically.

      3. Exactly! By the standards set by Disney, and many great motion pictures past and present, Beauty and the Beast meets those standards beautifully because it connects with people in a sincere, non-manipulative and optimistic fashion, because of that belief in the best of humanity.

        I should mention that my mum was very perturbed by the character of Gaston and everything he represents. And while I completely agree that Gaston is a very unpleasant and vile character, the fact that he is consistently shown to be in the wrong is to the movie’s credit. Nevertheless, we’re still seeing more movies in the coming days, with Aladdin and The Lion King being the next movies on my list, hopefully the results won’t be so… confusing.

      4. I think we are supposed to be repulsed by Gaston and it’s actually a fascinating character arc of a town hero who allows one person not liking him get to his head.

        Are you blogging about this experience?

      5. I agree with you on Gaston, and I love how the film deconstructs his “town hero” facade to show him to be the monster that he is.

        I’m actually not blogging the Project mainly because I hadn’t considered that, it was just a series of fun nights over Christmas with the family.

  5. In the end I just think it is nonsense to pretend that most animation isnt intended for children. It is

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