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.
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.
These 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.
I 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.
Let’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 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?
Minions 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.
The 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!