The Spirit

Animation Equality

Animation is a medium, not a genre

Photo by Robert J. Thompson- an advertisement for an early television set.

Photo by Robert J. Thompson- an advertisement for an early television set.

James Wyman, Senior Writer

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In the past, animation has been dismissed as an art form when compared to live action. It has come to light that many people view animation as childish. There are many factors that cause this prejudice.

To get a clear answer, one must first look at the early days of animation and film in general. In 1906, animation was primarily seen as being for adults because the industry was new and wanted to focus on people with actual money. Animation’s full potential was highlighted when society realized it could bring any idea to life.

Photo by Robert J. Thompson- an advertisement for an early television set.

However, the 1950s brought a new force into the equation that would change entertainment forever: television. For the first time, people were able to watch the news or catch whichever sports game in the comfort of their own home. In addition, one did not have to pay per each viewing.

This last fact meant that any programs made specifically for television had to work on a much more restrictive budget. In order to appeal to this market, the animation itself became a lot less refined, polished and fluid, which adults had a hard time looking past. Thus, children gradually became the target demographic for animation; unfortunately, this caught the attention of the censors.

Around the same time that television was becoming popular, the medium of comics received a much harsher set of restrictions, the Comic Code Authority, in order to curb content, especially violence, that was unsuitable for children. However, the Comic Code Authority was also created to silence certain progressive ideas. Soon, all media aimed at children adopted similar regulations. As a result, animation was affected with harsh restrictions similar to those that comics had to worry about.

The famous characters of the animated television show “Tom and Jerry”.

Television censors banned all violence, to the point that even slapstick comedy was considered too much for children, meaning that cartoons such as Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry lost any semblance of edge. Without slapstick, Tom and Jerry would become a show that nobody wants to watch because it is boring.

The faces of the influential characters of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”.

Surprisingly, the shows that started to loosen censorship were the action-based toy cartoons of the 80s like Transformers, Ninja Turtles and G.I.Joe, who were all smart enough to realize that good entertainment cannot exist without conflict. The other major contribution was that these toy lines gave their shows a reliable source of revenue, meaning that the animation itself was noticeably of higher quality.

The 1990s continued to break barriers. With the production of shows such as The Simpsons and Batman which appealed to both kids and adults, the barriers were pushed with what was acceptable in comedy. The anime boom during this decade also helped popularize more complex and mature storylines in animated shows.

So, if the stereotype that cartoons are harmless kiddy-fluff has not actually been true for so long, then why does the stereotype persist? Well, while television animation took advantage of loosening standards, film animation did not.

For most of the time after the new standards, Disney was really the only consistently profitable source of animated films. There were others like the works of Don Bluth or the more adult works of Ralph Bakshi, but they just could not compete with the “House of Mouse” financially. While Disney films often dealt with mature topics, they generally produced G rated films. Since any business’ main goal is to make money, the wisdom of Disney’s child focus was chosen because it was the most profitable course of action.

Main characters of the revolutionary animated movie “Shrek”.

However, in 2001, Shrek was produced. This animated film singlehandedly put Dreamworks on the map and popularized the usage of toilet humor and pop culture references. When that film succeeded, every animation studio decided to copy the formula without realizing Shrek was not just immature humor and references. but had a plot. Thus the companies of Blue Sky and Illumination, who were more interested in making money than true artistic merit, were created.

That also brings up the other part of the issue, that Hollywood and all the big studios simply do not care about animated films as much as live action. This conflict of interest is because unlike live action, voice actors rely mainly on their vocal abilities and have to convey emotion without the help of facial cues. Sadly, voice actors do not get the same kind of recognition as, Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johansson, who are actors dependent on their appearance.

There is also the economic factor: making quality animation is not necessarily cheap, so studios are more likely to produce less ambitious projects because they tend to turn a larger profit compared to their budget. In addition, many contemporary critics grew up during the proverbial dark age of animation, and thus there may be assumptions that they are biased against animated films.

While these theories are largely speculation, they are a likely truth about how Hollywood sees animation. Therefore, it is clear that Hollywood at large does not mind propagating the stereotypes about animation so long as it profits.

If the bias against animation is truly such a problem, how can it be resolved? The same way television animation got passed the censors. Animated films need to be more willing to take more risks, to make themselves mature in a way beyond the easy ways. Animation’s strength is portraying fantastical or highly stylized worlds, and just like literature, these unique aspects can be used to reflect upon real world issues to a degree that realistic works cannot.

If the stereotypes are successfully broken, animation can be taken to new levels within both film and television. The question remains to be asked: could an animated film win a Best Picture Oscar someday despite whether if it appears realistic or not?

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Animation Equality