The Versatility of Animation

By Liv Johnston

Animation, in general, has a reputation of being targeted to a young audience. The ability to include loud colors, the connection to children’s cartoons, and the propensity for easily-digestible themes are all contributors to the attribution of animation to kids. Thus, many viewers tend to consider animation a lesser form of media––or even have an outright negative opinion of it––than the live action alternative. However, one may assess the amount of detail and dedication that often goes into animation and wonder why this generalization is so prevalent when it is obvious that animators put a lot of hard work into their craft. To answer this, one must look to the company that first comes to mind when talking about animation: Disney.

Disney began as a relatively small cartoon studio. Overtime, its animation prowess grew. Disney’s name became associated with cartoons and animated movies; it was rare for any animated film to not be, in some way, tied to Disney. Now, Disney is known for its constant production. Whether it be Marvel, Star Wars, a new streaming series, or animation projects, there is always an expectation that Disney will be releasing something. Disney, then, seems to be a leading force in the growth of consumer culture, in which we, as consumers, are constantly looking for something (typically material goods, but can also be applied to media) new. This constancy leads to a lack of ; the producers become more focused on efficiency rather than quality. Thus, in relation to Disney’s near-monopolization of Western animation, this notion of productivity over excellency has become applied to all animation. Recycled, seemingly surface-level plots and themes are a hallmark of animation, so much so that the little animation not associated with Disney and is full of effort and soul, has less of a chance in the market. On top of this, animation takes a lot of time, skill, and therefore money that companies are often not willing to spend (as we can see with the influx of animation cancellations on non-Disney affiliated streaming services). Thus, potential animation projects are often not even made or completed.

Yet in recent years, the detailed animated projects that have been completed and released have proven to be much more successful than was anticipated. This, then, seems to suggest that the issue is moreso executives’ lack of faith in animation as a successful medium, rather than the general public’s dissatisfaction. Things like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Arcane, and more recently, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish have averted expectations of animation in terms of style, story, audience, maturity, and depth. Through these projects, animators were given the space to experiment and put a higher level of care into their product, rather than rely on the cookie-cutter character designs and family friendly plots that most Disney animation allows. Therefore, this push for creatives to actually be creative is crucial to consumers’ enjoyment of the creative project. 

The overall problem here, then, seems to be consumerism and the desire for constant efficiency. When we expect professions such as animators to work at a high rate of production, the resultant products are bound to be less soulful as they would be if these creatives were given the time and space to fully express themselves and the messages they are reaching to represent. When this mindset is applied to an entire company––and one as influential as Disney at that––stereotypes are bound to develop. Therefore, we need to work towards dismantling such expectations, and focus instead on how much can be accomplished through, and the range of people that can enjoy, the medium of animation.