Animation not just for kids

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Through my days of junior high and high school, I embodied one of the stereotypical visions of an anime nerd.

Outside of fellow anime nerds, the people around me saw my love for anime as weird. When I talked about starting an animation club—which I did—I received those rigor mortis smiles, those ones where the mouth tightens, the eyes glaze and you know that person is silently judging you as abnormal.

I started college wanting to be an animator, which then morphed into filmmaker and then finally creative writer, but regardless of my studies, animation still holds a dear place in my heart. But even though I’m older and less “weird,” I still see people writing animation off as “just for kids.”

Animation is not just just for kids. It’s a style of filmmaking that gives filmmakers the freedom to explore subjects that conventional live-action can’t. Sometimes, animation dredges up an even more emotional response from audiences, because, as film critic Roger Ebert said, “Realistic films show the physical world; animation shows its essence.”

So where does the arbitrary line between acceptance and rejection of animation come from? What’s the age where we cut ourselves off from childish cartoons and embrace strictly live-action entertainment? Is there a switch in our brains that just didn’t work for me?

 “For whatever reason, some adults don’t understand the appeal of animation, and they feel the need to accost others for liking it,” Jason Krell, author of the the article “Why Saying Animation is Only for Kids is Bullshit,” said. “Watching cartoons is only OK if you watch it with kids who belong to a more fitting age-group. Maybe it’s only OK to watch Disney and Pixar movies, but you can’t like anime or anything on Cartoon Network. Or perhaps shows like ‘The Simpsons’ or ‘Family Guy’ are all that’s OK because they have adult jokes in them.”

There’s a noticeable difference, of course, between the depth of a Disney or Pixar film than an episode of “Adventure Time” or “Rick and Morty” on Cartoon Network, but that arbitrary line still exists, and it separates what’s socially acceptable and what’s not.

There are plenty of examples of animated shows containing content decidedly not for kids. Let’s look at “Tangled,” one of the newer Disney films that adapted the Rapunzel fairytale. Mother Gothel, the villain, kidnaps Rapunzel and imprisons her in a tower so Gothel can use Rapunzel’s magic hair to stay young. She belittles and insults Rapunzel while also acting as a caring mother, twisting Rapunzel’s psyche so the girl will remain in the tower.

Looking through kiddie glasses, Gothel sounds like a typical evil stepmother sort of villain. But looking closer, we see that Gothel is a perpetrator of mental and emotional abuse, a very adult reminder of what can happen in relationships, whether platonic or romantic.

Other examples include the works of Laika, the studio behind such creepy stop-motion films as “Coraline” and “ParaNorman,” as well as the the mythical Japanese epic “Kubo and the Two Strings.”  “ParaNorman” in particular, which deals with children in peril, spoofs classic horror films and pushes the boundaries of the PG rating very near PG-13, is a film that kids will like but will go over most of their heads.

And of course, there’s anime, because the Japanese culture doesn’t see animation as “just for kids.” It’s simply another medium, as it should be.

Many people look at critic reviews or the Academy Awards as an indicator of which films are good. Walt Disney won a total of 22 Academy Awards out of 59 nominations. Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” was nominated for Best Picture and led to the creation of the Best Animated Picture award. Many animated features rank higher on film critic lists than live-action films.

With this kind of track record, the ignorant stigma that animation is only for kids needs to stop. It is ignorant at best and foolish at worst. Instead of making fun of that one Bronie — adult fan of “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” — in our classes, how about we sit down and try it out for ourselves. I’ll bring the popcorn.