Censorship in Animation

Censorship in animation is a tricky and elusive topic to talk about. Sometimes it involves lots of contradictions and hypocrisy.  And it seems like has different standards case to case. For example, Tom and Jerry from 1940s could be called out for cartoon violence. Some more contemporary cartoons like Sam and Max are allowed greater latitude of violence.The guidelines are different depends on what platform you decide to put your show on. For example, cable channels have the strictest censorship guidelines while online-only mediums have less strict guidelines.  Even there is a general guideline for people to look at when decided what is appropriate to be on-air,  the final decision often falls to individual censors.  In this article, I will mostly focus on censorship of racism, sexism and violence in American cartoons.

The Image of Racism

This scene from Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat, featuring a town called The Lazy Town. This woman on the left of the image singing around the town, while the rest of the town is far darker, with exaggerated thick lips.  This was a common use of stereotype in animation back days. At that time, these are considered as “did not offended or degraded the colored race”. As quoted from Walter Lantz who was the founder of Walter Lantz  Production and created Woody Woodpecker, “the first thing that happened was the elimination of all my films that contained Negro characters; there were eight such pictures. But we never offened or degraded the colored race and they were all top musical cartoons too. ”  So if at that time, some creators still believe that using stereotypes in animation to represent minorities should be forgivable.  Then when and why did animators stop making these film?

The simple answer to this question is that there are mainly two reasons; the actions of African-American publications and organizations such as the NAACP (the national association for the advancement of colored people) in making their displeasure with stereotypes in American animation public and known.




These two image shows different cases of censorship in animation. For example, in 1930, Flossie Cow was presented completely nude with no cloth or hair to cover any parts of its body. Censors obviously had no problem with Flossie Cow just wearing a cowbell. In 1932 , they have to make Flossie Cow to wear a skirt before the movie go public. In 1939, Flossie started to wear a actual dress and walk upright more human-like.  Similar to this, the Mermaid had to use hair to cover her chest.

We all know that sex sells in any industries. Is this the reason why we have all these sexy bunnies, sexy lady cats and sexy ducks in our children’s cartoon? who will be calling the shots for “if the girl should wear more”? It seems like the censors for sex and sexism has become stricter. However, we can say that today’s popular animation has the most violence than ever in animation history.

Some popular shows has successfully developed violence into humor. For example, in classic cartoon Tom and Jerry, we have all seen Tom tried to kill Jerry with a shotgun, knife or hammer. These acts might not be consider appropriate for children. More realistic violence involving acts which children could imitate are not allowed.  So what is the limit for how much violence that a show could have just to make it funny before you call it “too far”?  Why is a live action movie for children have different censorship guidelines than cartoons? It is indeed ironic that cartoon shorts are censored while mainstream prime-time entertainment is bawdier than ever in entertainment history.



Live Action Remakes of Animated Films The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Now I won’t lie, I have never been and will never be a fan of Live Action Remakes of animated films. I’m putting my bias out there right now. With that said, I will now try and convince any of you on the other side of this matter or on the fence about it that animated remakes are redundant, unnecessary, and disrespectful to the original work.

Before I get into how I thing Live action remakes of animated films are bad, I will start off by presenting how I tend to view remakes in general and whether or not they can be considered a good film. I judge them based on three categories, Quality, Originality, and Accuracy. Quality is pretty self explanatory, is it a well made film. Originality as to if it brings anything new to the table. Accuracy is how accurate it is to the original source material. Now with that said, I’ll move on to what I think are the good, the bad, and the ugly side of live action remakes.

I will acknowledge the good that comes from these types of movies. They will oftentimes draw new eyes to a series or franchise that may not have had all that much attention before. This can be good for the original, as it could result in people who enjoyed the movie to go back and try and find the original movie to watch and enjoy. Media companies may also use Live action remakes as sure fire ways to ensure reaching a large audience of people so they can make money. This can help fund studios to make more risky ventures that may not make a lot of money. I by no means think all remakes are by nature bad. Sometimes a movie is a bad movie and a remake can give it the second chance it needs to be successful.

As much good as a remake has the potential to do, I feel as though they more often than not do more damage to the original movie then do it good. When I mentioned the remakes having the potential to draw new eyes to the movie as a good thing, this is very much a perfect scenario deal. If the remake that is produced is well made and accurate to the original, then when people go back to watch the original they will be able to experience the thing that they love again but in its original medium. However, if the movie that they saw was far inaccurate to the source material, when the audience member goes back to watch the original they will not find the movie they love but something else. Worst case scenario say I had a friend that I rant and rave about how good Ghost in the Shell is and they decide “hey I’ll go watch it” but they watch the live action movie. If they find that they hate the live action and think it’s bad, they may assume the animated movie is the same, because why wouldn’t they. It’s a remake right, it should be the same. But often times it’s not, the changes may sometimes be small like removing a plot element, or sometimes may be big like changing the race of the protagonist. All of this has to do with the perception of the audience member to the work itself, however i believe that their is a much bigger issue with Live action remakes.

When an animated movie is remade into a live action film to perpetuates the stereotype that animation is an inferior form of media. It gives off this feeling that the animated movie wasn’t good enough and for people to enjoy it, it has to be live action. Even when something isn’t even live action they will still toat it as live action for fear that people won’t go see an animated film. The new “live action” animated Lion King movie is going to be made with CGI, and yet they are still advertising it as live action. Some people may say, “oh well of course they are remaking it, the original movie came out so long ago”. This is often not the case, Kimi no na wa (Your Name) came out this year and is already slotted to have a live action remake to be directed by J.J. Abrams. Kimi no na wa is the highest grossing anime and despite the world wide reception of it, it is going to be remade into live action. It’s as if to say “ya that movie was good, but you know what would make it better… real people.” It’s disrespectful to the artists who created the movie, and the medium itself. Animation is not a genre, it’s a medium. The lack of respect animation has in hollywood can be seen by how the movies Shaun the Sheep and Anomalisa were both put in the same category in the oscars under Animation. The two films couldn’t be more different, but because they are animated they are viewed in the same light. Animation deserves better than this.

Is there anything that we can do however. Us little movie goers. YES we can decide to not see these movies. When we see that Disney is putting out another Live action remake of one of its classic movies we can choose to not go see it. When we see that another anime is being given a westernised adaptation we can put our foot down and say no. These movies already exist and they wont be improved by simply making it live action.

My Review of Tehran Taboo

A few weeks ago on Sunday, October 22nd I took an Uber to the TCL Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard to attend the first ever “Animation is Film” Festival. Out of the vast choices of films to see, Tehran Taboo stood out the most to me with its detailed rotoscoped animation and more serious topics involving real world issues. Being a huge fan of the 2008 film Waltz with Bashir, which also is rotoscoped and portrays a soldier’s memory of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon in 1982, I was excited for Tehran Taboo and hoped it would inspire me just as Waltz with Bashir did. While it had an excellent script and amazing actors, Tehran Taboo did not particularly impress me with anything incredibly complex and it even made me question whether or not it could even be considered a true animation film.

Tehran Taboo takes place in modern-day Iran and revolves the sexual lives of a sex worker, two young women, and a young man, all who’s lives become entangled with each other in some way. The rampant sex and drugs greatly contrast the harsh religious rules they all live under. The film opens to Pari, our sex worker protagonist, performing a sexual act to a cabbie while her mute son sits in the backseat. Pari does this because her husband is in jail and she needs his signature to find employment or any form of support, she cannot even get divorced. The judge agrees to sign her divorce papers on the condition that she becomes his concubine, and he also sets her up with an apartment for her and her son. There they meet their neighbor Sara, a pregnant housewife who is fighting her husband to allow her to return to work and not settle down after having the child. Her husband works at the local bank and turns down a loan to our male protagonist Babak, a struggling young musician who gets himself into trouble when he takes the virginity of a girl during a drug-fulled one night stand in a nightclub bathroom. The girl, Donya, is getting married soon and needs surgery to “become a virgin” again before her aggressive fiancé finds out. The film displays the hypocrisy that comes from strict religious control enforced by fear. The basic message of the film is that people will always be people and make poor life choices, regardless of their social and economic customs. While this was displayed very easily, it was harsh to the point where there was no break from the constant tragedies, and that’s where I had some problems with the film.

While the film did show us the grim realities that are often present in the lives of people living in more third-world countries, it bashed the message so much that it failed to show that there were still good things happening within Tehran. There was little beauty, rarely any real small moments of hope or genuine happiness to contrast the darker themes of the film. While I understand that reality can be this way, the characters were fictional themselves and therefore we could have had some breathing room to allow us to process everything we had seen. The film felt more like one criticism after another after another, without anything to explain the reasons or portray the good side of Iran. The stories of each character were very believable and I felt a lot of the tense and suspenseful energy, but it was so constant it made the conclusions feel less climactic than they could have been.

Another problem I had with the movie was the rotoscoping itself; or more so, the lack of actual animation animation. The movie never broke from the live action whatsoever, never incorporating any original scenes from scratch. With Waltz with Bashir, there were entire dream sequences with stunning experimental animation, which really made the film memorable and tied into the story brilliantly. Tehran Taboo, on the other hand, could have easily been done in live action to the same effect. While I’m not saying you can’t make an excellent film this way, I feel that if you use animation as a medium, you should take advantage of the creative power that is in your hands and break from the live action, even if it’s just a little bit.  And while the more sexual scenes would be easier to view as animated, I personally believe that for a film to be considered actual “animation,” it should have more than just drawings over live action frames. I would love to hear your opinions on this.

Dream scene from Waltz with Bashir

Overall, Tehran Taboo is a stunning film with an interesting story and a unique perspective on modern day Iraq and the problem with strict religious laws. However, the film failed to use its animation as a creative tool with limitless potential and more just for style points. It also felt extremely one-sided with the points it was trying to make without any room for showing the hope within the darkness. I would highly recommend you take some time to see it when it arrives in theatres next year, though if you haven’t also seen Waltz with Bashir, I would highly recommend watching it now if you want your mind blown.

Overworking in the Animation Industry

Animation is a work intensive medium; the effects of which can be seen and felt both with fresh, bright-eyed graduates, and well-seasoned veterans. Too often do we hear stories of new graduates diving headfirst into the industry, excited to prove themselves and put forward their absolute best. These green animators, determined to maintain this same level of skill in all their work, sacrifice their sleep, health and social life only to see a decline in their work quality, and an eventual burnout. Many of these animators, after witnessing the harshness of the industry and the degradation of the medium they hold so dear, will abandon the field altogether. Though for those who stay, the fight does not get easier, with unrealistic schedules, unrealistic hours, and unfair pay, even artists with decades of experience suffer.

Now what exactly is going on in the animation industry that is causing such strife? Essentially, the industry is built upon the notion, much like many artistic fields, that animation is easy, that the computer is carrying the brunt of the work, and therefore these artists need not be well paid. ‘Cause it’s not really work if it’s fun right? Because of this, despite the fact that media as a whole has become incredibly reliant on animation and visual effects (VFX), contracting companies are still seeking to pay the least amount of money to their VFX and animation studios. The jobs, be they film, tv show, commercial, game, are auctioned off to the studio offering the cheapest bid, (usually a flat bid, meaning changes and additions the project, and alterations in the schedule will not be covered by the contracting company. And with this initial agreement, the fate of the artist’s on board is sealed. From here on out the studio must function within the budget provided and schedule agreed upon. A tightrope must be walked between having enough employees that the work is properly distributed to avoid overworking, yet not too many such that the team can be properly paid for their service.

Often times this medium cannot be achieved as deadlines approach and crunch begins. Artists are forced to work overtime, often unpaid. An excellent example of this was last year’s film, “Sausage Party,” produced my Canadian animation company, Nitrogen Studios. Now, I have no intention of ever seeing this film or supporting the franchise in any way, but for clarity’s sake, the film is about anthropomorphized, talking grocery store food that discover what actually happens after they are purchased. The film has hit with enormous backlash after animation news site, Cartoon Brew posted an article about the film, and its animators came forward, anonymously complaining about their work conditions during the film.

Many animators were forced to quit the project due to unfair working conditions, ranging from unpaid overtime to ridiculous and unattainable schedules. Artists were threatened, being told,”if [they] wouldn’t work late for free [their] work would be assigned to someone who would stay late or come in on the weekend.” Other artists were threatened with termination for not staying late to hit deadlines, while others still upon handing in their notices were threatened by Nitrogen that their reputations would be ruined.

Being blacklisted is a vey real threat that faces artists in the animation community. If a company tarnishes the artist’s reputation it makes it next to impossible for them to find a future carrier in the industry. This in itself makes artists fearful to step forward and speak up about unfair work conditions in the field.

All of this continued to spiral, with many artists not getting screen credit for their work on the film, and Nitrogen’s director, Tiernan, boasted to Cartoon Brew about keeping his production budget relatively low, a feat only attainable by not paying his employees.

Now this is but one story from the animation industry, but overworking is a very real problem facing today’s animators. Overworking leads to at the very least, a lower quality of life, but it is also not uncommon for many artists to be hospitalized, to die prematurely, (especially in more eastern animation industries) and to commit suicide due to work conditions. This is a problem that truly must be addressed,, starting with valuing artists for their work for it takes years of practice and understanding to achieve their level of skill. They must be properly compensated for their efforts and be given reasonable schedules. Running them into the ground before throwing them away in favour of a fresher, greener model which doesn’t know any better is not a good business model. These artists are people and should be treated as such and respected. And perhaps most important, animators shouldn’t feel afraid to speak up about problems and unfairness in the workplace. They shouldn’t have to worry about putting their future in jeopardy every time they try fight for their human rights.