Quality of Animated Kid Shows and Movies

I’ve recently had a discussion with my friends about the quality among animation movies and shows that are targeted towards kids around the age of 10. This came up when I believed most kids are more mature than we were when we were their age; however, my friends did not agree for the content that has been and will be created within animation kid movies and shows reflects the kids. I thought this because I have a younger sister who I consider to be mature for her age and have friends similar to her. However I changed my mind when my friends gave me examples of current content that have and will be put out.

Although kids currently have so much access to information due to technology, I believe there has been a bit of a digression among the story content created within animation.

Within these past few years movies, such as The Angry Birds Movie (2016), The Boss Baby (2017), Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017), Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (2018), and Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (2018), have came out. I have not seen many of these movies, but in my opinion it seems that the quality of the story is not as ambitious or creative as it used to be in my generation. Don’t get me wrong; there has been great animated movies that have come out these past years, but I believe majority of the content isn’t what it could be. Companies seem to be creating movies that aren’t great stories with meaningful concepts but rather for the comedy aspect, such as The Angry Birds Movie 2 (2019), Frozen 2 (2019), How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019), and Minecraft (2019). As one can see many movie just seem like a “fun” movie to watch had a high gross or will have remakes done.

 

 

 

It seems that content being created are not taking ambitious or daring steps and are comfortable making a certain kind of story. This could also be said about animated kid shows. There are a good amount of amazing animated shows, such as Steven Universe, The Amazing World of Gumball, and Adventure Time; however, on the other side there’s shows, such as Teen Titans Go!, Powerpuff Girls (reboot), and Ben 10 (reboot).

There seems to be a trend of reboots and certain “XD RANDOM LOL humor and memes” comedy within current animated kid movies and shows because that’s what is appealing within current pop culture (Barnfield). Movies and shows are just being created like this due to the profit it will bring in. However, it is important that good stories are also being created. Kids are influenced by what they watch. Kids can take these content and unconsciously act upon or similarly to what they have watched; therefore, creators need to be careful about what they put out there. There definitely can be a way that appeals to kids with this current humor while talking about serious issues like The Amazing World of Gumball.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Barnfield, Oliver. “The Problems with Modern Animation.” Canyon Echoes, 20 Mar. 2018, canyonechoes.org/9682/showcase/the-problems-with-modern-animation/.

Mann, Court. “Court Mann: PG Films Have an Animation Problem – and Vice Versa.” DeseretNews.com, Deseret News, 22 Aug. 2018, www.deseretnews.com/article/900028956/court-mann-pg-films-have-an-animation-problem-and-vice-versa.html.

 

 

The Hollywood Wage Gap

Closely following the #MeToo movement, the wage gap issue has risen again as a major point of discussion within the Hollywood community. Recently, multiple actresses including Claire Foy, Ellen Pompeo, and Octavia Spencer have spoken up about not receiving equal pay to their male, and in Spencer’s case even white female, counterparts.

In one of panels held during the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, actress Octavia Spencer spoke of her struggle against wage inequality throughout her career. For actresses of colour, who encounter fewer job opportunities than white women, the pay gap is even greater. At the panel, Spencer revealed that recently, she and her close friend and fellow actress, Jessica Chastain negotiated for the two to be paid the same for costarring in their upcoming comedy film. The result of this pushback, was that both women were paid five times what they were originally offered.

Here’s the video of Spencer speaking about her experience at the “Women Breaking Barriers” Banel at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival:

Chastain and Spencer are both advocates for the Time’s Up Now movement. Time’s Up is a Legal defense fund formed this year by hundreds of Hollywood women to fight sexual harassment and inequality, and targets companies that permit pay disparity in all industries. One of the things that’s come out of the Time’s Up movement is HBO closing its pay gap. Reportedly, HBO has gone through all their shows to see if there were any inappropriate disparities in pay,  and correcting any if found. This is just one step in the right direction for correcting the pay inequality in the entertainment industry.

Though animation may have started out as a boy’s club, for many years, many women and men have worked to fix the inequality in the workplace. However, for all the progress we’ve made, there’s still more work to do. According to the Animation Guild, in just Los Angeles-based studios in 2015, only 10% of producers/directors, 17% of writers, 21% of art/designers, and 23% of animators were women. According to award-winning game designer Kim McAuliffe, the pay gap is hard to quantify, but “the environment tends to favor aggression and negotiation and some women either don’t want to or don’t feel like they can negotiate when it comes to salary or promotions.”.

There’s always hope though. Here is some advice given by My N. Tran and Kim McAuliffe,  both talented and successful game designers, to young women thinking about starting their careers in games:

  • You are responsible for yourself and your happiness. This is never going to change.
  • There will be awesome and awful people – judge individuals based on their actions. Surround yourself with good people, don’t concern yourself with toxic people.
  • Get everything down on paper. Serious. Everything. Never depend on verbal agreements. Things that were promised to you, every goal your manager said you needed to hit for a promotion to happen, acknowledgement of great work, etc.
  • Negotiate hard and don’t be afraid to put up a fight. Document your accomplishments and successes and have metrics that support them.
  • If the company exhausted all of your goodwill and has treated you badly – start looking for a new place that is worth your time, energy, and effort.
  • Lastly, when you feel like you are no longer learning something new at your job, it is time to move on because you’re wasting your time.
  • Work hard to develop the skills you need to be marketable, but also work to connect with other women as mentors and friends.
  • Don’t put up with micro-aggressions. Don’t be afraid to use HR when a situation calls for it, but know that their primary interest is protecting the company.
  • Do what you have to to make sure your voice is heard and you get credit for your work and ideas. Make sure you give credit to others when due; not enough people do this and it will be appreciated.
  • Don’t feel like you have to be “one of the boys” to be liked.
  • Your direct manager will have more impact than anyone else on your work happiness and career growth, so cultivate a strong working relationship with them focusing on communication and transparency. This will allow them to step in and help with potential problems early, as well as to share the great things you’ve been doing with the levels of leadership above them.

I’m going to leave you all with a few more videos that speak about the wage gaps between white women, men, and women of colour, along all platforms.

Animated Characters and Cultural Diversity

As the world is rapidly progressing towards becoming more culturally diverse, there is an increase in demand for the types of characters shown in media—in particular, animation—to be diverse as well. Although there has been significant progress in the past 20 years with regard to the types of animated characters portrayed on screen, there is still substantial room for improvement. We not only have to move towards having more representation in media but also have to push for accurate and respectful representation in the media.

The big question is: why does it matter so much? Why are so many people consumed with the issue of cartoons not including characters and stories of other cultures?

As animation is a form of media consumed by an increasingly young audience, it takes on the responsibility of shaping young minds and creating a space in which children can begin to understand the world. When the world is presented in such a way that does not encourage the existence and the value of cultural diversity and representation, the subconscious message is that other cultures are not as important or that some are better than others. This is why it is crucial that children are exposed to a wide variety of diverse media images.

In an article published in the “Journal of Social Issues”, Dana Mastro emphasizes that it is important that all children be able to see and connect with characters that look and sound like themselves and their family. However, not many people can say that as children (or evennow), they had a cartoon hero that they felt they could connect to on that level. In a TEDx talk at Brigham Young University, animation professor Kelly Loosli says, “We all relate better to people and things that look like us…when you see characters that look like you, that’s going to be appealing”. With the abundance of different looking Caucasian characters, it is easy for someone of Caucasian descent to have a wide range of characters to connect to, whereas people of any other cultural group have a much more limited spectrum of characters to choose from.

As stated before, we not only must broaden the spectrum of characters we see portrayed in animated films and television, but we must also make sure they are portrayed correctly and respectfully so that the viewer is not left with a misunderstood understanding of the culture the character embodies. Again, children are highly influenced by what they watch in the media and misrepresentations in the media of characters meant to portray a certain group could potentially be dangerous because it could shape how children see these groups. Not only that, if a film or television show portrays the viewer’s own race in a negative or demeaning way, it can have detrimental effects on the way they view and identify themselves and their own culture. For example, Apu is an Indian character in the very popular television series The Simpsons. However, he is given a very degrading personality and perpetuates many of the Indian stereotypes that exist today. A younger Indian child watching Apu could infer that his or her culture is embarrassing or shameful. In addition, many villains in animated media are given accents that portray them as “the other”, while the main hero with all the redeeming qualities is most likely Caucasian and familiar. It is imperative for the audience—especially children—to note that a certain cultural group is not bound to one type of character, that the world is diverse with all kinds of people that look, sound, and dress differently, and that those people can be heroes and admirable characters as well.

The animation industry certainly has come a long way in regard to having more cultural representation with the release of movies such as Moana (2016), Coco (2017), and the recent Pixar short Bao (2018). If this trend continues, and more animated films and television series continue to display the different cultures that make up our world, then we will hopefully move past the very weak and stereotyped characters that both children and adults alike have been exposed to for so long.

Mental Health, Animated

The past decade has provided a variety of animated pieces centering on the topic of mental health. From features to music videos to experimental shorts, these animated works illustrate cognitive functions better than live action ever has. While united in the broad theme of mental health, the three pieces I will discuss (Inside Out, Mary and Max, and Thought of You) are varied not only in their specific mental illnesses and disorders, but also in their artistic approaches to representing the experiences. Because there is still so much we do not understand about cognitive functions, we need the experimental and surreal nature of animation to fully grasp the complexities of mental health.

Pixar’s Inside Out

With a budget of 175 million dollars and the ability to consult leading personality psychologists throughout the writing process, it’s no wonder this film received unprecedented acclaim—not only within the animation industry, but also within the fields of psychology and neurology. The film’s depiction of depression managed to maintain appropriateness for young audiences while delving into the world of what it feels like to lose one’s identity. The story utilized “personality islands” as the primary (yet fragile) aspects of the protagonist’s (Riley’s) individuality. As Riley endures insolation—and eventually depression—these islands begin to collapse. If this film had been made as a live-action drama, we would have watched Riley become irritable and disinterested in previous hobbies, but it would be up to us as viewers to decipher the backdrop to her behavior. The genius of Inside Out is that it recognized the general effects of depression but found a more abstract and universally relatable way to explain them. This artistic reinvention of mental crisis and loss of self is fantastical, dramatic, but still familiar to anyone who has ever endured an intense bout of depression. The film made mental health accessible to a wide audience without ever over-simplifying the topic.

Melodrama Picture’s Mary and Max

The protagonists of Mary and Max are some of the most cognitively complex characters of any movie I’ve ever seen. While similar to Inside Out in that it is a feature discussing the effects of depression and cognitive breakdowns, Mary and Max displays the effects of depression, loneliness, and social anxiety in an entirely different way. A 44-year-old New Yorker, Max, has Asperger’s Syndrome and finds companionship in his only friend—his 8-year-old pen pal, Mary, from Australia. As their lives (as well as their friendship) become more and more turbulent, Mary loses all desire to go on living. Her breakdown is arguably more experimental than Inside Out’s depiction with the islands. Mary spins around a dark room, surrounded by the images of those she knows, drowned out by a dissonant version of Que Sera Sera. It’s a very disturbing scene and one that only animation could achieve. To enter a character’s brain and be immersed in abstract images of grief—that’s a task only animation can take on.

Ryan Woodward’s Thought of You

This music video has haunted me since the day I discovered it. The primary reason being that every time I watch it, I have a new interpretation of the story. At times, it’s a story of lost love. Then, it’s a heart wrenching depiction of loss, grief, and suicide. It’s not just me who has struggled to understand the video. Woodward himself stated, “Rather than creating a narrative animated piece that communicates a well defined story, this piece allows for each individual who views it to experience something unique and personal that touches their own sensibilities.” In this way, the music video allows viewers to connect the piece to their own lives. As I experienced loss in my life, I began to interpret the video to represent death and grief. As I healed, I found the ending to be more hopeful than I had ever assumed. The characters were animated in such a way that their own mental wellbeing became visual (through color, movement, and style). Animation encourages various interpretations far more than live action does, particularly due to its ability to minimize and maximize detail in every part of the frame. In Mary and Max, Mary is singled out from the pure black background during her breakdown. In Thought of You, the characters are the only objects contrasted against the brown backdrop. Without the context, viewers can decide for themselves what the story is about.

This is especially important when dealing with the topic of mental health, as every person’s experience is entirely unique and every person will therefore have a totally different interpretation. Live action is limited in what it can say about mental health because it cannot contain such abstract, open-to-interpretation images. It will be taken at face value, while animation can transcend the limits of our understanding and help viewers experience the complexities of mental health.

INSIDE OUT – Anger, Fear, Joy, Sadness and Disgust look out upon Riley’s Islands of Personality. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.