Most of the time, when I tell people that I’m an Animation major, I get the same response: “Oh so you want to make kids’ movies?”. At first, that question didn’t bother me so much; but I found that the more often people asked it, the more irritated I got. At one point I wanted to yell back “Animation isn’t just for kids!’”. Yet the fact that so many people asked me this brought up a question of my own: Why is animation seen as a medium only for kids? Logically, I’m sure most people know that animation can be used for anything. But in most people’s minds, it is only used for children’s movies while live-action is for more mature audiences. On the other hand, when animation isn’t aimed at children, it’s aimed at adults (or at least this is how the general public sees it). For example, when looking at IMDB’s list of the top 25 highest grossing animated films; The Incredibles, The Lion King, and Toy Story are just a few among the many. But one similarity between every film on that list is that they’re categorized children’s films; even though most of them may actually be intended for all audiences. Even when looking at another IMDB list of the most popular animated series, many of those listed (such as Avatar: The Last Airbender, Family Guy, and SpongeBob SquarePants) are seen as either children’s shows or adult shows with nothing in the middle, even if some of the shows weren’t intended to be this way. So why is it that people have this belief?
Looking back on a little bit of animation history, the medium was initially used for comedic shorts and propaganda played before feature films. These shorts would appear in front of audiences made mostly of adults; especially when they were propaganda for World War II, for example. Back then, animation did not yet have children automatically associated with it. So when did the change occur? Well I believe Television is what would ultimately change the game. Fast forwarding to the 80s, animation would be used a means of advertising toys; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) being a prime example. What were initially comic book characters would soon be made into popular action figures by Playmates Toys Inc, but not before the company requested a television deal first. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would then become a successful and popular series, making their action figures equally as successful. Now the toys were obviously aimed at children, therefore making the television series also aimed at children. And TNMT was not alone; shows such as the original Transformers (1984) and Voltron (1984) were also used in this way. It is during this time that animation began to be viewed mostly as means of creating children’s entertainment. Whether or not the animated films and series that followed were intended for children, most of the public would see them this way, and thus the belief was formed.
Fast forwarding to the present, it may be a bit obvious that most big-name animated films and series are in the family and comedy categories. The reason for this may be that major studios know that the safest bet when creating an animated work is sticking to what has worked the best. And when it comes to animation, comedy and family films/ shows have always been the most successful. This isn’t to say that animation intended for mature audiences (and not necessarily shows like Family Guy) can’t be just as well done or even better, but only independent studios are willing to take that risk. That being said, if I were to ask a random person what films came to mind when thinking of animation, they will most likely name a Disney film or another major studio’s film such as Hotel Transylvania or Kung Fu Panda. Whether or not well-known animated films are intended for children or not, most people tend to stay away from them because they believe that they’re only for children; and those films intended for mature audiences are usually not well known. Now don’t get me wrong; many of the films and shows that I’ve mentioned are some of my favorites. However, it is my hope that not only will general audiences see that animation can be for anyone, but that big-budget animated films released in the future will not solely stick to the comedic or family-oriented platform that is has done for so many years. Maybe then, animation will be seen as simply another form of storytelling, and not just a form a children’s storytelling.