We currently live in a golden age of animation made for adults. Some of the best writing currently on TV is definitely not for kids. With shows like South Park and Family Guy helping to introduce mass audiences to the idea of watching animation as an adult, and shows like Bojack Horseman and Rick and Morty showing just how good this format can get. This is genuinely some of the best original content currently being created, but for some reason the critical acclaim and avid fandom that comes with it doesn’t translate to the big screen.
2016 saw the release of Sausage Party, a film very definitely for adults, which brought in a respectable $140 million worldwide. While there were lots of factors that went in to making this film a success (great marketing, years of the stars building up a fan base, a lack of other big comedies released around the same time), it can’t be denied that this adults only animation was a hit.
Now try to name another adult animated film that’s done the same. Warner Brothers have seen some level of success with their R rated DC comics adaptations, most recently Batman: The Killing Joke, but these are still firmly in cult following territory. There are barely any noteworthy examples I can think of, except perhaps South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, but while that might feel like a huge hit now, it only made around $83 million worldwide in cinemas. Even if we do count that, that’s still only two big hits since… history.
That’s not to say that “kids” animation can’t be enjoyed by adults. Studio Ghibli have made some of the darkest adult stories to be released in recent years, but simply packaged them in a child friendly way. The same goes for Disney animation and Pixar. Zootropolis is about racism, Finding Dory addresses mental health issues, Up shows the loss of a loved one on a scale most films won’t go near, The Incredibles is about a man having a mid life crisis, the Toy Story trilogy is about accepting that you have to grow up and move on, Inside Out touches on loss and mental health, and that’s not even mentioning some of the incredible short films Disney have put in front of these great films.
These are all films that adults have been watching for years, and people in their twenties and thirties have grown up with. On top of that, video games are in a place now that they’ve never been before. People of all ages are playing fully animated adult stories, and are more than happy to spend twice or three times the amount it costs to see a film on these games, and invest literally days of their lives into playing them.
So why does the stigma still exist? There’s years worth of proof showing that animation can be an exceptional story telling format, there’s a comparable industry currently seeing success in video games, and there’s plenty of top tier talent who are more than happy to get involved with this medium. The chances are that people reading this do enjoy some sort of animation aimed at adults, but it can’t be denied that general audiences still have a tough time accepting animation as a form or storytelling.
While progress is being made, I’m not sure animation will ever be looked at in the same way live action films are. To put it simply, yes, animation can and definitely does work for adults, they just may not be willing to accept it.
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