I Cain’t Watch No Cartoons

Or so says the cashier at the local Walmart this morning. But first, the beginning.

On my way to work, I stopped at Walmart to get some gas and to get a couple of drinks. After filling up, I went into the store itself for the drinks and to see if they had any DVDs of The Incredibles on sale. Did they ever. Right by the registers was huge display of DVDs, silently willing me to buy, buy, buy! And at $15, I couldn’t resist (widescreen, thanks for asking). At the register, I commented to the lady working there that $15 was a pretty good price for such a good movie. Her response was along the lines of “my kids liked it”, “I haven’t seen”, yadda yadda, and followed off with the immortal words “I cain’t watch no cartoons”. Caught off guard by her suspect grammar and stunning use of can’t and ain’t in one word, I really didn’t say much other than “Really”? I was then told, “I hate Tom and Jerry. I can’t watch five minutes of it”. I hurriedly left, amazed by her ability to change from colloquialisms to correct grammar and language apparently at whim and, not the least of it, for her equating The Incredibles with Tom and Jerry. Which brings me to my point, and something discussed over lunch a few days ago.

Mainstream American movie watchers equate animated films with cartoons. As such, most animated films are going to be aimed at kids first if they have any hope of being successful. Sure, there have been breakout animated films, Shrek and everything by Pixar since Toy Story, but even though those films do have sophisticated humor aimed at adults, first and foremost, they are targeted at kids to pre-teens. The only recent wide release animated movie aimed at older audiences that I can think of, Final Fantasy, tanked at the box. I suspect because Americans are not used to an animated movie being for grownups and not for kids. In other words, animation of any type is a cartoon, no matter the subject matter. I’m not sure what it will take to break the perception. It has happened in Japan, where anime is a staple of network TV and all kinds of subject matter is tackled in an animated form. It can happen here. I just don’t what form it will happen in. The other question is, how long before animation is seen as a legitimate form of story telling and not just a venue for children’s fare? I don’t know. I do know animated films can do things live action films can’t. It will be interesting to see how movies like Sin City, with its heavily comic influenced visuals, and A Scanner Darkly, with its animated style, will do at the theaters.

5 thoughts on “I Cain’t Watch No Cartoons”

  1. Re: “animated style.”

    Anyone remember how Creepshow was lauded for its extensive use of horror comic framing techniques?

    A few thoughts:

    1: Look at Sky Captain, which is arguably an animated film at least as much as Roger Rabbit or Cool World are. Part of the geek audience appeal was the fact that it was mostly CGI. Face it, CGI is a shiny pretty thing that attracts geeks.

    2: After recently getting through all of LotR (another story) I was amazed to learn how much of it was actually miniature work.

    3: Have you seen Immortal? It tells a distinctly euro-comics story via extensive CGI. Casshern, on the other hand, pins the eye-candy needle, but MY GOD what a boring film.

    4: Perhaps Final Fantasy tanked because it was an incomprehensible mess?

  2. I actually believe that animated films will never really become mainstream for adults. In Japan, the animated film is a legitimate form of entertainment with very little stigma associated with it. I think back to my youth and how few adults watched animated films since they were always designed to be “kid films.” Now this new animation is different, and I think it offers us some fantastic opportunities not possible otherwise – big space battles, alien vistas and things of that nature. But the big issue will be selling it as a serious film for movie goers – most folks see it as either a niche market or something ultra geeky. If we cannot breach that impression, animation will continue to be seen only as a method for telling children’s stories.

    As to Final Fantasy (something unrelated to the story of the film), I believe I read once that they were able to create photorealistic images for the film and the audience was upset since it was an animated film and the images were too real. So Sony backed down the renderings to make the film look more cartoony. Now that doesn’t improve the story but its an interesting thing if true…

  3. We’ll see a good film for grown-ups that is animated when the right story comes along and takes advantage of it. I wish I could tell you what that would be, but something like Tron comes close. Maybe a Battletech movie as somebody (Trent!) suggested.

    The Japanese certainly seem capable of viewing animation as something for adults – I wonder why those of us over here can’t?

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