Friday, April 25, 2008

Adult Entertainment?

The Guardian off in the United Kingdom makes assertions about newer animated features:

Blame Matt Groening and the four-fingered residents of Springfield. Until December 1989, when the first full-length episode of The Simpsons was aired, the dream of an entertainment that could appeal equally to kids and their parents was just that: a dream. Kids' movies, for so long dominated by Disney, were made for kids, with little effort wasted on entertaining those who took the kids ...

Now, however, too many kids' film-makers spend too much time worrying about their adult audience, and make movies that pass the kids by. We remember the successes - the likes of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Shrek and The Incredibles - and forget the many failures, such as 2004's Shark Tale, which required a working knowledge of mafia movies to negotiate the sub-plots, something surely beyond pre-teen punters.

But even the successes get misremembered. When Pixar's Toy Story was released in 1995, it was hailed as an entertainment for all, with its Randy Newman score and its glistening new style of computer animation. In truth, though, Toy Story was not the kind of innuendo-laden gag-fest that now passes for kids' movie-making

I pretty much take issue with Mr. Hann's core premise: Animated features used to be for kids, now they're aimed at adults.

Crapola. The original klatch of Disney features (Snow White through Bambi) was aimed at general audiences (that's kids, grandparents, and every demographic in between, in case you're living in a shack outside Beaumont.) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs grossed a record $8,000,000 in 1938. That was double the gross of The Adventures of Robin Hood, the sixth highest grosser of the year that, although only number six, generated profits with which the Brothers Warner were delighted.

Friends and neighbors, you don't pull down record numbers like Snow White did if you're appealing to "the kiddie trade." It's only with skewed hindsight that oh-so-smart newspaper columnists gin up fantasy theories about "child friendly" cartoon features that never were. The truth is, animated feature producers of the thirties and forties were fighting for the entire movie-going public, just like every other movie-maker.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, has changed. Modern animated features have traveled in lock-step with their live-action cousins. You think that modern animated features are more smart-alecky and potty mouthed in 2008? Well, so are live-action films (remember all the swearing in 1930s gangster pictures? All the groping sex in 1940s comedies? Neither do I.)

Films, both live-action and animated, are mirrors of the times in which they're made. No self-respecting film producer would make a multi-million dollar feature that presumed to cut off large segments of the movie-going public, it'd be career suicide. The drill, first and always, is to make flicks that everybody wants to see. Certainly movie-makers often fail in that mission, but the goal is to be inclusive, the better to make heavy coin.

But maybe Mr. Hann is too close to the trees to view that rather obvious forest.


Anonymous said...

Thats a a very salient point you make. i'm glad you made it.

Its unfortunate that there are so many lame-brained executives, writers and directors working today that tow the line that the comedy in their work should be 'geared towards kids'. Blue content aside, I'm in agreement with children's book author Mo Willems.
"The only difference between kids and adults is height."

Anonymous said...

Actually, "Shark Tale" was a financial success. The bonuses the crew got proves it(bonuses were only given when the film went over a certain BO amount).

Artistically it's another matter--but it did make money, not lose it.

Anonymous said...

The trouble with making a movie for "everyone" is that it's easy to end up with a movie for no one. Too "edgy" for the tykes, but too juvenile for the grups. Bee Movie and Surfs Up spring to mind.

Anonymous said...

Is there such a thing as 'too edgy for the tykes'?

I remember seeing High Anxiety when i was 8 years old and i LOVED it. If your sensibilities are good, then your movie speaks to everyone.

if anything i think the two movies you cited are examples of movies watering themselves down in order to appeal to a larger crowd. the average audience member can smell that a mile away. its the stink of a bland film.

Larry Levine said...

Chuck Jones put it best, he made cartoons for himself.

Anonymous said...

That might be the reason none of the features he was associated with did very well...
It's all well and good to make the work you do enjoyable for yourself, but the minute you forget you're making films for an audience you're in trouble.
The real problem is that the only audience most American animation studios think exist for animation is an audience that starts with the 3 year olds. If you've ever given a pitch at Sony you'll know that's how they think.
It's true enough that trying to make a film for everyone - like Sony - will create a film for very few. But when you're spending 75 to 100 mill I guess I can understand why they'd not want to exclude anyone from buying a ticket...even 3 year olds.
Maybe it's about time these companies learned how to make a film for a reasonable price again.

Anonymous said...

how about they learn to take a risk?

Pixar deserves every bit of accolades they get. consider that their new feature is a film starring one character - that is for the most part, a silent character!!!

you would be pushed out of the conference room midway through your pitch if you brought that to Sony, Disney, Blue Sky, Cartoon Network, Nick etc. and thats a fact.
the dimwits running those stuidos would tell you how you can't take a risk like that. it would never work. they won't invest in it.

because they're all chickenshit.

if they took a risk on some of their movies, and their sensibilities were right, they would have a greater chance of a blockbuster than making the ususal watered down crap they throw money at. at the very least they would set themselves apart. t would generate more interest than super star voice talent.

Anonymous said...

There's too much money at stake nowadays to take a risk in the theaters.

The part that puzzles me is that one would think that taking "riskier" movies direct to DVD could potentially be more profitable and then a franchise that doesn't suck rocks could be built up that way.

But again, execs won't back each other up(much less the talent)to try such a ca-razy plan. S

So Hollywood becomes even more dysfunctional, if that's even possible.

Anonymous said...

Before you start assuming that Pixar are the only risk takers I've got one word for you: Spirit. Whather good or bad it was a risk.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you mentioned Spirit. I happen to think it was more under-rated than Iron Giant. I'm sorry it didn't get the support it deserved. It was original and good solid story telling. That's the real art form; film making/ story telling. The animation, 2D or 3D, is just the medium. If you can tell a solid, well structured, entertaining story, every other consideration just undermines it. In a very small way, I agree with the article. Take Horton, for example; everything was moving along just fine until the parts where they tried to "hip it up" with Horton playing to the camera and cracking wise-it broke character and awkwardly halted the narrative flow. Obviously someone connected to the film felt this was something a modern CG film "needed" to appeal to its target audience. It nearly sabotaged the film.

Anonymous said...

Technically, EVERYTHING made in the 30's and 40's was for "general audiences" but between "Bambi" and "Dark Victory" which do you think do adults thought of first if they wanted to see an adult movie?

If you read the contemporary reviews of these films it's pretty clear that animation was being gauged much on its interest to children. That's a reality we still live with.

Anonymous said...

Very very nice!

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