– by Joseph Jammer Medina

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Hollywood, as well as the general moviegoing American audience, don’t respect animated films. In the minds of many consumers, animated films are one of two things: comedies for kids, and comedies for adults. Yes, there may be plenty of examples of films that aren’t necessarily one or the other, but no matter what the movie is, the general population, as well as Hollywood execs, likely don’t see these movies as anything else.

For example. I see Zootopia as an animated fantasy cop drama. Most see it as an animated family comedy. I couldn’t necessarily argue with them completely. The trailers absolutely sold it to kids and parents as a comedy, and no matter how serious the tone gets in these films, they’re always undercut with a good, heavy dose of comedy. The folks over at Disney get it. Animated films can be serious, but at the end of the day, they have to deliver laughs on some levels, otherwise audiences won’t bite. 

Don’t believe me? I think I can easily point to Kubo and the Two Strings, the latest animated film from LAIKA, the studio behind such amazing films as Coraline and Paranorman. By all accounts, this is a movie that’s been incredibly well-received by critics. It has a 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and virtually everyone who’s seen it has nothing but positive things to say. Yet despite that, the film only made $12 million its opening weekend, and is likely set to lose money in its theatrical run — even though the film only cost $60 million to make, which is a fraction of the budget of most animated movies.

The reason? I’m sure you could point to its animation to some degree. Maybe stop-motion just doesn’t have the same aesthetic appeal as CG-animated films. But I’d actually point to its marketing as the main culprit.

Take a look at one of the Kubo trailers below:

Unlike films like Finding Dory, The Secret Life of Pets, and Zootopia, the trailer isn’t absolutely oozing with jokes. First and foremost, the focus of Kubo seems to be story and character. Yet, for some reason, that doesn’t seem to be enough for audiences. This is something that’s, frankly, frustrating for someone like me who adores animation, and would like to see the medium encapsulate numerous genres and demographics.

In my opinion, not all animated films need to be family films, strictly for kids, or strictly for adults. Why not make animated films that appeal to the demographic somewhere in-between? As an anime fan, that was something I’d always found refreshing. No matter your interest, you could likely find an anime that suited you. This isn’t quite the case, and all animation appears to be strictly relegated to a very specific demographic.

And I get it. Animated movies are expensive. In order to justify the costs, filmmakers need to make sure the films appeal to as wide an audience as possible. As such, that audience needs to include EVERYONE.

The mindset that animation needs to be a specific thing is one that permeates our culture. Ask virtually any mainstream moviegoer, and there’s a good chance that no matter how great an animated film was (be it from Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, or LAIKA), they probably just think of it as “cute.” In their minds, the experience is more disposable than live-action “films.” There’s no way that a film for kids could be a genuine classic, right? 

This mindset seems to be having a negative effect on the medium. Now, I’m not saying good stuff isn’t being produced. It is. But I do think this mindset is limiting the types of animated films we’re getting. Would a film like Zootopia have worked if it was advertised as a straight-up drama? Probably not. Why?

Because parents wouldn’t have taken their kids to the movie for fear that it’s too serious, and they themselves wouldn’t have gone because, hey, it’s a kids movie.

Would Zootopia have succeeded without advertising the relatively lowbrow humor in this scene?

Would Zootopia have succeeded without advertising the relatively lowbrow humor in this scene?

There are obviously a lot of factors at work here, and I can’t necessarily point to one thing, but as of this writing, the medium of animation seems to be going in a vicious cycle. Only films advertising themselves as at least partial comedies seem to be succeeding here, and even those that turn out to be more are still seen as disposable only because of the fact that they’re animated.

It’s with all this in mind that I bring forth the question to the table. Do animated films need to sell themselves as comedies to succeed? If Kubo had more of a funny bone, would it have performed better at the box office, and if so…why is that the case?

I’m curious to get another perspective on this, as I’ve always been one to defend animation to other movie-lovers who dismiss the medium outright.

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Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.