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Bad Ideas

‘Variety’ Figured Out Why People Watch Animation: Terrorism and Mass Murder

It’s no longer a glut of animated features; now Hollywood is trying to figure out why people watch animation. Someone at Variety thinks they’ve got the answer: terrorism and mass murder makes people want to see more cartoons:

These cuddly creatures are serving as an antidote to dark times in the world. Some executives in Hollywood are starting to wonder if audiences are growing weary of bullets and apocalyptical imagery on the big screen, because of all the real-life tragedies from mass shootings and terrorism attacks. Experts say that audiences are drawn to quick-witted animals because they offer an escape. “It’s a concept that people understand, get and really like,” says Jeff Bock, an analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “We love these creatures. Put in a human persona, and people go gaga.”

I’ve got my own theory, too. Now just hear me out: maybe, just maybe, filmmakers in animation are currently telling better stories and creating stronger films than the people making big-budget live-action features. Yeah, I know, people in animation making great films that exceed the standards of live-action Hollywood—who’d ever believe such a crazy theory?

  • Banana

    Of course, good storytelling doesn’t account for the success of a movie like Minions…

    • Impheatus

      Minions is the worst example when talking about storytelling.
      But I do agree with what you are trying to say.

  • John

    Hm, it’s actually an interesting theory and not one that should be entirely written off.

    For instance, a great number of contemporary animated films deal with themes of identity, safety and nostalgia, themes that both children and adults could relate to for very different reasons.

    • AmidAmidi

      Those themes you mention are hardly exclusive to this year’s animated films nor do they explain why recent films have been so successful. The problem with such broad theories is they undermine the work of the people who made the films and suggest that the success of their films is due to factors other than the work itself. When live-action filmmakers create successful films, they get credit for it; when animation filmmakers achieve success, the film industry tries to attribute the success of the work to outside factors.

      • John

        I didn’t say that the themes of contemporary animated films were entirely the reason for their success. Nor did I attempt to undermine any filmmaker’s work.

        I see your point but I can think of many other types of films outside of animation that the media attempts to explain away their success. It’s not exclusive to animation at all.

  • Elsi Pote

    They are not far off though.

    It’s the homegrown terrorism at work and home ( I’m talking about crappy bosses, backstabbing coworkers, corrupt corporations, expensive healthcare and nosey neighbors to name a few ), and plastic ‘stars’ without any integrity or ethics that are driving people towards animated features/content by the hordes.

    See, animated characters have something that has almost disappeared from the face of the earth, and that is INNOCENCE.

    Everything around us is so rotten and spoiled that many of us don’t want to be part of it anymore.

    Being transported to places that we might never get to as a race is our fix.

    Dad and Mum used to hit the bottle to cope with the tribulations of life.

    We hit the ‘play’ button instead.

    • Spot on comment.

    • The_Purple_People_Eater

      I don’t think our times are really that grim (besides the fact that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are fighting for presidency of the United States of America) and I disagree that technology addiction is the replacement for alcoholism…although, that was some nice slam poetry you wrote there.

      Television was the distraction for people for the longest time, before that it was radio and before that it was working labor. People don’t just search for distraction to “escape” the “evil world” (you’re giving them too much credit to be victims) they distract themselves because they’re bored and it’s easier to stare at your phone than it is to talk to people or be creative. People love the internet for the anonymity, the unlimited sources of media and information, the instant communication with people that you can also choose to ignore, etc.

      I don’t like to think that humans are all so sad and the world is doomed by the choices of others. That’s so far off from the truth. We do this to ourselves…That being said, society goes through changes constantly and if we die in this glory age of humanity then man, we have gotten weak…

      Anyways, people aren’t depressed by the world and they don’t not “want to be part of society anymore”…they are just becoming more anti-social and self-absorbed because the internet is a lot cooler and more interesting than anything your friends have to offer (that’s the way it is.) The next step in evolving into complete awkward hermits is when VR comes into play. It will either be the death of maturity and social skills or it will lead to some new form of society.

      We already see the effects of an internet age, young adults growing up now have some of the worst social skills. They pride themselves on it and praise or victimize themselves for being “introverted” (having no understanding of the context of that term but instead credit it as a valid excuse for being anti-social.) People these days are not just “spoiled” but they are self-entitled. They feel entitled to a diploma, entitled to a good college, entitled to a great job, and entitled to earning lots of money.

      People living in first world countries often think that life for them is inexplicably horrible or “shocking” meanwhile they don’t have the slightest clue of what goes on outside of their bubble. I think people are more “apathetic” than “distracted.” Myself included. But I’m only here to throw stones, as are most of us.

      • slipperysnagglefoot

        Oh no! Technology is melting our brains! This is apparently a problem! /s

        • The_Purple_People_Eater

          It’s not the fault of technology, it’s people not having any self-control and addictive attachment to technology is considered “normal.”

          • Taco

            I agree with The P P E, most of our “monsters” are internal. We crave interaction, validation, touch, but we are terrified of the social & financial responsibilities they incur. Of having children or of having a mortgage that takes us 30 years+ to pay off & may cause our financial ruin. Most people feel buried before they’re turn 30. The internal perspective of our self-cenetred mind plays a big role, and many people don’t like to acknowledge that most things in life cut both way. The pleasure & pain, the double edged sword, yin & yang. But don’t mind us, we’re just some anonymous jerks on the internet. Believe variety.com, the huffington post or something else that tells you how to think, rather than discuss things with other human beings, friends, family or your partner. That’s not healthy, says the media, here comes another spoonful of “news” laced with social opinions.

    • The Heroes of Hope

      I understand and know what that’s like too everyone does. But let’s be realistic neither alcohol nor Wonderlands can take away our problems so we must face our problems with faith that there is hope that things will get better.

    • Bernie Bunuan

      Does that apply to the One Night theatrical release of “The Killing Joke”? this July 25th?

    • jawsnnn

      Except the world has been going to shit since historical times. Animated movies are booming because: a) as Amid said they are competently made, and b) kids are a much more potent force in economy that they are given credit for. Case in point, animates movies not geared towards pre-teens generally don’t do that well. However, kiddie animated movies – if made with enough sincerity that it can be seen by accompanying adults – are surefire hits.

  • Timothy McKenzie

    Uh, is it really escapism from the harsh realities of life or something else?

  • Sam Duncan

    Cartoon Brew has an intentionally misleading headline here. The Variety article doesn’t seem to suggest that cartoons are successful *because* of terrorism…it suggests that cartoons are a good form of escapism from things such as terrorism. And they aren’t wrong.

    • AmidAmidi

      You’re repeating the hot air of Variety’s writers, so let me be very clear: it is impossible to attribute any increase in feature animation ticket sales over the last four decades due to an audience’s desire for escapism or any other correlation to global events. If you’ve figured out how to do it, then share your data.

      There is plenty of quantifiable data that shows how animation has surged in popularity during the contemporary era, and how it has had a disproportionate increase in overall box office market share. Just to pick a random year from the 1990s, in 1994, animated films had around 6.5% market share of domestic theatrical revenue with five films released widely. This year, animation currently has over 20% of theatrical revenue with seven films released widely.

      This is an exceptional year for animation, but it fits the general upward trend of the last few decades, a fact overlooked by the entertainment media.

      • Sam Duncan

        I carefully reread both the Variety article and your article. I agree with your previous comment. There really is no way to effectively chart a correlation between the success of animated films and the public’s desire for escapism.

        If someone is trying to figure out why animated films have been more successful lately, and they come up with the hypothesis that escapism is a large part of it, that’s not a bad hypothesis. That’s what my original comment was trying to say. I now understand that Variety took the wrong step by publishing their theory without any actual support or data. That’s what your comment cleared up for me.

        Though it should be pointed out that your collective argument didn’t begin until after I commented. In your original article you provided a sample of Variety’s theory, and then simply shot it down by proposing a different idea. That didn’t prove your idea, which led to my skepticism.

  • Sim x

    I’m not sure I’d agree with your theory either Amid. A good animated film is about as commonplace as a good live-action film. Variety’s interpretation is clearly grown from a marxist-aesthetic of film theory. That’s not too rare to find and certainly not exclusive to the analysis of animated film. There’s no victimisation against the “little guy” that is internally perceived of the animation industry.

    • Chickenhawk

      Hollywood produces approximately three hundred live-action films released theatrically per year. On average ten/fifteen of those might -might- be worth seeing, seven or eight will be good movies, and on a really good year two or three will be great movies. There are approximately 15 animated film released theatrically in that same period. On average ten will be worth seeing, seven or eight will be good movies, and on a good year two or three will be great. How, in your eyes, would you argue that there’s parity?

  • brandon

    Both of those theories are interesting, but they aren’t quite right, so here’s an alternative theory:

    General audiences are beginning to warm up to the idea that animated films can be just as diverse in genre, style, and tone as other storytelling mediums.

    That, and this year’s slate of animated features are simply a major improvement over last year. You have the big 3 (Disney, DreamWorks, Pixar) putting out excellent stuff, while newer faces (Illumination Entertainment, LAIKA, Warner Animation Group) are constantly redefining what a mainstream animated movie looks like.

    That sounds like a healthy industry to me, which is great.

    • Cameron Ward

      don’t forget the GKIDS releases, which are depending on the year, much better than what the big three have done

  • GOATmaybe

    people in the comments make a lot of good points. Frankly it’s just nice to be a fan of what is quickly becoming the most varied and robust genre in Cinema right now. That being said I really hope Laika’s next film is successful. The genre can only grow if different cartoons can all be successful at the same time.

    • Ah ah ah – Animation isn’t a genre; it is a MEDIUM containing many GENRES.

  • The_Purple_People_Eater

    Were animated features popular during the Iraq War or post-9/11? Were they popular during Vietnam or World War 2? I don’t think this Variety author really tested out their weird, lazy theory.

  • I agree with both theories. It’s not like there is only one reason animation might be doing well today.

    I thought it was well-established historical fact that people loved The Three Little Pigs and Mickey Mouse in part because they provided a happy respite from the Great Depression, and that people loved Dumbo in part because it provided an escape from World War II.

    I don’t see anything wrong with one of animation’s special roles in people’s lives – providing happiness and escapism.

  • Bernie Bunuan

    It’s a strange coincidence that animated features like ‘The Secret Life of Pets” top the box office at the same time that so many horrible attacks happen around the world. But that’s all it is: a coincidence.

  • Fried

    “filmmakers in animation are currently telling better stories and creating stronger films than the people making big-budget live-action features.”

    I would hardly call Hotel Transylvania 2, Secret Life of Pets, Angry Birds, Minions, Home, or even The Peanuts Movie “great storytelling”. And I don’t think Ice Age 5, Trolls, or Storks are going to be strong films either. Just because we’ve had a couple of stimulating films (Zootopia, Inside Out, Lego Movie) doesn’t mean that’s the standard. Especially strange coming from you who earlier made an article about how a couple of films this year had yoga-butt and pee jokes. It also doesn’t explain why movies like Chipmunks and Smurfs make bank.

    It’s closer to what Elsi said.

    It’d be more interesting to talk about why a company like Marvel is able to consistently blow out every live-action film out of the water. It’s all about mastering a type of family-friendly film of being able to be colorful and create worlds and characters you want to go to and hang out with while still having them deal with serious arcs and develop like real people. Hitting the perfect level of light hearted but serious. It’s just plain fun to watch all the Avengers fight each other, but it’s not mindless fighting and they all still have their own grievances their carrying with them (Spiderman wants to prove himself, Black Panther wants to get Bucky) to prevent it from being just a big CG fest.

    Compare that to Batman v Superman which takes itself too seriously and never has relief or Ghostbusters which doesn’t take itself seriously enough and actually takes a dump on the source material just to get some laughs. Which is why Star Wars and Jurassic World were so much more successful, they recaptured what it was like to see those films for the first time in theaters rather than over-modernizing it.

    • Kyle Nau

      Exactly. What happens to Variety’s theory when Suicide Squad absolutely crushes everything at the box office? Cue the “Why audiences can’t get enough of apocalyptic comic book imagery (because terrorism).” article.

  • Mister Twister

    Star Wars and Lord of the Rings owe a large percentage of their respective ticket sales to devastating conflicts AMERICA was apart of just before the movies’ premieres.

  • I don’t think anyone can pin it all on one reason, the world isn’t that simple. There are many combined reasons why animation is becoming more popular. Whenever I tell a non-artist that I study animation, I often get a reply that sounds like “Oh that’s nice, these days animation is the only lighthearted stuff out there for people to watch.” So it is definitely a factor in people’s minds. It’s not that people are only using it to ignore the problems in the world, but people need positivity in their life too, to inspire them and remind them of how beautiful humanity’s efforts can be too. Even if an animation isn’t aimed at kids, well done animated stories have resonated within people’s minds enough that they can see them as a light of inspiration, even more-so than many live action films.

  • Axolotl

    This theory fits, it’s certainly cartoonish.

  • Cameron Ward

    Personally, I feel like it’s a bit of everything.

    animated films big and small are coming out and are becoming the better written films, with characters that anyone can relate to or enjoy. And really, everyone needs an escape, and seeing something bright, colorful, but also emotionally deep is a good way to escape the world for two or so hours.

    now, with that said, I don’t see all animated films are becoming the best thing ever since we are still going to get garbage like Norm of the North, and cynical cash grabs like Minions, Home, and the upcoming Trolls because Hollywood is stupid

    BUT I do think animation is becoming more well received among everyone. This year has been interesting since it has shown how the big Hollywood machine has pretty much crashed and burned with sequels, remakes, and new ideas that are not panning out in positive reviews and revenue with a majority of this year’s big summer blockbusters being horrible failures. It has made room for animation and indie films to take the spot light and get all the critical acclaim and money

  • Netko

    I remember hearing an argument that LoTR was popular because it came out soon after 9/11, so people flocked to it because they wanted escapism. And that’s incredibly dumb because it ignores the fact that the film made massive profits all across the world, and the rest of the world really didn’t buy the whole “war on terrorism” thing. They hardly cared, any more than an American cares about a bombing in the Middle East that’s killed how many civilians and thinks the end of the world is coming because of that.
    Another reason this idea is stupid is that it supposes that these times nowadays are so much worse than the previous times we lived in, as if someone buying a gun and shooting a bunch of people on the street is far worse than things like, you know, being this close to nuclear warfare and literal worldwide destruction. Perhaps it’s because Americans never had someone bring a war to their turf, so the worst thing they perceive as possibly happening is the rare terrorist attack. I’m not trying to force politics into this, but I really think it’s no coincidence that this line of thinking constantly comes from Americans.

    I’d say part of the popularity of animation is that it’s gotten more cynical and as such more relatable to modern audiences. And is the article saying that Tarzan and Independence Day make for less of an escapism than animated cartoons, or does escapism only count if it’s animated?