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Animation for Adults?

Animation is not strictly a kids medium, despite the general perception (here in the U.S.) that it is. Clearly – South Park, Adult Swim and Fox Sunday Nights aside – animation produced for television is still largely kid-driven and supports the industry, thanks to multi-million dollar merchandising and ancillary businesses.

But animated feature films have been appealing to adults for a while now – and yet with every success, it’s still a surprise to the mass media. As The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday:

“UP grabbed the attention of audiences of all ages in its first weekend, according to Disney officials. “It was as strong with kids aged two to 11 as it was with adults both under and over 25,” says Mark Zoradi, president of Walt Disney Motion Picture Group.

Is this still news? Not to me. Every (or most) Pixar and Dreamworks film has opened at number #1 and gone on to gross well over $100 million dollars domestically. Mainstream reporting like this just shows that we still have a way to go to change the kiddie-show perception of animation.

Brooks Barnes wrote this in yesterday’s New York Times:

The medium is showing signs of expanding beyond the kiddie market. The success of video games has resulted in a generation of adults who are comfortable consuming animated entertainment, Hollywood executives say. One indication: “Coraline,” the sophisticated 3-D picture about an adventurous girl, found an adult audience, so far selling $85.2 million in tickets.

Disney will test this part of the market with “Ponyo” on Aug. 14. This Hayao Miyazaki film is centered on a 5-year-old boy’s friendship with a goldfish that wants to be human. “Sophisticated stories coupled with powerful imaginations and beautiful animation appeals to everyone,” said Kathleen Kennedy, who is co-producing the English version of the film.

I’m not sure Ponyo is the film to test the adult appetite for animation. I haven’t seen it yet, but it looks like one of Miyazaki’s more juvenile films (though personally, I can’t wait to see it). Barnes’ article notes the emerging competition to Disney and Dreamworks – a whole slew of forthcoming films films (Astro Boy, Planet 51, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) vying to compete for the “new” all-ages theatre going audience. While noting the failure of Battle For Terra and mild success of Igor, Barnes neglects to mention the true tests of his theory: Shane Acker’s 9, Adam Elliot’s Mary and Max and perhaps Wes Anderson’s the Fantastic Mr. Fox – all opening later this year, all with a more mature point of view.

As for The Princess and The Frog, Mr. Barnes (who is apparently the official NY Times animation reporter) wrote a separate article last Friday on the “controversy” (is there one?) over a black princess. This piece alone indicates that the mainstream media has a long way to go to catch up with what the rest of us has known all along: animation is for everyone.