Are animated films growing?


When Disney Zootopia won the Oscar for best animated film this year, it was one of the less surprising awards of the evening. This family-friendly cartoon about a metropolis populated with animals had already grossed over $ 1 billion worldwide and was the favorite to win. What was more intriguing was that two of his fellow nominees were from movies shot outside of Hollywood, The red turtle and My zucchini life.

Both films are arguably just as suitable for adults as they are for children. The red turtle is a poetic hand-drawn silent film about a man stranded on a desert island who finds company in the most curious way, while Claude Barras My zucchini life (as it’s called in the UK) is a stop-motion story about a young orphan going through the child welfare system.

The red turtle, produced by Japanese animation giant Studio Ghibli, the company behind classics such as Abducted as if by magic and Princess mononoke, is directed by Dutch-born, London-based animator Michael Dudok de Wit. He calls the film “kid friendly,” but admits he had a different audience in mind.

“I asked myself the question during production: who am I making the film for? I have always thought of adults.

However, convincing older moviegoers that an animation will be to their liking is another matter. “It’s an old prejudice,” he says. “I still meet people who refer to the fact that animation is mainly aimed at families and children.

Gradually, this perception changes. Barras notes that the Franco-Swiss co-production Zucchini, which was adapted from a 2002 novel by Gilles Paris, found an audience beyond the 8 to 12 age range for which it was originally intended. “I was pleasantly surprised,” he says. “Parents and grandparents went to see the film, even alone. “

It’s hard to imagine Zucchini, with his unvarnished worldview, being made in Hollywood, where studio entertainment typically boasts healthy family values. In the film, a little boy named Icarus – nicknamed “Courgette” – walks into a children’s home where he meets other children who have had all kinds of difficult beginnings in life: parents in prison, drug addicts, threatened with expulsion or sexual abuse. “When the film was shown to the caregivers, they said it was pretty realistic,” Barras says.

If both Turtle and Zucchini aimed at all age groups, activities strictly reserved for adults are also emerging. Earlier this year, Liu Jian Good day became the first Chinese animated film to premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. Amoral film noir, it follows greedy characters chasing a bag of money like outcasts from a Coen brothers film. With gunshots and Brexit jokes he certainly wasn’t targeting children.

Later this month, Ali Soozandeh’s feature debut Tehran Taboo will be unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival. It tells the uncompromising story of four young Iranians living in a city where moral and sexual oppression is common (a single mother works as a prostitute to pay for her divorce from her imprisoned husband, while a music student has a one night stand with an 18 year old virgin). Given the censorship in Iran, making a live-action film like this in Tehran would be impossible, so this German-Austrian co-production found a clever way to bypass the censorship by recreating the surroundings of the city through animation. .

This is not the first time that animation has been used for political expression. The black and white of Marjane Satrapi Persepolis (2007) was an autobiographical account of a young girl’s coming of age in the context of the Iranian revolution, while Ari Folman’s striking Oscar-nominated film Waltz with Bachir (2008) was based on his experiences as an Israeli soldier during the Lebanon War in 1982.

Importantly, both films also made money at the box office, Persepolis $ 22 million in revenue worldwide. Now others are breaking through. Unsurprisingly, it’s Japan – famous for its adult-oriented anime – that is leading the way. This interest in more sophisticated animated works dates back to the late 1970s, when films such as Seminal Space battleship Yamato marked a shift towards a more complex material; later came the manga adaptations Akira and Ghost in the shell.

“The red turtle”

It’s not just science fiction that benefits from the Japanese touch. “Animation can make serious things less serious, a little lighter, more accessible,” explains Naoko Yamada, whose recent film A silent voice deals with harassment and disability issues. “It can be very effective. Like Dudok de Wit, Yamada felt that his film should not be hampered by the perception that it was intended for children. “The theme being very universal, I was thinking of a large audience,” she says.

Movies such as A silent voice and the recent one from Makoto Shinkai your name are coming out in the UK thanks to Anime, a Glasgow-based distributor that focuses on Japanese anime. “The main problem before,” says Andrew Partridge, its managing director, “was that even if we bought a film, it was not possible to get it widely distributed in the UK. ”

The increased support from cinema exhibitors – and the public as well – has changed that. Partridge quotes the next Nap princess and In this corner of the world. “Two years ago, these films would not have been seen in multiplex cinemas,” he says. While adult animation has long been a staple of television (The simpsons, South Park), it seems that the cinema is finally catching up. Yamada also sees the genre moving away from “pretty mice and ducks.”

Dudok de Wit agrees, just back from Cartoon Movie, an annual forum based in Bordeaux allowing animators to present their projects and seek funding. He cites “an impressive number of adult-oriented projects”, with topics ranging from Ukrainian refugees to Alzheimer’s disease and human trafficking.

After decades of mainstream animation in the West primarily focused on family entertainment, the medium is turning to risky films like Ralph Bakshi’s. Fritz the cat (1972) and anthologies such as Heavy metal (nineteen eighty one). Even last year’s Hollywood cartoon Sausage Party, in which talkie foods get very naughty, suggested the tide is turning. As Partridge says, “It’s been a long time coming.”

‘The Red Turtle’ opens in UK May 26; ‘Ma vie de courgette’ opens on June 2


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