One of the gravest misconceptions attached to any medium of art or entertainment is that animation is “just for kids.” Devotees to the form have suffered through this maxim for ages, defending the merits and sophistication of hand-drawn and computer-generated films and television shows all the while. Turning attention to the release of screenwriter and director Charlie Kaufman’s first foray into the realm of stop-motion, Anomalisa — the first trailer was officially released Monday — I'm reminded of just how very “adult” animation can be, and just how valuable these kinds of stories are.
In fact, animation often finds a way to strike a chord with even the most hardened and “mature” of older viewers, achieving an evocation that even the most affective of live-action pieces fail to manage. Reviews of Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa from the likes of the Telluride, Venice, and Toronto International Film Festivals suggest that the film in question renders just such an emotional impact. In celebration of this latest endeavor in proving that animation is for audiences of all ages, I've opted to take a look back at some of our favorite illustrated pieces from the past 15 years — ones that carry the torch of the works of Ralph Bakshi, Don Bluth, and Robert Zemeckis in using the medium to tell vividly mature stories.
The Wind Rises
Just about all of Hayao Miyazaki’s feature films can be
enjoyed by adults just as well as they can by the children to whom they are
marketed. But his latest and (as he insists) final directorial picture, 2013’s The Wind Rises — a fact-and-fiction
hybrid about the life and work of Jiro Horikoshi, a wide-eyed workaholic who
devoted his life to designing Japanese fighter planes during World War II — is
perhaps more closely targeted toward grownup sensibilities than any entry
The Triplets of Belleville
This wordless noir story about an elderly woman setting off
to rescue her cyclist star grandson from a sinister kidnapping ploy could play
as haunting if you deign to watch it at too young an age. But the 2003 film is
darkly enchanting, and wonderfully unique when set against any and all American
It’s Such a Beautiful Day
Heartbreak, depression, mortality, cancer… All matters that
should tug at the heartstrings of adults, and all beautifully accessed in Don
Hertzfeldt’s sad, funny, and narratively frenetic 2012 picture. (If you’re a
fan of Hertzfeldt’s feature, his new short film World of Tomorrow is an even greater treat.)
Mary & Max
This 2009 chronicling of the friendship between an Autistic
middle-aged New Yorker and a lonely, emotionally neglected Australian girl can
get pretty bleak at certain points. However, Mary and Max is fueled by a heart so big and loving that the film
might incur a childlike edge (even around discussion of matters like sex or
A Scanner Darkly
After making his pilgrimage into the medium of animation
with Waking Life, director Richard
Linklater took another stab at the gambit with the 2006 adaptation of Philip K.
Dick’s sci-fi novel A Scanner Darkly.
The drug-infused, crime-addled, Keanu Reeves-starring mo-cap picture could
never be mistaken for a “children’s film,” but is as invigorated by its visual
form as any traditionally animated movie.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Another from the Studio Ghibli collection, and one far more
likely to hold the attention of young viewers than the decidedly less whimsical
The Wind Rises, this watercolor fairy
tale from 2014 is nevertheless a mature exploration of the pangs of both
childhood and growing up—though only truly appreciable as such by someone who’s
been run through that mill.
Though only half of this 2014 film is animated, it is
strikingly imaginative — and thoroughly weird — from start to finish. A
playing-herself Robin Wright’s willing descent into the “cartoon world”
following the dissolution of her acting career yields emotional and
psychological highs and lows that could only be effectively illustrated through
the surreality of Waltz with Bashir
director Ari Folman’s signature style.
Bill Plympton ranks as one of the most prolific animators of
short and feature films working today, consistently tackling heavy, sorrowful
topics with his projects. His latest full-length endeavor, the 2013 movie Cheatin’, makes a fantastical, magically
inclined love story out of the subject of adultery.
This psychologically charged science-fiction film is imbued
by the kind of imagination that likely got you hooked on animation in the first
place. The 2006 entry predates Inception
as a deadly adventure in the realm of human dreams, using the animated medium
to properly enliven a world of boundless possibility.
Clearly, animation offers more than Disney and Minions movies; in fact, the medium may very well be at its best when telling stories that are sad, sophisticated, and wholly "adult."
Images: Studio Ghibli (3); Sony Pictures Classics; Cinemad Presents; Icon Entertainment International; Warner Independent Pictures; Drafthouse Films; Plymptoons Studios; Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan