Animation equals imagination

A friend of mine was looking for movie recommendations, and, since I keep an eye on Rotten Tomatoes, I recommended the highest rated movie at the time, The Lego Movie. She scoffed at this, turning her head away and mumbling “I don’t want to see that. It’s for two-year-olds.”

While I saw The Lego Movie this weekend and fell in love with it, I’m going to keep this post from turning into me gushing about the film. Instead, I want to pick apart what my friend said, and present an alternate way of looking at children’s entertainment.

Let’s go.

The first problem I have with my friend’s thought process is the immediate dismissal of animation as something only for children. Animation does not mean children, it means imagination. Animation can take use to worlds that simply don’t exist in the real world. And because something doesn’t exist in the real world, does not mean that it is purely for children. Star Wars? Lord of the Rings? However, the reason that so much of animation is marketed strictly toward kids is because they have the brightest and keenest imaginations. They see the world differently from adults, finding wonder in the most basic of ways. Animation allows us not only to tap into a child’s mind, but also into their imagination.

Everything is a source of wonder when you're a child.
Everything is a source of wonder when you’re a child.

Does that mean that a children’s movie cannot be enjoyed by adults? Far, far from it.

We only have to look toward the Toy Story series to see what I’m getting at. The Toy Story franchise is one of the most mature films ever made, despite being animated. It’s an immediately relatable tale, not only because we’ve all had toys and have wondered what they do when we’re not around, but also in its characterization. For example, in  Toy Story 2, there’s a beautiful sequence where Jessie is forgotten by her owner as the little girl grows up. This sequence breaks our hearts not just because we’ve all grown up and left our toys behind, but because we can imagine what Jessie’s loneliness must feel like. We all know what it’s like to be left behind, to be alone, to see a friend change and drift away. And in that same vein, we know what it’s like to be the person leaving someone behind. We sympathize with Jessie, we relate to her owner.

These feelings are not solely felt by children. In fact, a child may not completely understand these ideas yet. But adults do. Toy Story 2 merely brings out these feelings in a new and imaginative way.

Now, some would say that examples like Toy Story are merely the exception to the rule, and there are plenty of poorly made children’s films full of bad jokes, cliché plots, and uninteresting characters. I agree with this idea, there are plenty of cash grab films that exist only to sell toys and are so poorly made that only kids who “don’t know better” would enjoy the movie.

But I think that kids do know better. There’s a reason they keep gravitating towards Disney Films when stuff like the Smurfs and Cats and Dogs are all but forgotten. There’s a reason How to Train Your Dragon gets a sequel. There’s a reason they are completely entranced by Up and can forget about Hop.

But here’s my last point. The fact that a film is animated has nothing to do with the film’s quality. Poor writing is poor writing, no matter what the medium. And the same is true for good writing. Just because a film like The Lego Movie looks bright, colorful, and full of fast jokes does not mean that there is nothing here for adults to enjoy. There is a smart way to handle every concept, which is why people love The Avengers and hate Transformers. The fact that a film is animated should not be a detractor.

That is no different than judging a book by its cover.

My friend quickly retracted her statement when I started presenting these ideas, saying that the film had no appeal to her. She never played with Legos as a child and thus the movie has no nostalgia for her. That, in my opinion, is a far better reason to avoid a film than simply because it’s animated.

Lo and behold, I find out a few days’ later that she went to see The Lego Movie with the guy she’s dating. And she enjoyed it very much.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t judge a film by its animation.

Note: Image of Travel the World courtesy of potowizard / FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Caption is my own.

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