We all loved cartoons as children, so it’s no surprise that now we’re a little older, we often reach for our favourite Disney film when we need cheering up. But since the majority of animation is specifically made for and aimed at children, it has become a misconception that cartoons are just for kiddies.
I personally couldn’t disagree more.
To me, animation, particularly hand drawn, is an art form. It is just as capable of conveying the themes and messages seen in our favourite live-action blockbusters and is equally appealing to an adult audience.
Take Studio Ghibli as a prime example; once only adored by a niche fan base, but now appreciated by audiences worldwide. As Japan’s leading animation studio, it creates some spectacular work. The effort put into their hand drawn masterpieces is truly something to be appreciated, and the studio’s head director, Hayao Miyazaki, has become somewhat of a God amongst animators. His films are sweet, quirky and wonderfully charming. Any child would fall in love with the giant fluffy nature trolls in My Neighbour Totoro. The English dubbed versions of the films are seamless, and have seen the voice talents of many Hollywood stars including Billy Crystal, Christian Bale and Dakota Fanning.
But Miyazaki’s films aren’t exclusively for kids. Spirited Away, the first Eastern animation to win an Oscar, is a gripping tale of a young girl’s struggle when she becomes trapped in the spirit realm. I’ve seen this film turn sceptics into full-blown fans, who’ve moved onto heavier stuff from the studio such as the mind-blowing epic, Princess Mononoke. The story’s ecological message is moving, magical and at times heartbreaking, but with mild language and bloody violence (including a decapitation at one point), this one’s definitely not for kids.
Japan has certainly got the hang of adult animation. For fans of Christopher Nolan’s Inception, there’s Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, which Nolan himself has cited as one of the main inspirations for his story of dreams and reality. Paprika follows the invention of a device that allows you to view another person’s dream, and the consequences when the device becomes stolen. With stunning art, “trippy” dream sequences and a buzzing soundtrack, this is definitely one to stick on your bucket list. And although it might be harder to follow, I personally would recommend watching the original Japanese version with subtitles for the full effect.
However, it’s not just Japan that wants cartoons for grown-ups. Europe has so far created some great work, although I feel it has yet to go mainstream. French director Sylvain Chomet has become a big name with the wonderfully arty The Triplets of Belleville (aka Belleville Rendez-vous). The film is quirky, has virtually no dialogue, and some very funny moments; my favourite being when the tiny grandmother Madame Souza transverses the Atlantic Ocean on a pedalo. Belleville was nominated for an Oscar in the best animation category, as well as another of
Chomet’s later works, The Illusionist. Cartoons for adults are slowly becoming more common and increasingly accepted in the west, receiving critical acclaim, nominations and awards.
So, if you’re feeling adventurous and fancy stepping out of your Disney comfort zone, definitely start with Studio Ghibli and see where it takes you. Miyazaki’s latest film, The Wind Rises, is due out this year so keep your eyes peeled. And who knows, maybe Disney will soon expand its horizons and bring out its first film aimed at adults in the not-too distant future.