• Adam Johnson

About That Animation | REGARDING 2018

I love the animations.

Each year they get more beautiful and more daring, and one of them is usually fighting for the top spot of my list. That's no different this year. But more than that, 2018's key animated releases showed that animation can address as strongly as live-action fare, if not moreso, relevant issues and themes important for today's American society.

I remember Zootopia got plenty of praise for this, using a comedy about animals to allegorically address issues of race, gender, and prejudice. Ralph Breaks the Internet was more on the nose, but it still addressed internet toxicity and insecurity of men. While I think it could have used a plot device called literally anything else but an "insecurity virus," Ralph is a movie designed for younger viewers who are freshly navigating the pervasive and potent digital age that the older generation has taken decades to chart. Using more simplistic elements to address complex themes is appropriate in this case.

Besides, the movie was so creatively hilarious, there is something for everyone, from cameos to tongue-in-cheek musical numbers to brand integration that doesn't feel evil!

Now Brad Bird has been known to explore maturer ideas in his Pixar films. In The Incredibles, he portrays the idea that if "everyone's super, no one will be." Ratatouille told us that "Not everyone can be a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere." Tomorrowland emphasized the idea of exceptionalism by limiting access to Tomorrowland to the chosen "dreamers," who will then save the world for tomorrows. While 2018s's Incredibles 2 moved beyond the thesis idea of what exceptional people can do, the film still complexifies it and moves it into the modern atmosphere of activism.

Now while it didn't retain the classic "Pixar charm," it was still an entertaining action piece that showed that activism is both important for creating change but can easily be manipulated by opponents into misrepresentation.

Activism was actually the thing that floored me about Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs.

It came out in March, shortly after the Parkland shooting. In the months that followed, survivors of the massacre became outspoken and active against the prevalence and violence of guns in America. In the film, while it is about a boy on a quirky journey to reunite with his dog, there is a parallel movement on the homefront of student activists, led by an American voiced by Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), who intend to take down the corrupt government that has unfairly deported all dogs and to save the canines. There was no way Anderson could have anticipated or even reshot the film, but the accidental relevance made Dogs a much more important film than I think it set out to be.

But then there was the sunflower. The star that stood out from the rest.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse encouraged its viewers to be the you that you can be. We can all be a Spider-Man (or a Spider-Gwen). Our story is our story, and while it may ring similar to those of others', our story is uniquely ours. We will take our own path to who we shall become.

Spider-Verse demonstrated this in both theme and style. It had archetypal elements we know and love, but it went beyond that. It was remarkably faithful to the comics, skillfully adapting various storylines to tell its own, but it was so much more. Its animation breaks every rule and it's the better for that. It demonstrated the freedom it advocated, and it's one of the most original and electrifying films for that.

I had a professor say that animation wasn't film. Animation was just cartoons, therefore not cinema, he said. But with stories so strong, characters so important, and themes so powerful, the best of 2018's lot had to have proven him wrong.

For more of my 8-part REGARDING 2018 series, click here!


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