Friday, August 11, 2023

Family Animation - Revisiting Personal Cinematic Landscape

We’ve covered adult animation, so I think it’s time we look at family animation.
In my original personal cinematic landscape article, I discussed Disney greats The Lion King (1994) and Aladdin (1992). It would have been blasphemous to go into animation important to me without bringing Disney into the conversation at all. For a first look at the films that altered my perception of cinema, those made sense. However, there was a later Disney film that dug its claws into me, too.
As much as I enjoyed Frozen (2013) when it came out, it took on even deeper meanings to me after my daughter started watching movies.
Naturally, I tried to start my daughter on the Disney films from my past, but she wasn’t having it. She showed no interest in Aladdin. The Lion King proved to be too scary for her upon the death of Mufasa. She wasn’t even into Cinderella (1950) or The Little Mermaid (1989). Finding a flick for her to sit through was harder than trying to limit myself to only one book from Barnes and Noble.

One day, we tried my husband’s favorite Disney movie: Frozen. My daughter adored it immediately. She sang the songs, danced with Elsa, tried to get me to buy every Anna toy she saw… it was her first real Disney experience.
From an adult perspective, I was awed by Frozen when I saw it. Unlike the majority of the rest of the Disney filmography, it wasn’t geared toward romantic love. In fact, the twist ending where the ‘true love’ aspect involved Anna’s connection to her sister almost landed it on my personal cinematic landscape as part of the Subverting Expectations category. On first watch, in the theater, there wasn’t a soul in that room that believed anything but a kiss from Kristoff would unfreeze Anna. When it turned out to be the familial love from Elsa, there was an audible gasp.
It was just shy of making my list last time. Now, as a mom, I have a softer feeling toward it because I got to see it become the first movie to shape my daughter’s cinematic landscape. It’s become the guide for what I look for when choosing other movies for a family movie night. It’s that movie that can usher a whole new generation into Disney films.

Another animated flick that should have probably been on my original list is All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989).
All Dogs Go to Heaven was the first animated film I ever saw that had a bittersweet ending. Every other animation I’d seen up until then ended on that ‘happily ever after’ note. If you’ve followed Trust the Dice for any length of time, you know that my preferred ending is a bittersweet one. I find they have more of a lasting effect on me.
That all started with All Dogs Go to Heaven.
Watching Charlie go from a gangster stray to orphan’s-best-friend, was a ride I enjoyed as a kid. At the end Charlie comes back from the dead for a few minutes to say goodbye to Anne-Marie and Itchy. You can see the little girl reflected in his eye for a few moments and, as much as I enjoy the rest of the film, that’s the moment that always stuck with me. It still causes me to tear up when I think about it. Up until that moment, I don’t think I knew that animated films could have bittersweet endings.

There’s one more film I need to add to my family animation landscape. It’s a newer film that has absolutely no comparison to anything from the past. It is, in my opinion, the greatest animated film ever created: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018).
It would be easy to accuse me of saying Into the Spider-Verse is the best because I’m a Marvel fan girl. That’s not it, though. If we ignore the main character, the story, the acting, and even the writing, Into the Spider-Verse would still alter my cinematic landscape.
More than anything else, what Into the Spider-Verse did was raise the bar on animation quality.
Everything about the animation is crisp and flawless. The use of the old-time comic feel juxtaposed against various other styles – like anime, childish, noir, etc. – was insane. I haven’t seen Across the Spider-Verse (2023) yet, but I have heard it’s got the same base style. I imagine once I do, it will merge with the first film to affect my animated landscape on an even broader level.
Quite frankly, Into the Spider-Verse has given me reason to expect more from family animation. It’s given me hope for what comes next.

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