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Animation for Adults


Animation predates cinematography itself, and as long as there has been animation, there has been animation aimed at adults. Yet, the medium has never shaken the public perception as kids' stuff, even with the occasional Bojack Horseman, mostly due to the absolute domination of the Walt Disney animation studio, and its myriad imitators. Of course, these days even those films throw in a joke or two for the parents, but if you've ever wanted to see a movie meant for you, like any other, but with that beautiful, otherworldly look only possible in animation and its many forms, here's what's waiting:

Some animations don't even bother to do away with the animal heroes from children's films, leading, I'm sure to some very upset family movie-nights. Watership Down and The Plague Dogs are both adaptations of Richard Adams' penchant for fables that don't skimp on the realities of animal life; hunger, brutal fights to the death, cruelty inflicted by, well, us. In Felidae, the violence takes a more stylistic approach, as the new cat in town has to solve a spree of murders in the neighbourhood, in classic murder-mystery fashion. The Fritz the Cat series originally got by mostly on the novelty of a cartoon cat so vulgar, but in a post South Park world, its charm today is as a fantastic time-capsule of hippy humour, a counter-culture so counter to culture they got sick of and started parodying themselves.

Animation for Adults

I'm not too sure if Richard Linklater's films A Scanner Darkly or Waking Life completely count, considering they were filmed first, and then animated overtop of the footage. If they do, these two are wonderful, Scanner is zany and Waking Life is contemplative.

Strictly speaking, you could show your kids The Triplets of Belle-ville, the hilarious almost pantomime about an elderly French mother rescuing her cyclist son from the mafia with the help of their obese dog and three music hall singers from the 1930s. Though its uniquely gloomy appearance and offbeat comedy are best left appreciated by mom and dad. Another French classic, the sci-fi experiment Fantastic Planet, about bizarre aliens keeping us as pets, and a revolution which begins to unfold as a result, is a simple story that lends itself well to allegory concerning race subjugation, animal rights, and the like. Everyone in the film is strange, humans included, best to bathe in its surreal world instead.

Japan has been importing intelligent work in the form of anime, most of them technically still kids' films, for ages. Belladonna of Sadness provides psychedelic imagery of witchcraft to match its artsy sensibilities, while Akira gives you fast and electrifying sci-fi street racing thrills. Ghibli has made the leap a few times into outright adult fare, to spectacular results. There's the infamously depressing war-time survival meditation Grave of the Fireflies, and Princess Mononoke, a brutally violent and intense fairy-tale, epic in scope and creativity, and featuring some of the studio's absolute best takes on their typical fair (man vs nature, supernatural creatures, strong-willed women, etc.) It remains one of the best animated films ever made. Miyazaki's latest film, The Wind Rises, is quiet and gorgeous, a reflective look at the life of a genius with a complex relationship with his creations; planes which will be used as weapons of war. In his advanced age, Miyazaki has focused on elevating and appreciating the beauty in life; moments of finding inspiration, or love, helping strangers, understanding each other and especially, as he always has, in the trickling streams, and waving fields of grass in nature. (I know this article is meant to focus on adult-oriented animation, and I've done that here, but if you haven't seen his kids' films either, watch them ASAP. They are all on Netflix, and the man can do no wrong.)

Most of these heady and multifaceted animations are quite recent. Persepolis tells the story of a young girl finding herself set to the jet-black and white backdrop of the Iranian Revolution. The Night is Short, Walk on Girl tells the story of a young woman finding herself set to the colourful backdrop of a night out. There's the dark crime comedy Have a Nice Day from China, and the French film I Lost my Body, which sort of escapes genre. It's about a pizza delivery boy who becomes enamoured with a stranger, whilst across town a severed hand searches for its body. It's quite absorbing, though the animation styles of these two aren't the most compelling to look at for two hours. The first ever entirely painted animated film, Loving Vincent, is worth it just for the spectacle of seeing the titular Vincent van Gogh's worlds come to life, as a perfectly serviceable mystery around his death plays out.

The stop-motions Mary & Max and Anomalisa, both about lonely, socially damaged men making a connection to young women who revitalize them. In Mary & Max, Max is middle-aged and Mary is 8, and the two begin a friendship as pen-pals. They offer each other unique perspectives, and the film has a wonderful goofiness to it, appreciating the wonder of companionship, whilst still having time to go about as dark as a comedy can get (alcoholism, suicide, etc.) Anomalisa, is a Charlie Kaufman movie, and therefore the damage is not exorcised. It is a thoroughly realistic film, down to its visuals (probably the most realistic a stop-motion film has ever looked). It concerns a customer service guru, Michael, who seems to view everyone in the world as the same person (literally), including his wife and child. He meets Lisa, who is unique, and incredibly anxious. He becomes infatuated with her. Sometimes it seems sweet and intimate, more often uncomfortable and selfish.

We'll end on a more uplifting note; a film teetering right on the edge between for kids and for adults: Isle of Dogs. On one hand, it has the twee look and premise of a kids' movie, but the violence and mature approach of adult fare. It's wall-to-wall quirk, elevated by the incredible effort expended to create the stop-motion world.