Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Relaunch for Adult Animation?

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's upcoming animated comedy Sausage Party can bring a lot of things to the table. The American animation industry both needs it and kind of doesn't it...

This is the first wide-release R-rated animated film since South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut was released in 1999. It's a wide-release adult-oriented animated film. Period. We need much more of those. It seems like it'll be funny, given the duo's other films, especially the wickedly hilarious This Is The End.

In addition to the talent behind it and the lower budget they're shooting for, this looks to be something of a send-up of Pixar films. I mean, it's about a talking sausage (and talking food) searching for the meaning of his existence. It's like that line from American Dad!, mentioning a Pixar film called "Clothes" featuring John Ratzenberger as a tie!

And also, Pixar's "what if" approach to stories is in need of a good parody. Shrek is definitely a riff on Disney's classic animated films of the fairy tale variety, though it's also a bitter "**** you" to the company and their legacy from Jeffrey Katzenberg that tends to miss the mark. A good parody of the films from a fine studio would be welcome, and Pixar's filmography is ripe for one. Though it's possible that one day, Pixar will spoof themselves. After all, Disney did it with The Emperor's New Groove almost thirteen years ago.

So getting a potentially good R-rated animated film - a strange and bizarre one at that - so soon is a good thing, right? It's just what we need for the American feature animation industry, right?

Well, like I said earlier, a few problems may rise from this...

What kind of adult-oriented animation does well in North America?

Stuff like Seth MacFarlane's shows, stuff on Adult Swim, Fox's current ADHD block, and South Park. Over the years, failed "adult animation" blocks on other channels (Spike's CFFA immediately comes to mind - back when they were called Spike TV) showcased the same kind of animation: Raunchy, definitely not so suitable for children, and loaded with stuff that makes preteens say "Oh my god! That's sooooooo adult!" It's been a thing since the success of Family GuySouth Park and Adult Swim. From 2000 to now, most adult-oriented animated television shows follow this mold.

Now let's look at some wide-release adult-oriented animated films, Simpsons Movie excluded...

9? Not a good film to begin with despite the great art direction and style, and one that was marketed to teenagers in such a wretched marketing campaign. It failed for a good reason... Rango and Fantastic Mr. Fox? Brilliant. We need more of those. Fortunately, the former was backed by effective marketing and made some dough at the box office. Other than that? Not much. If adult-oriented animation can thrive on television, then it could very well be a viable thing in the world of theatrical animated features.  It's about time that someone is at least trying to create a market for this kind of animation at the moment...

But if this film is a big hit, what will it tell executives?

"More raunchy adult-oriented animation!"

No, they won't be saying, "Let's invest in smart adult-oriented animation now that there's a market for adult animation." They'll be saying, "Let's make more raunchy stuff!" You won't be seeing anything resembling Studio Ghibli films or something like The Triplets of Belleville produced by an American animation studio any time soon. Heck, we don't really get that kind of stuff on television, we're not going to get it in theaters anytime soon.

Now that's not to say that some of the stuff out there isn't experimental. I was once a big fan of Adult Swim when they were airing an eclectic batch of shows. Nowadays, they don't really do that in my eyes... But there was a time when Adult Swim was home to a wide variety of different animated programs despite all of them using raunchy humor or shock-value violence. Some fine examples, to me, would be Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Sealab 2021The Venture Brothers, Robot ChickenMetalocalypse and Superjail! Stylistically, not all of these shows were the same. Thematically? Only a few were similar, mostly the William Street riffs on Hanna-Barbera stuff (Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Sealab 2021, The Brak Show). Despite excessive gore, Metalocalypse and Superjail! aren't the same exact show while Robot Chicken is no Venture Brothers. Get what I am getting at, here?

Fox's ADHD block moves on from the Seth MacFarlane/dysfunctional family formula with shows like Axe Cop and whatnot. This is also good, as it'll show that adult-oriented animation doesn't have to be limited to screwed up sitcoms about crazy families.


Adult-oriented animation is so much more than what you see on Fox, ADHD, Adult Swim, FX or Comedy Central... Just look at what's made in Europe and Japan. More of that in America, please! History repeats itself, as in the 1970s, Ralph Bakshi's works motivated people to invest in shock-value adult animated films. The animation world saw a lot of crumby knock-offs in the 1970s and 1980s, lots of films that try so hard to be a successful, but they didn't have what made Bakshi's films work.

Sausage Party will either open up a door for the American animation industry and show the bigwigs that there is a market for adult animation, thus people will seize different opportunities... Or it will only ensure the growth of raunchy, mostly immature "adult" animation with nothing smart to come out of any pore.

What do you think will happen?

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