Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Guest Column - Netflix, Animated: How The Streaming Giant Could Change the Animation Industry Forever

Today's editorial comes from a frequent guest and collaborator.

Munir A. is a long-time animation fan. The other day, the animation hub he wrote for has ended its run after a stellar 7 1/2 years.


A few days ago, I saw The Breadwinner, a beautiful, complex and relevant film that keeps pushing animation to new heights. But, I didn’t see it in theaters like I hoped to. No, I saw it on a 13-inch laptop on an online site. It’s not that the film premiered here and I missed it. It was never released here (I live in Ecuador) and it was never going to be. I’m not one to resort to piracy but when you are not given any viable option to watch, what else can you do?

I’m not here to talk about piracy, though. I’m well aware of the damage it does to artists, especially for indie films like this one. I mentioned this example to talk about another problem: the lack of options to watch alternative (meaning, not coming from big, American studios) animation. My country receives the usual animation fare: Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, WAG, Blue Sky, Illumination and, thankfully, Aardman and Laika as well. However, when it comes to smaller, foreign films, I’m out of luck. I’ve never seen a Studio Ghibli film in theaters or a Cartoon Saloon film or any other film that qualifies as indie animation. Even in the US, it's hard to come by these films as are they are only released in certain cities and in a limited amount of venues. This translates to poor box office receipts that make it harder to license these films outside their home countries.

That’s where Netflix comes in. The streaming service has effectively changed the way we consume TV series and movies. By releasing them worldwide, they reduce the chance of them being pirated and it’s lucrative for the artists that make them. Netflix is not new to animation. They have found success with series like Trollhunters and Bojack Horseman, and have bought some animated films like The Little Prince. More recently, they’ve commissioned two highly-anticipated films: Klaus, a traditionally animated film directed by Sergio Pablos, to be released in 2019 and Over the Moon, directed by legendary animator Glen Keane, to be released in 2020. While people might mourn the fact these films won’t be exhibited in theaters, I think it’s the best option if we want to have more diverse animated films. It’s no secret that American animation has let traditional animation die. Most of their films are computer generated and while some studio offerings are still beautiful to look at (most recently Coco), it’s also true that they tend to look similar and homogeneous. Animation is a medium without limits and one of its best assets, is the fact that it can come in a variety of styles and aesthetics. Most American studios, however, have forgotten that and their films look like they're factory-made, instead of showing that they are of an intricate process of human labor. I would love to see a traditionally animated film in theaters again, but I rather have them on Netflix than none at all. That this big company is paying and distributing these films is a giant step in the right direction and could potentially shake the current system.

But Netflix could do much more than that. In addition to producing their own animated films, they could strike distribution deals with indie companies and bring their films around the world. GKIDS (The Criterion Collection of Animation in my opinion) does a wonderful job of bringing non-mainstream animation to the US. They do it with all the odds against them and with little monetary reward. What if Netflix could help? What if they strike a deal with GKIDS and distribute their catalogue around the world. Also, they could release some of their films within the US and ensuring that GKIDS will continue to exist. Even American studio could benefit from that. Laika creates beautiful, stop-motion films that unfortunately are not financially successful. After Kubo and the Two Strings, we were supposed to have a new film this year but no news has been released and rumors of a possible shutdown have circulated since. Netflix could partner with Laika and let them continue to create stop-motion films. Yes, seeing them in theaters is better but, like I said earlier, I would rather have a new Laika film on my TV than no Laika film at all.

By doing this, Netflix could even get awards love in the animation category and become a worthy foe to Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar, who have dominated that category long enough. Netflix has the muscle and money for a strong marketing push that could rival those two and bring a much-needed variety in the best-animated feature category.

Netflix could have a huge impact in the animation industry, offering a varied catalogue of animated films from around the world and in different styles. By releasing them worldwide, it could change the way people usually think about animation and elevate it to legitimate art form status.


1 comment:

  1. You know, perhaps Netflix could start their own motion picture company like how Amazon did and theatrically release the animated films through there.