I’ve written in the Disappearing Pleasures pages about the death of the family blockbuster movie. However, the exception to this is in animated films. Pretty much the entire output of Pixar, Dreamworks and Aardman fulfils all the criteria that used to be satisfied by live action films for all ages. If anything, these films have gone way beyond what used to be possible with live action films, not merely in visual effects but in making entertainment and artistry which, as Shrek says in the first of that series has “layers”.
As Donkey retorted, “Onions have layers, they make you cry” – and this is where the brilliance of modern animated films really comes through. Toy Story 3 was almost too cruel for adults in its false ending on the conveyor belt to the incinerator (the fact that that scene has a Lego model set sounded like a vicious spoof until I saw it in a shop). The opening sequence of Up, with its sensitive treatment of ageing, death, infertility and the dashing of the hopes of youth by the events of life is almost unimaginable in a film which will be enjoyed by small children. The entirety of Wall-E and its depiction of a post-human sterile Earth is several degrees more bleak and ultimately more poignant and uplifting than most more serious live action efforts – compare it to Will Smith’s I am Legend if you doubt this.
So, animators are making films which have enough slapstick for a pre-school child, in-jokes and sometimes risqué references for teenagers and enough plot complexity and depth to make them rewarding for adults even if they aren’t just there to accompany children. Perhaps that’s why their voice-acting cast lists regularly blow away most live action films.