The New Golden Age of Animation

At the age of 30, I am firmly from a generation of children that grew up on Disney films. For a lot of people my age a Disney film will likely have been the first film we ever saw in a cinema. We’ll remember watching Bambi or Jungle Book on videotape and we’ll have been obsessed with pretty much everything the House of Mouse released.

But one thing we might not have been aware of at the time was just how fast animation was changing. In just a comparatively short number of years animation has gone from moving pencil sketches to 2D paintings to fully immersive, beautiful 3D renderings. It truly does seem that the medium has evolved and grown just as much as we have.

And, if like me, you’ve retained that love of animation as you’ve grown older and gradually found yourself discovering new film studios. You’ll have fallen in love with Spirited Away and will have deliberately hunted down Hiyao Miyazaki’s other Studio Ghibli films. Or you’ll have been charmed by the stop-motion claymation adventures of Wallace and Gromit from Nick Parks and Aardman.

But I would argue that now is the best time ever to be a fan of animated films. The depth, variety and standard of animated films have never been higher, and never have they been easier to find, watch, and fall in love with.

Disney has still been delivering their extremely polished, beautiful works of art from both Disney, and Pixar with the likes of Zootropolis and Frozen becoming just as much smash-hits as Coco and Soul both continued to find a way to blend light-hearted entertainment and heart-wrenching emotion in a way that only Pixar can.

Dreamworks provided competition to Disney with mega franchises Kung Fu Panda, How To Train Your Dragon and the underrated gem Abominable, all films that sort of mimic the Disney way of animation and all absolutely brilliant. Warner Brothers also brought Lego to life with their string of excellent and hilarious Lego Movie films.

However, if it’s something other than conventional animation that you’re after, there are plenty of studios doing extremely different, imaginative and breath-taking things with animation. Sony nailed it with Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse by not only doing animation differently but by doing superhero movies differently as well. The film was so experimental with its animation, its kaleidoscopic use of colour and its playing with a form that it is often always in discussions for both best superhero film and best-animated film ever.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Laika is a studio that has mastered its own unique visual style through the use of stop-motion animation and in the space of ten years has released a string of distinctive and brilliant animated films from Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls to the more recent Kubo and the Two Strings and Missing Link.

Then there’s the increased accessibility of eastern animation or anime with stunning films like Your Name, Weathering With You and A Silent Voice finding distribution in western countries like America and the United Kingdom, and even cinematic releases. These films come with their own distinct animation style and their own unique cultural stories. And now with the advent and growth of streaming services, it’s easier than ever to find a massive range of anime films that were previously reserved for a corner of a local Blockbuster.

Then there’s the artistry and beauty behind Cartoon Saloon’s hand-drawn tapestries with Wolfwalkers, The Secret Of Kells and Song Of The Sea all utilising loose expressive linework and magical colours to make all three films worthy of being called masterpieces, particularly when matched with thought-provoking and magical stories.

Netflix is also contributing massively to the growing list of world-class animated films by giving a wide range of extremely different animated films a platform to reach a large audience. In recent years it’s released oscar-nominated Klaus, a unique take on Santa Klaus that brought back 2D animation but made it 3D, and I Lost My Body, which is a French animated film with an abstract story. More recently we’ve had the interesting musical film Over The Moon and the incredibly warm and witty Mitchells Vs The Machines.

Animation is often a genre that has often been dismissed as juvenile and for children, but the sheer breadth of different animated films proves that it couldn’t be further from the case, even if a lot of them are designed to be enjoyed by both adults and children. Animated films actually often allow for some breathtaking stories about mature and adult things to be told in amazing ways that live-action simply can’t compete with.

The truth is that I’ve only scratched the surface with the plethora of films that I’ve listed here and that there truly is something for everyone when it comes to animation. Even outside of film we’re seeing a rise of animated entertainment permeating popular culture with Rick and Morty, Bojack Horseman, Final Space, and Invincible to name just a few of the television shows that are grasping the opportunities animation presents to tell unique and different stories.

It truly is astonishing how good animation has gotten. The rain in Toy Story 4 was as believably real as Miles Morales being filmed in a different frame rate to everyone else in Into The Spider-Verse was genius. Both Coco’s rousingly emotional finale and Mitchell’s Vs The Machine’s off-kilter humour are capable of producing tears from your eyes.

I almost wish I could go back in time, find myself sitting in front of a VHS of 101 Dalmations and tell younger me ‘if you think this is good now, just you wait and see!’ I was blown away then by what animated films could do, but now, I can’t comprehend all of the things that are possible. We truly are in the golden age of animation.

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