There’s no denying that while Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin—out this week—carries a vast appeal to the typical young audience that animated movies tend to reel in (and aim toward). But their parents might be just as intrigued, given the fact that the popular story dates back to the 1930s and the decades that followed; it summons the kid in everyone. A lot of animated movies do that, attract not just the tyke set but also the grownup demographic—be it for deeper-than-meets-the-eye subject matter or groundbreaking animation/effects. In honor of the generation-transcending cartoons, here's a few of the movie history's best:
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
South Park the TV series isn’t necessarily intended for mature audiences, but it most certainly is in the ratings sense. Ditto for Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s too-crude-for-TV, often hilarious, slyly satirical feature-length replication of their Comedy Central show. Kid viewers can certainly appreciate the characters’ voices and perhaps some sound effects – but, well, they probably shouldn’t be allowed to.
Kids aren’t really into talky, trippy, animated, experimental meditations on the Meaning of Life, but then, director Richard Linklater didn’t make Waking Life for them; this wasn’t his Bad News Bears phase. Linklater made the film for his Slackers/Dazed and Confused followers – if not solely for himself – and those viewers, along with critics, enjoyed Waking Life quite a bit. See also: Linklater’s similarly “animated,” similarly out-there A Scanner Darkly.
Before Tim Burton made live-action gothic movies for young audiences, he made animated gothic movies for grownups – or at least one such movie: Corpse Bride. The painstaking stop-motion animation in this Burton-co-directed Oscar nominee was beyond amazing, but the story wasn’t far behind – and it was one that kids could at least follow but one that adults (even film-geek adults) could fully sink their teeth into. The simple fact that a movie called Corpse Bride nowadays can even secure a PG rating is fascinating.
Waltz with Bashir
Not suitable for children; not at all. For grownups, though, this Israeli film about the Lebanon War was as good as it gets, and also quite a sight to behold. Director Ari Folman’s decision to animate – and his marvelous execution thereof – what is essentially a war docudrama produced a refreshing take on the potential brutality of man and his war, and the result was appropriately surreal.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Incredibly innovative in its day, technologically speaking, Robert Zemeckis’ live-action/animation hybrid (which unsurprisingly swept the technical categories at the Oscars) had plenty for young’ns to fawn over (even a catchphrase from its protagonist: “P-p-p-p-p-lease, Eddie!”), but it’s also an adult-skewing, noirish detective story – albeit a PG-rated version. Although let’s be honest, Jessica Rabbit, who spawned more porn send-ups than Sarah Palin, was a few inches of flesh away from rendering Roger PG-13, at the very least.
The minimalistic animation of this Oscar-nominated masterpiece from Marjane Satrapi (who adapted her own graphic novel of the same name) isn’t meant to impress or constantly spellbind viewers – which all but eliminates younger movies – but those with patience are greatly rewarded. And educated.
Fritz the Cat
Just saying “based on the comic strip by Robert Crumb” would be enough for parents to prevent their kids from seeing Fritz the Cat, even if Crumb, in some alternate universe, had somehow produced a tame comic strip. But Fritz is about, quite literally, almost everything untame. It also happens to make for quite an interesting, if not always noble or enlightening, viewing. Oh – and it also happens to be the first X-rated animated film.
Most Pixar Movies
It’s not so much that most Pixar movies contain deep or subliminal undercurrents of profundity only decipherable by grownups; it’s that they generally appeal to all ages, because of both their technological wizardry and the depth of the stories. Kids and parents can see the films together – namely the Toy Story series, The Incredibles and Up, whose “Lifespan” sequence can reduce anyone of any age to tears – and interpret them completely differently. Pixar makes films that are, in every way, the very antithesis of exclusive.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.