The common refrain from the conservative end of the spectrum, or at least what seems to be a general attitude from what I’ve seen in a couple of posts and their comments sections (mine included!), is that animation and children’s movies in general are not given the credit they are due by the Hollywood elite.
Here’s the thing though: Most of the time, they shouldn’t be.
I’ll go back to an old argument/debate, “Silence of the Lambs” vs. “Beauty and the Beast”. Let me start by saying that I love “Beauty and the Beast”. The music is spectacularly good, and the story is entertaining. But it is clearly not as good of a film as SotL.
The main reason Mr. Wright, at the time of the original argument, gave for favoring BatB over SotL (bear with me, this is going to be relevant to my main point) is that BatB was about a monster who is saved by the power of true love while SotL was about an utterly nihilistic, cannibalistic monster.
But there’s a problem. That’s not actually any sort of point, except to say that you prefer particular themes in your movies. Perhaps we should prefer that sort of theme, but it doesn’t in itself make the movie good. And BatB is marred by plot holes, big ones no less, and the plot centers around, let’s face it, a classic case of pure Stockholm Syndrome. I mean, really textbook. I don’t think you need to stretch for that one.
To those who are compelled to jump in and say that I’m missing the point of the story by focusing on that – you’re right! Because it’s a children’s movie, and in a children’s movie you can gloss over sloppy plotting as long as your animation is good, your music is beautiful (which it really, really is, to be fair), and your story progresses in a logical way and comes to a satisfying conclusion. BatB does this, and with a lot of heart and lovable characters to boot. But the plot holes remain.
It’s like the cartoon “Gravity Falls” – the last episode was fantastic, and it all revolved some absolutely massive plot holes. But who cares? It was really entertaining, and when a show is designed for children that’s more important than smart plotting.
BatB is a fairy tale. In a fairy tale it’s important that you stick to your general theme, tell your story in an entertaining way, and end it with some moral. And BatB is an EXCELLENT fairy tale, full of wit, heart, and beauty, but an excellent fairy tale is never going to be on the level of, say, “The Lord of the Rings”. Or “SotL”, which is tightly plotted and brilliantly acted.
And this is why Pixar deserves the credit they get. They are the only studio out there – the only one – that manages to consistently, repeatedly, break out of the animation ghetto. In “The Incredibles” they go a step further, and make a movie that transcends not only the animation ghetto but also the superhero genre. “The Incredibles” is an incredible (heh) film, because it creates a human story with brilliant characters and clever themes, AND it does it in a traditional superhero movie with fight scenes and villains and superpowers, AND it does all of this in a cartoon! It was a children’s movie about marriage. If that’s not adult, what is?
“Dreamworks”, in my opinion, has never broken out of the animation ghetto. “How to Train Your Dragon”, widely considered Dreamworks’ best movie (along with the first two “Shrek”‘s, which are funny but not much else), is a decent film, but it is clearly a kids’ movie; what I mean is, it’s a movie designed basically to appeal to kids, which it succeeds at, but the writing is not strong enough, the story, dialogue, and characterization simply not good enough, for to be judged on par with Pixar’s best.
Compare it to “Toy Story”. The original was about accepting your place in the grand scale of creation. The sequel was about what sacrifices you’d be willing to make in exchange for immortality. The third was about accepting the inevitability of death!
And then we have “How to Train Your Dragon”, a nice but not overly special bildungsroman, or “Beauty and the Beast”, a good romance if you can look past the plot holes.
So it’s only natural that animation has always been looked down upon: It’s always been worse. Pixar’s been changing that, though, for twenty years now, and it’s time Hollywood finally got with the program.
(By the way, Disney’s actual best movie is “The Lion King”. Why? Well, not only did it have great music, but it took its plot from “Hamlet”. Anything that copies the Bard and doesn’t mess it up entirely is always going to be smarter than the average bear.)