Monday, August 17, 2015

Random Thoughts: The Pyramid of Kid’s Animation

I am really fond of animation in general. Be it CG, stop motion, or handdrawn, I both enjoy and appreciate animated shows and movies. Of course, like all things, the good animations of the world are vastly outnumbered by the mediocre and poor ones. This becomes very apparent when you look at animations meant for children. Here it is clear what shows and movies had actual effort and care put into them, and which were turned out with the belief that kids will watch anything.

This is where the pyramid comes in. Based on Sturgeon’s Law (ninety percent of everything is crap) and actual observations, I’ve constructed a guideline where the best, fewest animations are at the very top and the worst, numerous animations are on the bottom. Keep in mind that while I did put some thought into this, not all animations would be able to fit snugly into a category here. To make a anything that can account to everything of even one category is pretty much impossible, or at least way more time than I’m willing to spend. Let’s start with the lowest and largest rung first:

Crap, or “Don’t Worry, Kids Will Watch Anything!”
Many other people have said this before, but it bears repeating: being for kids is not an excuse for a lack of quality. Apparently, the makers of these animations didn’t get the message. Or worse, they didn’t care. These animations are actively bad, be it due to poor production, braindead concepts, or just general annoyance. Most times, only small children can stomach these shows, and most adults wouldn’t be caught dead watching these, even if their kid insists. Most kid’s animations fall into this category, but they can be easily spotted, and therefore can be easily avoided.

Examples: The Problem Solverz, most direct-to-video animated films not made by Disney, most Hanna-Barbera shows

Next up the pyramid is:

Dumb, or “Kids Like Fart Jokes, Right?”
If the Crap tier of animations are the bottom of the barrel, then the animations of the Dumb tier are the actual barrels. While their quality is certainly a step above those of the Crap tier, they still fall into the category of “only kids can really enjoy this.” The biggest differences between Dumb and Crap is that the former usually has more effort put into them and that parents, if they absolutely have to, can stomach it just fine. They often aren’t good shows, but they are passable enough to avoid being called bad.

Examples: Teen Titans Go!, Johnny Test, most shows on Disney Junior or Nick Junior, classic Scooby Doo, direct-to-video Disney films

One step above this is:

Harmless, or “The Envelope Is Fine Right Where It Is”
If the Crap tier is the barely trying, and if the Dumb tier is at least trying, then the Harmless tier is like a “B-minus.” Harmless tier animations exist in this weird limbo in which they can’t be considered bad, but are just shy of being considered good. They tend to watchable and in most cases enjoyable by adults, but don’t appeal to them enough for them to watch it unironically. Their appeal still rests with kids, but enough effort was put into it to insure that the parents watching can still enjoy themselves.

Examples: The Backyardigans, Adventure Time, most Transformers shows, What’s New Scooby Doo?, lower tier Dreamworks and Pixar films (think Over the Hedge and Brave)

Up next is:

Good, or “Envelopes Are Meant To Be Pushed A Little”
From this tier up, the animations here are usually considered to be good by most people. Here, extra effort is put in to make sure that the show can be enjoyed by not just kids, but by older audiences too. These shows almost always have smarter writing than your average kid’s animations, and are often watched by older audiences unironically. They may not be considered timeless, but they are often pointed to as examples of kid’s animations done right.

Example: Gen 4 My Little Pony, Transformers Animated, Dan vs, Mystery Incorporated, Regular Show, Amazing World of Gumball, mid tier Dreamworks and Pixar films (think Madagascar and Bug’s Life)

At the top is:

Great, or “Who’s Up For A Good Game Of Envelope Pushing?”
The very top tier of kid’s animation go the extra mile to make sure that they could be the best they could be. They write smartly like Good tier shows, but they often tackle heavier themes and concepts, and can be considered great even today (and possibly even in the future). They can be enjoyed by everyone, and older audiences will seek out these shows because of how they handle themselves. There are that many out there, but animations in this category are examples of how kid’s shows can be made so that they can enjoyed by people other than kids.

Examples: Steven Universe, early Spongebob,  Avatar The Last Airbender, Samurai Jack, Disney renaissance films, higher tier Dreamworks and Pixar films (think How to Train Your Dragon and Toy Story 2)

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