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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Toronto MU chapter.

The rise of animation is underway. With the release of movies like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — which paved the way for movies like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish — animation is clawing its way back into the spotlight, redrawing attention to its underrated medium.

While it has always existed in one form or another, animation and the hard work that comes with it have been overlooked in recent years. It’s usually set aside as a separate category (animated movies, not just movies) or regarded as a medium meant solely for children. If that’s the case, why has it been receiving growing attention in recent years, and why is that something animation deserves? 

What’s the Appeal?

What is it about animation that attracts our attention and pulls us to drawn people in drawn places? Well, simply put, it’s beautiful.

Animation is full of cute and fun art combined with colours and boldness. Depending on the style of animation, the aesthetic changes and strays from conventions we see in live-action works. 

Spider-Man Marvel GIF by Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse - Find & Share on GIPHY
Spider-Man Marvel GIF By Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse

The drawing and creativity of these works are extremely intricate. It’s this very intricacy that keeps our eyes glued to the screen, for the use of colour and movement draws our attention in a way that is just too intriguing.

Anime is a big example of this. Take, for instance, the fight scenes in Attack on Titan. These scenes are beautifully done and so cool and complex that you can’t take your eyes off the screen for one second. The characters fight in the air, for crying out loud, and do so with a sword in each hand. They spin and jump so smoothly and quickly that you can’t help but be amazed. There’s no way these scenes could ever be replicated in live-action. 

Attack On Titan Fight GIF by iQiyi - Find & Share on GIPHY
Attack On Titan Fight GIF By IQiyi

Not only this, but there are various genres in animation, from comedy to fantasy to those in-between or even mixing everything together. Star vs. the Forces of Evil is a great example of this. The show is filled with cuteness and magic, but it’s also hilarious and heartfelt. The same characters, depending on the moment and dialogue, will make you laugh or have you on the verge of tears.

Another prominent appeal of animation, namely in terms of shows, is the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of its plot. Although a show may have a main storyline lasting a whole season or the entire series, every episode has its own conflict and resolution, no matter how simple. Unlike live-action TV, which tends to focus on an overarching story, we can count on a beginning and subsequent end in a single episode of an animated series without necessarily evoking a kind of investment or commitment.

In series or movies with overarching plots, just as with live-action ones, it’s fairly easy to develop an emotional investment in characters and their stories, like with Gravity Falls and Star vs. the Forces of Evil. Both shows have overarching plots that form the foundation of the series — ones that have us rooting for the characters and creating suspense when things go wrong — leaving us hooked and wanting more until the very end.

What Makes it So Comforting?

There’s always been a sort of comfort in animation — but why is this exactly? What makes us want to put on The Looney Tunes Show or Coraline, get in our pyjamas and turn our brains off while we lie on the couch?

Naturally, one of the biggest reasons is nostalgia. Growing up, we all watched cartoons, from Max and Ruby to Doraemon to Arthur. As such, we link the concept of childhood to animation itself. By doing so, simply consuming it makes us feel better, for we’re re-entering a world of comfort.

Further, animations are fairly chill — they’re not as “high stakes” or as close to reality as other shows. In animated shows, characters face simple problems that are resolved in the very same episode, like getting a pizza that ends up not having enough mushrooms. 

Comfort is also derived from the fact that there is always a happy ending. Though there can be pain and struggle, they always end on a happy note, filling us with comfort and perhaps even giving us an optimistic view of our own lives. Barbie: Princess Charm School reflects this perfectly. Protagonist Blair faces hardships and bullies throughout the movie, but, to our pleasure, she makes it through and finds her happy ending.

Related to this, animation provides a distraction from reality. It doesn’t look like real life — not exactly, anyway — and often doesn’t feel like it either. As such, we’re able to turn away from our reality and all the strife it comes with and instead focus on bright colours and chirpy characters. 

No matter the story, animation is a very comforting form of art. Even something as cringey and cookie-cutter as Miraculous Ladybug provides comfort with its cute characters and humour (no matter how frustrating the love-square gets and how annoying certain characters — *cough* Chloe and Lila *cough* — are).

How are they Overlooked?

Based on everything I’ve said, you can probably guess my perspective, which is, yes, animation is severely overlooked and underrated. Only recently, with the releases of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and its sequel Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, has animation begun to attract attention and be seen as a nuanced and creative medium. 

Over time, animated works have often not been considered “real” shows or movies simply because they’re not live-action. This, of course, is nonsense. The animation follows similar conventions as live-action and takes just as much effort if not more.

Just think of video games: we get so invested, rooting for the characters and becoming addicted to the story, wanting nothing more than to see it through. These, too, are simply moving pictures with sounds and music. If we can love those, why not animation?

To appreciate animation, one has to appreciate voice acting, which is a vital part of making characters real and conveying their emotions. Without good voice acting, these shows and movies wouldn’t be able to convey the same characterization or sentiment; we’d have to rely on the drawings of facial expressions and body language alone. 

Voice acting is part of what makes a show or movie so funny or, in contrast, painful. When watching Star vs. the Forces of Evil, the way Marco delivers a line — usually screaming in panic — makes it funny in itself. Similarly, Liam O’Brien delivers a phenomenal performance as Vax in The Legend of Vox Machina when (spoiler alert) his sister dies, pulling at our heartstrings using his voice alone.

Animation is a vast genre with varying styles, all of which are creative and appealing in their own ways. While all animated, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, and Coraline have clear, distinct styles, all of which have their own conventions and appeals. From 2D to 3D to stop motion, animation is a layered medium that deserves far more appreciation than it gets.

Is animation Childish?

Pretty much since it was made, there has been a common misconception that animation is a childish medium and, thus, only meant for children. So, is this the case?

Of course not!

Just because something is animated and looks like, or is, a cartoon, does not mean that it’s meant for children. And even if it is, so what? It doesn’t mean that it’s not fun to watch (because it is) and that adults are forbidden from watching them (because they aren’t).

Supporting this perspective, despite how animated works may look or how simple the plots may be, is unfair when many of them have powerful messages. Some of these can actually reside more deeply with older audiences than children.

Just take Kubo and the Two Strings: the journey Kubo and his friends go through is far more profound than how it appears on the surface, something that children may not understand but adults will find fairly emotional and may even relate to.

Animation has been in our lives from the beginning, and it should very much stay. Thank goodness this underrated medium is finally getting more and more recognition, for it has triggered the creation of new animated films, ones that may very well change the course of TV and film.

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Sariya Adnan

Toronto MU '24

Sariya Adnan is currently a student at TMU. She's been writing her whole life and hopes to use words to create a positive impact on others and the world around her.