March '10     


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Introduction
Animation, at least in America, is used primarily for children's entertainment. There are artists in the industry and adult fans of the medium who bemoan this fact, but that's just how it is.  Given this, do the artists behind the scenes bear a responsibility to the children they entertain?  Should artists be expected to look out for what is in the best interest of children?  Is there a line to what is acceptable?

Brian McEntee
There are a numerous thoughts that spring to mind regarding this topic.  First, I feel anyone with a desire to be "naughty" these days has numerous legitimate outlets in which to comfortably do so without tainting family entertainment: "South Park", "Current TV's SuperNews", "Family Guy", "Queer Duck", and the list goes on and on and on.  But, part of the desire to insert naughty bits into otherwise family-friendly fare is usually for the shock value, or perhaps as an act of rebellion, although most, like the topless photo in background window in Disney's "The Rescuers", are done more as tossed-off internal jokes meant to elicit peer laughter.  I have no problem with this as long as it is clear that it is not intended to leave the studio, but once it does, with the way media works now, a single frame can be isolated far too easily and these things do not remain inside jokes for long.  Placing these things into the publicly viewed end product also leaves the producing company open to public pillory, lawsuits, expensive alterations to correct the problem, and ultimately, diminished profits, so if someone did this sort of thing at a company I owned, I would feel well within my rights to fire them for it, despite the argument, "It was just a joke."

Jokes like this may be funny between friends who share a similarly adolescent or twisted sense of humor, but then, that is where this kind of thing should remain.  There is definitely a place for making fun of and having fun with the projects and characters we create.  An off-color or shocking joke might lighten the mood on a grueling production schedule, or take a too-serious edge off the staff's mood, but it shouldn't go beyond the private joke stage.

Steve Moore
As a parent of an audience member, I trust the filmmakers to entertain my child appropriately.  When there's endless yelling, farting, and references to genitals, I feel I have introduced my child to a creep.  I want to know:  Where were the grownups when this film was made? 

One director, after a test screening with children, said to me, "I could make a movie where all they ever say is 'Butt.' And it would be a blockbuster hit."  This brings up another question: Is it our job, as filmmakers, to simply give the children what they want?  OR do we have a responsibility to engage their minds and help them develop an appreciation for artistry, storytelling, and good cinema?  There's great pressure from executives to keep the kids laughing - silence in a theater is perceived as failure.  But silence in a theater full of kids is the ultimate success - it means they're engaged in the film. Children's will take such films with them through their lives.  They'll most certainly watch them again, and find inspiration from the characters they found so engaging.  The film becomes part of their childhood.   The gassy glib romps are forgotten before they've left the mall. 

Some artists think its funny to mess with the kiddies.   I worked on a feature where some sets seemed to have blatantly phallic shapes.  I mad a joke about it to the designer, a famous children's book illustrator.  He laughed and said, "I know!  All my stuff's got dicks and c***ts in it!"  (He really said that.)

A layman once asked me about all the subversive subliminal messages in Disney films.  "In 'Lion King'," he said  "the word 'sex' appear in the smoke.  You can see it when you pause it."  I was unaware of this.  I told him it was probably a bored animator, but he chose not to believe me -  it’s a conspiracy, don't you know.  Please artists, don't feed the loonies!

James Lopez
My understanding is that the "sex" in 'Lion King' was meant to be "sfx" but one of the wisps of dust got too close to the "f" and made it look like an "e".

Hell, I may even be guilty of it a bit myself, unintentionally, of course! Working with Gerald Scarfe's designs...everything was going fine on the character Pain in "Hercules" until he had to turn into a snake. My clean-up lead brought something to my attention and boy was it embarrassing. I realized I got caught up with performance and quota, I just wasn't thinking what I was doing. We re-worked and re-worked that thing over and over to get it to look "respectable" (I forgot what we ended up with) but I think it turned out okay. 

I think the bigger picture is should we be putting ANY kind of subliminal imagery in at all (for running the risk of the 'Lion King' incident). Unless its an artistic choice for effect like scary faces in hollowed out trees, or putting a co-workers name on a sign in the background. That's different. That's okay (and fun).

Again, I would point out the good examples to model from more over the bad ones. My wife and I went to the Annie Awards and she noticed that there was no acknowledgment for genuinely good shows like "Charlie and Lola", "Little Bear", etc. Shows that actually have good content and are not sarcastic and mean-spirited. Shows that my children like to watch.

Dean Yeagle
Yes, we do have a responsibility  just  to  keep the  level of taste a bit  higher, so vulgarity doesn't become common  currency.  Okay, too late.  Not only fart jokes, but even penis jokes have become  common in animation.  But we don't have to help coarsen the discourse any more.  On the other  hand, we don't need to make entertainment for kids preachy and priggish.  But it's not really all that fine a line.  Sit with your four year old granddaughter while watching a film, as I do.  You'll figure out what's appropriate.  Then again, let's not aim everything at four year olds.  Just figure out which is which, and for whom.

Signe Baumane
I am not sure if I have much to say about this - I am not making children's films, my films are VERY adult and controversial.  I do have an opinion that some men who work in children's entertainment industry have Peter Pan syndrome,
and in some of them it takes an ugly twist.

As to the subliminal jokes that some people had made in past - i think those are just pranks out of boredom - desire to spice up the sacharine that their job turned to be many hours a day many weeks in a year...

Ralph Eggleston
I am for a standardized honest and clear advertising of said product.  If you're advertising it as a film for families and/or children, it's up to the maker/distributor to adhere to those standards of production and advertising, and parents to be made aware of the content.

There will always be the little things that slip through---usually a prank, or a bitter/angry employee...I don't know if there's any way to stop THAT---it's usually pretty buried.  On "Nemo", we had a scene make it all the way to Digital Dailies (final stop before being put onto final film) where someone had put a PLACEHOLDER graphic on a magazine the dentist grabbed as he headed to the bathroom.  The temporary graphic was, to begin with, questionable.  But it almost made it out the door to theaters.  It  was a silly prank NOT meant to go out...but it almost did anyway.  The guy who did it did  a major mea culpa, and worked on his own time to design a way to have a bright pink "temp. graphic" symbol on all graphics until they're final.  If it's pink, work needs to be done.  It's automatic.  We use it to this day.







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