The Mitchells vs The Machines director Michael Rianda recently released his initial artistic manifesto in regards to the film. In his nine-part document, Rianda advocates for new artistic influences, pulling from real life, pushing the stylistic limitations of animation, memorable characters, serious dramatic stakes, bold new cinematography, and saying something that matters.
I found this wild "Manifesto" I wrote for #TheMitchellsVsTheMachines in 2015.
This is the kind of dumb stuff I wrote because I was TERRIFIED making my first movie.
Some of these we *almost* pulled off? Others we did not- like having robots kill people on screen. Lol. pic.twitter.com/SYVS0pUYJs
— Michael Rianda (@michaelrianda) January 16, 2022
Rianda makes some excellent creative points and they resulted in a film that looks and feels like no other. So in the spirit of artistic manifestos, here are some thoughts on what I’d like to see from more animated entertainment moving forward.
Anyone Can Be A Universal Protagonist
This builds upon the core concept of why representation matters. I’m Black and I have friends and loved ones across the ethnic, gender, and sexual spectrum. What my friends and I really seek are protagonists who we’d like to be or be with. This concept has existed for a while within the “Everyman” archetype: An ordinary protagonist whose characteristics foster the audience’s wide identification with him. The sentiment of a relatable and universal protagonist should apply to any type of character regardless of their race, gender, or sexual identity.
If It Can Be Done in Anime It Can Be Done In Western Animation
Anime has explored a fuller narrative spectrum in animated form. While anime is not without its problems, the greater variety of genres explored is inarguable. Some genres that have worked in anime that could be explored further in American animation include: SciFi, Fantasy, Horror, Thriller, Slice of Life, Romance, Shojo, Shonen, Seinen, Josei, Yuri, Yoai, Martial Arts, Historical, Tragedy, Mystery, and Ecchi comedy.
In addition to a greater variety of genres explored, anime also employs long-form continuity, live and death consequences, and complex adult themes. While there will always be an audience for wacky comedies, there’s an entire creative ecosystem that has yet to be fully explored outside of the funny box.
Pull From Sources Outside of Animation For Inspiration
I’m not here to add fuel to the overblown “CalArts” style debate, but I think that we can agree that when everything looks the same, it gets boring. Ideally, the cartoon’s art style should match the subject matter of the show or film rather than mirroring the art style of the thing that was popular the previous year. Style that reinforces story is an advantage that animation has over live-action. Themes can be more implicit and communicated visually through design and art direction. Wolfwalkers is a great example of an animated film that uses its environment design to communicate its themes of femininity.
Mess With Your Audience
Many adult animated programs have been raising the bar and pushing the envelope in recent years. However, whenever there has been any kind of transgressive material incorporated into an animated show or film, pushback from critics and audiences has followed. Animation should be allowed to be as provocative, transgressive, and controversial as any other expressive medium. Not everyone needs to finish watching a film with a smile of their face. I’d love to see a Western animated film or TV show that disturbs people, not because it’s showing gratuitous graphic content but because it struck a nerve in the public consciousness.