Adult Animation Revolution: Is Pixar No Longer Top Dog?

by Tito W. James

There was a time when Pixar was critically considered  to be the pinnacle of Western feature animation. Pixar revolutionized CGI animation with its debut feature film, Toy Story. For at least two decades, Pixar was synonymous with quality animated storytelling and other CG feature films were always compared by Pixar’s standards.

However, we are in a new decade and Pixar seems to be lagging behind its competitors in terms of artistic innovation and risky storytelling. Admittedly, I found Pixar’s offerings to be underwhelming after Toy Story 3. The studio appears to have lost its identity with Pixar and Disney CG films becoming indistinguishable from each other. The stories and visual style that were once exciting now look tame in comparison to Spider-Verse, Arcane, and most anime.

Studios like Dreamworks, Illumination, Paramount Animation, and Sony Pictures Animation have the opportunity to rebrand themselves, from Pixar “look alikes” to creators of bold new visions in animation. CG animation will no longer be Coke vs Pepsi but Coke vs Red Bull! The lack of fixed brand identity in the eyes of the public can be used to their advantage– these studios are not beholden to a single art style or subject matter. They can explore radically new visual techniques and explore genres that haven’t been done in Western animation.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a great example of a potential bold new era for Dreamworks. The  stylized action, envelope-pushing humor, and existential themes elevated Puss in Boots from a mere spin-off to a top class animated film. The popularity and appeal of Death the Wolf is evidence that audiences are hungering for more threatening villains in our animated films. Do away with twist-villains and toothless villains–bring back the antagonists we love to hate!

Sony Pictures Animation has reinvented itself with films like Spider-Verse, and Mitchells vs the Machines. Sony has also shown a willingness to explore more adult and action-oriented genres with  Agent Elvis, and Genndy Tartakovsky’s upcoming projects, Black Knight and Fixed. If Sony were to give Alberto Mielgo (Jibaro, The Witness) a theatrically released feature film, it would change the landscape of adult animation. Sony also has access to a wealth of Video Game IP. Doing a cel-shaded Sly Cooper movie in the same vein as The Bad Guys would be a amazing.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie could be a turning point for Illumination. The characters are lovingly brought to life with the epic scope of a fantasy film. Personally, I’d rather see a Nintendo shared-universe than another Minions spin-off. Illumination also recently hired Mike Moon (The Midnight Gospel, Gravity Falls, Entergalactic) to spearhead a mature line of films under the banner Moonlight. Illumination is known for making crowd-pleasing films that reach a wide audience. The films made under Moonlight could help move adult animated features from the margin to the mainstream.

Paramount Animation has also showcased gorgeous looking films with The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run and with the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem film. Paramount has a long backlog of IP that could be revitalized in cel-shaded animation. Additionally, the projects in development by Avatar Studios make Paramount Animation a force to be reckoned with.

I wish to see healthy competition between all of these animation studios. Ultimately, the audience and the animation medium win when everyone tries to do something new.

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