The return of adult animation

Animation is getting gritty and cartoons are no longer just for children. Kaleem Aftab reports

The time when cartoons were seen as fodder to amuse kids for a couple of hours is officially dead. In the coming months, kids will have to make do with Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa in cinemas, while older audiences will be offered an animated choice of Fear(s) of the Dark, Waltz with Bashir and The Spirit. And on Sunday evening, Channel 4 will also be showing the latest batch of Animate Projects, films that explore the boundaries between contemporary art and animation. Film-makers have woken up to the fact that you're never too old to enjoy a cartoon.

Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir is being touted as this season's Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi's Oscar-nominated Iranian coming-of-age auto-biopic. Like Persepolis, it launched at Cannes to glowing reviews and featured the director in the principal role. Waltz with Bashir boldly marketed itself as the first animated documentary.

The story recounts the Israeli director's struggle to come to terms with witnessing the Sabra and Shatila massacres of September 1982, as pro-Israeli Lebanese Christian militiamen mete out indiscriminate mass-murders in two Palestinian refugee camps.

To make the movie, Folman filmed interviews with numerous soldiers and, instead of just making a documentary with what he described as "a bunch of middle-aged men talking", he decided to get a team of animators to draw the interviews. Animation also allowed him to re-enact events and add dream sequences. To make the film that he wanted to, on the budget that he had, the charismatic director argues that, "if you take into consideration all the elements of the film – it's about war, dreams, subconscious, conscious, fear, lost love and memory – I thought the only way to combine all those elements was with animation."

It was a decision made easier by the growing acceptance of animation as a legitimate film-making tool by audiences, film festivals and the Oscars. Sin City, Persepolis and Waltz with Bashir had their world premieres at Cannes. Richard Linklater's Waking Life opened in Venice, whose Lido has made a habit of screening the latest work from Japan's Studio Ghibli. This year it was Hayoa Miyazaki's childish Ponyo on the Cliff.

In many ways, Waltz with Bashir benefits greatly from being animated. It gives the story a more universal appeal than a straight documentary on the 1982 invasion would.

But there is a moment in the film where Folman switches from animation to documentary footage to highlight that the events depicted in the film did actually take place – a decision that detracts from the power of the story because it seems overbearing compared to the cartoon images. It also suggests that the unreality of drawn images cannot have the same impact as real footage.

But Folman argues, "I didn't want people to walk out of the film and think that this was a really cool animation story film. I wanted people to know that real people died there, thousands of them, and it puts the film into proportion. So for me, there was no other choice but to include the real footage."

Fear(s) of the Dark is a patchwork of black-and-white animation that sees prominent graphic artists from around the globe investigating their visions of terror. It's a surreal non-narrative collection of stories ranging from the Japanese anime of Marie Caillou to the geometric patterns of Pierre di Sciullo.

The award-winning American cartoonist Charles Burns has contributed a section in his signature high-contrast and creepy style in which an insect lodges itself in the body of a girl, who then brutalises her boyfriend. The award-winning illustrator argues that the current talk about adult animation films mirrors the trend that caused surprise when he first began creating adult-themed comics.

Suky Best, an artist who has made the short animation Early Birds as part of the AnimateTV 2008 slate says: "The non-English-speaking world has always seen animation as a legitimate cinematic technique. In Eastern Europe and Japan particularly, animation has been an adult medium and I think it's just in the English-speaking-world, where Walt Disney dominated animation, that it became seen as something for children.

"Walt Disney developed a style that became animation for the English-language world. If we weren't an English-speaking country, we'd have a different relationship to animation. We'd look much more to Czechoslovakia and those sort of countries."

From 1950, animation studios in Czechoslovakia, Hungry, Poland, Croatia and Russia churned out thousands of feet of footage, winning a plethora of international prizes. France also led the way in forging an adult aesthetic to match the content, highlighted by recent output that includes Belleville Rendez-Vous (2003) and Renaissance (2006) as well as Fear(s) of the Dark and Persepolis. But Japan has culturally been the most open to adult animations. Osamu Tezuka was making groundbreaking animation films in the 1960s.

The change in attitude can also be seen in animations aimed at family audiences and in the success of Pixar, which is now owned by Disney. The emphasis is no longer on simply amusing children, and these films are full of references aimed at older members of the audience.

It's the adults who take the kids who have become the most important spectators for producers to consider.

AnimateTV is on Channel 4 on Sunday at 11.55pm. Work will also be online at www.4mations.tv. 'Fear(s) of the Dark' opens on 3 October, 'Waltz with Bashir' opens on 21 November, and 'The Spirit' opens on 2 January

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect