14/07/21 • Animation Insights

Pushing boundaries in animation

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Over the last few decades, animation has commanded a healthy share of the adult tv viewing audience. Throughout the 90s, the medium challenged expectations by introducing us to ‘The Simpsons’ (Matt Groening), ‘Bob & Margaret’ (Snowden & Fine), ‘Pond Life’ (Candy Guard) and ‘Family Guy’ (Seth MacFarlane). It was an important era for animation, which until then had mostly been confined to children’s television programming blocks.

Although well-received by audiences at the time, it shouldn’t be ignored that gags in some animated shows of the 90s relied on stereotypical depictions of minority groups. Today’s adult animated tv series reject these stereotypes, and instead tackle serious topics such as discrimination, racism, equality, grief, politics etc. – yet not necessarily at the expense of lighter moments.

We asked our crew to share their opinions on which animated series and feature films they felt tackled important areas/issues not often represented in the media, by either breaking down stereotypes, dealing with taboo subjects and/or challenging audiences to think differently.

Here’s what they said.


Bojack Horseman

Adam Powell – Junior Animator

Bojack Horseman – So, I think Bojack is a great show, better than it has any right to be. The best episode is easily “The View From Halfway Down”. It serves a real purpose within the plot, in that it’s the wake-up call Bojack needs at this point in his arc. He’s at his lowest low and desperate for a way out, but right before reaching the point of no return, he’s brought to his senses by a sobering and absolutely heartbreaking poem that’s very clearly about suicide. It’s a haunting and beautifully written poem – this coming from someone who doesn’t even like poetry! – and I cannot give the show enough credit for how it’s complemented visually.

The ominous door closing in on Secretariat while he recites the poem, ready to consume him the second he finishes. The way his delivery of the poem mirrors how he probably felt in those final moments, going from peacefully content to anxious and desperate. It’s more of a psychological horror than a wacky adult cartoon about a talking horse, and Will Arnett doesn’t get enough credit for his voice acting.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that even though I could write a thesis on the visual language and storytelling that went into this episode, it never for a second attempts to glamourise the subject matter. It’s a disturbing, gut-wrenching portrayal of a character who’s been backed into a corner, desperately trying one last time to crawl out of the hole he’s dug for himself. It made me think two things: firstly, “I kind of miss when Bojack was arguing with a talking seal over muffins”. Second, “if I didn’t need therapy before, I do now.” I mean it in a good way though.

The show deals with a ton of weighty themes and topics from drug abuse to childhood trauma and abuse, to sexuality (props to them for making Todd openly asexual, that’s not something you see often). They even reference the #MeToo movement, with Bojack’s admittedly horrible actions coming back to haunt him and the audience having to reconcile our attachment to the character with the reality that he’s done terrible things. It’s a well written and clever show in general, but the way it tackles depression is easily the strongest part for me.

Fanny Martin – FX Artist

Tuca & Bertie – Because of the compassionate description of current women’s lives in all of their good and trashier moments. Also, for addressing current issues for our generation, housing, harassment, dream seeking/crushing. I just love the main duo for their friendship beyond every storm. Fave episode – ”The Promotion” depicting all the sexism and harassment a woman can face and the toll it can have on one’s career.

Grave of the Fireflies – Absolutely a legendary film, depicting the loneliness, isolation of children, consequences of WW2. Fave character – Seita because of his will to protect his younger sister no matter what life throws at them. And he is also deeply flawed but still understood.

Persepolis – A great window on the author’s childhood in Iran, and peek at the country’s political history at the time. Very eye-opening. It also talks about a woman’s life with its first discoveries, rebellion, beliefs, relationships and self-reflection. Obviously, my fave character is Marjane because we follow her and relate to her, but her mom and grandma are amazing – words of wisdom, parental fears as well.


Colm Dowling – Lead Builds and Rigging Artist

She-Ra – One of the most thought-provoking things about the show is its intersectional relationships. The characters range in body images, race and sexuality without ever using labels like gay, straight, or black. The shows universe normalizes intersectional groups, so it allows the characters choices and personalities to shine through more. Characters are not defined by the things they cannot control, like race, gender, or sexuality because no one in the show is shamed by those things. They are defined by the choices they make and the way in which they live with those choices.

One of my favorite characters is Adora/She-ra, who takes on the traditionally masculine role of the protagonist. Her gender is never brought into question as a reason to stop her from doing something. Her choices are made by emotion towards her female love interest/rival and that is never shamed or demeaned in a derogatory or homophobic way. She makes choices and mistakes and has to live with them and teh challenge of making things right.

One of my favorite episodes is the ‘Princess Prom’ episode, which highlights all the points I made of intersectionality, subverting gender roles, supporting queer relationships, and making choices that come from emotion and personality that effect the plot in large ways. This episode highlights a large part of why people are fans of the show, because they feel represented. Seeing people on screen who are neurodivergent, non-binary, or queer and are fully formed characters is a part of animation, and entertainment in general, that I want to see more of and want to see it done as well as it was in She-Ra.

Marie Ravoavison – Production Coordinator

My Life as a Courgette – It’s a movie mainly addressed to children and show the story of a boy who’s ending up in an orphanage after accidentally killing his alcoholic mother. So very serious sad subject you know .. but the tone of the movie is very beautiful, super simple and compassionate. It talks about those children considered as “outsider”, about trauma and child abuse in the most poetic yet down-to-earth way!

Thanks to Fanny, Adam, Colm and Maria for sharing their reviews and giving us some inspiration for future viewing!

Stay tooned for further updates from our crew!

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