Animation films were once meant exclusively for children but when one studies the films offered on English movie channels on television, one finds that virtually two in five are animation films, partly from Walt Disney (like Finding Nemo, Ratatouille and Frozen). Since there has not been an explosion in the population of children, the explanation that suggests itself is that adults are watching animation films as never before: as the world is getting more complicated, people seem to be lapsing into innocence.
There is a fundamental difference in the content of a film which uses actors and one in which the characters are hand drawn. Actors put into roles complexities they may not even be aware of – because they try to act as they would in real life. Anger or fear or love as acted out in cinema include nuances because the actor ties to imagine himself/herself in the situation being depicted and the audience detects these nuances based on their understanding of society and human psychology.
Audiences caught these nuances because they read literature which dealt with social experiences and people. They recognised emotions and behaviour portrayed in books as general experience of humankind. They understood themselves in a more nuanced way through reading books and watching people acting out social roles in fiction. To look at it from another side, they constructed themselves through what they read - and identified with complex characters as portrayed in films. Even popular films – from Jaws to Deewar – testify to a level of human complexity that the animation film cannot accommodate because they are derived in some way from literature or a literary sensibility (like that of Salim-Javed).
Where cinema once catered to a world in which communication was predominantly verbal and through writing, the world we live in today is dominated by images. Images don’t teach us the way words do because they don’t spell things out and explicate. An image means very little unless it is accompanied by a verbal communication and the decline of the verbal impoverishes social experience. The animation film, which proliferates in an age in which people don’t read can, hence, not accommodate the social/psychological complexity of something acted out; this finds correspondence in every image being hand drawn (i.e. everything is put in by the artist and not caught from real life).
Since people don’t read they are not conscious of social/psychological complexities in the social world. It is only one step from here to suppose that adult human beings are increasingly identifying with cartoon characters like Shrek or Nemo, which bring an infantile perspective to human experience. A human being reduced to such a childlike state may also be taken to be politically ‘pacified’.
MK Raghavendra is a film/literary scholar, theorist, critic and writer. He contributes to numerous newspapers and periodicals in India and abroad, and has authored six books on Indian Cinema. He received the Swarna Kamal, the National Award for Best Film Critic in 1997. Feature Image: Ratatouille, Image Credit: Walt Disney