Tangent Tuesday: Animation

03/02/2010 at 8:27 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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That’s one fluffy off-topic post, coming right up, as promised because I need a bit of a break. Well some people post YouTube music videos, some people post pictures of landscapes… Let’s try this and see how it goes over. We shall return to our regularly scheduled vagina blogging shortly after these messages:

I have never outgrown my love of animation.

I grew up watching Saturday morning & weekday afternoon cartoons in the late 80’s all the way up through the 90’s. I fully expected to lose interest in or to become embarrassed by my love of animation as I grew older, but it just never stopped. And much to my own surprise, animation grew up with me. As I matured, so too did many cartoons. Animated shows aimed at adults required  a more sophisticated level of writing (if not art) and dealt with contemporary topics.

That’s not to say that all animation is inherently good – or sophisticated. A lot of it is neither. Anyone with a few reams of paper & a pencil can put together a rudimentary flip-book, in which anything can happen – including acts of extreme violence and prejudice. Mainstream cartoons including (but certainly not limited to) Family Guy and Bugs Bunny have had reprehensible moments. And nowadays, with computers becoming more accessible, almost anyone with the right hardware & a little patience can learn how to throw together a Flash animation using little more than cut-and-paste pictures and some background music.

But for the most part, creating animation that makes it to television and the big screen is still out of reach to laypersons such as myself. It’s put out by a few well-recognized names & producers, who still have armies of animators scribbling furiously in studios (or not, as advances in technology have the potential to reduce team sizes.) Depending on the style of the show, it can take anywhere from a few hours to several years to crank out animation that lasts more than a few minutes.

Yet, despite the increasing accessibility of animation tools & software for laypeople, and perhaps partly due to the oligarchy of mainstream animation, it is still, like Hollywood, very much a boy’s club.

Who do you think of when you think of notable figures in the field of animation? Not necessarily individual animators, although you do get bonus points for being able to memorize the names of numerous staff members of animation studios.
But when it comes to producing animated content, just off the top of my head, I can name:

  • Matt Groening
  • Matt Stone & Trey Parker
  • Mike Judge
  • John K.
  • Don Bluth
  • Brad Bird
  • Seth MacFarlane
  • Hayao Miyazaki
  • Genndy Tartokovsky
  • Seth Green
  • Terry Gilliam
  • Peter Chung
  • Aaron McGurder
  • Walt Disney
  • Chuck Jones

The list grows if I include web animators and comic artists. So many different styles, so many different golden ages, different themes, different tools and technologies used to produce their work. Some of them no longer do the drawing themselves but are still involved in directing or producing currently running progams.

If you take a look at the list of notable animatiors on Wikipedia, you will find that the majority listed there consists mostly of men. Maybe this is a bias by the writers of Wikipedia.
Or maybe not. Maybe, much like the realm of political cartoons and business upper management, there are still very few women in the field.

Even I, for all my love of cartoons, have to dig deep to name women involved with animation. I can do it but I’m ashamed to admit that even I have to beat my brain to remember them, and even then my list comes up short… and that breaks my heart. Why don’t I know more women in animation?

  • Rumiko Takahashi – Not necessarily an animator herself, she has been behind many Manga series, some of which have been adapted to anime; her work includes Sailor Moon, Ranma 1/2, and InuYasha, among others.
  • Naoko Takeuchi – Creator of the manga Sailor Moon, adapted into anime. [edit 3/8 – my bad.]
  • Suzie Templeton – won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Short Animation for her take on Peter & the Wolf. It”s a pretty good film, a little scary, little weird, but good. Short… only about a half hour. No dialog either, theoretically so you can listen to it in any language.
  • Marjane Satrapi – illustrator of the graphic novel & director for Persopolis.

There are other ones out there, listed on the Wikipedia page, and others I had to actively search out.

Unapologetically Female also provides a list of some individual women who were involved with animation studios in the ’40s. Unfortunately this list is tempered by a rejection letter from Disney Studios which claimed that women were not involved in the creative process.  PBS provides a short blurb. There’s a blog for Women in Animation.

I have some concerns that the relative lack of women in animation could be related to often questionable content produced and the relative lack of women characters in animation. Or perhaps relative lack of women involved in animation historically has simply repeated itself over and over. This phenomenon isn’t isolated to animation; there are very few women writers on several mainstream comedy shows, even though there are some female late-night comedians, such as Chelsea Handler. It’s probably no coincidence that these shows with little diversity behind the scenes often produce content which plays on sexist (and more…) stereotypes.

Likewise, there are ~relatively few women main characters in animated shows. (For the purposes of this post, I’ll be focusing on “Good” characters rather than Villains, as an in-depth analysis of antagonists would merit its own post.) They exist, definitely, and I know that there are children’s television shows designed for young girls (which also merit a feminist critique.) But so many lead characters in mainstream animation shows are boys and men. The first examples of women in animation that come to my mind are the wives & mothers of the main male characters. They stay home and support their families, which is great, but not an option for many women in real life. Don Bluth produced the Secret of NIMH, in which a female character, Mrs. Brisby is the lead and she has many adventures in her efforts to protect her family – aided through the actions of her late (and supernaturally intelligent) husband.
One exception I can think of however, is Peggy Hill, Hank Hill’s wife, who works outside the home. The family seems none the worse for her activity.

The damsel in distress is another recurring motif in classic animation. This is a popular and long-lived theme in Disney films especially, such as Snow White and repeated ad infineum. On shows influenced by Sentai (think of Power Rangers, etc.) there may be mixed sex teams but on the teams I can think of women were usually outnumbered.

I am less familiar with children’s animated programs currently running. As an example, I haven’t had much exposure to shows like Misadventures of Flapjack beyond the title and maybe a few minutes of program snatched here and there.

However I can think of female characters in animated roles besides wives and mothers. Detective Eliza Maza from Gargoyles and her predecessor, the reporter April O’Neil from Ninja Turtles are links to the surface world. Coraline of the eponymous book and film was unfortunately somewhat de-powered in the movie with the addition of Wybie. Kim Possible, Sandy Squirrel, the PowerPuff Girls. Leela from Futurama (and Amy) are both critical to the progression of the long-lived series. (I believe that Futurama needs an in-depth feminist analysis. It’s begging for one, especially after Wild Green Yonder.) Faye Wong and Radical Edward form half (or 2/5, if you count Ein,) of the crew of Cowboy Bebop.

I might be able to name more women characters if I watched more cartoons, I suppose. They are not the only thing I watch, and they must now compete with a subscription from Netflix. I am glad that there are many exceptions to my first impressions. I’d like to see more..

I’m sure there’s more… I fall well outside the target demographic for many of the cartoons children watch now. Most of the current programs on television came well after my time, and other activities compete for my attention, so I cannot watch all shows at once. Still, I’m anxious to see who will be producing animated casts of characters in future programming, and what the show content will consist of. I have a feeling it will be more of the same – a very mixed bag with a few rare gems.

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2 Comments »

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  1. Rumiko Takahasi had nothing to do with Sailor Moon. You’re thinking of Naoko Takeuchi./Nitpick

    Anyways, wonderful post. If one is desperately looking for more female animated characters, I highly advise getting deeper into the anime fandom. It can be argued that anime and manga in general don’t necessarily treat their female characters *better* or *less sexist* than their western equivalents, but you can’t deny there are at least a lot *more* of them.

    • Okay thanks, I fixed it. My bad.


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