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Cheer and Loathing in Animation: Episode VII - Non-Absorbing?

Every Friday Chris Robinson unleashes some freewheeling cheer or loathing on the animation community to be mused, countered, or disregarded. It’s your call.

Indie short animation (not to forget feature) has expanded and matured considerably in the last 25 years or so. Today we are seeing a fairly impressive and diverse tapestry of cultural voices and visions. The heavy and sometimes cornball but earnest symbolism of older voices has been supplanted by films unafraid to tackle deeply personal and relevant social issues (identity, addiction, mental and physical illness, grief, sex etc.…), but has this pendulum swung too far to one side today? Has animation become too insulated, too focused on its own navels now to be of any relevance to anyone? When the general audience looks for answers from or perspectives of their society and world (granted, I suspect a majority are understandably just looking to escape the everyday), they likely look to documentaries, newspapers, magazines and even live-action films. Animation, for all its maturity and progress, seems to remain largely irrelevant, a cute little niche of artistic expression that languishes somewhere between kid’s entertainment, poetry and maybe gallery paintings. In the pre-digital days, animation would have had a tough time being relevant and topical. Technology prevented animators from making work that immediately responded to the shit of the world. That’s not the case anymore. There are animators making 2-3-4 short films a year now. Given the confusion of the world today and the apparent slant towards right wing nationalism, should animators perhaps be shifting the focus off themselves and addressing more pressing issues (e.g. racism, sexism, nationalism, technological sickness) or do films that address universal and timeless social issues (like those mentioned at the top) have more of a meaningful impact? Do blatantly political films like, for example, McLaren’s Neighbours or Priit Pärn’s Breakfast on the Grass and Hotel E or any number of films by Phil Mulloy even have any meaningful impact on audiences?  

What do you think?

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A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.