Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro hopes the current boom of animated feature films will help studios take on more adventurous projects. Since movies like “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” and “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” are undeniably dominating the box office, it seems that there is a growing demand for titles that studios in the past may have written off as not profitable.
“The three hits of Spider-Verse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mario are moving things, allowing a little more latitude, but there are still big fights to be had,” del Toro said during a speech at the Annecy Animation Festival. “Animation to me is the purest form of art, and it’s been kidnapped by a bunch of hoodlums. We have to rescue it. [And] I think that we can Trojan-horse a lot of good shit into the animation world.”
“I believe you can make an adult fantasy drama with stop-motion and move people emotionally,” he added. “I think stop-motion can be intravenous, it can go straight to your emotions in a way that no other medium can.” Animated films often get written off by studios as just being for children’s entertainment. While “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” are all still clearly aimed at children. They have also drawn in a fairly large adult audience, showing studios that they could be a viable medium for more adult-oriented entertainment.
The “Pinocchio” director believes in this idea so much that he plans to move over exclusively into animation. “There are a couple more live-action movies I want to do but not many,” del Toro told the audience. “After that, I only want to do animation. That’s the plan.”
This isn’t really shocking though given the success of his Oscar-nominated animated adaptation of “Pinocchio.” He will be following that up with the Netflix animated feature “The Buried Giant,” based on the adult oriented fantasy novel by Nobel Prize-winning writer Kazuo Ishiguro. The book follows an elderly British couple living in a fictional post-Arthurian England where no one can retain their long-term memories. Del Toro, will produce, direct, and co-write the script with Dennis Kelly (“Matilda the Musical”). He plans to shoot the film using the same stop-motion technique used in “Pinocchio.”
Animation is undoubtedly del Toro’s first love. When he was 8 years old he started making “what I thought was animation” using his father’s Super 8 camera. So he has some very strong feelings about the current state of the medium in the entertainment industry.
Del Toro feels most are “codified into a sort of teenage rom-com, almost emoji-style behavior,” he lamented. “[If] I see a character raising his fucking eyebrow, or crossing his arms, having a sassy pose — oh, I hate that shit. [Why] does everything act as if they’re in a sitcom? I think is emotional pornography. All the families are happy and sassy and quick, everyone has a one-liner. Well, my dad was boring. I was boring. Everybody in my family was boring. We had no one-liners. We’re all fucked up. That’s what I want to see animated. I would love to see real life in animation. I actually think it’s urgent. think it’s urgent to see real life in animation.”
Hyper simplistic emotions are often synonymous with children’s entertainment. Since more nuanced representations of emotions are normally considered too complex for them. Because apparently none of us experience complex emotional reactions to things until we mature…
This is part of why in “Pinocchio” he added “unnecessary, inefficient gestures” of movement to make it more like real life. “In animation, everyone is very efficient. If they sit and grab a glass of water, they do it in four movements. In real life, we do it in eight and we usually kind of fuck it up. So I said: Let’s make things inefficient. [I think] particularly now, we need things that look like they were made by humans to recuperate the human spirit. I fucking hate perfection. I love things that look handmade. And stop-motion as true handmade, hand-carved cinema.”
Del Toro believes the main reason for this issue is the studio’s meddling. “When people say they’re scared of AI, I say don’t be afraid of any intelligence; be afraid of stupidity,” he quipped. “Every intelligence is artificial. Stupidity is natural. Completely, 100 percent natural, organic. Be afraid of stability. That’s the real enemy.” Referencing studio speech, he noted: “I think when somebody calls stories ‘content,’ when somebody says ‘pipeline,’ they’re using sewage language.”
He warned the audience, made up of mostly animation students, that they must fight a system “that is geared toward grinding out shit and destroying your art.” Pointing out that even with his reputation he is still rejected by studios with some regularity. “They still say no to me. In the last two months, they said no to five of my projects. So it doesn’t go away. Making movies is eating a sandwich of shit. There’s always shit, just sometimes you get a little more bread with yours. The rate of productivity against your efforts will remain frustratingly difficult, and frustratingly long. And you will always encounter assholes. But have faith in the stories you want to tell and wait until someone wants to buy them.”
As fans of both movies and animation we hope he is right and the current success of animated features is the wake up call studios need. Children’s animation with more simplified emotions certainly has its place. But it is far from the only form of animation that exists.