Why adults can’t enjoy animation
Get your party hats and/or pitchforks ready! According to Deadline, the critically-acclaimed Japanese space western, Cowboy Bebop, is being adapted into a live-action series. The remake, which does not yet have a release date, will be developed by Tomorrow Studios and Midnight Radio in a collaboration with Sunrise, the studio behind the original series.
There was talk of another Cowboy Bebop remake back in 2009, but nothing really came of it and the project was ultimately cancelled. However, this hasn’t stopped many fans from voicing their skepticism of Tomorrow Studios’ latest endeavor. Why do Hollywood producers feel the need to continue remaking anime?
Despite the fact that live-actions remakes of popular anime, such as The Last Airbender, Speed Racer and Dragonball Evolution, were all considered major flops at the box office, anime remakes have become more and more frequent. Just this year, we’ve seen the release of Ghost in a Shell, Death Note is set to be released later this summer, and now Cowboy Bebop.
I’m not thrilled about it. The remaking of animated content really rubs me the wrong way, and it has to do with the fact that the source material is animated, but the remakes never are.
There is a cultural aversion, particularly among American adults, toward animated content. Animation is being created, but it is almost always made with younger audiences in mind. Because of this, many adults believe that animation is not for them.
Take for example the theater in Concord, CA that accidentally showed a preview for Seth Rogan’s Sausage Party at a screening for Finding Dory. The R-rated preview was shown in its entirety before someone caught the mistake, likely because the CGI-rendered film was assumed to be appropriate for children. The theater apologized profusely for the mix up, stating that it was a “one-time honest mistake.”
But why is animation something that’s considered for children?
Probably because the majority of animation we are exposed to in the United States is for children, or at least that’s the way it’s marketed. Out of the 50 highest-grossing animated films according to IMDb, only one, The Simpsons Movie, has above a PG-rating.
Unlike in Japan, where anime is made for a much larger age range, many Americans have not been exposed to any animation that explores adult themes. In 2016, there were only three animated films marketed to adults: Sausage Party, Nerdland and Batman: The Killing Joke.
While there are adults who enjoy watching anime and animation, PG-13 and R-rated animated films do usually not garner large success in the American market. Even a popular film for adults such as South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut made $81 million at the box office in 1999. By comparison, Disney’s Tarzan, which was released during the same year, made $448 million.
The only big-budget animations we see are the ones geared toward children and this influences our opinion of the format. Americans don’t want to see animation marketed to adults, despite devouring similarly themed live-action films, because of our cultural bias toward animation.
But animation should be for everyone, regardless of their age. It is a remarkably versatile medium that allows filmmakers to create stunning and imaginative films. Unlike live-action, which faces many obstacles regarding location and the cost of certain stunts and effects, animation does not have nearly as many expenses or limitations. It can also be visually appealing and colorful in a way that live-action films simply cannot.
Yet we continue to make and watch animation that is only geared toward children, which isn’t fair to the filmmakers out there making really incredible animation with more mature themes.
Part of what makes shows like Cowboy Bebop popular has to do with their animated format and the things they are able do because of it. They are works of art that we should be able to appreciate in their intended form.
When we remake anime into live-action films, it seems like we are admitting the original series had good content, but we just don’t agree with the format. Changing an integral part of these films by remaking them is not only limiting our notion of what animation can be, but it is not doing justice to the original art or artists.
Adults should be able to enjoy anime and animation as much as we enjoy live-action. We should be able to explore darker and more mature themes in animation, like in Cowboy Bebop, without assuming that the format somehow makes it only for children.