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Sausage Party and 'Adult Animation' Versus 'Animation For Adults'

As Seth Rogen's 'adult' animation Sausage Party arrives in US cinemas it's provoking plenty of articles that will make established animation fans roll their eyes. "This animation ain't for kids!" "You won't believe what happens in this new animation!". You know the drill. Putting aside the film's quality for now- it would be unfair to judge without having actually seen it for myself- there's really nothing that's particularly revolutionary or groundbreaking here. Whatever the creators may want to argue otherwise.

Admittedly, what does set this apart is that it is a (relatively) high-end CG movie being released by a major studio- and that should be recognised at least, Beyond that though, claims of the film's pioneering nature are on shakier ground. Rogen told Variety  "we just thought one day someone will make an adult-oriented animated movie and we just really wanted it to be the first people to do it." Oh, really?

There's simply no metric by which Sausage Party can be considered "the first". Just in the last year or so alone we've seen Anomalisa and Hell and Back- both of which were R-Rated. Although made for video, DC's Batman The Killing Joke beat Rogen's food-based flick to cinema screens by a couple of weeks. Further back of course there's examples stretching all the way back to Ralph Bakshi's work from Fritz The Cat onwards.  And that's only mainstream Hollywood. Open it up to international and indie and there's a staggering variety of films from Waltz With Bashir to the small but perfectly formed filmography of the much-missed Satoshi Kon.

Sausage Party seems to come from a tradition of American adult animation which associates the medium with not only comedy, but a particular type of humour. Audiences raised on South Park and Family Guy (the former soon to be celebrating its 20th anniversary) are used to 'edgy' humour. The gags promised in Sausage Party's trailers are right in line with this. From the constant swearing to the politically incorrect ethnic and sexual stereotyping, it seems really keen to let you know this "ain't no kids movie". Working outside the stricter regulation of TV allows them to go further, but really most of this could come out of a show by Seth MacFarlane.

This year has been a landmark for theatrical animation, with Finding Dory, Zootopia and Secret Life Of Pets breaking records while live-action films seen as sure things under-performed. With numbers like these, it's not only family audiences that are driving their success. Adult audiences all over are accepting animation more than ever.

If Sausage Party is a hit (and it's projected to do solid, if not spectacular, business) will this lead to Hollywood start green-lighting adult animation all over? It's unlikely, as this, like most adult animation features, is being sold essentially as a novelty, and little else.

There's nothing inherently wrong with this type of animated film. There's a market for them and if it suits your sense of humour then that's great. The point is though- this isn't the only way. Look at films produced outside the Hollywood mainstream and you get films that are very much for adults, but don't feel the need to make sure everyone knows it every five seconds. Films like Chico & Rita, Wrinkles and Perfect Blue explore mature stories in a compelling way.

For animation to really mature as a medium for storytelling for all audiences- adults included- we need to move past this. The battle is no longer to convince that animation can be made for an older audience- it's now for people to see that it can be used for genres other than comedy. That's something your average AFA reader knows all too well-  now we just need for the rest of the world to catch up.