What happens when animation geeks get the greenlight to produce whatever they want? You get Netflix’s Love, Death and Robots, an anthology series that’s meant to remind viewers that cartoons aren’t just for kids. You’d think that would be a foregone conclusion in 2022, decades after anime has become mainstream, Adult Swim’s irreverent comedies took over dorm rooms, and just about network/streaming platform has their own “edgy” animated series (Arcane and Big Mouth on Netflix, Invincible on Amazon Prime).
Still, it’s all too common to see the medium being diminished. At the Oscars this year, the best animated feature award was introduced as something entirely meant for kids, prompting the filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), to demand that Hollywood elevate the genre instead. Even Pixar’s library of smart and compelling films still aren’t seen as “adult” stories.
Love, Death and Robots, which just released its third season on Netflix, feels like a crash course in the unlimited storytelling potential of animation. It bounces from a cute entry about robots exploring the remnants of human civilization (the series’ first sequel, 3 Robots: Exit Strategies, written by sci-fi author John Scalzi), to a near-silent, visually lush game of cat and mouse between a deaf soldier and a mythical siren (Jibaro), to a harrowing tale of whalers being boarded by a giant man-eating crab (Bad Traveling, the first animated project directed by series co-creator David Fincher).
Jennifer Yuh Nelson, supervising director for Love, Death and Robots, tells Engadget that the animation industry has certainly made progress when it comes to telling more mature stories. “Everyone that works in animation has been talking about trying to get more adult things done because it’s [about] the freedom of exploring the whole spectrum of storytelling,” she said. “You’re not trying to do things for a certain age group.”
But, she says, animators were also told the audience for mature projects wasn’t necessarily there. “I think it takes a show like [this] to prove that it can [work], and that makes the whole business and the whole company town basically look around and say, ‘Oh, this is a viable thing that people actually want to see.’”
Series co-creator Tim Miller (Deadpool, Terminator: Dark Fate) also points to the power of video games, which has been telling mature narratives with interactive animation for decades. That’s another industry that was initially seen as toys for kids, but has matured significantly with rich storytelling from indie projects, like Kentucky Route Zero, to big-budget blockbusters like The Last of Us. Games and animation are practically evolving together, with audiences demanding more complex ideas and creators who were raised on earlier generations of those mediums. You don’t get to the excellent Disney+ remake of DuckTales, or Sony’s recent God of War, without a…
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