Animation or Live?

Animated films have become popular recently because the cost of animation has gone down with the help of computers. In the old days, cartoons were expensive to produce since they had to be drawn by hand. Now there’s a growing market for scripts for animated films, but what makes a good animated film?

When you compare animation to live action films, today’s special effects make it easy to create anything. Every superhero film could have been created as an animated film, but seeing live actors makes the story come to life. Although every animated film could be done with live actors (and vice versa), the big difference is that animated films generally tell stories that include fantastic elements that don’t need the special “wow!” effect that comes with today’s special effect wizardry.

For example, “Transformers,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” and every superhero movie just looks more exciting with live actors than as a cartoon. As a general rule, writing a screenplay that requires massive special effects will be expensive, and will likely be hard to sell to any studio.

On the other hand, animated films work best with unique stories that involve something abnormal such as talking animals (“The Lion King” and “Shrek”), talking inanimate objects (“Cars” and “Toy Story”), or just ordinary people dealing with unusual circumstances (“Up” and “How to Train Your Dragon”). In other words, animated films work best when:

  • the characters or setting are unusual
  • the story involves comedy
  • the story does not include sex, violence, or ambiguous adult topics

Every animated films contains unusual characters or settings that you don’t normally see in everyday life. Unusual characters are easy to spot where characters don’t normally talk such as “Storks” (talking birds) or “Monsters, Inc.” (talking monsters). Although “Up” involves ordinary people, the idea of tying balloons to a house to make it float away is unusual and fantastic. “The Book of Life” is about two men trying to woo the same woman, but it involves dying and going to the after life. “How to Train Your Dragon” is about Vikings battling dragons.

Most films include small elements of comedy such as “Pulp Fiction” or “The King’s Speech,” but the comedy is more for comic relief. Animated films generally include comedy throughout. It may not be laugh out loud comedy like in “The Wedding Crashers” or “Bridesmaids,” but animated films often include comedy throughout such as the fight scene in “Kung Fu Panda” when the hero (the panda) uses his weight to crush the villain by sitting on him. Comedy isn a crucial part of any animated film.

While animated films could easily be duplicated as live action films, the major distinction is that animated films often avoid adult topics such as sex, graphic violence, or drugs. Nobody would ever think of making “Pulp Fiction” or “A Clockwork Orange” into a cartoon because there’s so much sex, profanity, and violence involved. Every animated film typically steers clear of raunchiness found in movies like “Ted” and “The Hangover” although “Sausage Party” proved the exception.

So if you’re interested in writing an animated film, think of unusual settings and characters such as talking puppets (“Pinocchio”), talking animals (“Finding Nemo”) or unusual settings (“The Book of Life”).

Animated films typically involve an unusual story world that’s less dramatic and more humorous than a typical drama. Animation will always be around and provide another way to tell compelling stories without a traditional film crew.

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