Try 'Astro Boy,' the upcoming animated film featuring the voices of Nicolas Cage and Kristen Bell about a boy robot (Freddie Highmore) that leaves his scientist father after finding out he isn't human. Ostensibly a film for children -- with a fringe following of fanboys, thanks to its comic book series -- the movie features very adult ideas of ownership and class structure that will most likely be future fodder for college philosophy classes around the country. Crude posters of Lenin and Trotsky adorn the threadbare walls of an office in a desolate part of town, and a group of outcast revolutionaries hatch a scheme to overthrow the ruling powers and bring equality and a classless society to mankind. The beginning of an Eisenstein film? Bunuel? Renoir?
Try 'Astro Boy,' the upcoming animated film featuring the voices of Nicolas Cage and Kristen Bell about a boy robot (Freddie Highmore) that leaves his scientist father after finding out he isn't human. Ostensibly a film for children -- with a fringe following of fanboys, thanks to its comic book series -- the movie features very adult ideas of ownership and class structure that will most likely be future fodder for college philosophy classes around the country.
While it's no secret that Hollywood films tend to skew left in general, 'Astro Boy' may be the first animated blockbuster to discuss, if not necessarily endorse, explicit Marxist ideologies (albeit in cute robot form, of course.) In the movie, the aforementioned outcasts, led by Robotsky, form the Robot Revolutionary Front, stenciling their logo on city walls and chanting "Viva La Robotolution" at anyone within earshot. On the whole, it's played for laughs, but makes us ponder the question:
Have animated films gotten more leftist in recent years?
Political leanings in modern animation are, of course, nothing new. Less than a decade after 1937's 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,' America's first animated feature-length film, was released, scores of propaganda-filled cartoons from World War II could be seen on both sides of the front, with titles like 'The Ducktators,' 'Education For Death' and 'Daffy the Commando.'
The 1990s saw a slew of Disney-released, politically correct folk tales that branched out across cultures, featuring lead characters who were Native American ('Pocahontas'), Chinese ('Mulan') and Arab ('Aladdin'). As we noted last month, the studio's upcoming 'Princess and the Frog' has already generated more controversy than it wanted over its character portrayals and ethnicities.
Yet just over the past year, a number of animated films have moved the political line from subtle subplot to overt messages.
Early summer's 'Battle for Terra,' concerning a peace-loving, nature-worshipping alien race attacked by warmongering humans seeking more land, seemingly employs a ripped-from-the-headlines style of dialogue to enunciate its message. "We need information on the enemy's strengths and numbers. This machine might hold the answer," says one human interrogator to an alien as he prods a captured robot. "So ask him," replies the alien. "Don't torture him." Later on, military head General Hemmer (voiced by Brian Cox) institutes a coup d'etat and proclaims, "Let future generations judge me," presciently predicting Karl Rove's assertion that "history is going to be kind to [George W. Bush]."
The upcoming animated adventure 'Planet 51' -- about an American astronaut (Dwayne Johnson) who lands in a new world inhabited by small green creatures -- is decidedly less topical, yet still paints humans as the alien race.
The PG-13-rated '9,' Shane Acker's full-length take on his Academy Award-nominated 2005 short film, opens in a world where a totalitarian regime uses an artificially created brain to manufacture tools of war that nearly end humanity. It's up to the "stitchpunks," a ragtag group of nine scientifically engineered creatures known only by their number, to use their collective power to rally against evil authoritarian forces.
And of course, there's the granddaddy of them all: 'WALL-E.' The perceived philosophy of Andrew Stanton's Academy-award winning feature, and one of last year's most critically acclaimed movies, was claimed by virtually every political and intellectual movement. Though Stanton adamantly disavowed any political message in the film, it's hard not to read at least a little into the movie's anti-consumerist, corporations-rule-the-world slant.
On the flipside stands Carl Fredricksen, the surly senior citizen hero of Pixar's summer smash 'Up' -- we can surmise he's a conservative when he admonishes a contractor on his lawn to "take a bath, hippie!" Of course, Fredricksen is voiced by Ed Asner, one of the entertainment industry's longest tenured liberal mouthpieces.
Just as the 1990s ushered in the era of political correctness in cartoons -- to the chagrin of some and admiration of others -- the line seems to have shifted once again from mere liberalism to more blatant socialist themes. We're curious to see what's in store for future animated tales.
So the question remains: Have animated films veered more left than their predecessors, or are we just reading too much into movies made for kids? Tell us what you think.
--By Jason Newman