FiveThirtyEight Oversimplifies the Animation Industry – Animation Scoop

FiveThirtyEight Oversimplifies the Animation Industry

Data-centric website FiveThirtyEight thinks it’s nailed down the Seven Ways to Become an Animation Powerhouse. Their analysis is incomplete though, and misses a few large factors that make animated movies successful.

For starters, their title is misleading; there are no seven ways listed in the article. Instead writer Walt Hickey merely analyses the performance of a few of the largest animation studios in recent decades. His conclusion? Illumination is the one that’s hit the sweet spot by churning out cheap films with mass appeal.


My gripe with Hickey’s analysis is that he focuses on the twin aspects of Rotten Tomato ratings and box office takings. He may be intentionally keeping it simple, yet he is oversimplifying the animation business in doing so. Animated films contend with different pressures than live-action, and connect with audiences in different ways too. Distilling animated films down into ratings and box office grosses deprives readers of the other, equally important contributors to animated features’ successes.

Story, characters, comedy, marketing, branding; all significantly influence the performance of an animated film for better or worse. Pixar’s brand is as much a part of their success as the films themselves. The very mention of the word is enough to get people talking and into cinema seats. Shouldn’t that be something to consider when looking at the studios success? I’m going to argue that it is; especially as the studio increasingly attracts audiences by relying upon the goodwill of its initial run of hits.

As a captive audience, children are marketed animated films are as much to their parents as to them. Critical reviews matter not a whit to kids, or to parents simply looking for any animated film to hold their attention for an hour or two.

Successful animated studios in recent times are also easily identifiable. For starters, they’ve used CGI, are family comedies, are stylistically cute and colourful, and are rarely musicals. Deviations from this formula are few and far between. There’s no need to even look at the data if the source material is this homogeneous.

The industry itself is another matter entirely. Animation’s costly nature favours larger studios when it comes to more widespread releases. Lots of independent animated films remain secluded in niche genres or in arthouse cinemas. They can be artistically brilliant, financially successful, and embody technological innovation, yet because they don’t fit the above mold, are ignored.

Given the uphill battle that animated films already face, it’s discouraging to see them being whittled down to such simple traits. Movies are complex entities and success is more than a black and white definition. Becoming an animation powerhouse is about much more than the films themselves, and it’s discouraging to see people attempt to define it as such.

Charles Kenny

Charles Kenny

Being tall, Irish and a civil engineer by trade, Charles stands out in the animation crowd, hence his position as the Animation Anomaly.
Charles Kenny
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