Handmade Aesthetics in Animation for Adults and Children

Ewan Kirkland

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapter


Animation is a medium of contradiction. Although characterised by a certain ‘innocence’ or child-like simplicity, animation often employs sophisticated imaging technologies which constitute part of the pleasures for implied viewers. At the same time as being aligned with commercial popular entertainment, animation, particularly of the stop-frame variety, is frequently used by avant-garde filmmakers as a form of conspicuous artistic expression. Despite being associated with juvenile markets, feature length animation is aimed at a broad audience and currently constitutes one of the most popular film genres. Many authors claim that this results in a ‘dual address’, designed to appeal to both adult and child audiences, which is considered to be a historical feature of theatrical animation. This paper focusses on animation which conspicuously emulates a hand-crafted, cut-out, home-made aesthetic in its attempt to navigate and exploit these contradictions, variously evoking a sense of naivety, unprofessionalism, playfulness and subversion. The BBC’s 'Charlie and Lola' reproduces the two dimensional aesthetics of the books on which the show is based. This allows the programme to establish a close relationship with the more respected format of children’s print media. Capitalising upon animation’s proximity to sequential art, picture books and visual culture aimed at children, this secures the series as safe, appropriate viewing for young people. In contrast, Comedy Central’s 'South Park' uses a similar cut-out style, despite being aimed at a distinctly ‘adult’ audience. Here a comparable technique produces a more subversive, outsider impression of pop art montage, punk iconography and television satire. The rough unsophisticated animation suggests an outsider status to the show which contributes to its transgressive content. The evocation of a child-like aesthetic also generates comic frisson, and affords management of the show’s more grotesque imagery. Finally, 'The Lego Movie' is examined. This film intentionally reproduces the jerky aesthetic, physicality and imperfect models of stop-motion filmmaking. Such methods appear designed to evoke a range of associations, including the children’s Lego’s animation studio, adult comedy animating toys and action figures, traditional children’s television, and unprofessional screen media. In appealing to audiences of all ages, the movie employs elements of both previous examples, producing a work which is simultaneously childish, sophisticated, commercial, subversive, authentic, ironic, safe and edgy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Crafty Animator
Subtitle of host publicationHandmade, Craft-based Animation and Cultural Value
EditorsCaroline Ruddell, Paul Ward
Place of PublicationCham
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9783030139438
ISBN (Print)9783030139421
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2019

Publication series

NamePalgrave Animation
ISSN (Print)2523-8086
ISSN (Electronic)2523-8094


  • adult
  • animation
  • aesthetic
  • 'Charlie and Lola'
  • children
  • craft
  • hand made
  • 'The Lego Movie'
  • 'South Park'


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