Political Messages in Animation Screenplays

During my time at DJCAD (Dundee University), I completed a research module whereby I chose to study political messages in animation. Although the study group was small and the research time limited to a single module, I found my results to be exceptionally interesting. I am currently writing two animations for which my research continues to influence my themes within. For anyone else script-writing for the animation industry, my research may be relevant to you.

Animated movies reach a larger global audience than action adventure and 50% of audiences are adults without children (Helmore, 2014).

Although the primary aim of animation is entertainment usually through humour, it is of no coincidence that the creators of animated movies see the distribution of their masterpiece as a means to communicate their political opinion with an agenda to influence a change of mind in the viewer. After all, ‘Humor can be an effective tool in persuasion’ (C.Martain, 2010). Additionally, there are few situations in which a member of the public would pay to be a sitting duck, thus (potentially) making animation one of the only methods for profitable thought reform. However, any message incorporated into an animation would have to be socially acceptable as not many parents would tolerate a less than moral message being presented to their child. From this understanding we must acknowledge that viewers are not necessarily being persuaded to change their moral mind, but are being introduced to new information that challenges their understanding of a political situation; the viewer is either being educated or re-educated (if they previously held a different opinion to the one being proposed by the animation). This however still equates to being influenced. But, does it work?

Do political messages in animation influence a viewers’ political Alliances and/or voting behaviour?

Two types of investigation would only begin to answer the question. The first is a qualitative analysis of historical animations and their timely relationship to political events or movements with acknowledgment of the intended direction of persuasion (See Table 1). This method highlights the creator’s intention and/or opportunity to influence, but not necessary their success, as many factors besides the animation could have helped or hindered the political situation or movement. This leads us to require quantitative data from a second method of investigation (See Tables 2 and 3) whereby members of the public are requested to participate in a study that measures to what extent they are persuaded by animation.
Future studies would have to consider the time-scale of persuasion (short term or long term influence), demographics and the psychology involved in the methods used.

Analysing the Facts

Example 1: Disney’s movie ‘Zootopia’ was released only three months prior to the UK’s EU referendum whereby immigration was a major debating point. The DVD was released three weeks prior to the public vote. The movie primarily deals with stereotypes and race relations between mammals and has an overall positive outlook for a mixed society of predators living alongside prey. Was the timely release of Zootopia tactical or purely coincidental? It is relevant to acknowledge, 16% of Disney Land Paris’ tourist are from the UK.

Example 2: A year 2000 episode of ‘The Simpsons’ predicted Donald Trump as President of the USA. In 2015, a year prior to the USA presidential elections, they repeated this prediction in a second episode.
If ‘The Simpsons’ did affect the outcome of the presidential election it was not through typical persuasion techniques as Donald Trump was not portrayed in a positive light in either of the episodes. However, the very idea of Donald Trump competing for presidency could plant a seed of possibility in the viewers’ mind and create a degree of acceptance enough for the viewer to become naturalised or even content with such an outcome. Can this form of reverse psychology equal the persuasion technique? Additional research within this area would be required to contest such theory.

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