Into the Spider-Verse Provides Hope for Mainstream Animation

Being an animated film is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you are given limitless possibilities when it comes to setting, plot, characters, and the way the story will be presented. On the other hand, you are plagued by strict expectations from society that encourage homogeneity in a medium that encompasses a diverse set of artistic talents and techniques.

It is always refreshing when a mainstream animated feature made outside of the Disney (and nowadays, Pixar) borders becomes successful enough to destroy the illusion that the House of Mouse is the only studio capable of delivering us worthwhile animation. Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH came at a particularly perfect time where Disney was not only still trying with keeping in touch with its roots after Uncle Walt’s passing, but was actually struggling financially. One American Tail and Land Before Time, and Bluth’s edgier fare than the traditional cutesy adventures Disney has delivered over the years has greatly influenced the 1980’s landscape. Then The Little Mermaid started the Disney Renaissance in 1989, establishing Disney’s dominance once more. A decade later, the Disney Renaissance’s formula got stale to audiences, and in 2001, Dreamworks’ Shrek spiced things up with blatant adult-oriented comedy and a deconstruction of the typical family-friendly animated fairy tale. Then Shrek’s influence was so massive that it became a shadow of its former self after two sequels, and other animated flicks coming out of Hollywood started copying its shtick. Even Disney, with Chicken Little, could not resist experimenting with the formula Dreamworks established.

Which leads to where we are now.

Although fairy tale parodies are long gone, what Shrek unintentionally normalized through its success is still a staple of mainstream animated features today. Tiresome pop culture references that feel out of place, shoehorning of fads that instantly date the films, corporate integration via merchandise and frequent sequels, as well as ubiquitous CGI. Toy Story might’ve introduced CGI as a way to make features, but Shrek’s triumphant debut cemented the identity of Hollywood animation in the twenty-first century.

All of Pixar’s feature films from the 2010’s barring Toy Story 4. The ones in black and white are the original stories.

This is the state of mainstream animated films now. That doesn’t mean that contemporary works are only duds, far from it. It’s just hard to be optimistic when one of the newly arrived giants, Illumination, is frequently criticized for thriving through these cynical tactics and even the supposed kings of the industry are hopping on board. More than half of Pixar’s features from the 2010’s are sequels, and only one, The Incredibles 2, was notoriously requested by fans. Disney just released a sequel to Wreck-it Ralph and Frozen 2 will follow it. Who knows how often the old IP’s will make a return to cash in on the original movie’s success or for the sake of nostalgia?

Fortunately, Into the Spider-Verse might make subscribing to idealism just a tad bit easier. Initially, the film might seem as redundant as all the other animated films trying to be hip or franchises that pump out sequels. Spider-Man is the one of, if not the most adapted superhero in the twenty-first century, and the film definitely does modernize itself, it even has Spider-Man memes . However, the critical acclaim is there for a reason.

The film does not dwell into classic traditional animation. The influence of CGI has definitely sneaked into its aesthetics. In fact, the film is fully, 100% computer animated, but it makes sure to not forget the roots of its source material and distinguishes itself from its brethren by simply not looking like a Pixar or Dreamworks film. The visuals borrow from the art style of Miles Morales’ co-creator Sara Pichelli, amplifying the comic book feel. The usage of the renowned stretch and squash technique in the action sequences demonstrate an understanding of decades of experimentation with what animation could do. There is no motion blur and the action is still fluid despite a low framerate. Instead of attempting to put well-known characters into a soulless, semi-realistic environment, the film immerses all of its components into an unapologetically unrealistic-looking and bombastic world with colours that pop all over the place, no matter how low or high the lighting is. The animation simply embraces its distinctive and stylistic nature, setting it part from other features that simply want to conform.

The film’s refreshing cast is another reason why it shines. Sure, we get to see the Peter Parker we all know and love, but keep in mind that this is Miles Morales’ feature-length debut. On top of the story adapting the tale of the first non-white Spider-Man, we get to see a woman superhero in Spider-Gwen, and another trio of uniquely designed supers: gloomy and mysterious Spider-Man Noir, the perky anime-influenced Peni Parker, and the goofy and unabashedly cartoony Spider-Ham. All of them challe

It’s also important to remember that these characters are being reintroduced to the public. None of them were made specifically for the film. Their presence enriches one’s knowledge of the Spider-Man franchise.

nge the norms in the superhero genre in some way. Miles’ ethnicity and Gwen’s gender respectively enable the film to reflect the diverse identities of the public. The (very white) androcentrism that we have been accustomed to seeing in both the superhero genre, and the animation medium as a whole, is being challenged just a little bit more. The other three show that not only can different art styles mix well in an animated film, but colourful designs and/or realistic proportions are not necessary for a superhero character, even a Marvel one.

Of course, all of this would be pointless if the characters were puppets whose personalities were dictated by their appearance, but they’re not. Miles is awkward, alienated from his surroundings, and clearly does not know what he’s doing after he got his powers until the end of the film. Gwen is snarky, rational compared to the other heroes, and keeps her distance unless it’s necessary. Spider-Man Noir is intimidating and admits to having done morally ambiguous things in the past, yet he’s endlessly fascinated by a Rubik’s cube. Peni is bubbly, yet somewhat vain, gluttonous, and incredibly skilled with technology. Spider-Ham is whacky and inherits the original Peter Parker’s trademark fondness of banter, all while being completely capable of being a serious and competent hero. This is a set of characters that are neither visually repetitive nor one-dimensional.

This film managed to take one of the most frequently adapted properties of one of the currently most prominent genres in pop culture and set a new bar for its contemporaries, on top of being one of the most uniquely looking animated films in years. To think that Sony went from the Emoji Movie to this.

With this movie’s release and Toy Story 4 seemingly being Pixar’s last sequel for a while, the idea of mainstream animated films becoming more diverse, aesthetically and narratively, in the next decade is becoming a bigger possibility.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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42 Comments

  1. This is an interesting way of Sony expanding a Spider man universe. They should do more of this instead of Sinister six and venom stuff.

  2. I thought this was the best Spiderman film by quite a margin. Far better than Spiderman Homecoming which limped to its conclusion, Spiderman Into the Spiderverse was emotional, gripping, exciting and left me wanting more. This film shines where most superhero tales are a complete dud.

  3. I may be alone but I reallt didn’t like how it was animated–at the beginning I kept looking around at the rest of the cinema to see if I was the only not wearing 3d glasses. And i hoped it would be funnier. And the parallel universe thing was really annoying- I spent the last 15 mins of the movie with a headache.

    • Yeah I didn’t like it either – i don’t know why, in theory a comic book film being fresh and energetic would appeal to me, but it just didn’t. It still felt like a straight to dvd story, or a good episode of the 90s cartoon. It was never elevated, it just ploughs on with ideas. Like, sometimes if something is trying to be fresh it doesn’t mean it’s been honed to be as good as it can be. And if something feels like it’s a bit conservative it might be so, but that be the only way to present the story to be as epic as it wants to be.

      My favourite comic book film is still Spiderman 2. With Homecoming it began to feel like they’re getting too used to depicting Spiderman on film. With the Sam Raimi movies it’s really the first time of doing it properly, so with that comes wanting to tap into the iconography of the character. Moreso with origin stories. Raimi got that. So New York is a big part of those films. With every scene they’ll be really racking their brains as how every second defines the character. That sense of importance starts to ebb away many sequels and re-imaginings in.

      I fell asleep by the end and didn’t fight my closing eyelids.

  4. I thought I was watching a 3d print with 2d eyes. That said, this is the most jaw droopingly dazzling film I have seen all year. Apart from mandy.

    • I loved Mandy, but every one I know hates it. Some seriously hate it.

  5. Spider-Man is normally my least favourite superhero character. Many of the movie outings have been distinctly average, with the exception of the Tobey Maguire version, which I enjoyed.

    This looks like a fresh take and I’ll probably see it.

  6. Absolutely brilliant film. Genuinely laugh out loud funny with a real sense of love for the original comics and the various incarnations of Spiderman. Great animation with a real sense of translating the comic’s styling to the screen. Loved it.

  7. The Spiderman franchise has been in a downward spiral since before Raimi left.

  8. The first half is really excellent – fun, funny, emotional and pacy – but sadly the second half of the film slumps a bit with uneven pacing, lacklustre plot and some rather weak, one-joke characters.

    Overall still good, and shows some real potential – here’s hoping we see more of this kind of thing.

  9. nan-nan
    0

    I do like comics. I do like science fiction, horror and superheroes. But I don‘t like spiderman or his movies. But I will watch this one, although I was fearing, it will be a bit too slapsticky. Finally away from the cheesy american pop nonsense of the adorable male with the broken heart from his childhood, which gives him the drive (and the right) to break any rule, go all out on lynchmode and fight „evil“. Or the even more nonsensical violent adaptions after that, trying to switch the man from highschool lovely to bad boy, but still staying the same onedimensional, psychological nonsense. Yes, as one can assume, I also don‘t like batman. He is even worse than spiderman.

    They all are nothing but propaganda for the ruling american system:violence is good, when you are the right person and have „a reason“ for it, no matter how silly the reason is. When you have that reason, rules don’t apply to you, you are allowed to go psycho, because of your „trauma“, you are on „the good side“ (imagine the same with an immigrant!). And the „good side“ aka usa, doesn‘t need to be questioned, because we know, „deep down in our heart, they fight for the right thing“ and even, if they kill more people than the bad guys or torture them worse, it all is done in the name of „the good“ – namely white men, fighting on, not hampered by any stupid rules, that would bind them, adored by beautiful women. Never question anything, while „heroic“ white men fight it out!

    The whole thing is propaganda at it‘s worst. That is, why the american „culture“ could infest the whole world. It knows no shame or morality. Where others would feel ashamed, they just go a notch higher on the cringeworthy, cheesy propaganda ladder. Sorry for ranting, but it makes me so angry. Especially when I think how many movies, songs, tv series, which would have given us another view, another culture, never were made, because american movies, songs, tv series were polluting the world.

    But all my spiderman woes will finally end with this movie, with all these different spiderbeings. Hopefully. Hopefully the movie isn’t just another disguise of the same, but really enjoys itself, really goes for it, enjoys the possibilities and the fantasy, without the usual infantile psychology and morality. I so hope, it really is just a movie, instead of the usual „american dream-propaganda“.

    • You’re massively overthinking, and you don’t seem to know very much about the current comics scene. Plus you seem to have such a mad-on at American culture that you’ve gone over the edge into ranting nonsense.

  10. So Ostrander
    0

    Looks like great fun!

  11. Not a big fan of Spider M usually, but was keenly looking forward to this, and I wasn’t disappointed. Hate Marvel films usually, Thor Rag and Deadpool being the exceptions, the rest just seem to take themselves too seriously, it’s all about trying to make superhero comics look realistic, and anything with Capt America makes me want to punch him.

  12. I saw the trailer a while back and was really excited to see it; Peter Parker (as the teenage nerd) is a little overdone on the big screen and I think Marvel played it safe bringing into the MCU.

  13. It’s unabashedly gorgeous, the art direction and finish is superb. It manages to carve out a fresh look amongst all the dreamworks and pixar clones. For that alone it’s an achievement. But it’s also a hell of a lot of fun.

  14. It’s been strangely under-promoted. The whole marketing campaign makes it feel like a straight-to-DVD thing that’s only of interest to devout Spidey-fans and parents who’ve already taken the kids to Wreck-It Ralph.

    I saw it today and thought it was superb. Magnificent animation, bright and bubbly storytelling, quality jokes and an excellent voice cast. Better than 90% of the live-action superhero movies released in the past 20 years.

    • When it was originally promoted last year with teaser trailers I seriously thought it was a high end straight to DVD offering not on slated for actual big time cinema release….. Did Sony change their minds and decide to do the full cinema press?

  15. I’ve just seen it. It is wonderful. Well worth two hours of my time.

  16. It’s genuinely very good, you really care about Miles.

  17. I saw this on the weekend with my 9 year old, both of us loved it! The action sequences are great, the story engaging, and visually its innovative in the way it’s presented, but familiar if you grew up reading comics. And yes, the obligatory appearance of Mr Lee prompted a pang of sadness mixed with joy at seeing him again. I definitely recommend, a lot of fun!

  18. When I first saw the trailer I knew this would be something special, rolling Spidey visuals? I am so in.

  19. ImperatorSage

    Agreed 100% with this article. Into the Spider-Verse is a perfect example of pushing the animation medium to its full potential. The creatives behind the movie all knew what they were doing and used today’s digital resources as a means of displaying their excellent skills in storytelling. Everything from the backgrounds, the character designs, the CG, the blending of art styles, animation, sound design, music, etc. all landed in a fantastic way in my opinion. It’s a love letter to not only Spider-Man but to the mediums of comic-books and animation.

    I’m also glad you commented on society’s, and I can only speak for the U.S, tendency to uphold strict norms for animation based on a stigma that reserves it as inferior to live-action and only being for kids. There have been and continue to be many, many, animated works that disprove this, but it’s also frustrating that the ones that do adhere to said stigma are pushed to the forefront of media discourse, such as Disney and Illumination.

    This stigma is what prevented Spider-Verse making more money than it should’ve, as I’ve heard many people comment on friends/family refusing to see it just because “it’s a cartoon”. Regardless, this movie is a groundbreaking feat for animation and I hope it’ll pave the way for more studios to take risks, because as much as I like Pixar and Disney, I doubt we’ll ever see anything like this from them, at least not on the same scale.

    I also hope Sony’s execs don’t let its success go to their heads and milk it for all its worth without understanding the reasons for its success, but I’m sure that’s asking too much.

  20. Sean Gadus

    The art style for this film is incredibly beautiful. I wish that more films could use distinct art styles like the one seen in Spider-Verse. It fits the tone of the film, while also looking unique and beautiful. Overall, the movie was incredibly well made, well written, and well voiced.

    • I mixed up the thumbs up with the reply button which I didn’t see at first. There is a darker side to this which is that Ruben Brandt, Collector which was a 2D film also released by Sony in the United States that experimented visually as well was overlooked due to Sony’s preoccupation with getting Spiderman nominated for an Oscar. Even without that film though, the positive reception for this film is a milestone in the move away from the remaining creative dominance of more traditional art in a creative sense by choosing CG over hand drawn animation to depict comic art. Not only are the CG films taking over the creative territory of 2D art but 2D animation is starting to become automated as well with light and shadow effects in the upcoming film Klaus. The artificial is gaining steam over the real in ways that will only grow stronger over time.

  21. Well i’m new on this platform and from my point of view there’s more need of 3D animation in this film in new part.

  22. Sarai Mannolini-Winwood

    Nice discussion of the wider context and then narrowed in.
    Love Secrets of Nimh!

  23. Into the Spider verse was so refreshing. I came out of the theater amazed they were able to make something so innovative yet still so full of heart – all whilst having to deal with the money and business of the film industry.

  24. On top of everything discussed in this article, Into the Spiderverse succeeds in all the basics as well. Superb pacing makes this 1h 56m film go by in what seems like a matter of minutes. Audiences are immediately immersed and held there until the end, with twists, action, and emotion doled out in an even rhythm. The cinematography is consistently excellent, as is the writing and voice performances. I frankly struggle to find an area where this film fails in any meaningful way, and I consider it to be the best film of 2018. I don’t know a single person that didn’t walk out of the theater giddy like a dog after you get home.

  25. Point being made: That the animation form of making movies relies on orginality and challenges to societal expectations for it to succeed.

    The animation style of filmmaking is a completely different style from every other because it is governed by the audience’s need for creativity. Throughout the last 15 years, there has been a constant obsession with returning to successful originals; with the creators no doubt hoping that it is rewarded with the critical acclaim that projects such as Toy Story 2 & 3, and Shrek 2 received.

    What Spiderverse does really well is that it creates an original way of telling a Spider-Man story that still draws up key elements of human existence. Miles the protagonist may have a different ethnicity to the typical Peter Parker Spider-Man – but he is still challenged by the father-son interaction that governs the life of every human being.

    Toy Story was successful because it captured the real genuine fear of a individual being rejected and marginalised. Moreover, it told a story on how Woody could form a friendship with Buzz Lightyear and still feel a sense of inclusion within his little toy world.

    Shrek was great because it challenged the fairytale norms and created a stereotypical villain which gives human commentary into how even the most ugly or marginalised groups of society can raise to become powerful and morally good beings.

    Lego Movie too showed the power that everyone’s creations and ideas have both power and value in society, in that everyone can be special enough to change the world.

    And Up, the story of a lonely elderly man (one of the least represented age groups in films) whose anger, bitterness and obsession with fulfilling the dead wishes of his late wife can shadow one’s opportunity to keep living a full and fulfilling life – one in which an individual pursues their dream of adventuring with a good natured and slightly naive young scout boy.

    Animation mainstream is possible if more focus is made to creating an original story that challenges representations and discourses that society have created. I don’t want sequels. One Up Movie was all I ever needed.

  26. Point being made: That the animation form of making movies relies on orginality and challenges to societal expectations for it to succeed.

    The animation style of filmmaking is a completely different style from every other because it is governed by the audience’s need for creativity. Throughout the last 15 years, there has been a constant obsession with returning to successful originals; with the creators no doubt hoping that it is rewarded with the critical acclaim that projects such as Toy Story 2 & 3, and Shrek 2 received.

    What Spiderverse does really well is that it creates an original way of telling a Spider-Man story that still draws up key elements of human existence. Miles the protagonist may have a different ethnicity to the typical Peter Parker Spider-Man – but he is still challenged by the father-son interaction that governs the life of every human being.

    Toy Story was successful because it captured the real genuine fear of a individual being rejected and marginalised. Moreover, it told a story on how Woody could form a friendship with Buzz Lightyear and still feel a sense of inclusion within his little toy world.

    Shrek was great because it challenged the fairytale norms and created a stereotypical villain which gives human commentary into how even the most ugly or marginalised groups of society can raise to become powerful and morally good beings.

    Lego Movie too showed the power that one’s creations and ideas have both power and value in society, since every single person can be special enough to change the world – no matter the size or perception you give to the world.

    And Up, the story of a lonely elderly man (one of the least represented age groups in films) whose anger, bitterness and obsession with fulfilling the dead wishes of his late wife can shadow one’s opportunity to keep living a full and fulfilling life – one in which an individual pursues their dream of adventuring with a good natured and slightly naive young scout boy.

    Animation mainstream is possible if more focus is made to creating an original story that challenges representations and discourses that society have created. I don’t want sequels. One Up Movie was all I ever needed.

  27. I can understand why some people said it was bad because it was a 3D like movie without us having to wear the glasses but that’s one thing I enjoyed. It was like watching a comic book being read to us and it was an interesting take on the spiderman books. I thoroughly enjoyed the plotline and the other spider people in throughout the story.

  28. An excellent film that certainly gives me hope for the future of Western animation. I’ve always felt that – even with exceptional stories like Up, Kubo, Fantastic Mr. Fox etc. – Western animation has always lagged behind its Japanese counterpart in the passion department, especially now as animation seems to be viewed as just a cheaper way to make the big bucks. Hopefully the success of Spider-verse shows more people how passion can pay the bills, so we’ll see a lot more stuff along the same vein.

  29. In a time where the most talked of animated movies are either garbage from Illumination or sequels to well known works, I also saw this movie as a breath of fresh air. Although I found the movie far from perfect, it was moving when it wanted to be and a real treat to watch. I watched it at home as opposed to the theaters due to being busy at the time and I believe that may have spared me some of the problems experienced by people here in the comments. Overall I share your same optimism and hope this slaps some sense into the people who actually watch movies like the new Grinch Movie and think to themselves that they saw anything other than a feature-length cash grab.

  30. Really enjoyed this film! I thought the animation style was incredible and so different from the usual fare.

    • Cannot agree more there. SONY should really look into expanding on this incredibly rich and fun universe instead of trying to make a live action Sinister Six work.

  31. This film has far exceeded my expectations. The limited motion style was well suited to the overall graphic styling.

  32. I went into Spider-verse with low expectations because of how many Spider-Man adaptions have been made over the years. Needless to say I spent the duration of the film trying to pick my jaw up off the floor. It was my personal film of the year 2018 and this piece sums up what distinguishes it so well!

  33. Amelia Arrows

    I think I speak for everyone when I say the movie is the best animated movie ever put out. Its all because of its own comic unique animated style.

    Yet with these live actions, animation is always deem inferior and childlike , considering the main audience for animated movies are children.

    I just hope more people appreciate the medium just as others.

  34. I initially wasn’t going to watch Into the Spider-verse because, while I’m a fan of superhero movies, and MCU/Spider-man ones in particular, I didn’t think it was a film made for me (a girl who’s never read any of the comics). I am so glad I did; I remember telling anyone who would listen in the weeks after that the creators of this movie truly re-invented the wheel with this one. I had never seen any animation style like this one, or frames like the ones in this film; it was simply stunning from beginning to end. This essay did a great job of contextualizing just how great a feat it was; thank you for filling in the blanks!

  35. Joseph Cernik

    An interesting article. I’m curious now that I might put this on my list of things to watch.

  36. This is why I love animation, all of the possibilities! Your only limit is your imagination

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