America has long been a powerful force in the field of animated feature films. Even if the films themselves were based on European tales and books, their country of origin manages to shine through in other ways (the voices being the usual dead giveaway.)
However, with Independence Day almost upon us, Fast Company have, in their latest issue, an article about summer sequels. Of the six films listed, two are animated and one is a hybrid (The Smurfs 2).
What was interesting to note though, was that they have broken down the box office revenues for each and surprisingly enough, all three performed better abroad than in the USA and all three did not have strong American themes.
That begs the question: are American animated features losing their American soul?
Consider Cars 2 (one of the names on the list). The original film was a financial (if not critical) success and was a sure-fire blue-blooded American film. (It had a NASCAR theme after all.) Flip over to the sequel, and suddenly, Lightning McQueen and crew can't seem to get out of America and see the world fast enough.
Looking at things another way, consider DreamWorks Monsters Vs Aliens from 2009. It only made 48% of its box office take from overseas. While there is little to fault in the film itself, there is the sneaking suspicion that the very much gun-ho Americana and militaristic themes throughout may have been a turn-off for foreign audiences. The result: a rare once-off film from DreamWorks.
A more recent example is Monsters University, whose story relies upon the very concept of university life as seen through American eyes. Although it has yet to open in all markets, international gross is currently only 43% of the total!
However to single out Monsters Vs. Aliens and Monsters University is to admit that overt American themes are not so welcome abroad. That would be absurd. American animated films regardless of their story and characters have been imbued with American ideals and themes that have been more than accepted abroad for many decades.
What is of concern is that American animated feature films are starting to pander to political correctness, and instead of portraying any kind of strong, cultural base, opt instead for something safe that requires minimal effort no matter what market it is shown in.
In this era where cultural diversity is being celebrated, animated feature films, and American ones at that, seem most prone to shedding their origin for sake of an easy ride at the box office.