The title should prompt obvious responses that animation is already great at infecting audiences... with laughter! Especially so, given that every animated feature being released at the moment is a comedy. That said, the piece by Jonathon Gottschall over on Co.Create that prompted this post, uses story as its base instead.
It's easy to point out that animation is far and away a visual technique. After all, doesn't it's very existence depend on making static images move? While the answer is clearly yes, the ability of animated features (and shorts) to worm their way into audiences hearts and minds has been as much the result of how it looks as it is the stories it tells.
Consider any classic animated film and think about what makes a great movie to watch. While readers of this site will gleefully point out the use of the multi-plane camera and super character animation as the stars of Pinocchio, the vast majority of the public miss such traits entirely. They focus instead on the characters and their story that is told.
This is animation's strong point when it comes to infecting audiences with stories. As a technique limited only by the imagination of the animators and other artists involved in production, animation has long been able to explore worlds and characters that live-action has not.
What this means is that even the most mundane stories are given an entirely different sheen when put under the animation spotlight. Think about Aladdin. It's a tale that everyone is familiar with and that has been told a thousand times in every kind of iteration you can imagine. Disney's animated version from their renaissance period took that exceptionally common tale and aside from putting their own take on it, created a film that audiences fell instantly in love with and still do today.
"So stories have a unique ability to infect minds with ideas and attitudes that spread contagiously. The next question is obvious: How do we get a piece of that power? It isn’t easy because the story has to be good or it doesn’t work. Here's what I mean by "good": psychological studies show that we don't get infected by a story unless we are emotionally transported--unless we lose ourselves in the story."
That quote from Gottschall's article drives the point home. Animation is excellent at transporting audiences (physically and emotionally) into another world. It's inherent in the skills of the animators themselves who must not only convince us that what we are seeing on-screen is moving in a realistic way, they have to create the entire world the characters live in too. They're quite good at it too. The rudimentary lines of the Simpsons has been a facsimile for America for 25 years and nobody has yet to complain.
Animation as it stands today continues to infect audiences despite the malaise that has enveloped feature animation for the most part. Independent features continue to inspire (this writer was incredibly taken away by A Cat in Paris) and animation on TV has never been better with the likes of Adventure Time heading the pack of shows that have spread through mainstream audiences and older vieers like, well, influenza!
Charles Kenny writes prolifically on his own blog, The Animation Anomaly.