Fathers Know Best? Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s Surprising Animated Dads

The celebrated filmmakers behind Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Lego Movie and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs mount an important challenge to convention in Hollywood animation when it comes to the hero’s dad

SDG Original source: National Catholic Register

Right now the two most exciting names in American animation are Phil Lord and Chris Miller.

From their breakout film Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 10 years ago and their smash hit The Lego Movie (both of which they cowrote and directed) to last year’s Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (cowritten by Lord and co-produced by them both), Lord and Miller haven’t just charted new possibilities for American animation.

They’ve reinvented their whole aesthetic for each new challenge, one-upping themselves every time, in the process offering a dramatic challenge to the visual and thematic sameness of so many Hollywood animated films.

What does a Lord and Miller cartoon look like? It’s impossible to say, since they have yet to repeat themselves (barring sequels: Lord and Miller wrote and coproduced The Lego Movie 2; they also wrote Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2).

Despite the variety of their output, common threads emerge. Community and cooperation are recurring themes; the final crisis is resolved, not by the protagonist working alone, but by a team that includes the protagonist.

If the most common type of mother in American cartoons is dead, the most common type of father is authoritarian and overbearing.

A number of antagonists, adversaries and rivals, from “Baby Brent” (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs) to Lord Business (The Lego Movie) to the villainous Kingpin’s terrifying enforcer, the Prowler (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), are nuanced, humanized and in some cases redeemed. (Even the Kingpin’s twisted motives are those of a doting husband and father.)

Particularly striking to me, and even moving, is a theme connecting Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (though not The Lego Movie): how themes of father–son conflict ubiquitous in other cartoons play out with unexpectedly insightful, consequential fathers.

Animation, Fatherhood

Related

We need to talk about cartoon parents ARTICLE

We need to talk about cartoon parents

I don’t expect animated heroes to have uniformly ideal, harmonious family lives. It’s not realistic — and it doesn’t make for good drama, which needs conflict. The ubiquity of the pattern, though, is striking.