What Animated Filmmakers Can Learn From Spider-Verse

by Tito W. James

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse did the impossible by forging a fresh voice in superhero films and computer animation. The bold vision and epic story earned Spider-Verse a Golden Globe. What can animated filmmakers learn from Spider-Verse and where will this take future animated films?


Cell-Shading is not a new technique and has been used regularly in video games; last year’s KDA music video being a prime example. However, cell-shading is rarely seen in animated features. I spoke briefly with a Spider-Verse insider who said that they were sick of the “Pixar look” and wanted to do something different. I hope other animation companies will look at Spider-Verse and push their own films in exciting new visual directions.

Unique Editing

I’ve always been a fan of creative editing. The split-screen, jump cuts, time lapses and narration made Spider-Verse feel more like a film by Edgar Wright, Guy Ritchie or Darren Aronofsky. I haven’t seen such creative use of animated storytelling since The Emperor’s New Groove which, like Spider-Verse, I saw twice in theaters when it came out.

Hip-Hop Soundtrack

Hip-Hop and comics have been much maligned by society and lambasted as causes for juvenile delinquency. There have been court hearings regarding censoring controversial material in hip hop and comics even though it would be a direct violation of the first amendment. Superhero comics and Hip-Hop are two quintessentially American creations that have had the longest road to earn their place in American zeitgeist. It’s a testament to the amount of artistic progress that has been made to have a biracial superhero with a hip-hop soundtrack being embraced by audiences young and old across America.

It’s The Story NOT The Brand Name

Screenwriter Phil Lord scripted The Lego Movie, a film that Sony tried to emulate with the atrocious Emoji Movie. What developers seemed to have missed was that The Lego Movie was entertaining because of its witty writing, not because the film had Legos in it. Lord went on to pen the script for Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse for Sony, and the film was applauded for its art and characters. The lesson here is that stories are more important than iconic brands. With the rise of more animated films based on toy brands, it’s a lesson more animation companies should remember.

Darkness And Danger

When Spider-Verse wants to be funny, it’s hilarious and when it wants to be emotionally impactful, it doesn’t hold back. All the scenes involving The Prowler scared the crap out of me. As a lover of psychological thrillers and action heavy anime, I can say the Spider-Verse sated my appetite for blood and thunder. The action and suspense are real and the bad guys aren’t messing around! It’s exciting to see this level of danger (which is usually relegated to PG-13 live action movies) in an animated film. I hope that Spider-Verse opens the door to more animated films with an action focus.

Anyone Can Wear The Mask

The theme of the film is that anyone can wear the mask and be a superhero regardless of their race or gender. I believe that this theme extends beyond the realm of fantasy and has real world applications within creative industries. Despite outward claims of social progress, Hollywood is still systemically discriminatory. Projects featuring diverse creators and characters are too often side-lined. Now, massive commercial successes like Spider-Verse  are proof that’s there’s an audience for  non-traditional storytelling.

We can have a bright future of animated films that explore different genres, art styles, soundtracks, ethnic communities and dark subject matter so long as the films maintain a commitment to quality storytelling. If animated filmmakers didn’t know that before, I hope they do now.

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