Hating on Cal Arts Style is the New Dogwhistle
What do Coco, Soul, Luca, and Turning Red have in common?
It has always been trendy to hate on what is popular, and especially what is popular with young female audiences. When a certain animation style becomes the norm, for example, that animation style may begin to see harsh criticism for no other reason than it is “mainstream” and therefore “boring.”
Recently, there has been a trend of hating on an aesthetic known as “Cal Arts Style.” However, when one examines the types of films receiving this particular feedback, it becomes clear that it is not a kind of art that is prompting such harsh feedback, but instead a certain type of film. These are usually animated movies with racially and culturally diverse characters that promote tolerance and inclusivity.
Pixar’s Coco (2017), Soul (2020), Luca (2021) and the upcoming release of Turning Red (2022) are favourite targets for this particular crowd. Despite maintaining the same art style as ever-popular franchise movies including Monsters University (2013), Finding Dory (2017), Incredibles 2 (2018), and Toy Story 4 (2019), recent diverse and inclusive Disney-Pixar movies have gotten heat for perpetuating the “lazy” art of “Cal Arts Style,” a term that has defined several different animation aesthetics since 2010.
What is “Cal Arts Style”?
The term “Cal Arts Style” was coined in the 2010 by animator John Kricfalusi in order to mock the animation style allegedly being taught at the California Institute of the Arts — aka “Cal Arts” — on his blog. The original definition was that of an art style “derived from late 1950s to 1970s Disney Movies — and Don Bluth — who emulates 1960s Disney movies” being taught to students at Cal Arts.
Kricfalusi criticized Cal Arts Style for being repetitive, lazy, and copy-paste, using all the same line art — especially eyes, hands, and mouths — across several different animated feature films. The original blog post was concerned almost entirely with “recycled” line art in a particular hand-drawn style.
Since the 2010s, the definition of “Cal Arts Style” has become far less concrete. For several years it was used (primarily on Tumblr) to describe the “bean head”…