Review – Serious Business: The Art And Commerce Of Animation In America

I got this book for Christmas and although I read Googled first, I was excited to get into this immediately after. Covering the US animation scene from its beginnings to sometime in the late 1990s, I found Serious Business to be an interesting and enjoyable read.

Author Stefan Kanfer focuses more so on the Golden Age of animation than any other time. Perhaps because that was when animation was big business in Hollywood, when numerous major studios and Disney ran full-scale animation departments. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how the Fleischer Brothers got up and running in New York, or how Walt Disney spent his last few dollars on a 1st class train ticket to Los Angeles.

The book tends to read rather quickly after around 1950 or so. Although this in understandable given the downturn in the industry at the time. It was nice to see attention paid to studios such as UPA and the Hubleys as well as the various independent animators who sprouted up throughout the 60s and beyond.

Once we reach the 90s, things pick up again with the advent of the Simpsons and the creation of the three original Nicktoons. The book then somewhat bumbles along to the end in 1998 or so. Not that this detracts from the book, indeed, I am far more familiar with recent developments than those in the 30s, so unless you’re Jerry Beck and have a thorough knowledge of old cartoons, you are unlikely to be worried either.

Kanfer writes with a writing style that can be at times a little long-winded, but the book is never boring and with so much material to cover, the book is indeed dancing the line between covering to much yet covering too little.  At 264 pages, it could easily have been a bit longer, although Kanfer may have intended it to be this way, so as not to descend into the kind of tome one would expect a serious historian to have.

Serious Business is well worth a read, especially if, like myself, you were not as familiar with the beginnings of the animation industry as you would like. In conjunction with the Giant 600 Cartoon DVD boxset I also received, it is fair to say that the book indeed sparked my interest in old, cartoons long forgotten by the general public.

You can buy Serious Business: The Art And Commerce Of Animation In America From Betty Boop To Toy Story on Amazon.com

Adventure Time: Woohoo!

Adventure Time Promo art

First things first: an apology. Saying I was going to begin blogging daily should clearly not have been said they day before I was going to leave for a weekation (weekend vacation), but we all live and learn so I don’t plan on doing the same thing again.

Anyway, onto today’s post. I happen to love animation so it is no surprise that I am verrrry excited to see that Adventure Time will be premièring on Cartoon Network tonight at 8pm EST (?).

This is a rare event, seeing as Cartoon Network has decided to shift their market focus to live-action in a vain attempt to “compete” with Nickelodeon and Disney. Pen Ward deserves a heck of a lot of credit for his very unique concept of a show and judging by the artwork that’s been filtering out of the studio over the last year or so, this should be a fantastic show with some truly great stories.

If anything it is vindication that the Oh Yeah! and Random! Cartoons shorts programmes are hit-producers. It is regrettable that Cartoon Network had to go to a competitor’s product to try and find a hit show, but we should be thankful that they even did so at all.

Some have said it is a show of Spongebob proportions, but history has told us that Cartoon Network is atrocious when it comes to marketing their shows, so I don’t expect anything to change.

All I can hope for is that it gets a longer run than the last show that showed as much promise: Chowder.

How to Train Your Dragon, in 3-D!!!!

Having read Gilligan’s advice over on the Retrospace blog yesterday, I’m going to try and up the ante over here, seeing as so far Fantazmigoriuh has been limping along. I update my tumblelog almost every day without fail but it’s more of an eclectic collection of stuff I come across as I “surf the net”…does that phrase seem stuck in 1995 or what, eh? So from now on, I will update this thing daily (except maybe Sundays, I do need a rest you know). Basically I’ll probably just grab one piece of animation news from the day before and comment on it, or indeed comment or review on movies that I have seen recently. Nothing to heavy of course, just a quick blurb with some nice photos. And should I ever score the winning goal, I will be sure to brag about it here!

So, last night we went to see Dreamworks’ How To Train Your Dragon. I chose the 3-D version because I hadn’t gone to one before and I figured I’d give it a shot just for shits and giggles. Long story short, it ain’t worth it. And here’s why:

  • You have to buy the glasses. As for recycling them at the end, heck no. I paid $2 for these glasses, I’ll keep them thankyouverymuch.
  • They make the movie darker, well, darker and slightly yellower by my reckoning. Thumb down.
  • I counted a total of 2 (maybe 3) scenes where it was worth it. In other words, the rest of the movie it was barely noticeable.

At $13 a ticket, rest assured that was the last time I go to see a 3-D movie. There was a family of 8 in front of us. They must’ve been out nigh on $100 before snacks. If you have the choice, plump for the 2-D option and you’ll be much happier.

As for the movie itself, I was gobsmackingly shocked. For a Dreamwork’s picture, Dragon sets the gold standard. While it’s not PIXAR standard, it’s fairly darn close. The plot was certainly better than most DW picture’s have been (possibly because it is based on a book). So juts when I thought things were becoming predictable, the become unpredictable. I like  that.

Visuals were great, lovely design, plenty of colour. I love the character design. The Vikings have their charm while the kids look unique in the their own individual way. Notable is Asterid who dances the fine line between being a hard fighting tomboy and a girl with all the usual traits. On a related note, I’m glad they gave all the dragons a dose of intelligence. It really added to the movie and made me fall in love with them.

The only downside was the voice-acting, and when I say that, I mean Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel. He came off as a bit whiney and rather unsuited for the part. It didn’t ruin the film for me, but he did take some getting used to.

Overall, a fantastic movie that I would heartily recommend. I am sure they’re working on a  sequel already which will only cheapen this gem of an original, so enjoy it while you can!

PS: The music was fantastic as well and added to the experience a lot more than I had anticipated.

Lead Female Protagonists in Mainstream US Animation


Animated TV programmes with female lead characters. Are they a rare occurrence? Certainly when compared to the numbers with male lead characters. Now, I’m not saying that females are underrepresented in animation, there are plenty of female characters, however, more often than not, they are not the main protagonist or are part of a group. How come this is so?

There is a general notion that girls like cartoons at a young age but lose that interest once they get older. That’s not to say that there are no programmes out there that specifically cater to girls (Horseland springs to mind). but it would seem that girls (more so than boys) try to imitate their older peers at an earlier age. One fact that is known about animated shows is that they are seen as ‘childish’ or beyond the intellectual capabilities of a certain age bracket. Thus girls are seemingly pressured to drop animation from their TV viewing at a younger age than boys.

Take Japan for example (an obvious choice, but a good one to study), animation is accepted in society as a suitable medium for programming to both males and females. There are a vast array of shows that are designed to appeal to girls and women in general because they don’t see animation as something that should be confined to younger age groups. They are also interested in many of the same genres as males, albeit with more female-centric plots. This implies that age is not the only type of peer pressure at work in discouraging girls and females from watching animation.

The types of shows that interest boys tend to be of adventure, fantasy and science-fiction, as well as comedy. Girls tend to show less interest in these genres, preferring instead to concentrate on character-driven shows (Chowder is perhaps a good, current example). The interests of boys (and males in general) are better served by animation as it is a cost effective method for delivering the product. Girls interests can often be catered for with live-action (Hanna Montana, etc.) which is cost effective, whereas the same show would be prohibitively expensive if animated with no real additional benefits to be gained (side note: Lizzy Maguire used live-action with animated sequences acting as a plot device). There have been some animated shows that could have been live action, such as Pepper Ann and As Told By Ginger, but I guess these are the exception to the rule.

The interesting thing is that it is possible to have cartoons with strong animated leads that can appeals to girls and be so successful that it attracts boys too. Examples include Kim Possible and the PowerPuff Girls; both shows with strong female leads yet are equally enjoyed by both sexes. They have a great mix of action (for the boys) and also have a decent dose of character development to satisfy the girls. However, they are not always successful. Take My Life as a Teenage Robot. This show about a teenage robot girl who routinely saves the earth is rather underrated but failed to attract much of either a girl or boy audience, despite having a female lead and the requisite types of plots for both audiences. It would appear that the line between a successful show and an unsuccessful show is a fine one.

Overall, I believe that the reason we see relatively few shows with female leads is a wider cultural belief that extends back to when television became widespread. In Japan, shows were designed to appeal to everyone, and the populous became comfortable with animation as a medium. In the US, animation was pushed more and more into the children’s corner, and although animation was still produced for slightly older audiences (it took thirty years for The Simpsons to arrive as save the rest of us), we have to remember that the world was a different place and that the opinion of females was a very different as well. Today we have many talented women within the animation industry, but I want to say they are trapped by a culture that neither allows nor encourages girls to seek role models or even entertainment in animation because of certain outdated expectations. Changing these expectations is very much an uphill task if we are to see more female-orientated programming on TV.