British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

100 Animated Feature Films

100 Animated Feature Films by Andrew Osmond (Palgrave Macmillan / BFI, December 2010) 246 pages, ISBN: 978-1844573400 (hardback), £20

wells-paulAbout the reviewer: Professor Paul Wells is Director of the Animation Academy, a research group dedicated to cutting edge engagement with Animation and related moving image practices. Paul is an internationally established scholar, screenwriter and director, having published widely in Animation and Film Studies, and written and directed numerous projects for theatre, radio, television and film. Paul’s books include Understanding Animation (Routledge), Animation and America (Rutgers University Press), The Fundamentals of Animation (AVA), and The Animated Bestiary: Animals, Cartoons and Culture (Rutgers University Press),  His work also embraces collaborative texts, including Drawing for Animation (Lausanne: AVA) with master animator, Joanna Quinn, and Re-Imagining Animation (Lausanne: AVA) with Johnny Hardstaff, leading graphic designer and film-maker with Ridley Scott Associates. Spinechillers, Paul’s radio history of the horror film won a Sony Award, while Britannia – The Film was chosen as an Open University set text. Paul is Chair of the Association of British Animation Collections (ABAC), a collaborative initiative with the BFI, BAFTA and the National Media Museum.

The animated feature film plays a significant but largely unsung role in both the history of animation as a form, and in the wider scheme of cinema itself. There is some irony in this fact, though. On the one hand, it is placed on the periphery of feature-making in general, still constituting but a tiny percentage of production when compared to the myriad thousands of ‘live action’ films. On the other, it is for the most part – along with contemporary TV animation like The Simpsons or South Park – the dominant form by which the general public know about animation at all; most not being versed in the masterpieces of the animated short form.

It is gratifying then that Andrew Osmond’s survey, 100 Animated Feature Films, begins to redress the lack of attention to this body of work. Osmond’s selection includes the expected and familiar – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Pinocchio (1940), Toy Story (1995) – but also key historical works like Quirino Christiani’s El Apostol (released in 1917 and the first animated feature) and Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926); masterpieces from other major national contexts of animated feature production, including China’s Nezha Conquers the Dragon King (1979), Russia’s Ivan and his Magic Pony (1947), and the former Czechoslovakia’s The Emperor’s Nightingale (1949); and more left-field Japanese gems, like Night on a Galactic Railroad (1985) and Mind Game (2004) – Osmond’s acknowledged expertise on animé is authoritative throughout.

It is, of course, inevitable, that the animated feature is dominated by the long shadow of the Disney Studio. Though it is always difficult to say anything fresh about Disney, Osmond succeeds in his analyses in offering a defence of the features, freeing them from what has become customary and lazy critical dismissal as mawkish, sentimental or ideologically inappropriate. Of Bambi (1942), Osmond remarks: ‘We laugh and we grieve, but mostly we marvel, at a faun’s blinking introduction to an April shower, to the miracles of snow and ice, to the magnificent herd representing the mystery of adulthood, bounding over Bambi’s head with a clash of cymbals. Disney’s point, admirably unspoken but transparent to a child, is that the fun and fear, the silliness and the heartbreak, are all of a piece. This is a real grown up cartoon‘

In this Osmond captures much of the enduring influence and affect of Disney’s work, homing in on its emotional intelligence and the invention of its visual narration, rather than its supposedly naïve or ill-informed politic. The Lion King (1994), too, is reclaimed, Osmond arguing that the film ‘is both more intimate and open-ended than its debunkers allow’. This is not to say Osmond is not critical – Pixar’s Pete Doctor, not once but twice, in Monsters Inc (2001) and Up (2009), is taken to task for his uneven, and sometimes unclear storytelling.

By returning animated features to their historical, aesthetic and production context, Osmond properly argues for their art and cultural value. Indeed, as all short form essays of this kind should be, his critiques balance accessible journalistic description of narrative and spectacle, and informed and intellectually engaged opinion about the worth of a film overall. Further, each entry is treated not merely as a discussion of the film in question, but as an opportunity, for example, to talk about the related work of the director or studio; alternative, similarly themed films; or other relevant contextual material. The book is both a primer for features the reader might not have seen and a relevant companion to those they have. Either way, such enthused, knowledgeable writing makes you want to see all the films again.

Professor Paul Wells

Delicious Save this on Delicious |