Author: Mark Whitehead
Age Group: 12-80
Animation covers everything from Tex Avery’s split-second slapstick and The Simpsons’ knowing digs at
pop culture, to Hayao Miyasaki’s strong-willed heroines and Yuri Norstein’s delicately rendered folktales.
Often dismissed by the uninitiated as ‘kid’s stuff’, any detailed look at animation reveals a technically
complex, sophisticated and endlessly inventive medium. Intended both as a guide and an introduction to
this fascinating field, the Pocket Essential Animation examines and celebrates this genre in its many
forms. It explores the careers, techniques and key films of many of the major animators. It begins with
pioneers such as Winsor McCay, the Fleischer brothers and Walt Disney when the ‘House of Mouse’
was only a twinkle in his eye. Then brings you right up to date with Nick Park’s claymation and the slick
CGI comedies of John Lasseter’s Pixar studio. In between, it takes in the innovations of Norman
McLaren, the sexual obsessions of Bob Godfrey and the agit-prop surrealism of Jan Švankmajer. Kid’s
It’s a slight exaggeration but the effort that goes into
producing animated movies never ceases to impress me.
Even the worst examples, such as The Care Bears Movie,
meant that some poor soul was slaving away over a light
box, producing 24 frames a second of drawings for our
edification. That takes a particular sort of dedication, a
particular mind-set and particular willingness to suffer
permanent eyestrain in order to keep people amused.
The director Frank Henenlotter was once interviewed
about making Basket Case, a celebrated no-budget gore movie from the early 1980s that featured a
and evil twin who was kept in a basket by his more
normal-looking sibling. Originally, said Henenlotter,
they had planned to animate the creature with stopmotion
effects (moving it a little bit, filming it, moving it
a little bit more, filming it, and so on until it had cleared
the length of a room). They started off with the best of
intentions but, after a few hours of this with no great
reward, they resorted to throwing the creature across the
room and filming that instead.‘We thought about having
a credit for “ordinary effects” instead of special ones’, he
I can sympathise. In 1992, I attended a brief course on
animation at my local arts centre.We were each given a
Super 8 camera with single-frame advance and asked to
animate some household objects that we had found at the
centre. I came up with a box of rusty nails and a couple of
electrical plugs. My idea was to have the nails swarm out
of the box, engulf the plugs, dismantle them and free the
screws that held them together. It took me about eight
hours to get those fifteen seconds of action. Admittedly, I
kept breaking for cigarettes and tea. And swearing. Once
the footage was developed, I was quite impressed. It actually
looked as I had wanted it to look.The nails swarmed,
the plugs were engulfed. You could see development.
Okay, so it was hardly Jan S¡vankmajer, but you could see
what was going on. It was at that moment that I realised
something very important. I had neither the inclination
nor the patience to ever be a successful animator, or even
an unsuccessful one, for that matter.
My ability to sit and watch animation remains undi-minished however. Many of my earliest memories of
are of animation. My fondness for Oliver Postgate’s and
Peter Firmin’s output at Small Films remains undiminished.
Postgate never talked down to his audience and his
finest comment on producing children’s television was
the admirable: ‘You’ve got to stretch the little buggers’.
The eerie S¡vankmajeresque Pogle’s Wood, the utopian
small blue planet of The Clangers, the cod-Icelandic saga
of Noggin the Nog and the folk traditions explored in
Bagpuss, all of them are beautifully realised little worlds. It
has become a cliché for thirtysomethings to get mistyeyed
about the TV of their childhood, but Small Films
output resists mere nostalgia. Although the animation
may look slightly primitive, their charm has not been
erased by the passing of time.