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A lot of people like lists. Top 10 lists. Best 100 Fill in the Genre movie lists. There are a lot of books on the market that list films like the DVD Hounders Guide to Leonard Maltins yearly movie guide. Now animation historian Jerry Beck has compiled his own movie guide for animated theatrical releases.
Along with fellow toon experts Martin Dr. Toon Goodman, Andrew Leal, W.R. Miller and Fred Patten, Beck has compiled the definitive list of animated films that played in U.S. theaters from 1926 to 2004. The book includes reviews and background information for more than 300 films, plot synopsis, technical information, credits and a rating on a four-star scale.
The book begins with a quick chronological reference list of the films featured. Then we get the reviews. Each film starts with the date of release, running time, directors, producers and principal voice cast. Next follows the Consumer Tips section of the entry, which includes star rating, MPAA rating and a brief reference to the origins of the story. This latter part, however, is inconsistent throughout the book. Sometimes its just facts about the source material, but in other listings its plot or thematic information or even a brief comment or warning. Its really the only flaw in the whole book, because it sometimes features redundant information and is used for different purposes on various listings.
The Consumer Tips section is followed by a story description and Comments section, which is the best part of the book. Unlike many other movie list books, this tome has the space to give helpful trivia and background information in addition to a straight review of the film. Sometimes in books like these, certain listings seem to read as if the writer had never seen the film. In this book, however, you know the writers have not only seen the film, but also have done their homework as well. Even lesser titles are given the respect of a thorough description and valuable background information. This section makes the book invaluable as a history book, in addition to a collection of reviews.
The middle of the book includes a color pictorial section, which has a collection of interesting lobby cards, pictures from some of the films and advertising material. The mid-point is also where we come to a strange anomaly in the book in regards to the Pokémon series of features. The book features a sidebar history of the franchise from its videogame origins to its movie into TV, manga and features. Each of the five Pokémon theatrical releases then get a condensed listing, which includes the opening stats and a two paragraph description of the plot and some box office info. My question is why? The sidebar makes sense because it allows for a more in-depth look at the Pokémon phenomenon and avoids repeating information for each individual feature. However, why not give the films ratings or comment on them individually? Is there one thats better than another? I mean, it is only Pokémon, but, as I mentioned previously, one of the nice things about the book is that it doesnt short shift the lesser entries. So for consistency sake it doesnt make much sense.
The book closes with three appendices. The first is a list of Limited Release Animated Features, which collects the animated features that played in only a few cities at either art houses, festivals, midnight showings or childrens Saturday matinees. This section features films like Once Upon a Time, Kirikou and the Sorceress and Kaena: The Prophecy. The listings are brief, containing only a few stats, credits, plot summary and, for some, box office and release info.
The second is titled Top 60 Animated Features Never Theatrically Released in the United States. The 60 films are broken up into three 20-film sub-categories, which include U.S.-produced direct-to-video animated films, U.S.-aired made-for-TV animated features and foreign theatrical features that never opened in the United States. This part of the book features some stand-out titles like Grave of the Fireflies and Kikis Delivery Service. The listings again are brief, containing only a few stats, credits and plot summary. Appendix 1 and 2 would be great sections to expand if the book does well and is allowed a second edition.
The final appendix is called Top 20 Live-Action Films Featuring Great Animation. This section gets to pay respect to films like King Kong, Stuart Little and Pink Panther. This is also the section that opens up a lot of room for debate. Not a single Ray Harryhausen film on the list?
So to sum things up, this is a truly great reference for fans of animation. It may cause some frustration; for some of the rare films listed will be hard to find on DVD or video, but this is by no means a fault of the book. As far as I can tell, its the most accurate collection of U.S. animated theatrical releases available. I challenge everyone to go out, get the book and find one they missed. This is exactly what one would want in a book like this and more.
The Animated Movie Guide by Jerry Beck; Chicago Review Press; Chicago, October 28, 2005; ISBN: 1-55652-591-5, paperback, $26.95; 348 pages.
Rick DeMott is the managing editor of Animation World Network. Previously, he worked in various production and management positions in the entertainment industry. He is a contributor to the book as well as the humor, absurdist and surrealist short story website .