Book Review - Arthurian Animation: A Study of Cartoon Camelots on Film and Television
King Arthur and Arthurian themes are always popular, aren’t they? And animated cartoons have always featured popular themes, if only for comedic purposes, haven’t they? So you would assume that animation about King Arthur and other elements of the Arthurian legends have been constant since theatrical animation began.
Michael N. Salda says that you would be wrong, in this well-documented history of what he calls “Arthurianimation”. In fact, the earliest Arthurianimation that he has found is Leon Schlesinger/Warner Bros.’s 1933 “Bosko’s Knight-Mare”. There were no cartoons with Arthurian themes during all of the silent film period! And “Bosko’s Knight-Mare” was specifically made to capitalize on the popularity of Fox’s 1931 theatrical feature adaptation of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, starring Will Rogers; not on Arthuriana in general.
Salda is an associate professor of medieval literature in the Department of English at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has been interested in Arthurianimation since the 1990s, when a colleague, the editor of the 1991 Cinema Arthuriana: Essays on Arthurian Film, suggested that he write an essay on Arthurian animated cartoons. That was Salda’s “‘What’s Up, Duke?’ A Brief History of Arthurian Animation” for a 1999 followup collection of essays on Arthurian cinematography. Salda has continued to expand his research into Arthurianimation, and this book is the result.
Arthurian Animation: A Study of Cartoon Camelots on Film and Television is excellently researched, but Salda’s conclusions are ultimately depressing. He shows that the first Arthurian-based cartoon was made to take advantage of a popular 1931 movie adaptation of Twain’s humorous A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and that almost all subsequent cartoons have been to take advantage of some other momentary popularity of Arthuriana. A brief flurry of 1950s and early 1960s animated cartoons – Warner Bros.’ “Knight-Mare Hare”, and “Knights in Armor” motifs in early Hanna-Barbera and Jay Ward TV cartoons – took advantage of such 1950s live-action features as Knights of the Round Table (1953), The Black Shield of Falworth (1954), The Black Knight (1954), the movie adaptation of the newspaper comic strip Prince Valiant (1954), The Court Jester (1955), and many others. Disney’s 1963 animated feature The Sword in the Stone followed the popularity of the 1960 Broadway hit Camelot. And while The Sword in the Stone is generally considered the first of Disney’s lackluster feature-length cartoons such as The Aristocats (1970) and The Fox and the Hound (1981), Salda harshly proclaims it a “Full-length Flop”. Practically all Arthurianimation contains some flaws in Salda’s estimation – most deliberately so, since their purpose is comedy and the satirization of Arthurian ideals.