Dr. Toon: The Animation Critic's Art - Part II
Absolutely no backing off on this one. If you are not familiar with the history of animation, its producers, the studios, the directors, the production methods, and the films and shorts themselves, you have no grounding for becoming an animation critic. Your understanding of how cartoons evolved into what they are today will be less than that of a scientist looking at a pigeon and trying to imagine its evolution from a dinosaur. It is no coincidence that some of the most influential animation critics today, such as John Canemaker, Jerry Beck, Leonard Maltin and Michael Barrier are also prominent animation historians.
It is not enough to watch animated films of every era. You must understand who a given director, writer and animator is, and what sort of production house generated a short or film. Further, you must extend this knowledge from 1890 to 2011. An example: those unfamiliar with animation history can enjoy Who Framed Roger Rabbit. However, they cannot appreciate the film on the same level as an expert on animation history. They would be even less qualified to critique the film in a meaningful manner. Fortunately, studying animation history is a joyful and fascinating undertaking, especially when a true expert does the teaching or writing.
These are your tools, and it is worth taking the time to develop them all. This concludes the nuts-and-bolts section of our journey. Next month, we will begin to apply these marvelous tools in the construction of an animation critic's career. Prepare to dirty your hands with ink and paint, and let's get to work. See you then.
Style and Taste:
These books are only a start; there are many great film critics past and present. You won't always agree with these reviewers, but you will admit they've got game.
John Simon, Reverse Angle (1976)
John Simon, John Simon on Film: Criticisms 1982-2001 (2005)
Roger Ebert, Your Movie Sucks (2007)
Anthony Lane, Nobody's Perfect (2002)
Chuck Klosterman, Killing Yourself to Live (2005) (I especially call your attention to pgs. 197-200 for his evaluation of Led Zeppelin. It may not refer to animation, but it's the essence of what I'm talking about.)
This is highly recommended for the beginning critic, a great jumping-off point.
Louis Giannetti, Understanding Movies (12th ed.) (2010)
Actually, there about 40 books you should have, but this is the Great Troika of animation history.
Leonard Maltin, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Cartoons (Revised and Updated) (1987)
Michael Barrier, Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, (1999)
Giannalberto Bedazzi, One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation (1995)
Dot Your "I" and Cross Your "T":
Get the bugs out of your writing with this indispensible guide.
The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Ed.
Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman is a longtime student and fan of animation. He lives in Anderson, Indiana.