Makin’ Toons Book Review
Sometimes you do not realize that a book is needed until it comes out. Popularized books about animation tend to be either histories of “classic” animation (anything before the 1970s), or studies of individual studios, filmmakers or titles. Makin’ Toons is for the reader who wants a good survey of modern animation: what have been the hot, new animated theatrical features and TV series of the past 20 years and today? Who made them and how did they come to get made?
Allan Neuwirth covers all this in Makin’ Toons, a chatty overview of the American animation industry since Who Framed Roger Rabbit revitalized what had been a dying art form. More than 20 hit titles are spotlighted. The movies include The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Lion King, Toy Story, Ice Age, Fantasia/2000 and Monsters, Inc. The TV series include The Ren & Stimpy Show, The Simpsons, Beavis and Butt-Head, The Tick, Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, SpongeBob SquarePants, Rugrats, Batman: The Animated Series, King of the Hill, South Park, Samurai Jack — if it came out since 1990, and it was at all popular, it is probably in here. (Neuwirth does make a distinction between mass popularity and cult popularity that fails to, “lure enough viewers for execs to justify keeping them on the air,” which explains why some critical favorites like Aeon Flux and Invader Zim are mentioned only in passing.)
Avoid the word “history,” which implies a study of something that is completed and of the past. Also avoid the “how to make” label, which implies a technical manual or textbook. Makin’ Toons combines the best of both forms. It is a blend of Neuwirth’s own essays and many informal “how we did it” interviews with the creators of the most popular toon movies and TV programs of today. The result is both an enjoyable history for the layman of what Neuwirth calls the toon boom era, the period that most of the general public will consider “today” — the new movies and TV hits that have appeared during their memories — and an inspirational series of pep talks by the men and women who have been responsible for this renaissance. This will be enlightening to the “man in the street” who has wondered, “Who is making the new cartoon hits since all those famous old guys like Walt Disney, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery and Mel Blanc are dead?”