ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.3 - JUNE 1999
American Animation in Its Golden Age
book review by Bob Miller
For years the animation community has heard about, and waited for, the completion of a project by Funnyworld editor and publisher Michael Barrier, who along with veteran animator Milton Gray, interviewed many of those responsible for the Golden Age of Animation. Now, thanks to Oxford University Press, it's finally available. Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age covers the industry from its beginnings in 1911 to Walt Disney's death in December, 1966. The book details not only how American animation developed, but why cartoons of the period are considered to be `golden.' It's a lesson that can and should be learned by today's studio management.
Barrier primarily focuses on Disney, Warner Bros., MGM and UPA (though providing adequate coverage of Fleischer, Lantz, and others). He explores how the industry was affected by politics, economics, individual egos, even the styles of rival studios. Some of what Barrier uncovers may unsettle, even startle, those who view the past through rose-colored glasses. For example, some of the producers of UPA -- the studio that made the Mr. Magoo cartoons -- were Communists.
Many interesting facts are noted, such as, the noise made by the Road Runner came from background artist Paul Julian, who revealed to the author that the proper spelling is `hmeep-hmeep,' despite the use of the word `beep' in the titles of the Coyote/Roadrunner series.
Barrier is rather frank with his opinions when he dissects certain cartoons such as Snow White, The Big Snooze or Operation: Rabbit. One may not agree with his comments, but they are certainly worth considering.
The retail price of $39.95 is a real bargain when you consider the nearly three decades of painstaking research into the project. Barrier and Gray interviewed over 200 animation professionals, many of whom have since passed away. Also, Barrier's research encompassed the viewing of several thousand cartoons, rather than, in his words, "extrapolating from a small sample." Barrier's statements are also backed by 50 pages of endnotes that reveal his sources.
Moreover, his work was reviewed and confirmed by such animation historians as Mark Kausler, John Canemaker, Mark Mayerson, and David R. Smith.
The 648-page book is sparsely illustrated, but there is a series of "flip book" animation drawings, done by Milton Gray, that demonstrate the evolution of the art form: "rubber hose," "stretch and squash," and "smear" animation.
Though Barrier ends his history with the death of Walt Disney, he does have an Afterword that addresses the state of animation today. The works of Bluth, Bakshi, Kricfalusi and Lasseter are noted here, for better or for worse.
When it comes to documenting animation history, Hollywood Cartoons is a monumental achievement of scholarship and integrity. I highly recommend it.
Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age by Michael Barrier. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, April 1999. 648 pages. ISBN 0-19-503759-6. (US$39.95)
Bob Miller is an animation professional who has written extensively about the industry for Starlog, Comics Scene, Animation Magazine, Animato!, Animation Planet, Comics Buyer's Guide, and APATOONS. He currently works as storyboard supervisor for John R. Dilworth on Courage, the Cowardly Dog, coming this fall to the Cartoon Network.
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