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Book Review: René Laloux

In his new book, RenLaloux states that, "In animated cartoons, contrary to what one may think, the needs of graphics do not necessarily correspond to the needs of movement...

© Dreamland Editeur, 1996 René Laloux. Ces dessins qui bougent&shyp;Cent ans de cinéma d'animation [Drawings That Move-One Hundred Years of Animated Films]. Paris: Dreamland, 1996. 200 pp. illustrations. 248 F.

In his new book, René Laloux states that, "In animated cartoons, contrary to what one may think, the needs of graphics do not necessarily correspond to the needs of movement. Faced with this dichotomy, the artist must find a balance between these two 'enemies,' in order not to prejudice the rights of both: a difficult task easily prone to failure. The easiest way out then, obviously, is to favor one of the two contenders. Consequently, the American School ties drawings to animation; the European School (tied to its cultural heritage) generally tried to do the opposite, basing itself upon graphic imagery. What resulted is very interesting. The total freedom of movement (with its implied association with the Anglo-Saxon taste for nonsense) led Americans to an taste for curved lines, quick movement and comedy, as well as an emphasis on character. In Europe, the emphasis on graphics favored the straight line, slow movement, fantasy and a lesser emphasis on psychology of individual characters."

This is only one of the many pointed, personal and contentious remarks from a highly contentious, personal and pointed book by René Laloux, recently published in France: Ces dessins qui bougent-Cent ans de cinéma d'animation (Drawings That Move-One Hundred Years of Animated Films).

Laloux is a youthful 67, endlessly munching on his pipe (I have never seen him smoking), smiling easily and very caustic. He has made some good shorts and three of the most successful animated features ever made in France: La planète sauvage (Fantastic Planet, 1973), Les maitres du temps (The Masters of Time, 1981) and Gandahar (1981) -- all of which are sci-fi tales. Now he gives us this book, which provides a rare opportunity to learn first hand what his views and opinions are. Animators have provided some of our century's richest and most charming cinematic moments, but they have seldom written their opinions down. So, although we have their films, we are often left wanting as to what their views are (or were).

Ces dessins qui bougent begins and ends like a conventional "history of animation": it starts with a chronological rundown of films and filmmakers, and ends with a long year-by-year filmography. The rest, though, is a wonderfully creative and disorderly discourse, impelled by a pure need to communicate. You feel like you are reading a transcript of one of those endless arguments that festivalgoers get into, when the theater lights are off, but the passion is still hot.

Not by chance, Laloux explicitly includes his memoirs of the glorious Annecy Festival, in France, especially the early editions, when "we were a bunch of young filmmakers with films in competition, like [France's] Jacques Colombat and [Italy's] Pino Zac, to mention only two of those friends, and we denounced with vengeance each and every film which had even the slightest resemblance to animated cartoons or with entertainment aimed at children. We could accept laughter only if it was black comedy or based on 'stupid and evil' ideas (i.e., films by Japan's Yoji Kuri), or anticlerical (i.e., films by Italy's Pino Zac)."

René Laloux © Dreamland éditeur, 1996

What emerges from all this is an intimate self-portrait of Laloux himself. It is shaped by the things he loves, hates or decides to ignore; by the things he sees in himself, or things that are alien to him; anti-Disney idiosyncrasies ("The studio's recent films show an even more pronounced graphic weakness") and an impassioned defense of scriptwriting ("It is difficult to be a real auteur, as very few filmmakers are really able to write an original and well-constructed script, direct actors, edit the film with a good rhythm, compose the right music. The low quality of many films should be blamed first of all on weak scripts and dialogue.") There are even paradoxes and provocations ("Will we be forced to rediscover silence, so we can really express ourselves again in this audiovisual world dominated by noise and void of words?"). And there is, of course (as Laloux being a visual artist who began his career as a painter), a very good selection of illustrations.

Ces dessins qui bougent will probably perplex young readers, or those who are not very knowledgeable about animation. It is far from being objective, accurate or scholarly. It even has its share of misspellings (for instance, Matt Kroening instead of Matt Groening). But it will certainly stimulate the reflections of all those who are still among the happy few. And his ultimate message is very optimistic and simple: animation, he notes, "is an art that you conjugate to the future time."

Giannalberto Bendazzi is a Milan-based film historian and critic whose own history of animation, Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation, was published in the US by Indiana University Press and in the UK by John Libbey. His other books on animation include T opoline e poi (1978), Due voite l'oceana (1983) and Il movimento creato (1993, with Guido Michelone).

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