‘Wonderland Drama with added Kitchen Sink’: Electricity (2014)

I have to admit that the first time I watched Electricity (Bryn Higgins, 2014) I was not prepared for my emotional response.  This was not only because the film presented its subject material and female protagonist in a compelling way, but also because it appeared to chime with my own research interests into fantasy genre and British cinema (Fig. 1).  I was later delighted to contribute a chapter on the film to the Fantasy / Animation collection, as it certainly embraces both themes, and challenges existing ideas and preconceptions attached to aesthetics, genre and national cinema.

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Inventing Yourself: The Cinema of Robert Zemeckis

Several years ago I had the good fortune to interview the animator Barry Purves about his work. He made the point that if you give a person a mask it’s only then that they’ll you the truth about themselves. This interplay between playfulness and truth certainly has a vital role in one of Robert Zemeckis’ most fascinating moviemaking achievements: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). Amidst all of that film’s visual spectacle and invention, its protagonist, the sombre gumshoe Eddie Valiant, learns to laugh, play and imagine once more. Whilst Zemeckis’s movies are largely synonymous with the genres of fantasy and science fiction, a little more reflection on them suggests that these entertainments are exploring subjective experiences. Zemeckis’s films have often deployed animation and the principles of the medium as part of the cinematic world-building toolkit.

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Review: The Legacy of Watership Down: Animals, Adaptation, Animation

Animated fantasy film Watership Down (Martin Rosen,1978) represents something of a critical cultural conundrum that underwrites its complex status as a children’s feature. On the one hand, this hand-drawn fable - that follows a cross-countryside journey made by a colony of rabbits - represents the best of British animation, with an impressive voice cast (featuring John Hurt, Richard Briers, Simon Cadell and Nigel Hawthorne) giving life to a beautifully evocative cel-animated style that fully demonstrates the pre-digital artistry of paint-and-ink animation production. On the other hand lies its well-established identity as an emotionally traumatic experience, one that trades in themes of political uprising, Fascism and grief, all the while being scored to graphic images of blood, gore, and death.

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Reimagining the Hollywood Teen Movie: Animation, Fantasy, and Teenage Subjectivity

At first sight, Alex Strangelove (Craig Johnson, 2018) starts as a predictable genre film, part of a growing cluster of Netflix teen movies such as The Kissing Booth (Vince Marcello, 2018) and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (Susan Johnson, 2018) available on the streaming platform. It opens with a montage sequence replicating what Roz Kaveney terms as the “anthropology shot” (Kaveney 2006: 56): students representative of social groups and cliques are introduced, as in the opening scenes of 10 Things I Hate About You (Gil Junger, 1999) and Not Another Teen Movie (Joel Gallen, 2001).

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When Hobbits Go Bad: Ralph Bakshi the Fantasy Provocateur

When Christopher Holliday and I first conceived of Fantasy/Animation: Connections Between Media, Mediums and Genres, the animator Ralph Bakshi sprung to mind immediately as an example of an individual whose work I thought would benefit from the methodology we were hoping to inspire within both our edited collection, and through future collaborations on this research network. If you are unfamiliar with who Bakshi is, chances are you are nonetheless a fan of either an animator or live-action filmmaker who has been inspired by his productions.

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Stitching Sound - How to Create Your Own Monster Soundtrack

For the most part the evening air, schools and events will be peppered with the sounds of those going about their Halloween business. You might engage with one of the many cinematic offerings or a spooky audio drama where the images evoke terror but more importantly the sound of classic horror.  In the year where we celebrate 200 years of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), written when she was 19 years old, you may even revisit or be introduced to classic horror via the sounds of the monster’s re-animation. The classics we refer to are usually remembered as a visual feast evoking terror but the sound of the film adaptations of Frankenstein also deserve their place in the homage to horror classics.

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Review: The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Eli Roth, 2018)

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Eli Roth, 2018) marks director Eli Roth’s first foray into family-friendly fantasy, following a career established largely within horror cinema thanks to his directorial debut Cabin Fever (Eli Roth, 2002) and the Hostel films (Eli Roth, 2005-2007), which consolidated the much-maligned and highly graphic “torture porn” subgenre as a strong current of post-millenial Hollywood (see Jones 2013; Kerner 2015). Alongside Death Wish (Eli Roth, 2018) released in March of this year, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is also Roth’s second feature to hit cinemas in 2018.

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Review: Character as Character - Understanding and Appreciating People in Films

This one day Character as Character - Understanding and Appreciating People in Films symposium organised by Dominic Lash (University of Bristol) and Hoi Lun Law (Independent Scholar) took place on Saturday 13th October at the University of Bristol; drawing inspiration for its title from V.F. Perkins’ seminal Film as Film: Understanding and Judging Movies (1972 [1993]). Although the influence of Perkins was only fleetingly acknowledged, the symposium as a whole proved a great showcase for the close and attentive analysis of an otherwise neglected aspect of Film Studies.

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Review: Venom (Ruben Fleischer, 2018)

When Sony announced that they were making a solo vehicle for Venom, one of Spider-Man’s most popular villains, independent of Spidey’s ongoing film series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, many fans were baffled. Not only is Venom an antagonist first and foremost, but more than any other villain his existence is predicated entirely on his relationship with Spider-Man.

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Animation, Fantasy and the Disney/Pixar Dilemma

The shifting place of fantasy within contemporary animation allows us to make some preliminary discriminations about how fantasy’s own icons and images function in relation to the shaping of Hollywood studios and their brand identity. The continued business strength of the U.S. animation industry in the post-millennial period thanks to Pixar Animation Studios, DreamWorks Animation and Blue Sky - as well as the parallel renaissance of Disney Feature Animation - has provided a growing number of critically and commercially successful test cases that showcase where fantasy does (and does not) appear in popular animated media, but also how fantasy has become a default and highly durable viewing strategy utilised by audiences in determining the precise terms of studio authorship.

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The Fantastical Sonic Ambience: Disney Creating Worlds With Music

Imagine if films had no music, would the cinematic medium survive the way it has today? While music can be used as an aesthetic component that enhances the film experience, is also a storytelling device and a language that serves similar purposes to the verbal language in the film context, although it is rarely perceived as such.

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“Something Gruesome and Horrible and Real Gory…But Kinda Cute”: Violet Newstead’s Snow White Fantasy Sequence

These days, I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (David Hand, 1937). Call it a professional interest during its eightieth anniversary year. But here, rather than talk specifically about Snow White, instead I would like to look at my favourite non-Disney reference to it: Violet Newstead’s (Lily Tomlin) Snow White-themed revenge fantasy in the 1980 Feminist political comedy classic 9 to 5 (Colin Higgins, 1980).

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Review: Film as Film Today - On the Criticism and Theory of V. F. Perkins

A wealth of staff and students both past and present came together across two days at the University of Warwick to celebrate and reflect upon the work of V. F. Perkins (1936-2016). It was Perkins’ immeasurable contribution to Film Studies and his writing on popular cinema that would come to form the basis for the superlative Film as Film Today: On the Criticism and Theory of V. F. Perkins conference co-organised with due fondness and feeling by James MacDowell (University of Warwick) and Andrew Klevan (University of Oxford).

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The Trouble with Reiniger?

Over the last eighteen months or so myself and Katharina Boeckenhoff (University of Manchester) have been engaged in archival research on the German animator Lotte Reiniger for a project about craft and animation. During that time I was grateful to be asked to write a chapter in Fantasy/Animation: Connections Between Media, Mediums and Genres on Reiniger by Christopher Holliday and Alexander Sergeant. While this chapter was not directly informed by the archival research we had been involved in, it raised a number of interesting thoughts and potential challenges that informed my writing.

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Review: Saving Christopher Robin - A Review of Two Winnie-the-Pooh Films

In the past twelve months, cinema audiences have been treated to not one, but two films based on the eponymous children’s book character, Winnie-the-Pooh. Both focus on male protagonists and explore the psychological effects of growing up and the responsibilities associated with adulthood. Both are live action dramas with frequent forays into animated fantasy sequences. And both films are British / American co-productions with a strong emphasis on the past, nostalgia and heritage.

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Making is Thinking: Writing a Fantasy Screenplay for a (hoped-for) Animated Film

Right around 2004, I speculatively wrote a feature-length screenplay. In that earliest moment of what has become a very long-running project, the core concept, at the level of theme and character types, was determined. This has now been a fourteen-year process of imagining a family film in the initial form of a screenplay (and I subscribe to the view that the screenplay is definitely not the film).

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Fantastic Products: The Phantasmagorical Appeal of Animated Advertising

This post explores the way ideas of fantasy can provide new insight into animated advertising, and applies these to analyse the recent Ikea advertisement Ghosts (2018) and its use of digital animation. Exploring the long history of a particular form of fantasy, the phantasmagoria, allows a consideration of the ghostly iconography associated with it, as well as its use as a metaphor for the workings of capitalism. 

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The Sounds of Silence (or, What Noises Do Animated Fantasies Make?)

The critical noise surrounding the recent release of horror film A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, 2018) has largely served to amplify its considered (and sparse) application of sound. The film’s narrative certainly explores the implications of selective sound and image arrangement, with the complex interplay between each sonic component used in service of crafting the danger of (largely offscreen) fantasies.

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The Success of Animated Fantasy and Science-Fiction Cinema

When researching my contribution to Christopher Holliday and Alexander Sergeant’s collection Fantasy/Animation, I examined a range of sources that demonstrated the enormous box office success, both in the United States and in the rest of the world, of fantasy and science-fiction movies, and of ‘animation’ (a category here understood to include live action films heavily reliant on computer generated imagery) in recent decades.

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Review: Incredibles 2 (Brad Bird, 2018)

The Hollywood landscape into which Pixar’s twentieth computer-animated feature Incredibles 2 (Brad Bird, 2018) now sits is very different to the filmmaking climate of the original. Back in 2004 when audiences first glimpsed the superheroic exploits of the Parr family – headed by patriarch Bob/Mr. Incredible, wife Helen/Elastigirl, alongside their three children Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack – the resurrection of contemporary superhero cinema was still very much in its infancy.

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