Posts in EDITORIAL
Notes from an Angry Queer: Compulsive Heteronormativity in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

All too often, when a new game or film or television show that includes the barest representation of the LGBTQ+ community is announced, an inevitable, angry chorus of cisgender, heterosexual people shout out in unison: I’m fine with gay people, but why do you have to shove it down my throat like this? Thankfully, the media producers in question usually forge ahead, much to the delight (or chagrin – no one piece of media is perfect) of the LGBTQ+ community. But then, if even the smallest crumb of queer representation is enough to make cishet people choke, then is the same true for a queer person forced to navigate society’s constant stream of compulsive heteronormativity?

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Creating People Cat People

My name is Eric Polley, and I am the creator of People Cat People (2018-). People Cat People is an animated web series that focuses on the day-to-day lives of the characters of a small group of feline humanoids that inhabit a fictional planet called the People Cat People Planet. There is no main character or single overarching plot line. Instead the series focuses on several shorts that aim to introduce and resolve conflict within one standalone episode.

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Laika and the Two Worlds: Deconstructing the Illusion of Stop-motion Animation

André Bazin’s “Ontology of the Photographic Image”  states that “the photograph as such and the object in itself share a common being, after the fashion of the fingerprint” (2005: 15). For Bazin, the fingerprint is symbolic of an imprint of the material object; the finger. Yet I cannot help but think of this symbol of filmmaking when I watch stop-motion animation – a process by which an animated world is created; often out of clay but also other materials, and brought to life by a series of photographs documenting miniscule movements to imitate life.

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Fantastic German Fox: The National Identity of Reineke Fuchs (1937)

In the chapter “Fantastic French Fox: The National Identity of Le Roman de Renard as an Animated Film” for the edited collection Fantasy/Animation: Connections Between Media, Mediums and Genres (2018), I alluded to the three different versions of Le Roman de Renard – France’s first feature-length animated film – that existed over the course of its production history. These were the unfinished silent cut from 1930, the German edit in 1937, and finally the official French release of 1941.

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Fantasy and the Re-Animation of Othered Cultures

The intersection of fantasy and animation is increasingly also an intersection of nationalities and cultures. The world’s best known animation studios often look beyond their own cultures for inspiration, exploring and representing people, mythologies and folklore from across the globe. Japan’s Studio Ghibli, for example, frequently adapt Western sources, creating fantasy-inflected variations on European countries (Howl’s Moving Castle [Hayao Miyazaki, 2004]) or indeterminate settings bearing both Japanese and European influence (Kiki’s Delivery Service [Hayao Miyazaki, 1989]; Arrietty [Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010]; When Marnie Was There [James Simone & Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2014]).

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The Fantasy of Animated Documentary?

When I attended the BFI launch of the book edited by the estimable conveners of this blog, Chris Holliday and Alex Sergeant’s Fantasy/Animation, I was that annoying person in the audience to ask the first, really obvious, question. Admittedly one that betrayed the fact that I hadn’t yet read their book (something now, ahem, rectified) and also my own research interests and agenda. Isn’t all animation, due to its constructed nature, in some way fantasy? And if so, if animation implies fantasy and fantasy implies animation, I queried, where does that leave animated documentary? And that, dear reader, is how you find yourself pressganged into writing a blog post…

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‘Let’s do that again!’: How to reboot Shrek in 2018

Back in November, Variety caused a furore online by reporting that Chris Meledandri, the Illumination founder and Despicable Me (2010) producer charged with overseeing DreamWorks Animation after its acquisition by Comcast, was planning on ‘rebooting’ the Shrek series. ‘Reboot’ typically refers to starting from scratch with a film franchise, recasting the characters and restarting the narrative. If Variety had read their own interview, they would have noticed that Meledandri actually said that ‘while you certainly could make a case for a complete reinvention, I find myself responding to my own nostalgic feelings of wanting to go back to those characterizations’.

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Documenting Fantasy: The case of the animated mockumentary The Last Dragon (2004)

If animation and documentary make an anomalous couple, fantasy, animation and documentary make an extremely far-fetched threesome. Yet, in Justin Hardy’s mockumentary The Last Dragon (2004) they conjoin. This TV movie purports to be a partially animated documentary that attests to the existence of one of fantasy’s iconic symbols: the dragon. More precisely, the film takes the form of “an evolutionary natural history “what if?”” (Foley in Murray 2005: 67) documentary that, similarly to Peter Jackson and Costa Botes’ staple live-action mockumentary, Forgotten Silver (1995), is composed of two interwoven stories.

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‘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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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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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 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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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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The Subversive Horror of Fantasy and Animation

Fantasy and animation, especially when combined, are often associated within popular discourse with children’s media. Referring predominantly to stop-motion animation, this post offers some thoughts on what the intrinsic association between children, fantasy and animation might mean in the context of another genre which has a more problematic relationship with child audiences: horror.

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