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.

Read More
Review: Sci-Fi Ball 25

Since its launch back in 1994, the annual Sci-Fi Ball has become a highlight on the UK’s convention circuit, establishing itself as one of the south coast’s most high-profile and bustling an events (see right). Now in its 25th year and still going strong, this annual non-for-profit celebration (all funds are donated to Teenage Cancer Trust) of science-fiction across film, television, gaming and beyond attracts a roster of industry dignitary from the genre’s past, present and final frontier.

Read More
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.

Read More
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.

Read More
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]).

Read More
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…

Read More
‘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’.

Read More
Review: Mary Poppins Returns (Rob Marshall, 2018)

It is a common mistake to suggest that Disney’s Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964) is perfect. She never once claimed to be such a thing. In fact, I imagine she would have been quite indignant at the very suggestion. “Practically perfect”, that was the expression she used. Not perfect, but close enough to perfect for us not to quibble too much over the difference.

Read More
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.

Read More
‘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.

Read More
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.

Read More
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.

Read More
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).

Read More
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.

Read More
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.

Read More
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.

Read More
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.

Read More
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.

Read More
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.

Read More
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.

Read More