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Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation
Open your eyes to the whole world of animation
Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation
Giannalberto Bendazzi
Indiana University Press
514 pp.
The scope, and to some extent the purpose, of Cartoons can be summed up with one anecdote. While reading through the book one chilly afternoon, I commented to my sister that Giannalberto Bendazzi seemed to cover every country in the world. She bet me a dollar that she could easily pick a country that wasn't mentioned. After I accepted, she made her guess.

"Latvia."

I flipped through the pages.

"Pay up."

"Latvia produces animation?" (I was surprised too, but I kept my cool. The first rule of being a big brother is to act like you know everything.)

It wasn't until a few days later that I thought about our reactions. Why should we be surprised that animation is produced in Latvia? After all, an animator is merely a person who blends the perfectly normal desire to draw, paint, or sculpt with the somewhat pathological desire to do so thousands of times and photograph the whole thing.

But there you have it. Many of us are guilty of the same crime--ask for a list of animation-producing countries and you'll probably get the USA, Canada, the UK, and Japan as your first guesses, with certain styles, studios and animators standing out.

It's because of these unconscious omissions that Cartoons is not only useful, but necessary. It covers, as the subtitle relates, "One hundred years of cinema animation." And that means 100 years in every continent, excluding Antarctica--and when penguins can hold pencils without falling over, you can be sure they'll be included in any future editions. Covering this much ground is a lot to ask of a 514-page book, but Bendazzi seems to deal with it adequately: in the case of such well-documented studios and eras (e.g., the Walt Disney Studios or the Golden Age of Hollywood in general), he avoids repeating much of what can be found elsewhere, focusing instead on highlights and concentrating on artistry and influences--either the influence of other artists and studios on the studio in question, or vice versa.

This approach leaves considerable space for dealing with lesser-known creators, who get far more in-depth attention (and credit) as a whole than in other animation history books. The net result is that the little guys get about as much coverage as Disney, Warner Bros., and the rest of the big guys.

The slant of this book is an aesthetic as well as an historic one. When pointing out the influences of a particular artist or studio, Bendazzi's assertions are supported by the expected excerpts from books and articles, but also by an astonishing amount of personal correspondence. Coupled with the book's overall structure--chapters are broken down mostly by geography, in roughly chronological order--this weaves a rich, intricate, and personable tapestry of cause and effect within the last century. Here, too, Bendazzi goes the extra mile by showing the links between animation and other art or social movements, rather than the common and rather incestuous practice of focusing on animation as an isolated art form.

Cartoons is filled with illustrations from animated works. There are a couple of clunkers here and there: some don't quite capture the essence of the portrayed character or film, and there are one or two reproductions which aren't quite up to snuff. However, the overwhelming majority are excellent choices and wonderfully reproduced, particularly the 95 colour images in the book's middle. Even the most casual of readers can appreciate the breadth of animation's diversity by just skimming through the pictures.

Towards the end of the book is a list of references, listing books and magazines organized by topic, country, cartoon characters, and so on. The list is, of course, incomplete, but provides enough starting points for people interested in different aspects of the art.

Put simply, Cartoons is a necessary addition to any animation enthusiast's bookshelf, as well as the bookshelves of libraries and schools even marginally interested in fostering interest in animation. Buy it, read it, savour it--and hope that Bendazzi intends to release an updated version sometime soon.

Originally printed in fps #10 (Summer 1996)
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