- The Animated Text: Definition
The aim of this article is to construct a theoretical definition for animation, a definition that can be used as a basis for further study of the field.
Why is such a definition necessary? Why should animation be considered a separate category in academic research? Animation holds an ever-growing place in the media, especially with the emergence of new media—examples include the employment of computergenerated imagery in live-action films, the use of animated diagrams and game characters by computer software, and the animation of the traditional newspaper comic strip in its Internet incarnation. One byproduct of this process is that the status of animation in the vocabulary of the media world becomes less and less clear; it becomes difficult to separate animation from other forms of media as it becomes more embedded within those forms.
This embedment is not a new phenomenon; it accompanied animation long before the appearance of new media—as evidenced by the fact that for a long time, animation theoretical discussions were mostly part of general film theory, despite the fact that animation and cinema (as argued and demonstrated further in this article) are actually two separate fields. Animation scholar Alan Cholodenko has argued that animation should not be discussed as a subfield of film because it is actually the other way around—every film is “animated” in the sense that live-action films animate “still images called ‘photographs’” (212–13).
However, it is the position of this article that defining animation as a separate entity—one that is also different from the live-action film—is necessary. The necessity of performing such separation when examining a media text stems from the fact that the relationship between animation and the reality on which it comments are different from other such relationships in the media. For example, in 1999, the BBC documentary show Walking with Dinosaurs came under criticism for its use of computergenerated imagery to portray realistic-looking dinosaurs in what was classified as a scientific documentary—especially the producers’ claim of “accurate vision of paleontology” for what was, in essence, scientific speculation (van Dijck 6–7, 12–15). This example demonstrates the current status of animation in the media world, a status that gradually increases with the constant improvement of technology: animation is a leading tool for blurring the distinction between reality and representation, often through its blending into other forms of media. The ability to distinguish animation from the other forms of media, therefore, is a necessary skill for the twenty-first-century media reader.
Animation as Text
That animation is a genre is a common misconception. A genre, as demonstrated by Arthur Asa Berger in his book Popular Culture Genres, is a set of content and style conventions common to a group of texts that readers come to [End Page 3] expect when approaching a text of that group (29–43). Animation spreads across a wide variety of contents and styles. One source of confusion that leads to the treatment of animation as a genre is the term “cartoon” that is often applied to animation. “Cartoon” is indeed a genre, defined by Terrance Lindvall and Matthew Melton as comic animation (203–04). The cartoon genre played an important role in shaping the early stages of American cinematic animation, and as a result, it shaped the common perception of animation; however, it is by no means the only genre in animation. The development of early animation outside the United States often took a very different direction from the comic attributes of the cartoon genre, in both content and style. Produced between the 1920s and 40s, German animator Lotte Reiniger’s cutout films were adaptations of fairy tales and musical pieces with a general atmosphere of seriousness. These films had comic moments, but comedy was not their focus. In fact, the same can be said about the transition of the American animation industry from short films to features. When Walt Disney produced the first American animated feature-length film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), the film’s overall narrative frame was that of a serious dramatic tale; the film had its share of...