- The World History of Animation by Stephen Cavalier
Stephen Cavalier. University of California Press, 2011, 416 pages.
The World History of Animation is a survey of a hundred years of animation history not only from the East and the West but also from former socialist countries. Using nationality as its point of departure, the book summarizes significant works of animation, influential animators, and the animation industry in the context of volatile social changes, including the rise of fascism, the development of technology, and the two world wars. At 415 pages, The World History of Animation provides a phonebook sized compendium of animated media, including film, puppet, television, avant-garde art, claymation, lo-fi animation, sand animation, computer generated imagery (CGI), and 3D animation. Cavalier does not miss small but powerful pieces of animation in the world. The World History of Animation focuses on individual works, yet also explores the history of animation, questioning how animation is related to various societies. Cavalier’s approach is chronological and makes animation credible as cultural and social texts that reveal animators’ agendas and the periods they lived through. Thus, the book offers a general picture of how social and historical events effect and are reflected in the contents and styles of animation.
Following a forward by French animation director Sylvain Chomet, the book details the relationship between old and new animation. It opens with a brief history of legendary French cartoonist Emile Cohl’s animation work in the early 20th century. Cohl belongs to the Incoherents, a group of artists that contributed to a rudimentary phase of surrealism, and his passion for criticizing Modernism appears in his work Fantasmagorie (1908), featuring imaginative and deformed absurdist drawings. Cavalier contends that Cohl’s style has influenced some contemporary animation programs such as South Park (8). Similarly, Cavalier suggests that the invention of zoetrope was an incipient phase of animation, noting that the Japanese studio’s Ghibli Museum exhibits a 3D zoetrope (10). In short, Cavalier traces the historical antecedents of contemporary animation around the globe in order to display the continuity and world history of animation.
The chapter “Brief Histories of World Animation” concerns animation productions from selected countries in North America, Eastern and Western Europe, and Asia. It begins with a North American animation history, which includes a useful chart about must-see animation films produced from 1914 to 2010 (14). In Western Europe, Cavalier focuses on the history of animation in the United Kingdom and discusses the animation studio Halas & Batchelor, established in 1940 in London, as one of the Europe’s biggest animation studios (19). The section on Russian and Eastern European animation history reviews historically significant animators such as Ladislaw Starewicz, who is recognized as Russia’s first animator, and Czech stop-motion animator Jiri Trnka, whose puppets have also been internationally acclaimed. Cavalier’s history of Asian animation succinctly touches upon Korean, Chinese, Indian, and Japanese traditions. Each section contains astute analysis of the intricate relationships between the animation industry and contemporary politics and art movements.
The rest of the book is divided into chronological eras. In the 1920s, Dadaism and Cubism, which produced nonsensical, incongruous work by abandoning traditional art forms and aesthetics, influenced European animation. French artist Fernand Leger and Swedish artist Vinking Eggeling incorporated Dada aesthetics of travesty in their work (82-84). European animators also kept a keen eye on the rise of fascism. Far from being indifferent to social upheavals, animators often embraced social chaos and disarray by drawing illustrations inspired by it (20). For instance, German animator Hans Richter’s film Studie (1926) is a classic, enigmatic work in which multiple images of eyeballs suggest a surveillance society that he clearly repudiates (92). Beyond the 1930s, technologies enabled animation productions to create vibrant characters and realistic illustrations, and at the same time animation gained a power to tell convincing stories. Animation thereby became a crucial medium to convey a message to the public. [End Page 39]
The World History of Animation briefly mentions the relationship between animation studios and propaganda. In the wake of World War II, many animation studios in many countries catered to...