Want to elevate your kids to a whole new level of
Geekdom? Turn them into animation historians!
By its very nature, animation has always lent itself to science fiction, fantasy, horror and outrageous satire, because – unlike live action film – every animated image is created by the hand of an artist. OK, maybe not as literally as when Winsor McCay was drawing every individual frame of Gertie the Dinosaur on reams of paper with pen and ink. But still more so than live action photography (at least before the advent of CGI).
Anyway, I’d like to present my personal list of landmarks of animation no Geekchild should grow up without. The choices are based on insight gained working with Academy Award-winner John Canemaker, a comprehensive History of Animation class description I found while researching this article, and years of my young life spent sitting in front of my family’s old black and white boob tube.
So here, in chronological order, 10 Cartoon Classics to Share with your GeekKids:
Jack Mercer, the voice of
Fleischer Studio’s Popeye, was just one of the talents in this feature length, kid-friendly retelling of Jonathan Swift’s satiric masterwork. I saw this many times on TV as a kid, and always loved its Oscar-nominated songs and score and its great comic characters. And I was fascinated by the expressive drawing style of Fleischer’s use of Rotoscoping, a more subtle counterpart to today’s motion capture. (Although several public domain versions exist, Amazon customer reviews recommend this remastered edition.)
2. Pinocchio (1940)
As John Canemaker will tell you,
Pinocchio was one of Walt Disney’s first big-budget extravaganzas. The use of a multi-plane camera gave the oil painted glass panes over a watercolor background more depth and vitality than the standard celluloid (“cel”)
technique. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the little wooden hero plunges viewers from one fast-paced adventure to another. As a kid (I first saw this around age 5 at the Lafayette),
I remember being relieved when Pinocchio and friends landed in the belly of the whale after his harrowing escape from Pleasure Island — an early taste of dramatic catharsis.
3. Bugs Bunny
Disney is about artistry and wonderment; Warner Brothers cartoons are about attitude. And what an attitude Bugs had! Fittingly, my favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons starred Marvin the Martian, in his push-broom
Roman Legion helmet, and the giant hirsute monster from Hair Raising Hare (1946).
See the rest in the Extended Post.
4. Gumby (1954)
Stop-motion animation has been used to make models move in everything from King Kong to The Nightmare before Christmas. And the original Gumby TV series used clay animation to good effect. You can find the old episodes on TV
and DVD, and they’re fine. But for a real mind-blowing experience, sit down with your kid and watch Gumby The Movie.
The 1995 feature includes characters added in the 1980s revival of the show, and it is surreal. Somehow I don’t remember TV Gumby being such a freeform experience, morphing into endless shapes and even splitting apart. The freedom which animator Art Clokey brought to stop-motion animation may have been equaled only by Otto Messmer’s original silent Felix the Cat. Get the VHS, not the DVD, which according to Amazon reviews has had scenes deleted.
5. The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (1959)
Rocky is a flying squirrel, and Bullwinkle makes bad puns about the Rubyait of Omar Kayam. What more could a geek want? How about Mr.
Peabody, the doggy inventor, his boy Sherman and their Wayback Machine? In the 1950’s and ’60s limited animation TV series like The Flintstones and Mr. Magoo
– where only a body part or two would move in any given scene were the norm. But Jay Ward’s comedic sensibility made limited animation unforgettable.
6. Yellow Submarine (1968)
Seeing The Beatles’ animated feature in the theater with my parents was cool because it was as much a grown-up film as a kid film. Plus, with its Peter Max poster vibe, it tied in with the Pop Art sensibility that was starting to permeate the country. I bought the video of this movie as soon as it came out to put away and save for my kids, but it didn’t impress on the first showing. Having been saturated in
Beatlemania by Julie Taymor’s recent Across the Universe, however, I think they’re probably ready for another try.
7. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
Arguably the most convincing combination of live action and animation. And still more attractive (and clever) than such recent 3D
offerings as Scooby Doo (or, heaven forbid, the Rocky and Bullwinkle remake). A combination of film noir design, comic book evil and Warner Brother’s-style zaniness.
8. Toy Story (1995)
With this film Pixar transformed computer animation from a novelty to an art form, ushering in a whole new Golden Age of feature cartoons that continues to this day with great films like this summer’s Wall-E. Kids love it, even without the nostalgic frisson of all those Baby
9. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1998)
I was never particularly excited by Japanese animation, but this film made me a diehard Miyazaki fan. I disagree with Ken’s advice to start with My Neighbor Totoro; set in a European city and employing symbolism which American kids can understand (black cats rather than
Shinto river gods) Kiki is much more accessible — and like all Miyazak films, a nice counterbalance to boycentric Pixar.
10. Flushed Away
Computer animation meets clay animation, and does it fantastically. Aardman Studios was behind Nick Park’s original Wallace and
Gromit adventure, A Grand Day Out, which harked back to Méliès’ early cinematic moon voyage and took the art form to new heights through its meticulously detailed props and deadpan humor. But with Flushed Away, in collaboration with Dreamworks (creator of Shrek, about which more in a future post), Aardman took the Parks look and made something completely unique. Moms will love Hugh Jackman as a hapless James Bond-like mouse. Kids will love the singing slugs. And
GeekDads can enjoy the obsessiveness that put computerized fingerprints on the virtual clay. Something for everyone!
Kathy Ceceri’s book Around the World Crafts: Great Activities for Kids who Like History, Math, Art, Science and More! has a chapter on animated flipbooks.