Going Down in Cartoon History

Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, by Michael Barrier – This book looks at the history of animation from its early days up through the sixties, when cartoon studios were focusing more on television than on theatrical releases. There’s obviously a lot of attention paid to Disney, Warner Bros., and MGM. The Fleischers and Paramount receive some coverage as well, and interestingly there’s also a chapter on UPA, a lesser-known studio responsible for Mister Magoo and Gerald McBoing-Boing. I was struck by how much seemed to be trial-and-error in the early days, even on a big-budget picture like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and by how much turnaround there was with the animators. There was some discussion on the working atmosphere in the different studios, and on how they all tried to outdo each other. While I knew the Fleischers did a Gulliver’s Travels cartoon, I wasn’t aware that it was a feature-length picture released not long after Disney’s Snow White. I find the Flesicher style of animation pretty interesting, with the characters constantly in motion and a gag in every scene. Disney eventually developed into their more realistic sort of animation, but that wasn’t always the case. One constant, however, seems to be that Walt Disney was a very difficult guy to work for.

With Warner Bros., it was interesting to learn about the development of some of their popular characters. Bugs Bunny essentially evolved from several earlier cartoon rabbits, with the first cartoon in which the character truly emerged being A Wild Hare, released in July 1940.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers all the hubbub surrounding Bugs’s fiftieth birthday in 1990. Bugs was named after cartoon director Ben “Bugs” Hardaway, and his voice is said to be a combination of Brooklyn and Bronx accents. Another interesting bit of WB trivia is that the Roadrunner’s voice is that of background painter Paul Julian, who would make the sound when carrying a painting down the hall.

Barrier is quite knowledgeable about the subject, and can be quite a harsh critic at times, especially regarding the Disney features. The book is definitely something I’d recommend for anyone interested in cartoons.

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