Moving Pictures: A History of American Animation from Gertie to Pixar and Beyond

Rowman & Littlefield. Jun. 2024. 296p. ISBN 9781538160374. $40. FILM
James Blackton’s 1906 Humorous Phases of Funny Faces is probably the first animated cartoon, but Winsor McCay’s 1911 Little Nemo and 1914 Gertie the Dinosaur were arguably the first memorable ones. For decades, cartoons were made primarily for one medium: the cinema. Cartoon efforts during World War II boosted the industry. But by the late ’60s, even with television providing a new venue for consumers, movie cartoons seemed on their last legs, which led to losing the market niche they’d enjoyed for over half a century. In the 1970s, they emerged into the age of the blockbuster cartoon feature. Larson’s (film and animation studies program director, Brigham Young Univ.; A Book About the Film: “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life”) book tells the story of those earlier years. It was a sink or swim business from the start. Pre-Disney cartoons were fillers for movie theater programs, and they were produced quickly but had a thin profit margin. Then came Disney’s 1928 Steamboat Willie, and after a period of fumbling, cartoons became an art form.
VERDICT Primarily for cinema buffs but interesting enough for general appeal. Larsen is immensely knowledgeable about the history of animation, and he writes lively prose.
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