Episode 16 heralds the first Fantasy/Animation crossover instalment, with Chris and Alex joined by Michael Glass and José Arroyo, also known as the Eavesdropping at the Movies team. The focus of their discussions is Pixar’s feature film Coco (Lee Unkrich, 2017), a computer-animated fantasy inspired by the Mexican ‘Día de los Muertos’ (Day of the Dead) holiday. Seizing their moment, the foursome touch on issues of cultural specificity, authenticity and appropriation; its expressive use of luminescent lighting to illuminate its styles and details; and the themes of grief, ancestry, history and heritage that support the structures of a film whose two interconnected worlds of life and death are powered by the vitality of memory.
In episode 15, Chris and Alex log on to Tron (Steven Lisberger, 1982), a watershed moment in the history of computer animation and one that taps into the early electronic spectacle of digital visual effects within a Hollywood context. Representing the wonder of - if not the cultural anxieties surrounding - the newness of computers and virtual reality (as well as the growing popularity of videogames), the film reframes cyberspace as a complex three-dimensional fantasy world. Tron invites spectators into the labyrinthine geographies of hardware and software, asking us to marvel at a series of magical mainframes but also to speculate over what digital technology might look like, and how it could be represented onscreen.
Recorded live at the London Anime & Gaming Con during a special “Fantasy in Anime” panel on Saturday 16th February 2019, this bonus episode of the Fantasy/Animation podcast has Chris and Alex joined by an audience of passionate Japanese anime fans brought together through the Animeleague community. Tune in to hear an energetic discussion of anime authorship, the role of fantasy and imagination in cartoon narratives, and the creative compatibility between characterisation and design.
Far from being unlucky, episode 13 offers listeners a bumper line-up as Chris and Alex are joined by special guest Jez Stewart - curator at the BFI National Archive and expert on British animation history - to talk about Animal Farm (John Halas and Joy Batchelor, 1954). Taking on this celebrated animated adaptation of George Orwell’s popular novel, they discuss the production history of Britain’s first animated feature film and the vital role of archival material, alongside broader questions of cartoonal allegory via the narrative’s heavy politicised visions of anthropomorphic left-wing uprising.
Episode 12 takes Chris and Alex to feudal Japan as they get to grips with Laika studio’s stop-motion feature film, Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight, 2016). The thorny question of animation’s inherently self-reflexive identity and status as anti-illusionist art; the magic of fantasy storytelling and spectatorship; and the medium specificity of object animation provide just some of the topics involved in their own critical battle with this popular fantasy/animated samurai epic.
Episode 11 marks Chris and Alex’s first venture to the small screen, offering a rundown of Matt Groening’s recent television series Disenchantment, which first premiered in August 2018 on Netflix. A fantasy sitcom visualised through Groening’s signature animated style (including the requisite character overbite), Disenchantment parodies the archetypes familiar from fantasy mythology. From hard-drinking princesses to sweet-toothed elves, its playful swipes at fantasy storytelling feed into an overriding irreverence that fully exploits animation’s subversive potential, as Groening’s series sets about both constructing and deconstructing the terms of its own animated world.
For the 10th episode, Chris and Alex travel to Polynesia to tackle their first computer-animated film - Walt Disney’s all-singin’, all-dancin’ and all-digital musical Moana (Ron Clements and John Musker, 2016). They are joined by Dr Catherine Wheatley (Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at King’s College London) to discuss the film’s gender politics and feminist register; its beautiful Samoan and Tokelauan-language soundtrack (with songs written and composed by Opetaia Foa’i, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Mark Mancina); its ambivalent status as typical Disney fare; and the ‘tiny details’ that comprise its message of diplomacy and female empowerment.
The ninth episode takes Chris and Alex up to the rooftops of London as they tackle Walt Disney’s fantasy musical Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964). This song-and-dance celebration follows the adventures of Mary, Bert and the Banks children, including their famous journey into the wonderful world of animation. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Episode eight sees Chris and Alex discuss the eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, 2018). As the first Marvel film to feature a predominantly black cast, Black Panther offers the opportunity to situate fantasy and animation both within the codes of the popular superhero genre, and alongside broader critical questions of black subjectivity in contemporary cinema. Chris and Alex therefore move through an examination of its spectacular use of digital animation in its portrayal of Third World-but-secretly-techno-heavy Wakanda; the fruitful overlap between science-fiction and fantasy cinema as categories of classification; and post-Trump Afrofuturist identity politics. Oh, and they talk a bit about CGI rhinos too.
In episode seven, Chris and Alex encounter ferocious bicycle wheels, music hall stars fishing for frogs using dynamite, and the French mafia in their discussion of the frankly bizarre animated fantasy The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet, 2003). With minimal dialogue and an expressionist, borderline surreal visual style, Chomet’s film - released in the UK as Belleville Rendezvous - is erratic, eccentric and downright charming. It offers spectators a journey through early-1900’s France via some ornate painterly backdrops, and an army of grotesque characters (in the mould of cartoonist Gerard Scarfe) that populate this pedal-powered modern metropolis.