Chris and Alex return to the work of the Fleischer studios for episode 29, following up their discussion of Gulliver’s Travels with Mr. Bug Goes to Town (Dave Fleischer, 1941), similar in concept and design to its predecessor and loosely inspired by Belgian poet Maurice Maeterlinck's book The Life of the Bee (1901). The second (and final) cel-animated feature film produced by the Fleischers, Mr. Bug Goes to Town negotiates the conflict between an insect community and the threatening human world, all framed by an environmental narrative of modernisation, redevelopment and urban sprawl. Expect turns to the layered organisation of fantasy spaces and geographies of diverse scales; the film's connection to traditions of ecocritical cinema and contemporary computer-animated filmmaking; the depiction of rapid urbanisation and the metonymic forces of capitalism (and the role of cigars!); and animation’s representational history of blackface and racial coding.
Episode 28 sees Chris and Alex joined in their world of pure imagination by Stuart Messinger, VFX Coordinator on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Tim Burton, 2005), to discuss the part-musical, full-fantasy and live-action/CGI adaptation of Roald Dahl’s popular story. Topics include Stuart’s work on the film in digital visual effects at the Moving Picture Company; the collaborative nature of multi-studio effects production on feature-length blockbusters; the practical and artistic challenges of animating live-action plates; the combination of 2D (matte) and 3D (sub-surface scattering) technologies; and the integration of realist aesthetics together with the surrealistic imagery and fantastic stylisations conjured by Dahl’s original 1964 story.
Episode 27 has Chris and Alex swinging their way into a superhero-filled multiverse to discuss the narrative strategies and visual dynamism of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, 2018), the highly-successful computer-animated feature film from Sony Pictures Animation. Caught in the fantasy/animation web for this latest instalment is Simran Hans, film critic and culture writer whose work has appeared in The Observer, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Dazed, The Fader and Sight & Sound. Topics for discussion include Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s unique formal design and flattened style that reinvigorates computer-animated film aesthetics; superheroes, space and moments of stasis; forking path narratives and the fantasy of twice-told tales; and the role of family relationships as the film’s main structuring principle.
For episode 26, Chris and Alex are joined by special guest Barry J.C. Purves, renowned stop-motion animator, director and screenwriter who is also the author of Stop Motion: Passion, Process and Performance (Burlington, MA: Focal Press, 2007). The focus of their conversation is the monster epic King Kong (Peter Jackson, 2005), the digital VFX-heavy remake of the original 1933 film of the same name, and a film upon which Barry himself worked as part of the animation department. Topics for discussion include the labour involved in the interaction between live-action and digital elements; the economy of King Kong’s symmetrical narrative structure; and the power of stop-motion’s objects as they become storytelling agents, as well as turns to William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde and Greek tragedy along the way.
Venturing to Middle-earth, and ably accompanied on this opening stage of their podcasting quest by Shaun Gunner, chairman of the Tolkien Society, Chris and Alex discuss the first of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptations, The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). Journeying from the Shire on the way to Mount Doom, episode 25 debates Tolkien’s ability to craft believable genealogies and histories in his high fantasy realms; cartography, map-making and the geographical consistency of fictional worlds; and the film’s relationship to post-millennial Hollywood franchises via technological developments in digital visual effects.
Episode 24 takes a walk through the terrain of animated documentary, with Chris and Alex joined by Dr Bella Honess Roe (Senior Lecturer and Programme Director for Film Studies, University of Surrey) to discuss the relationship between truth, authenticity and animation in Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008). Documenting his own personalised account of the Lebanon war, Folman’s feature film provides a useful test case to think about how fantasy and animation might be applied within a non-fiction context. Topics for discussion include the ability of animation to represent trauma (including its depiction of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre); the veracity of animating dreams and memory; and the medium’s veiling properties as a mode of historical or personal distraction. The result is both the framing of Waltz with Bashir as a crucible moment that reignited scholarly interest in animated documentary, and a reflection on how Folman’s film crystallises memory as itself as a combination of the factual and fantastical.
In episode 23, Chris and Alex turn to the work of the Fleischer studios, looking at the second North American animated feature film Gulliver’s Travels (Dave Fleischer, 1939), an adaptation of Jonathan Swift’s seminal work of fantasy fiction. As something of a follow-up to Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (David Hand, 1937), the film raises questions about animation’s creative ability to render perspectival shifts and ‘scaled’ imagery of ‘big’ versus ‘small’; world-building and the intrusive fantasy of human figuration; and the surrealist design of the Flesichers’ characters offset against Disney’s more ‘hyperrealist’ aesthetic. We suggest that Gulliver’s Travels stands as an imaginative development of animation in the U.S. context, with a playful visual register in the presentation of Lilliput that uses the drama of shifting dimensionality to speak to the emotional function of fantasy spaces for children.
Episode 22 marks a return to the small screen, as Chris and Alex discuss the BBC television stop-motion animated series Pogles’ Wood (Oliver Postgate, 1965-1967), produced by renowned British production company Smallfilms. The Fantasy/Animation team are joined for this latest installment by Simon Costin, artist, set designer and director of the Museum of British Folklore, a project devoted to celebrating and researching the UK's rich folkloric cultural heritage. Weaving their way through this staple of sixties British television, the trio examine stop-motion techniques and the craft of puppetry, the integration of magic and wonder into idyllic pastoral visions, and broader traditions of British fairies, folktales, and fantasy.
In episode 21, Chris and Alex are joined by Steve Henderson - Editor of the Skwigly Online Animation Magazine and Co-Director of the Manchester Animation Festival, and Senior Lecturer in Animation at the Manchester School of Art - to discuss the Disney animated musical Aladdin (Ron Clements and John Musker, 1992). With the live-action/CG remake soon to hit cinema screens, this episode provides the perfect opportunity to revisit what has made this popular cel-animated fantasy so enduring among audiences. Expect all your wishes granted as the conversation turns to reflexivity and narration, the Disney Renaissance, star voices and vocal artistry, the film’s use of digital visual effects, Orientalist discourse and the representation of ‘Otherness,’ and even the Gulf War. You’ve never had a friend like this podcast!
Episode 20 welcomes Professor Richard Dyer (Emeritus Professor of Film Studies, King's College London and Professorial Fellow in Film Studies, University of St Andrews) to the podcast, joining Chris and Alex to discuss the popular British animated television series Peppa Pig (Neville Astley and Mark Baker, 2014-). Comparing the programme to the work of modernist painter Henri Matisse and filmmaker Béla Tarr, they examine questions of episodic seriality, simplicity and realism in character design, and the politics of niceness, as well as the idea of children as a social construct via the inscription of ‘the child’ into the animated media text. We also talk about Daddy Pig’s big tummy and the joy of jumping in muddy puddles.