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.
For episode 19, Chris and Alex revisit the Walt Disney Studio and its adaptation of Victor Hugo’s nineteenth-century Gothic novel for its cel-animated musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, 1996). A melodrama set against the backdrop of medieval Paris, the film reworks its classic source material and gives it the Mouse House treatment, bringing Hugo’s mature literary Gothicism together with Disney’s ‘cartoon’ principles. Discussion ranges from the film’s evocation of the ‘topsy turvy’ carnivalesque to specific elements of its character design, as Chris and Alex consider how Hunchback’s broader thematic concerns of suppressed sexuality and obsession, damnation, and grotesque horror reconfigure Disney’s (fairy) tale ‘as old as time’ formula.
Episode 18 comes to you live from the 2019 Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference, held in Seattle, Washington, USA! Hear Chris and Alex report on the ins and outs of attending the largest academic media conference in the world, providing you with insights into the various panels, delegates and procedures of the event through a series of interviews with the best and brightest from the worlds of fantasy and animation. Part 2 continues the discussion with Tim Jones (Robert Morris University), Christina Kowalski and Suzanne Richardson (Routledge), Eric Smoodin (University of California, Davis) and Leon Gurevitch (Victoria University of Wellington).
Episode 17 comes to you live from the 2019 Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference, held in Seattle, Washington, USA! Hear Chris and Alex report on the ins and outs of attending the largest academic media conference in the world, providing you with insights into the various panels, delegates and procedures of the event through a series of interviews with the best and brightest from the worlds of fantasy and animation. Part 1 includes interviews with Kristen Moana Thompson (Seattle University), Susan Ohmer (University of Notre Dame), Cristina Formenti (University of Milan) and Murray Leeder (University of Calgary), as well as highlights from Chris and Alex's own panel at the conference titled “Animation, Technology and Identity”, also featuring as speakers Cristina and Mihaela Mihailova (University of Michigan).
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.