Episode 51 travels back to the late-1980s to look closely at Beetlejuice (Tim Burton, 1988), a film that uses stop-motion, practical effects, prosthetics, make-up and bluescreen to complete its fantasy story of netherworlds, outsiderdom and life after death. Joining Chris and Alex is special guest Jingan Young, playwright, screenwriter, journalist and academic who is the editor of ‘Foreign Goods’ (the first collection of British Chinese plays published in the UK) and a regular contributor to The Guardian and Hong Kong Free Press, who has also recently completed a PhD in Film Studies at King’s College London. Listen as they discuss the tonally abrasive qualities of Tim Burton’s film and its shifts into haunted house horror; narratives of conquest, and how this connects to Beetlejuice’s take on white privilege and U.S. national identity; Michael Keaton’s performance and the figure of the trickster; the racialised use of music and questions of neo-minstrelsy; and how the film’s satirical-political edge gives the animated fantasy a bit of extra bite.
For the podcast’s half century, Chris and Alex tackle a tale of rising tensions between nature and culture, gods and humans, by looking at Studio Ghibli’s animated fantasy feature Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki, 1997). Joining us in this battle of tradition and modernity is anime scholar Dr. Rayna Denison, Senior Lecturer in the School of Art, Media and American Studies at UEA, and author and editor of a number of books, chapters and articles on Japanese animated cinema. These include Anime: A Critical Introduction (2015) and, more recently, an anthology of essays on Princess Mononoke (2018). Listen as they discuss the exchange between the supernatural and historical fantasy (including the film’s dialogue with jidai-geki period cinema); the framing of fantasy as a form of intrusive modernity to identify threats to the magic of nature made by industrialisation; the formal overlaps between director Hayao Miyazaki and filmmaker Yasujirō Ozu through their stylistic evocation of the environment; ferocious female representation and the depiction of gendered labour; Princess Mononoke’s relationship to traditions of narrative ‘thinning’ within fantasy storytelling; and how the film’s use of digital imagery (including its application of the ‘Toonshader’ software) can be used to understand Studio Ghibli’s ambivalent relationship to computer graphics during the 1990s.
As mentioned in the episode introduction, please visit the recent Fantasy/Animation blog post that offers a significant range of resources that amplify non-White voices and celebrate the creative and scholarly achievements of people of colour. These sources support vital conversations around diversity and inclusion that we will continue to hold across the website, blog and podcast.
Recorded live at the Portsmouth Bookfest on Tuesday 25th February 2020, this bonus episode of the podcast has Alex flying solo as he interviews artist and illustrator Graham Humphreys, best known for designing the iconic film posters for horror features The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1981) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984). Tune in to hear Graham reflect on his forty years of experience working in graphic illustration as one of the UK’s celebrated poster artists, and introduce his new book Hung, Drawn and Executed (2019) that collects together his artwork, paintings, drawings and colour studies.
Episode 48 is a mid-1990s feast of action, water, and a drenched Kevin Costner, as Chris and Alex attempt to stay afloat for their visit to Waterworld (Kevin Reynolds, 1995), the ill-fated post-apocalyptic action adventure that has earned its place in U.S. film history seemingly for all the wrong reasons. The special guest for this instalment is Simon Brew - founder and editor at Film Stories magazine/podcast - who joins Chris and Alex to discuss the pleasures of high-concept blockbuster filmmaking in the 1990s; Waterworld’s notoriously troubled production that dominated the Hollywood trade press before, during and after its release; the industrial context shaping Reynold’s film (including its application of physical sets in an era of encroaching digital technology and computer animation); the challenges of world-building on water; VFX connoisseurship and audience reception; and how the environmentalist discourse regarding melting polar ice caps pushes the Waterworld away from disaster/science-fiction territory and into science fact.
Episode 47 bobs along on the bottom of the beautiful briny sea, with Chris and Alex gliding far below the rolling tide
and through the bubbly blue and green for this latest episode of the podcast, which this week looks at musical fantasy Bedknobs and Broomsticks (Robert Stevenson, 1971). In addition to the film’s political agenda and 1940s wartime setting, the discussion also takes in both the Hollywood cinema and Disney Feature Animation contexts (including its formal resemblances to Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book); what Bedknobs and Broomsticks’ depiction of an illusory and imaginary London means for the organisation of fantasy against its fictional reality; the integration of musical numbers and questions of utopia; national identity and the representation of Nazism; the variant relationships between animation and sport as equally stylised practices; and how Robert Stevenson’s film gestures to postwar British cinema and the “spiv” cycle. Oh, and there’s a couple of references to Bruce Forsyth too.
For Episode 46, Chris and Alex take a magic carpet ride through the pleasures and problems of the recent musical fantasy Aladdin (Guy Ritchie, 2019). Joining them for a discussion of exactly how (and indeed if) it adapts Disney’s highly successful 1992 cel-animated musical is the film’s VFX Editor Myles Robey, whose work also includes the Harry Potter franchise and feature films Skyfall, Muppets Most Wanted, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and the recent 1917. Listen as they examine the production pipeline of a Hollywood blockbuster, including Previs, Postvis and the development of “Sketchvis” approaches in Ritchie’s remake; the application of live-action footage as a visual effect within a heavily digital feature; the logic of location shooting and the ‘grounding’ of computer graphics; Aladdin’s connections to the Classical Hollywood musical and its spectacle of staging; and the relationship between Will Smith’s star persona and screen performance.
Bless my soul, we are definitely on a roll with Episode 45 of the Fantasy/Animation podcast, which continues the Disney Renaissance theme in its take on Hercules (Ron Clements and John Musker, 1997). To make sense of the visual culture of antiquity manifest in Disney’s cel-animated musical fantasy and its adaptation of Greek myth, Chris and Alex are joined by Edith Hall, Professor of Classics at King’s College London and a specialist in ancient Greek literature and cultural history. Listen as they discuss the film’s reworking of Hercules, Hades and Philoctetes alongside questions of tragedy, comedy and images of slavery; its combination of celebrity culture with Greek heroism and masculinity; the politics of Disneyfication operating in Hercules as a process situated between authenticity and animated representation; the visual character designs of British political cartoonist Gerard Scarfe; and its exhibitionist use of computer graphics in its portrayal of the multi-headed Hydra.
Voted for by the Fantasy/Animation community on social media as the inaugural #feelgoodfananim, Episode 44 of the podcast looks at the Walt Disney studio’s cel-animated feature The Emperor's New Groove (Mark Dindal, 2000). Chris and Alex are also joined by their very first returning guest, award-winning animator Astrid Goldsmith (a.k.a. Mock Duck Studios), to discuss the troubled production history, buddy narrative and anarchic comic structures of a film that marked a seismic formal shift in the familiar Disney style. Or did it? Listen as the trio make their way through The Emperor’s New Groove’s adherence to the Disney formula and its ambiguous relationship to the Disney Renaissance, while remembering the landscape of Hollywood animation in the 1990s where the film began life as “The Kingdom of the Sun”. Other topics include the fantasy of The Emperor’s New Groove’s strongly self-reflexive register and complex use of voiceover narration; character design, anthropomorphism and talking llamas; and what happens if you pull the wrong lever.
To all our listeners, stay safe and remember, no touchy!
Take a trip on a magic theme park ride with a Ranger, Barbarian, Magician, Thief, Cavalier and Acrobat as Chris and Alex turn once again to the small screen, this time to discuss Dungeons & Dragons (Kevin Paul Coates, Dennis Marks and Takashi, 1983-1985). Premiering on American television with CBS and animated by Japanese company Toei Animation, Dungeons & Dragons is a high fantasy cel-animated series that follows the tribulations of six young children as they strive to escape from a mythical realm. They are guided on their quest by the Dungeon Master, who allocates each of the characters a key role in the battle against evil forces, embodied by the wizard Venger and a five-headed dragon Tiamat. Topics include the structures of serial narration and worldbuilding, and how these elements map onto the real-world Dungeons & Dragons game as a set of props; the issue of ‘play’ both inside and outside the programme as part of its broader ludic impulse; the series’ ‘limited’ cartoonal style (including traditions in Syncro-Vox voice production); and the pleasure in fantasy storytelling of simply going along for the ride.
Join Chris and Alex for a discussion of the animated high fantasy epic Wizards (Ralph Bakshi, 1977), recorded in front of a live audience at the Cinema Museum in Kennington, London in January 2020. Conceived by animator Ralph Bakshi, Wizards is a counter-cultural marvel of the 1970s, one that blends a series of innovative animation styles with a story designed to stick two fingers up at the man with its heady mixture of psychedelia, allegory and fantasy. Listen as the conversation turns to the film’s relationship to politics and propaganda through its mixed media aesthetic and formal style; how Wizards mobilises its adult themes, socio-realism and gender politics, and how this appealed to a generation fed on a diet of Disney cartoons; the reflexivity of a narrative that pits forces of technology against the forces of magic; and how the fantasy of its creative illustrations contributes to the status of Wizards as an often overlooked masterpiece from the history of U.S. animation.