TALKING ANIMALS AND OTHER PEOPLE: The Autobiography of One of Animation's Legendary Figures by Shamus Culhane

TALKING ANIMALS AND OTHER PEOPLE: The Autobiography of One of Animation's Legendary Figures

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Culhane says, ""Like jazz, animation has made an important contribution to American culture""--and he should know, having spent 58 years working with some of animation's most creative talents as well as such celebrated figures as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto, Pinocchio, Popeye, Woody Woodpecker, and the Seven Dwarfs. When he entered animation, the outstanding works had been those produced by Winsor McCay, the creator of the sublime Little Nemo, who personally drew 10 superb cartoons depicting dinosaurs and other creatures against depth backgrounds. But with the coming of studios, animation started overusing comic-strip symbols: question marks over a character's head, drops of sweat around the head for fear, light bulbs for an idea, and dialogue balloons, all ""in an area parallel to the picture plane, like standup comics working in front of a backdrop."" Working his way up through animation sweatshops, Culhane arrived at Max Fleischer's studio, full of heavy-handed lowbrows and ""Betty Beep"": ""When women were thought of in terms like 'quiff,' 'snatch,' and 'gash,' á la Studs Lonigan, there was no possibility of a story being written where Betty Beep used her charms in a light, flirtatious manner. Betty was a 'good girl' with a hymen like boiler plate, and her sex life would never be more than a series of attacks on that virginity by unpleasant characters with heavy hands."" Starting over again with Disney, who wanted more complicated animated cartoons with sound, such as the wonderful Silly Symphonies which used Disney's new multiplane camera, Culhane found himself soaking in the talents of great writers and animators who could plunge into the emotions of their animated figures. Mickey Mouse, despite his fame, never really developed beyond being a rather bland master of ceremonies, while Goofy, a ""jovial, brain-damaged oaf,"" drew the most intense creative effort from his inspired animators. Culhane takes us through the death of the studios and the rebirth of animation through computer processes, which he thinks will make Disney's greatest works look primitive. Rich, captivating, and insightfully illustrated, it's an engrossing winner.

Pub Date: March 31st, 1986
Publisher: St. Martin's