SERIOUS BUSINESS by Stefan Kanfer

SERIOUS BUSINESS

Cartoons and America, from Betty Boop to Toy Story

KIRKUS REVIEW

 This nicely written and generally informative account provides a cursory though useful history of American animated cartoons. Theater critic and former Time staffer Kanfer (The Last Empire: De Beers, Diamonds, and the World, 1993, etc.) chronicles American cartoons from the silent era to very recent efforts by the Disney Studio, beginning with the primitive, surreal work of innovative legend Windsor McCay, then moving on to document the contributions of the Fleischer Studios (creators of Betty Boop and Popeye), Warner Brothers (Merry Melodies and Loony Tunes), Hanna- Barbera (the Flintstones and others), and, of course, Walt Disney. Kanfer doesn't neglect such lesser known but influential figures as Otto Mesmer (creator of Felix the Cat), Paul Terry (Farmer Al Falfa), Walter Lanz (Woody Woodpecker), and Jay Ward (Rocky and Bullwinkle). Serious Business is a solid introductory text, particularly useful to those with little background in the history and sociology of American animated cartoons, successfully demonstrating Kanfer's proposition that ``in their own eccentric way, [cartoons] provide an extraordinary reflection of the society and politics of their time.'' The problem is that Kanfer wants the book to do more than that: His purpose is, finally, he says, to demonstrate that cartoons also powerfully shape our attitudes, not always for the better. Kanfer addresses such important issues as racism in cartoons, cartoons as war propaganda, and the ways in which cartoons reflect issues of identity, conformity, and even anomie (for instance, Ren and Stimpy and Beavis and Butt-head). While certainly instructive, Serious Business's pockets of brief analysis on such difficult issues fail to offer sufficient depth or insight. Taken as the less ambitious but valuable work it truly is, Serious Business offers a lively, thought-provoking introduction to the fascinating complexity of seemingly simple animated cartoons. (b&w illustrations, 8 pages color illustrations, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 7th, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-80079-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1997




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