Christopher Holliday researches animation history and digital media at King's College London (UK).
Alexander Sergeant is a Lecturer in Film and Media Studies at University of Portsmouth (UK), specialising in the history and theory of fantasy cinema.
Each episode, they look in detail at a film or television show, taking listeners on a journey through the intersection between fantasy cinema and the medium of animation.
The Land Before Time (1988) (with Mark Witton)
The spectacular animated world of U.S. filmmaker Don Bluth is the focus of Episode 82, with Chris and Alex journeying to the Great Valley for this discussion of The Land Before Time (Don Bluth, 1988). Joining them is Dr Mark Witton, vertebrate palaeontologist and palaeoartist (based at the University of Portsmouth), who is best known for his scientific research and illustrations around the habits and behaviors of pterosaurs, as well as his consultancy work with museums and on the BBC television series Walking with Dinosaurs (1999) and Planet Dinosaur (2011). Listen as they discuss the importance of Bluth to the landscape of 1980s animation, including his work as a stylistic and ideological forbearer to the Disney Renaissance; The Land Before Time as a collision between mid-/late-twentieth century dinosaur science; the long history of ‘marketing’ dinosaurs that first began in the 1850s within a number of cultural institution and museum exhibits (especially in London and, later, across the U.S.); the storytelling structures and segmentation of the film’s framing journey narrative; Bluth’s tone and characterisation of the dinosaurs that falls back on the physicality and physiology of modern dinosaur images, including discourses of ‘monsterisation’ that have marked several media depictions; the problems of animating science and the artists’ creative latitude in constructing dinosaur performances; and why so many filmmakers across animation history have been continually drawn to the figure of the dinosaur as a creature of fascination.
Sub-Saharan African Animation (1966-2013) (with Paula Callus)
Episode 81 of the podcast provides an introductory survey of Sub-Saharan African animation, as Chris and Alex plot a pathway through a cross-section of animated fantasies covering a multitude of forms, styles and modes from a number of African countries and territories. Joining them is Dr Paula Callus, Associate Professor in Computer Animation at Bournemouth University and an expert in Sub-Saharan African animation, who has also worked as a consultant and educator on the UNESCO Africa Animated projects in Kenya and South Africa, and who has been involved in projects looking at marginalization and the use of digital technologies (with a focus upon Arts, Activism and Marginalization in Nairobi). Listen as they discuss Moustapha Alassane’s Bon Voyage Sim (1966), the earliest short animation from West Africa with a highly political (and amphibious) comic narrative; the quasi-animated documentary Ng’endo Mukii’s Yellow Fever (2013) that interrogates the implications of skin and race via the theme of hair braiding; Iwa (2009) from Nigerian filmmaker, illustrator and art director Kenneth (Shofela) Coker based on West African ‘tree of life’ myths; the colourful British/Kenyan animated television series Tinga Tinga Tales (2010-2012) based on African folktales and featuring both English and Swahili languages; and the science-fiction allegory Pumzi (2009) from writer and director Wanuri Kahiu. Topics include the cultural and historical specificity of fantasy storytelling and the mapping and remapping of folklore across national borders; animation as itself a medium wrought with competing ‘contexts’ shaping modes of production and reception; core/periphery models of understanding global animation practices and their diversity of visual cultures and heritages; post-colonial legacies and how questions of pastness guide how African animation has been culturally and critically understood; Afrofuturism, Afropessimism and animation’s aesthetics of despair; and how fantasy and animation are systematic tools for the subjective on account of their shared ‘immateriality’.
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)
Chris and Alex return once more to the pioneering work of stop-motion animator and effects artist Ray Harryhausen, this time looking at his 1973 fantasy film collaboration with director Gordon Hessler, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. For Episode 80, the focus is on the quasi-parasitic relationship between live-action and animation filmmaking, and the spectatorial fantasy engendered and invited by each form of moving image technology. Topics include psychoanalytic film theory and the ‘internal object’; the ontological integration of Harryhausen’s ‘Dynarama’ effects with the fantasy of location shooting; animation discourse and the problem of essentialist understandings of medium specificity; The Golden Voyage of Sinbad’s orientalist imaginary and problematic constructions of race; the materiality of stop-motion, and the ‘weighty’ qualities to the film’s army of mythical homunculi; and the big-screen trend of casting ‘animators’ as villains in their control and manipulation of suddenly sentient fictional worlds.
Bagpuss (1974) (with Chris Pallant)
Episode 79 marks a special edition of the podcast, recorded back in February 2021 as part of the virtual Fantasy/Animation @ Canterbury Anifest event where Chris and Alex curated a series of podcasts, themed blog posts, a roundtable on the topic of diversity and inclusion (returning to the Anti-Racist Syllabus) and a live Q&A, as well as premiering a brand new Fantasy/Animation podcast episode released exclusively for festival attendees. This Anifest special tackles Bagpuss (1974) the 13-episode stop-motion television series from the celebrated Kent-based Smallfilms studio. Joining Chris and Alex to talk through his ongoing research into both Smallfilms and its founders Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate is Festival Director of the Canterbury Anifest Dr. Chris Pallant, who is also a Reader in Film Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University and President of the Society for Animation Studies. Chris has published widely across film and media studies, including his monograph Demystifying Disney: A History of Disney Feature Animation (Bloomsbury, 2011), and collections Storyboarding: A Critical History (Palgrave, 2015), Animated Landscapes: History, Form and Function (Bloomsbury, 2015) and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: New Perspectives on Production, Reception, Legacy (2021). In this episode, Chris gives us a rundown of his favourite Top 5 Bagpuss episodes, with other topics including the modular structure of the series and its bricolage of storytelling and comic effects; the pleasures of ‘objectness’ vs. anthropomorphic representation; Bagpuss’ particular kind of character expressivity, pose and movement; fantasy rhetoric and the image of the ‘storyteller’; the vocal performances (and musical designs) of folk singing duo Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner; the seduction of the animation archive and locating lost production materials; how to tell animation history, and what gets include/omitted from industrial narratives; and the status of Bagpuss as a signature Smallfilms property, including the role of a saggy old cloth cat in shaping histories of this small but influential animation studio.
Treasure Planet (2002) (with Ron Clements and John Musker)
The 2002 Disney science-fiction epic Treasure Planet (Ron Clements & John Musker, 2002) is the focus of Episode 78 of the podcast, which looks at the melding together of the Disney formula with space fantasy in this swashbuckling adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 adventure novel Treasure Island. Joining Chris and Alex for this bumper episode are two very special guests: Ron Clements and John Musker, who aside from writing and directorial duties on Treasure Planet are known as a filmmaking duo absolutely central to the renaissance of Disney animation in the 1980s and 1990s. They are the writers and directors of a number of Disney feature films, including The Great Mouse Detective (1986), The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin (1992), Hercules (1997), The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Moana (2016), as well as Treasure Planet, the Mouse House’s 43rd animated feature film and one of the studio’s rare turns to the codes and conventions of science-fiction storytelling. Listen as they trace the industrial origins of Treasure Planet and the film’s initial pitching' to Disney chairman and chief executive Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy E. Disney and Thomas Schumacher; the evolution of the story from Ron and John’s early treatment to the first draft of the script; the nature of adaptation and the creative affordances of an animated re-telling; the ‘cyborgian’ identity of Treasure Planet in its combination of traditional technique and digital processing (including its use of the digital painting tool Deep Canvas), and where the film’s ethos of ’something old, something new’ sits in relation to the landscape of Hollywood animation of the 1990s; the creative contributions of animator Glen Keane to the development of John Silver; and remembering the ‘tough period’ for Disney Feature Animation that surrounded Treasure Planet’s 2002 release and subsequent lukewarm critical reception.
The Hunger Games (2012) (with Tarja Laine)
The first instalment of The Hunger Games (2012) franchise, directed by Gary Ross, provides the focus of Episode 77 of the podcast, which looks at the film’s connections to ethics, rationality and affect, and what structures our emotional engagement with its narrative of totalitarian systems and panoptic visions. Joining Chris and Alex to examine the immersive world of Panem is Dr. Tarja Laine, Assistant Professor in Film Studies at the University of Amsterdam and author of the new monograph Emotional Ethics of The Hunger Games (2021), as well as the books Bodies in Pain: Emotion and the Cinema of Darren Aronofsky (2015), Feeling Cinema: Emotional Dynamics in Film Studies (2011) and Shame and Desire: Emotion, Intersubjectivity, Cinema (2007). Listen as they discuss the politics of spectacle, and what it means for Young Adult Fiction to ‘do’ philosophical and ethical enquiry; narrative focalisation and the difference between subjectivity (style), allegiance (narrative) and alignment (ethics); how The Hunger Games invites an ethical engagement through fear, shame and hope; the economy of worldbuilding, structures of myth and how this relates to the fluctuations of character knowledge; how notions of ‘looking’ ultimately prevent access into interiority; and what the mediatised nature of The Hunger Games has to say the contemporary era of social media, where individuals must forge their being and identity in a world in which they are constantly seen and scrutinised.
Just listened to the “Treasure Planet” interview with Musker and Clements. Great questions and discussion, such wonderful insights, and genuine interest in all the pieces of the film making process. Will be tuning in for more!