Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Animation and War

Kornhaber, D. (2007). “Animating the War: The First World War and Children’s Cartoons.” The Lion and the Unicorn31(2), 132–146. doi:10.1353/uni.2007.0021

In “Animating the War: The First World War and Children’s Cartoons,” Kornhaber asks the question of why animated renderings of war during World War I are so different from those that follow in the 1920s and 1930s. Why do animated texts that appear after World War I seem so much more technical? She also wonders if this shift has anything to do with the medium of animation and its relationship to children (132).

Kornhaber takes a cultural/historical approach to analyzing these questions, looking at the histories of major animators during the period and the relationships between animation and children’s animation. Because many have argued that animation was not originally thought of as a children’s media, Kornhaber takes time to defend the role of cartoons for children, claiming that the first animation in 1910, Little Nemo in Slumberland is about “the fantastical dreams of a sleeping boy” (133). She also notes that the connection between animation and non-fiction have always been present, citing Gertie the Dinosaur as a cartoon that wanted to accurately portray the movements of a dinosaur (134).

After establishing cartoons as children’s material and scientifically driven, Kornhaber looks at animation done during and after World War I. She analyzes two cartoons, The Sinking of the Lusitania and A.W.O.L. Lusitania contains “fastidiously detailed depictions of the technologies involved” (135), but in A.W.O.L the setting of France during WWI shows no consequences of war (i.e. guns, soldires or destroyed buildings) (136). During WWI, cartoons seemed to fall into these categories of either realism or abstractionism.

After WWI, however, cartoons took a different approach to depictions of war. Instead of being either realistic or abstract, “American animation would return to interplay of abstraction and mimesis in its treatments of the war” (137). One example is the animation Felix Turns the Tide, which features realistic artillery, but the battle is won when Felix, a butcher clerk calls in anthropomorphic hot dogs to save the day.  It is also a time when animation turned from being more universal to focusing on the audience of children, with tie-in merchandise. One of the reasons for this connection between war cartoons and very realistic depictions of violence (realistic anatomy and guns) was that many animators were employed by studios contracted by the military, including animators that would move on to work for Disney and Warner Brothers (138). Most of them started out drawing cartoons on cleaning and loading guns or basic first aid (138). So, they drew what they knew.

From YouTube

While Kornhaber is not directly relating her research to rhetoric, she is looking at the way that World War I was shown to the public. At the time, newsreels were important, but film quality meant that animation was a new and much needed technology. It also shows a connection between war and animation from a very early on in the media’s development, and can clue me into why Ari Folman chose to present his argument through animation. This interplay between mimesis and abstraction is particularly significant. In considering Waltz With Bashir, many parts of it are scientifically accurate; a scene with dying horses immediately comes to mind. Yet other parts, where interviewees are describing dreams or events they are unclear on, are more abstract and even surreal. This can better represent the feeling of those memories. Memory is key to Waltz With Bashir and in considering Nemo in Slumberland, the idea of dreams and disjointed memories haunts the piece. Animation is certainly a strong rhetorical resource for the film.

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