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Summary And Review Of Understanding Animation By Paul Wells

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Animation and comedy

This chapter is concerned with comedy in the animated film as comedy is the core of most animations and has the capacity to laugh at world and show that things could be different. The animation extends the vocabulary of humour within the live-action film. People do not have the same sense of humor, therefore, being funny is relative. With this perspective “comedy can be silly o subversive, purposeful or perfunctory, observational or offensive, but always possesses energy and ‘life’, the intrinsic imperative of animation”. Wells explains 25 ways to start laughing to present the chronicles and the evolution of humour in the animated film and create a “typology of gags” and comic structures. Some of these ways are “magical surprises, the power of personality, the visual pun, expectation and exploitation, telling it over and over again, literal, visual and verbal gags, everything can mean its opposite”, and so on.

Issues in Representation

The idea that animation is an innocent medium, particularly for children, has inhibited the proper discussion of issues concerning representation. In this chapter Wells problematizes the representation of gender and race in the animations.Wells argues that in Cartoon “‘male’ characters are defined by what they are, and how they behave, while ‘female’ characters are essentially understood by what they look like and through a vocabulary of stereotypical mannerism”. In other words, in animations, femininity is designed in relation with the primary representation of the male characters. As a result, female characters are “predominantly defined as a set of signifiers of femininity, i.e. skirts, panties, high-heeled shoes, etc.”, to only differentiate them from the male model.The other issue that the author discusses in this chapter is the “race in context”. The issue of representing race in animation is concerned by the self-evident racism of cartoon caricaturing until the late 1940s. During the Second World War “the enemy” became the inevitable delineation of “the other” and racism was acceptable among people. In this context the discourse of misrepresentation is very important. Wells claims that the depiction of black characters in cartoons matches with the Arabian and Oriental Stereotypes. He mentioned Said’s theory of Orientalism which suggests “Orientalism is a discourse through which the West has colonised and reinvented the Orient as a mode of ‘otherness’”. Wells believes that race in animation is an important issue and need a careful consideration.

Animation and Audiences

This chapter discuss about the relationship between the spectator and the animated film. Wells mentions that everybody has a memory of watching a Disney movie. Although Disney has a large influence on audiences because of the mass observation, in research, little attention has been given to Disney films. The author conveyed a research to answer this question in particular that “how the Disney Film had affected and influenced children”. To answer this question, he asked a population of 435 adult subjects (45% male, 55% female) about their first recollection of watching a Disney film, in as much details as possible such as the place and occasion they watched the movie, with who, why, whatever they recall from the movie. The goal of his study was to evaluate the actual experience of viewing Disney Films from the perspective of an adult and how they have shaped one’s memory. Wells believes that this process helped him reveal “the real influence and effect that the film had because the memory was being articulated in a way which had already subconsciously determined its significance”. Paul Wells categorised the responses under broad headings (emotional engagements). Consequently, he discovered four dominant themes that structured his discussion:

  1. Empathy and identification: The idea of masculine and feminine identity was being formed and viewers saw aspects of themselves in Disney characters.
  2. Fear and concern: 24.6% noted they had cried or had been afraid when watching Disney animation. Disney creates “formative moments when notion of ‘wholeness’ are disrupted forever, and innocence is fundamentally lost”.
  3. Treats and occasions: The idea of seeing Disney within the family outing is very much coached within “the assumption that the inevitable pleasures (and pains) of seeing the film are rewards for good behaviour by the child and, coincidentally, a celebration of ‘togetherness’ among family and friends”.
  4. Codes of contentment: Each person has a “specific relationship to the films, some find solace, some find pleasure, some find explanation, some are exposed to deep-rooted fears; but, many essentially reconcile tensions between reality and fantasy”. For example, one participant of this research named Joe said, “I loathe Walt Disney. The majority of his work is so sickly sweet as to be unsuitable for diabetics”.

In conclusion Wells ended up this research with this idea that animation texts are not necessarily innocent, heart warming or magical for all viewers. Therefore, animation “should be regarded as a medium which needs proper and careful interrogation”.

Understanding Animation attempted to analyse the “spectacle, meaning and contextual apparatus within the animated form”, but these ideas cannot be definitive for all animations and it can be possibly a different way to understand its creation and purpose.

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