|John Grant: Masters of Animation|
(Trade Paperback), ISBN 0823030415
Reference works don't usually generate that kind of heat. But most reference works don't read like an extended, caffeine-driven rant -- complete with sweeping hand gestures and role-playing -- delivered by an irascible but entertaining curmudgeon with whom you, somewhat reluctantly, agree. John Grant attacks animation with the same passion and sensibility usually reserved for serious literature and the so-named "fine arts." Disinterested it ain't, but it won't put you to sleep either.
Initially, Grant set out to profile 25 animators who married intelligence with creativity to advance the art of visual storytelling. Before he finished, the number of entries swelled to almost forty, plus an apology to all the folks space forced him to omit.
As might be expected from someone who likes his humor fast, furious and surreal, Grant's profiles of the Warner Brothers A-Team prove exceptionally rich in detail and insight. Walt Disney gets his due, as does the chief competitor to Disney Studios, Don Bluth. But you will also find intriguing material on everyone from early giants Winsor McCay (creator of Gertie the Dinosaur), Otto Messmer (Felix the Cat) and the Fleisher Brothers (creators of Betty Boop and Popeye) to Princess Mononoke creator Hayao Miyazaki, Claymation maven Will Vinton and the horrific visions of Czech animator Jan Svankmajer. At last, Hanna & Barbera get some respect, as does Yellow Submarine's George Dunning.
A sense of discovery permeates the volume, thanks in large part to Grant's love of connecting the dots between people, places and projects. Looney Tunes, Tex Avery and Fritz the Cat's Ralph Bakshi -- who knew? Personal interviews play against standard research texts, and the more you think you know about a subject, the more likely you are to be surprised. Animation novices like me will come away with an insider's eye view of the industry that engages the imagination almost as much as the cartoons themselves.
The book's publishers also deserve kudos for the volume's clear, easy to use design. Organized alphabetically, the book augments each profile with stills and synopses of the animator's most significant works. The format invites sampling without discouraging those who wish to read the book straight through.
Unfortunately, the publishers also needed to cram a great deal of text printed on thick, glossy paper into an easy to carry trade paperback. The small typeface can be murder at 2 a.m., when you find yourself trying to read just one more blurb.
But then, what kind of book keeps you reading until two in the morning?
Jean Marie Ward
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