Funny Pictures: Animation and Comedy in Studio-Era Hollywood

Funny Pictures: Animation and Comedy in Studio-Era Hollywood

Funny Pictures: Animation and Comedy in Studio-Era Hollywood

Funny Pictures: Animation and Comedy in Studio-Era Hollywood


This collection of essays explores the link between comedy and animation in studio-era cartoons, from filmdom's earliest days through the twentieth century. Written by a who's who of animation authorities, Funny Pictures offers a stimulating range of views on why animation became associated with comedy so early and so indelibly, and illustrates how animation and humor came together at a pivotal stage in the development of the motion picture industry. To examine some of the central assumptions about comedy and cartoons and to explore the key factors that promoted their fusion, the book analyzes many of the key filmic texts from the studio years that exemplify animated comedy. Funny Pictures also looks ahead to show how this vital American entertainment tradition still thrives today in works ranging from The Simpsons to the output of Pixar.


Charlie Keil and Daniel Goldmark

In Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels (1941) John Sullivan, a movie director traversing the United States in an attempt to define the soul of America, finds himself wrongly imprisoned and part of a chain gang. Invited with the other prisoners to attend a screening at an African American church in a southern bayou, Sully discovers what really speaks to the human condition when he notes the spontaneous and heartfelt peals of laughter generated by the film chosen to amuse black parishioner and white jailbird alike. The film in question? A Disney cartoon.

In asserting that Hollywood entertainment finds its purest expression in the cartoon hijinks of Pluto and Mickey, Sullivan’s Travels confirms what has become a strongly held assumption; namely, studio-era animation, in particular shorts, has been long associated with comedy. At least as far back as E. G. Lutz’s book, Animated Cartoons: How They are Made, Their Origin and Development (1920), a volume that greatly inspired the young Walt Disney, comedy has loomed large in the success of cartoons, evidenced by an entire chapter, “On Humorous Effects and on Plots,” dedicated to the topic. Lutz even begins the chapter with the seemingly obvious statement: “The purpose of the animated cartoon being to amuse, the experienced animator makes it his aim to get, as the saying goes in the trade, a laugh in every foot of film.” But if equating the short cartoon with Hollywood humor now strikes us as axiomatic, much as it did Lutz in the early days of the studio era, we should resist accepting the logic of the association at face value, if only to explore how the animator’s pen came to be enlisted consistently as a primary tool for entertaining the masses through cartoon merriment.

Of course, studio-era animation need not be funny, nor was it so at all times.

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