Summary: Christopher Holliday researches animation history and digital media and King's College London (UK). Alexander Sergeant is a Lecturer in Film and Media Theory at Bournemouth University (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.
Episode 11 marks Chris and Alex’s first venture to the small screen, offering a rundown of Matt Groening’s recent television series Disenchantment, which first premiered in August 2018 on Netflix. A fantasy sitcom visualised through Groening’s signature animated style (including the requisite character overbite), Disenchantment parodies the archetypes familiar from fantasy mythology. From hard-drinking princesses to sweet-toothed elves, its playful swipes at fantasy storytelling feed into an overriding irreverence that fully exploits animation’s subversive potential, as Groening’s series sets about both constructing and deconstructing the terms of its own animated world.
For the 10th episode, Chris and Alex travel to Polynesia to tackle their first computer-animated film - Walt Disney’s all-singin’, all-dancin’ and all-digital musical Moana (Ron Clements and John Musker, 2016). They are joined by Dr Catherine Wheatley (Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at King’s College London) to discuss the film’s gender politics and feminist register; its beautiful Samoan and Tokelauan-language soundtrack (with songs written and composed by Opetaia Foa’i, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Mark Mancina); its ambivalent status as typical Disney fare; and the ‘tiny details’ that comprise its message of diplomacy and female empowerment.
The ninth episode takes Chris and Alex up to the rooftops of London as they tackle Walt Disney’s fantasy musical Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson, 1964). This song-and-dance celebration follows the adventures of Mary, Bert and the Banks children, including their famous journey into the wonderful world of animation. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Episode eight sees Chris and Alex discuss the eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, 2018). As the first Marvel film to feature a predominantly black cast, Black Panther offers the opportunity to situate fantasy and animation both within the codes of the popular superhero genre, and alongside broader critical questions of black subjectivity in contemporary cinema. Chris and Alex therefore move through an examination of its spectacular use of digital animation in its portrayal of Third World-but-secretly-techno-heavy Wakanda; the fruitful overlap between science-fiction and fantasy cinema as categories of classification; and post-Trump Afrofuturist identity politics. Oh, and they talk a bit about CGI rhinos too.
In episode seven, Chris and Alex encounter ferocious bicycle wheels, music hall stars fishing for frogs using dynamite, and the French mafia in their discussion of the frankly bizarre animated fantasy The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet, 2003). With minimal dialogue and an expressionist, borderline surreal visual style, Chomet’s film - released in the UK as Belleville Rendezvous - is erratic, eccentric and downright charming. It offers spectators a journey through early-1900’s France via some ornate painterly backdrops, and an army of grotesque characters (in the mould of cartoonist Gerard Scarfe) that populate this pedal-powered modern metropolis.
For episode six, Chris and Alex are joined by Dr Martha Shearer (King’s College London), expert on the Hollywood musical and author of the recent monograph New York City and the Hollywood Musical: Dancing in the Streets (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). Together, they discuss The Greatest Showman (Michael Gracey, 2017) in relation to its status as a biopic, as a fantasy of New York, and its marked use of computer graphics that bring this all-singing, all-dancing American musical to life.
Episode five takes Chris and Alex on a trip through psychedelic British animation of the 1960s thanks to Yellow Submarine (George Dunning, 1968). This animated fantasy musical mixes playful caricatures of John, Paul, George, and Ringo with a colourful, abstract and, at times, surreal visual style from art director Heinz Edelmann. Drawing from both classical, folk and pop music, sixties rebellious youth culture, and The Beatles’ own rock and roll repertoire, Yellow Submarine presented animation as a significant and serious art form.
In episode four, Chris and Alex take on the work of Studio Ghibli and their feature-film My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988). Released as part of a double-bill with Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988), My Neighbor Totoro is a colourful animated fantasy that takes place in rural Japan, whose eponymous creature Totoro has since become Ghibli’s own official mascot.
The third episode sees Chris and Alex reflecting on Jason and the Argonauts (Don Chaffey, 1963), which showcases the pioneering work of stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen. Based on classical Greek mythology, the film's famed 'skeleton warrior' battle sequence designed by Harryhausen fully encapsulates the possibilities of animated special effects for fantasy cinema.
For this second episode, Chris and Alex discuss Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Robert Zemeckis, 1988), a part-live-action/part-animation/part-fantasy film that functioned as an important milestone in marking the return of animation's commercial and critical appeal in Hollywood.
In this inaugural episode, Chris and Alex discuss Walt Disney’s first feature-length animated cartoon.