Rather than suffer the petty restrictions imposed by such cruel taskmasters as ‘reality’ and ‘budgeting’, animation allows the artist to tell their stories by whichever means might spring into their unsuspecting heads. My childhood was so thoroughly altered by The Lion King it practically deserves co-author credit. Should I write an autobiography, the second chapter will be ‘Mufasa’s Death – An Animated Trauma’.
Cartoons, in their freedom of expression and potential for poetic exaggeration, carry an emotional directness in their colourful and stylised action that aims straight for the rawest of nerves. Mufasa’s dying words to the helpless Simba should be ridiculous – they are talking lions, after all – but instead carry a kind of heft in their simplicity that would cloy horribly in a live action production.
The initial successes of Pixar and Dreamworks in their computer-animated efforts have gradually been diluted by a surfeit of low-quality knock-offs, while quality hand-made animations have become something of a niche genre, limited to low-key, non-US companies like Les Armateurs (Belleville Rendez-Vous, see opposite), Aardman Productions (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run), or Studio Ghibli (Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away).
The recent success of Persepolis – critically if not financially, gaining about $20m worldwide – may change matters. Both a striking account of life during and after the Islamic Revolution 1979, and a witty and engaging diary concerning life in exile in Europe, it explores the capability of the medium to adequately articulate a highly personal perspective during a period of universal upheaval.
The richness of Marjane’s narrative would certainly be restricted by the need to define the characters in physical actors and real life settings, and the intentional simplicity of the film’s black-and-white artwork adds to its emotional punch.
Cannes last week hosted the premier of Waltz With Bashir, an Israeli production relating the story of a young man who realises that large chunks of his memories from his time in the Israeli army are missing. The animation is cold and beautiful, and the dreamlike sequences of memory are brutally realised. Animation may not enjoy the mainstream regard of the mid-nineties, but it remains a highly effective means of conveying the deepest of emotions.