Special types of films include the documentary, the newsreel, and the animated cartoon. The documentary, broadly defined, includes the newsreel, the travelogue, the educational film, and all other fact or nonfiction films, as well as some sorts of advertising. The term also includes artistic, interpretive films of the type that developed out of the work of Robert Flaherty (1920s and 30s) and Pare Lorentz (1930s) in the United States and John Grierson (1930s and 40s) in England. The documentary proved its value in the schoolroom and in training programs during World War II and has been widely used as a medium for propaganda since its inception. Documentary films on a vast range of subjects and exploiting every imaginable film technique are a primary staple of television entertainment.
The newsreel, introduced by Charles Pathé, was a series of short, generally unrelated films of current events, shown primarily as adjuncts to feature-film programs. The scope of the newsreel was broadened by the historical concept of the March of Time series (begun 1934); the newsreel was superseded by television news coverage in the early 1950s.
The animated cartoon is traditionally defined as a series of static drawings or scenes arranged and photographed and then synchronized with sound. In France in 1905, Émile Cohl produced several films with animated puppets, and in 1907, he made the first films to use animated drawings. American pioneers include Winsor McCay, who made Gertie the Dinosaur (1909); Bud Fisher, who began his "Mutt and Jeff" cartoons c.1918; Pat Sullivan, who produced "Felix the Cat" cartoons (1924); Chuck Jones, who in collaboration with Isador (Friz) Freleng, Tex Avery, and others, oversaw and animated (1930s–1960s) the Loony Tunes and Merry Melodies series (Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, et al.) at Warner Brothers (Jones also created (1949) the Road Runner series and later worked with on Dr. Seuss film cartoons; Freleng subsequently created the Pink Panther); and, of course, the celebrated Walt Disney.
Beginning with the Disney studios' Tron (1982), animation has become increasingly computer generated, largely due to the work of two California-based animation studiosa—DreamWorks and Pixar. Their early computer-made feature films include Pixar's Toy Story movies (1995, 1999) and A Bug's Life (1998) and DreamWorks' Antz (1998). By 2000, traditional cartoons were in decline and most U.S. film animation (with the exception of nearly all the features produced by Disney) was digital, seemingly three-dimensional, and computer-generated. In DreamWorks' Shrek (2001) and Shrek 2 (2004) and Pixar's Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), and The Incredibles (2004), computer animation reached new heights of technological sophistication and complexity. Their seemingly real characters, voiced by actors but otherwise completely electronic in origin, interact in an apparently organic environment.
The Polar Express (2004) combined live action and animation, digitizing and transforming the body and face movements of actors into the actions of computerized characters that inhabit a three-dimensional, computer-generated world. The boundaries of traditional animation continued to expand as animation and live action were increasingly merged and the technology employed to combine the two became increasingly sophisticated. These advances are evident, for example, in the processed live action of Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly (2006) and in the motion-capture techniques used to change human dancers into dancing penguins in George Miller's Happy Feet (2006). Pixar's robot love story, WALL-E (2008, Academy Award), is told mainly in compelling digital images.
Although animation has been generally treated as a children's medium, some animators, such as Ralph Bakshi, have aimed their works at adults, and the Disney organization, after several moribund years, began a series of features aimed equally at kids and at their parents, such as The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), and The Lion King (1994), which have proved to be extremely successful at the box office. Another notable talent is Don Bluth, who produced An American Tail and The Land before Time, combining old-fashioned full-animation with up-to-date wit.
Late 20th-century Japanese animation, much of it computer-generated, has been extremely influential. By the early 21st cent. some 60 percent of Japanese films and many television programs were in the style known as animeäˈnēmā [Jap., = animation], which usually represents a fusion of Japanese pictorial tradition, particularly wood-block prints, with characters and stories in the American idiom. The style began in the 1950s with the work of Osamu Tezuka, creator of the Astro Boy comic book (1951) and television series (1963). Characterized by somewhat jerky movements and big-headed characters (as in the well-known Pokémon series), these films do not stress realism, but attempt to capture expressive gesture and mood. Anime films range from Disney-style adventures to surrealist fantasies, and many mix genres. Particularly impressive is the work of Hayao Miyazaki, e.g., the complex and brooding Princess Mononoke (1997) and the later Spirited Away (2001). Other outstanding anime films include Katusuhiro Otomo's Akira (1988), Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell (1996), Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue (1997), and Rintaro's Fritz Lang–inspired Metropolis (2000).
See K. C. Lahue, World of Laughter: The Motion Picture Comedy Short, 1910–1930 (1966); R. L. Snyder, Pare Lorentz and the Documentary Film (1968); A. Rosenthal, The New Documentary in Action (1971); J. Lenburg, The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons (1991); M. Barrier, Hollywood Cartoons (1999); S. J. Napier, Anime from "Akira" to "Princess Monoke" (2000); K. Paik, To Infinity and Beyond! The Story of Pixar Animation Studios (2007); D. A. Price, The Pixar Touch (2008).
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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.