Thursday, 19 November 2009

"Really explosive": Bruno Edera on late 70s British animation; plus animated features that never were


Bruno Edera's 1977 book Full Length Animated Feature Films (part of the Library of Animation Technology series, edited by John Halas) provides an interesting glimpse into the state of British animation of the late 70s. The book is divided up geographically, and in the section on Great Britain Edera tells us that
British animation is really explosive. In London there is the "Soho Crowd", which includes most of the London animators, with an atmosphere of collaboration between directors, animators and producers which is probably unique in the world.
He goes on to point out that British animation studios focus far more on shorts than on feature films. One reason he gives for this is that, as the studios receive much of their income from producing commercials, they lack the time needed to produce riskier, longer-format work. He also makes a claim that gives an interesting summery of the kind of animation that was being produced back then:
British animation is most effective when it is caricature, or when it takes the form of a moral or satirical fable.
Most of the section is spent discussing the few animated features that had come out of the country at the time: Halas & Batchelor's Handling Ships (1946), Water for Fire-Fighting (1949), Animal Farm (1954) and Ruddigore (1966); John Halas and Ralph Alswang's part-animated stage play Is There Intelligent Life on Earth? (1964); TVC's Yellow Submarine (1967); the Monty Python film And Now for Something Completely Different (1971), which contains 25 minutes of animation by "newcomer to the British scene" Terry Gilliam; John Halas and Gabriele Crisanti's The Glorious Musketeers (1974); and Bill Melendez's Dick Deadeye (1975).

There are also mentions of four features that were being planned at the time: Yellow Submarine director George Dunning's adaptations of Gulliver's Travels and Le Morte d'Arthur; Richard Williams' Nasruddin; and Charlie Jenkins' adaptation of Gunter Grass's book The Tin Drum. Nasruddin eventually became The Thief and the Cobbler, but as far as I know the other three never saw the light of day.

Near the back of the book is a catalogue of various in-development features, including a few more British examples. Of these, there are only two that I know for sure were completed: Watership Down and Max and Moritz , the latter actually a series of German-British films directed by John Halas. The other British films listed in this section are George Dunning's The Tempest, which was left unfinished at the director's death, and two films that I can find no information about online: Ray Jackson's Carroll adaptation Alice Through the Looking Glass and John Halas' Discovery of America, an hour-long special made for the Educational Film Centre in London.

There's one last historical detail here. In a section on cancelled animated features, Edera lists a British adaptation of The Hobbit:
A newly formed organisation by James Nurse, Euroanimation's attempt to film Tolkien's well-known novel for Rankin and Bass, New York. The project may be revived.
The Rankin-Bass Hobbit was indeed revived and was released in 1977, the year of the book's publication. However, it was animated by Topcraft, the Japanese studio better known for animating the proto-Ghibli NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind. I have no idea exactly what happened to Euroanimation, which I can find no mention of on the web.

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