This project examines how changing notions of animated film emerged during the period of its consolidation, from the introduction of animated films in cinema programmes in the mid-1910s to the surge in interest in animation and the global prominence of Walt Disney studios in the 1930s. The project investigates how a changing cultural and aesthetic identity of animated film was negotiated within films and articulated in the discourse surrounding cinema. As a new medium, animated film was marked by shifting understandings of its identity, with animated films themselves often experimenting with and reflecting on the form. Sometimes situating themselves within contexts of modernity and modernism, animated films negotiated the place of animation as a medium within a wider cultural and social field. Animation was also closely entwined with other media and arts; in addition to live action film, music, comic strips, illustrated books and theatre all played a prominent role in the constitution and development of animated film. Further shaping its identity, the reception and discourse of animation – including marketing, theorizations and discussions in the popular press – contributed to an emerging sense of what animation was, what it could (or should) do, and what its place in a wider context of visual culture entailed. In order to trace these various facets of animated film, the project will focus on three of the most significant national contexts of exhibition and production during the period: the United States, England and France. This will allow for a comparative examination of ideas of animation, linked to national and transnational spheres of production, exhibition and reception. In doing so, the project will develop new approaches to the historiography of animation that enlarge our perspective on this crucial subject in the history of twentieth century visual culture, during an under-researched period in its development.
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