The films in Origins of American Animation allow an opportunity to examine a variety of elements that go into the creative process of developing and interpreting animated motion pictures. This collection can provide the basis for discussions on the visual personification of emotions and imagination and can serve as a guide for developing and illustrating original comic strips and animated films.
Personification: Joy and Gloom
It is perhaps due to the time, spacial, and stylistic constraints of comic strips and animation, that such pieces rely heavily upon visual symbolism. Two films by Raoul Barre (based on Tom Peters' "Phable" comic strip) use personification to depict the struggle between two emotions, joy and gloom, furthering the plots of the films. The Phable of the Phat Woman (1916) features a woman trying to lose weight. The smiling female figures of joy engage in a series of slapstick moments with the hunched-over, bearded male figures of gloom at each step of the woman's efforts exercising, dieting, etc.). On two occasions, the gloom figures actually run into the joy figures with a car.
This motif continues in Never Again! The Story of a Speeder Cop (1916), the tale of a police officer trying to stop speeders along a road. As cars rush by the bewildered cop, joy and gloom attack each other in a car, a hot-air balloon, and an airplane. When the officer finally quits the force because he is worn out by the experience, three figures of gloom follow him into the precinct and pile on top of one another as he turns in his badge.
Joy and gloom are also represented in slightly different incarnations throughout AWOL-All Wrong Old Laddiebuck (1918). When a soldier refuses to stay on his base, "Miss AWOL" arrives for him in a car with the word, "Joy," written on its door. The couple travels across the countryside and, after a series of mishaps, they're arrested and taken to Judge Gloom's court. The offense, the police officer reports, is "Joy riding."
- What do you think is the purpose of illustrating a physical conflict between joy and gloom?
- Why do you think that these emotions are appropriate for each of these situations?
- Why do you think that these emotions often appear driving automobiles and running into things?
- Can you think of any other emotions that could be personified in these animated films?
- How are these types of emotions represented in other visual media (painting, photographs, live-action film)?
- How do these representations compare with animated cartoons?
- Are there personifications of emotion in an contemporary cartoons?