Fellow Brewmaster Jerry Beck, modest individual that he is, sometimes doesn’t promote his own books enough, so I feel compelled to do a plug for his latest book, THE ANIMATED MOVIE GUIDE. It is, in my opinion, the single most important and valuable animation book released this year. Indispensable is the best word to describe it. In the month or so that I’ve owned the book, I’ve referred to it more times than I can count, and I think it’s safe to say that this book is destined to become one of animation’s standard reference books, right alongside Leonard Maltin’s OF MICE AND MAGIC and THE DISNEY FILMS, and the ever-handy Beck and Friedwald Warner Bros. guide.
The idea behind the book is simple — provide an alphabetical listing of every animated feature released theatrically in the United States. A concept that is seemingly so simple and so obvious that you wonder why nobody has done it before. Probably because the task is not as effortless as may initially seem. While it’s not too difficult to compile a list of all the mainstream studio features, Jerry wanted to create an exhaustive document of all the animated features that have been released stateside. So not only does Disney’s PINOCCHIO get a listing, but so does Filmation’s 1987 version PINOCCHIO AND THE EMPEROR OF THE NIGHT, as well as the mid-60s Belgian production PINOCCHIO IN OUTER SPACE.
This book truly lists it all: afternoon matinee releases of Japanese cartoons during the 1960s; obscure 70s films like DIRTY DUCK, HUGO THE HIPPO, SHAME OF THE JUNGLE and SHINBONE ALLEY; and awful 1980s films-based-on-TV-shows like HERE COME THE LITTLES, GOBOTS: BATTLE OF THE ROCK LORDS and MY LITTLE PONY: THE MOVIE. Each film entry lists basic details (release date, plot synopses, major credits, run time) and has extensive commentary with production details and well-informed (and often very strong) opinions about the films, written either by Beck or the book’s cadre of expert contributing writers: Martin Goodman, Andrew Leal, W.R. Miller and Fred Patten.
Viewing the entire history of American animated features in a book offers a unique perspective on the art form. The first thing that strikes me is that there have only been 308 features released in the US through 2004. Hollywood, by comparison, produces more live-action films in any one or two-year period than have been produced in the entire eighty years of animated film history. The other fact that sticks out is that over half of these animated films have been released since 1990. The animated feature, in other words, is still an extremely young art form, one that is largely unexplored and ripe for experimentation. With more animated films being produced than ever before, this book has arrived at the perfect time. It does a commendable job of showing us how far the art of the animated feature has progressed, but perhaps more importantly, it also shows us how far we still have to go.