If there’s one thing the animation blogging community guarantees, it’s plenty of controversy. The latest squabble that has evolved is about who wrote animated shorts and features during the Golden Age of animation. In one corner is Steve Worth of the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive, who claimed that artists drew storyboards and that “THERE WERE NO CARTOON SCRIPTWRITERS prior to 1960.” (his emphasis). On the other side is historian Michael Barrier, who offers evidence that Bill Cottrell was one example of a scriptwriter at Disney in the 1930s. Then there were artists like Bill Peet who did both screenwriting and storyboarding on a film like 101 Dalmatians.
In a recent Variety interview, director Brad Bird offered some comments, which while not specifically addressing this argument, seem to be quite appropriate. Bird said, “The whole question of writing for animation is skewed. There isn’t a giant difference between animation and live action. You need characters, stories, themes. It’s called good storytelling…I write scripts first, before the work gets to the storyboarding stage. But I write with the knowledge of what animation can do.” His comments make perfect sense, but with the caveat that the animation world rarely attracts storytellers the caliber of Brad Bird and Bill Peet, which is why animation suffers today and why engaging storytelling is the exception instead of the rule. A sidenote: the Variety link above is also worth checking out to hear about some of Bird’s favorite film writers.