Serious Business: The Art and Commerce of Animation in America from Betty Boop to Toy Story

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Serious Business: The Art and Commerce of Animation in America from Betty Boop to Toy Story


Stefan Kanfer

Date published:



New York: Scribner

ISBN: 0684800799 (alk. paper)


This illustrated history of animation looks at the creation and celluloid careers of such American icons as Felix the Cat, Jiminy Cricket, Mickey and Minnie, Popeye and Olive Oyl, Goofy, Yogi Bear, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Daffy Duck, Tom and Jerry, and the Pink Panther. By examining the origins of such diverse cartoon families as The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and The Simpsons, the author shows the relationship between art and commerce. The author looks at the phenomenal success of feature-length animated films such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and The Lion King.  The main objective of this book is to show how American cartoons reflect American culture and vice versa. The author shows that animated shorts utilized painful stereotypes from the beginning: the first real animated motion picture, Humorous Phases of a Funny Face, ends as “the words Coon and Cohen become caricatures of an African American and a Jew”. The author argues that this tradition continued as animators struggled to find a more appropriate application for their art, with many of them switching from human subjects to animals or objects in order to spotlight special effects. The author also gives brief background on Walt Disney and weighs how the early efforts of Mickey Mouse’s creator differed from the popular cartoons of the day, including Disney’s predilection for rural farm settings while most others set their work in cities. The author shows that Disney was no stranger to the use of damaging racial and ethnic caricatures for instance in The Three Little Pigs  the wolf wore rabbinical dress and spoke with a heavy Yiddish accent. There are also many anecdotes in the book describing the births of many popular characters, for instance Daffy Duck was given his characteristic sputtering voice as a dig at a Warner Brothers executive who conducted impromptu inspections of the animators’ workplace and suffered from a terrible speech impediment, and Chuck Jones credited some of Mark Twain’s writing with providing the inspiration for Wile E. Coyote.

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