on June 12, 2001
I first encountered this book years ago when I was a young motion picture projectionist at a small theatre in Iowa. We could never afford the top-shelf cartoons to run before our features, so we ran obscure old Krazy Kat cartoons and the like. Maltin's book offered the best description yet available on the importance of these early films and their place in animation history.
Moreso, it contained a chapter on the Ub Iwerks Studio. I never really knew much about old Ub until we happened to get one of his gorgeous Comicolor Classic cartoons (Jack and the Beanstalk) in place of the usual Krazy Kats. I of course went to "Of Mice and Magic" to find out more and whetted my appetite to learn more about this forgotten genius.
Decades later, my youthful interest turned into a full-time pursuit. My biography of Ub Iwerks, "The Hand Behind the Mouse" (ISBN: 0786853204) co-written with Ub's granddaughter Leslie, is now available. Ironically, (or not so) Mr. Leonard Maltin kindly wrote the introduction for our book, thus bringing my foray into animation history full circle. I have always considered Maltin to be like an Old Testament prophet in the field of animation history. "Of Mice and Magic" is still the finest animation book ever written -- which is saying alot (there are many great ones -- ours included.) For anyone who loves animation and the world of cartoons, this is THE essential book and my life has been so much richer because of it.
When I think of the history of animation, I tend to divide things into three periods: The Golden Age, noted for early Warner Brothers cartoons and the classic Disney movies such as Snow White and Fantasia; The Age of Mediocrity, where creativity seemed to reach its nadir, as seen most notably in the bland Hanna Barbera cartoons; and the Modern Era, with the resurgence in cartoon creativity, which, starting with The Little Mermaid in the movies and the Simpsons on TV, animation reached a new level of popularity and respectability. Leonard Maltin's book, Of Mice and Magic, shows that my own view of cartoon history is roughly correct but also overly simple: there was plenty of mediocrity in the Golden Age and plenty of decent stuff in the Age of Mediocrity.
Maltin starts off with a chapter about the silent era, when animation was just beginning. Over time, experience would refine the process, but the big leap would occur with sound, in particular with Walt Disney's Steamboat Willie featuring Mickey Mouse. After the silent era chapter, there are chapters that serve as "biographies" of the major animation studios, starting with the biggest of them all, Disney.
The Disney characters are among the most popular in cartoon history (or film history in general). Mickey Mouse may have been the biggest name, but he didn't have much of a personality, so he started being pushed aside in favor of more developed characters, especially Donald Duck, the first major Disney character with any sort of edge. In fact, this is a constant theme in the book: that the weakest cartoons from any studio were the ones that featured characters with no distinct personalities.
Success would often come with the most offbeat and edgy characters, such as Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Popeye and Daffy Duck. But some of the studios had a mercenary nature that would put quantity ahead of quality; probably the worst in the bunch was Terrytoons where good cartoons were the exception, not the rule. Although even Terrytoons would have some memorable characters - in particular, Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle - even many of the cartoons featuring them were not very good (which is why in the world of cartoons, the Terrytoons characters will never outshine even some of the Disney or Warner Brothers second-stringers).
Space limitations prevent me from going as in depth on this subject as I would like, but suffice it to say that after reading this book, I still do feel justified in defining an Age of Mediocrity. It was not that every cartoon in that period was bad, but the good ones were few and far between and classics were very rare indeed. The Age of Mediocrity was filled with bland cartoons that were more cute than funny, often repeated the same gags over and over again, and had few remarkable characters.
What about what I call the Modern Age? It would have started right after this edition of the book was published (1987), so it is understandably, but sadly omitted. Also missing is any real look at TV cartoons, so Bullwinkle, Underdog, Yogi Bear and the Super Friends, among others, are only mentioned in passing. Maltin admits up front that this book won't cover these TV cartoons, nor non-American products, hence the omission of international fare such as the Italian Fantasia-like movie, Allegro non troppo.
The strengths of this book, however, far outweigh the shortcomings. While my opinions sometimes differ from Maltin's on the quality of various cartoons, these are a matter of individual taste (overall, he tends to go easier on the films than I do; for example, he has a more favorable opinion on the UPA cartoons than I do); besides, this book is more of a history of cartoons than a critique of them. In addition to good writing, we gets lots of pictures (only a few in color) and an extensive filmography for all the chronicled cartoon studios.
You probably need to be a certain age (probably at least 30) to fully appreciate this book, as younger readers may not have really grown up with these cartoons and may not have even seen them as adults (and since many of these cartoons were geared only to kids, they would not even have much appeal to those over 10). But if you remember these cartoons and look back at them with fond nostalgia, this is a great book.
on March 2, 2000
This is the book that turned me on to animated films. Well-known movie critic and buff Leonard Maltin wrote the third great book on American animated cartoons (the first two being "The Art of Walt Disney" and "Tex Avery: King of Cartoons"), and he gives us a look at all of the great cartoons of old, from Betty Boop and Koko the Clown through the eras of Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Mister Magoo, and even Fritz the Cat. His book is somewhat out of date now, as this book was published in 1985. Three years later, 1988 proved to be a watershed year in animation with the rebirth of Disney animation in "The Little Mermaid," while "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" made it okay for adults to enjoy cartoons. (Disney's "Duck Tales" also led the way to a new beginning of quality animation for TV, leaving the shoddy kiddie toy merchandising fodder in the dust...almost.) The years following these animation landmarks opened the gates to a flood of terrific cartoons that Maltin's book doesn't cover, including Spielberg's "Tiny Toons" and "Animaniacs;" Disney's "Toy Story;" the mainstream popularization of Japanese animation; quality children's cartoons with "Rugrats," "Bobby's World," and "Doug;" Warner Bros.' animated "Batman" and "Superman;" animation aimed at older audiences with "The Simpsons" and "South Park;" and so much more. The the animation renaissance of the past dozen years or so has brought a new rebirth to the animation industry...and in fact, the definitive book on the new era of animation hasn't been written yet. But the cartoons of the Golden Age are widely available, and indeed, they are still broadcast on TV every day, more than fifty years after such great live-action contemporaries as Bogart, Cagney, and so many others have passed into the archives of movie history. Maltin's book is an exceptional, delightful look into an innocent era of animation that has finally taken its rightful place in film history.
on July 3, 1998
I am not an animation student, merely an ardent fan with many years of armchair learning to my credit. My copy of this book is now nearly 20 years out of date and the softcover spine is wrecked beyond repair, but I still frequently refer to Maltin's incomparable history of the subject, by studio, and to the exhaustive filmographies in the back. No matter what turns up on Cartoon Network from the classic age, I'm ready for it, with insight and clear, impassioned writing on the subject. It isn't for nothing that this book has become a standard in classrooms.
So you are flipping through the channels one night and you come across reruns of an old black and white Looney Tunes cartoon. And it's good. So you want to learn more about these cartoons. Well here is the source for you. Maltin takes a very broad subject, both in terms of years, styles and players, and condenses it into easy to follow chapters. While much attention in animation has been paid to Disney and his animators, there were a lot more out there (and still are today) that strive to work alone, or who wove in and out of the Disney history. Very readable, Maltin takes us through the ups and downs of the major studios. Here are the tales of the origins of characters (how Bugs Bunny got his name due to Bugs Hardaway), how Disney imagined Fantasia as an ever evolving film. How we went from the rich frenetic animation of the 40's to the stilted minimalism of the 60's. In addition there is a reference of output from various studios to help trace the story. Abundently illustrated (though it could always use some more color) it helps connect the names, with the faces, with the characters.
Animation has always been looked down upon and the poor cousin of features. Yet they were an integral part of the movie experience years ago, and still see their media explored, and celebrated today. There is certainly enough to fill several competing cartoon channels on TV today. Often our first exposure is the afternoon, or Saturday morning cartoons. But these are only the latest in a noble line of work, that almost suffered a demise in the 70's, only to roar back strong as ever today. If you want to know more about animated cartoons, be sure to start here!
on March 31, 2003
In his second book about the history of animated movie cartoons.Leonard Maltin gives us all insight into the films from Walter Lantz,Paul Terry,The Fleischer Bros.,UPA,Rainbow Studios,Charlie Mintz ,The Looney Tunes and Walt Disney.Using extensive research ,interviews from the surviving creators of these cartoons,voice over performers and film/tv historians.Maltin looks into the creation,evolution and the success and flaws with these cartoon series and explains why these cartoons still have an appeal with movie and tv audiences.The book also contains an extensive filmography of the series and some wonderful cell reproductions from the films and some original character designs.No one before or since has given real respect to "Popeye","Betty Boop","Bugs Bunny","Heckle & Jeckle","Woody Woodpecker" or even"Mickey Mouse"before in a film history book.Leonard Maltin is the first film historian,author and lecturer to show another side to these forgotten aspects of film history.Bravo Lenny! Kevin S.Butler.
People have been recommending this book for me forever, but I just got around to reading it. I've read numerous animation histories, but this one is unique. Why? Because Leonard Maltin is unique. I love to watch old movies, but before I do I always read his bit in his Classic Movie Guide (I used to check his yearly guide, but find I like the Classic one better, although some things are left out). He's not only the only movie critic I click with. He's also coming from a different place. Where? This book is a good example.
To write a history, you need to make some choices. This is especially so in something as deep and wide as animation history. You can't cover it all. Maltin doesn't. But what he does cover is amazing and surprising. This is no cookie cutter approach to animation history (I have read those and their name is Legion). The reason it's not is because LM hates cookie cutter cartoons, so why write his book that way? In fact, if there's one thing that makes this book different, it's that LM doesn't set out to provide a "and then this happened, and then that happened" history (although you sort of get that). Nor does he construct one of those ghastly analytical profiles that shove all the cartoons into a lens so as to critique their eras or the current age. Nothing so indulgent, but something far more passionate.
This book begins at almost the beginning. Not really so in depth as say, "Before Mickey" (which is quite an enlightening and engaging read), but Leonard seemingly effortlessly drops us into that early age. What's delightful about that is that we will meet the same characters over and over, with names like Walt Disney, Walter Lantz, Chuck Jones, and lesser-known but just as intriguing animators like Ub Iwerks. These characters come and go like players in Alice in Wonderland, and after a while, I look for their reappearance more expectantly than that of Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny.
Maltin ends this updated edition in the late '80s, arguably the worst era of cartoons, and when the major animation houses were in decline. It says a lot that the last chapter is called "The Rest of the Story", without Hanna-Barbera getting their own chapter, despite the fact that they were the largest cartoon studio in the world. But it's not for the usual reasons, that LM doesn't like H-B cartoons, or that he blames them for all the woes that came down on the cartoon world. It's because he (like me) really loves the early H-B, and hates to see the parody H-B had become in the late '80s. The worst thing about that time is that toy companies were the ones sponsoring cartoons, so that the cartoons could easily be considered long advertisements. Even worse, that's still a left handed compliment, because without that influx of money and interest, cartoons woudn't have survived.
If he were writing a newer edition of this book (and for all I know he has), however, he would have reason to rejoice in the state of animation now and the amazing turn around in its fortunes, both in theaters and on the small screen. Credit for that is due across the board, but two elements I note are the interest generated in studios by "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and Disney's return to afternoon cartoons with "DuckTales", which brought a long absent level of quality in every way back to kids' TV. That was the first of the offerings from Disney. Then you have the amazing cartoons from Cartoon Network of the Genndy Tartakovsky era, like Dexter's Laboratory, itself an homage to the look and style of early H-B cartoons. Its predecessor was the brilliant "Two Stupid Dogs". One could go on to name "Rocko's Modern Life" at Nick, or even "Space Ghost Coast to Coast" on Adult Swim, when that programming block was synonymous with light absurdity, modern styling, brilliant writing, and much more innocent than it is now.
The point is that now cartoon fans of many different tastes and sensibilities can all find favorites to point to as examples of doing it right. If that renaissance has brought with it lots of sub-par product, copycat clones, and worse, transparent excuses to trade the innocence of cartoons for "adult" themes (with the resulting boomerang of a glut of overly cute kids' fare), it's nevertheless provided a bit of breathing room, and the history of animation, stalled, as it were, for nearly a decade, can at last shrug and move on. And if it reaches great heights, and if new talents arise, and if true creativity gets a hearing, and if innocence even returns, it will be in no small part due to Leonard Maltin, who makes us care about the people in animation history, and their fates and fortunes, and sends out the clarion call for quality on every page of this book.
on February 9, 2001
I first read this book some ten years ago, and was astounded. Not only did the book include little-known information on the studios and cartoons we know and love, but those which have passed into history. (Anyone remember the Van Buren Studio? Or Columbia-Screen Gems? Or that the latter produced a "L'il Abner" animated series in the mid-forties?) Maltin's love of animation is obvious, and it makes one wonder why did not choose to devote an entire book to one studio in particular (the sometimes unfairly maligned Terrytoons deserves one, certainly). My sole complaint echoes that of others here--Maltin should update this book more thoroughly, and more often. Even the "updated" version is out of date, and leads one to believe the industry is dying (which was the common belief until "Roger Rabbit" came along). Other than that, I have but one suggestion for Maltin--he should give made-for-TV cartoon studios the same treatment in a follow-up volume. Here's hoping he reads these reviews...
on July 3, 2015
This was a very well detailed guide to the history of animation. I just wish it were a little more up to date, however, as it only stretches out to the late 1980s; just before Disney and Warner Bros. both made huge comebacks in quality entertainment (Disney, of course, with Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King and Toy Story; and Warner Bros. with Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs and Batman the Animated Series). That aside, its still a well-written book.
on April 29, 1998
I am an animation student and am reading this title because it is a required text. Mr. Maltin does a wonderful and comprehensive job of outlining the history of animation from the Silent Era, to the Golden Age, to a few subsequent years thereafter. Not only does the book chronical the different animation studios, he also gives a brief work history of the most influential animators of the time and gives us an inside view of the animation industry through personal interviews with them. The version I have has been updated, but it seems only through footnotes but I could be wrong as I haven't read the original. An excellent text for either historian, student, or anyone who just loves cartoons, get it!