Where the Art Is

Text by David Perlmutter

 

In animation, home is everything. By “home”, I do not necessarily mean a particular domicile, although such things do figure into animated films sometimes. Rather, I am referring to home in a larger sense. Identity. Who you are, where you come from, and how you define yourself. And, in some cases in animation, what you are as well.

This is important because, alone among visual art forms, animation has the ability to unite all the various aspects of storytelling in the literary definition to create its final impact. Plot, characters, and, in particular, setting, are combined in such a way that it becomes impossible to view them independently, at least on a first viewing. This has always been one of its defining characteristics, from its earliest primitive days to the cutting-edge material being produced now. The best animated films, whether they take a realistic or decidedly fantastic approach to their narrative construction, make it quite clear to us that we are experiencing situations that could only happen in this particular place, among these particular beings, and with these very specific concerns related to them dominating the entire affair.

It is never our particular home being featured- it is their home, and we must come to understand it as they do to appreciate it, however difficult it may be to do so.

Nowhere does the element of home in this sense come out stronger than in much of the vast majority of animation that has been and continues to be produced in the United States of America. While it is a country that, as a whole, has something of a capacity for delusion self-aggrandizement, on the local level, from the smallest hamlets to the largest cities, there is a remarkable sense of individual and collective pride in coming from a particular place, and allowing yourself to be socially and politically defined by that place. You come to be, first and foremost, the longer you live in a certain place, a citizen of that place, and any other relations at a larger level come to be secondary at best. What is best for “me” and “the town” come ahead of everything else.

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