Pinocchio and the Jungle Book to Hulk and Toy Story: Watch me Move at the Barbican

By Culture24 Staff | 15 June 2011
An image of a colourful animation of a female superhero
Ralph BakshiHeavy Traffic (1973)© Courtesy Ralph Bakshi
Exhibition: Watch Me Move: The Animation Show, Barbican Art Gallery, London, until September 11 2011

How do you draw a line between the gleeful obscenity of South Park, the CGI dazzle of Jurassic Park and the pioneering split-second early filming techniques of Eadweard Muybridge? There seems little point in trying to give thematic cohesion to a topic as huge as the history of animation, so the lightness of curatorial touch in Watch Me Move is a blessing in an enormously entertaining exhibition.

The six sections to it – apparition, characters, superhumans, fables and fragments, structures and visions – are well-conceived and thoughtfully pursued, but it’s the sheer amount of material on show here which makes things exhilarating.

Lights flicker and shine as figurines leap from every darkened corner in a treat for the senses where you can find yourself watching the Flintstones on a big screen one minute, then slip through a curtain and get spooked by the Lumiere brothers’ dancing skeleton marionettes.

A black and white image of a female cartoon character
Dave Fleischer, Betty Boop (1934)© BFI National Archive
Upstairs, you can sit on a white sofa or crouch in little enclaves to watch Pinocchio battle a stormy sea from a raft or odd silhouettes creep across the screen in The Adventures of Prince Achmed, German animator Lotte Reininger’s 1926 work which is the oldest surviving animated feature film.

The exhibition has been touted as immersive – by definition, a show full of such huge screens is – but it also lends itself to dipping in and out of each room, absorbing bits from each turn of a 150-year journey.

Between the two upper lines of film rooms, flanking an illuminated balcony, a series of experimental pieces bridge the divide between innovative techniques and finished features.

Austrian perfectionist Martin Arnold turns his obsessive hand to loops of classic black-and-white films which repeat and repeat themselves to form a mesmerising and comedic new composition, 1998’s Life Wastes Andy Hardy.

An image of an animation of two figures silhouetted against a streetscape
Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands: Lucy of Pulaski (2009)© Kara Walker, Courtesy the artist and Sikkema Jenkins and Co
Norman McLaren’s Neighbours, a stop-start love-thy-fellow-man pixilation masterpiece, sees two pipe-toting chaps rise from their deckchairs to do battle over a single flower blooming on their shared garden.

It caused a stir as a nose-thumbing anti-war parody when it was released in 1952, and its breezy sense of farce still packs a powerful moral punch, packaged in a hilarious visual romp.

There are some grand designs here, but the beauty of this show is that the smaller, independent works prove as affecting as their big-budget counterparts.

A separate cinema will also show classics cascading through the decades, from Waltz with Bashir – Ari Folman’s emotive 2008 animated documentary on the Lebanon War of 1982 – to King Kong (1933), Animal Farm (1954) and recent blockbusters such as The Incredibles and Toy Story 3.

  • Open 11am-8pm (6pm Wednesday, 10am-8pm Saturday). Admission £6-£12 (free for under-12s). Book online.
Watch the Barbican video on the show:

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