Exhibition: Watch Me Move: The Animation Show, Barbican Art Gallery, London, until September 11 2011
© Courtesy Ralph Bakshi
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.
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.
© BFI National Archive
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.
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.
© Kara Walker, Courtesy the artist and Sikkema Jenkins and Co
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.