Animated Personalities

On Mickey Mouse’s 91st birthday, our Review of the Week argues that animated characters bear an enduring fame similar to those of real-life celebrities

Animated personalities : cartoon characters and stardom in American theatrical shorts

McGowan, David. Texas, 2019
313p bibl index, 9781477317433 $95.00, 9781477317440 $34.95, 978147731745

In his fresh Animated Personalities, McGowan (animation history, Savannah College of Art and Design) celebrates the stardom of American cartoon characters. The book is impressive for its lucid historical structure and exceptionally enjoyable content. Engaging key scholars of animation and star studies, McGowan makes a cogent, compelling case for including such movie icons as Felix the Cat and Popeye in a pantheon of media stars because the extra-textual personal lives of these animated characters puts them on a par with actual Hollywood stars in terms of qualifying for the red carpet of celebrity. The author bestows an aura of credibility and a rhetoric of authenticity on cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse, showing how such anthropomorphic creations have lives beyond their seven-minute films. These characters give interviews, promote commercial products, inspire patriotism, confess to scandals, interact with live-action counterparts, sign contracts, and picket their studios over labor issues. What makes this work particularly readable is McGowan’s ability to stitch delight into ideas, including weaving in such neglected concepts as Steve Seidman’s “comedian comedy.” McGowan breathes life into celluloid figures, giving readers a backstory for some of the most enduring iconic characters of screen history. This is a truly gratifying book.

Summing Up: Essential. All readers.
T. Lindvall, Virginia Wesleyan University
Subject: Humanities – Performing Arts – Film
Choice Issue: Nov 2019