It’s commonplace to bemoan the sad reality that animation has been so long considered a children’s medium. The limitless possibilities for expression and beauty and terror and surreality offered by the form make it frustrating that it has been co-opted by the gatekeepers of kids’ entertainment. Every once in a while, a Persepolis or a Waltz with Bashir comes along and reminds people that animation is, shockingly, not just for tots.
Of course, it’s impossible to not connect even those films to being young, as there’s an inherent picture-book quality to them that recalls for us those stories of our childhood, that gives us a sense of flipping through detailed pages. Their images have an emotional impact different from what words can summon. The spareness of our children’s books is what lends them their specific atmosphere, quite different from the more overcrowded frames of graphic novels. There’s a painterly minimalism at work in the best storybooks, one which was harnessed extraordinarily for the exquisitely designed and uniquely unsettling 2008 French-produced anthology film Fear(s) of the Dark. A selection of animators, including Charles Burns, Blutch, and Marie Caillou, contributed horror-themed shorts, all of them in black-and-white, though of varying tones. Naturally, the result is a hodgepodge, and since Burns is the perhaps the best known of the animators, his segment, the first, a psychosexual transformation tale that’s part of erotic fantasy part Cronenbergian body horror, has been the most discussed. But if the viewer sticks it out for the final two segments, they’re in for the real treats. It’s in those two—Lorenzo Mattotti’s “The Great Plains” and Richard McGuire’s “Light and Dark”—that Fear(s) of the Dark lives up to its haunting title and also to the eerie uncanniness of the best children’s picture books. Read the rest of this year’s final entry in our Great Pumpkins series. And Happy Halloween!