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Wild Minds: The Artists and Rivalries That Inspired the Golden Age of Animation

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In 1911, famed cartoonist Winsor McCay debuted one of the first animated cartoons, based on his sophisticated newspaper strip "Little Nemo in Slumberland," itself inspired by Freud's recent research on dreams. McCay is largely forgotten today, but he unleashed an art form, and the creative energy of artists from Otto Messmer and Max Fleischer to Walt Disney and Warner Bros In 1911, famed cartoonist Winsor McCay debuted one of the first animated cartoons, based on his sophisticated newspaper strip "Little Nemo in Slumberland," itself inspired by Freud's recent research on dreams. McCay is largely forgotten today, but he unleashed an art form, and the creative energy of artists from Otto Messmer and Max Fleischer to Walt Disney and Warner Bros.' Chuck Jones. Their origin stories, rivalries, and sheer genius, as Reid Mitenbuler skillfully relates, were as colorful and subversive as their creations--from Felix the Cat to Bugs Bunny to feature films such as Fantasia--which became an integral part and reflection of American culture over the next five decades.Pre-television, animated cartoons were aimed squarely at adults; comic preludes to movies, they were often "little hand grenades of social and political satire." Early Betty Boop cartoons included nudity; Popeye stories contained sly references to the injustices of unchecked capitalism. "During its first half-century," Mitenbuler writes, "animation was an important part of the culture wars about free speech, censorship, the appropriate boundaries of humor, and the influence of art and media on society." During WWII it also played a significant role in propaganda. The Golden Age of animation ended with the advent of television, when cartoons were sanitized to appeal to children and help advertisers sell sugary breakfast cereals. Wild Minds is an ode to our colorful past and to the creative energy that later inspired The Simpsons, South Park, and BoJack Horseman.


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In 1911, famed cartoonist Winsor McCay debuted one of the first animated cartoons, based on his sophisticated newspaper strip "Little Nemo in Slumberland," itself inspired by Freud's recent research on dreams. McCay is largely forgotten today, but he unleashed an art form, and the creative energy of artists from Otto Messmer and Max Fleischer to Walt Disney and Warner Bros In 1911, famed cartoonist Winsor McCay debuted one of the first animated cartoons, based on his sophisticated newspaper strip "Little Nemo in Slumberland," itself inspired by Freud's recent research on dreams. McCay is largely forgotten today, but he unleashed an art form, and the creative energy of artists from Otto Messmer and Max Fleischer to Walt Disney and Warner Bros.' Chuck Jones. Their origin stories, rivalries, and sheer genius, as Reid Mitenbuler skillfully relates, were as colorful and subversive as their creations--from Felix the Cat to Bugs Bunny to feature films such as Fantasia--which became an integral part and reflection of American culture over the next five decades.Pre-television, animated cartoons were aimed squarely at adults; comic preludes to movies, they were often "little hand grenades of social and political satire." Early Betty Boop cartoons included nudity; Popeye stories contained sly references to the injustices of unchecked capitalism. "During its first half-century," Mitenbuler writes, "animation was an important part of the culture wars about free speech, censorship, the appropriate boundaries of humor, and the influence of art and media on society." During WWII it also played a significant role in propaganda. The Golden Age of animation ended with the advent of television, when cartoons were sanitized to appeal to children and help advertisers sell sugary breakfast cereals. Wild Minds is an ode to our colorful past and to the creative energy that later inspired The Simpsons, South Park, and BoJack Horseman.

30 review for Wild Minds: The Artists and Rivalries That Inspired the Golden Age of Animation

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cristie Underwood

    Wow! Who knew that the history of animation was so interesting? I couldn't put this down. The rivalries were epic. I didn't know that animation was geared towards adults pre-television. I always thought that there were a large number that were geared towards children. Wow! Who knew that the history of animation was so interesting? I couldn't put this down. The rivalries were epic. I didn't know that animation was geared towards adults pre-television. I always thought that there were a large number that were geared towards children.

  2. 4 out of 5

    HP Berliner

    fabulous work! superb: research, writing, thoroughness, edifying even if you don't have a deep love for animation, this work is still worth reading. fabulous work! superb: research, writing, thoroughness, edifying even if you don't have a deep love for animation, this work is still worth reading.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    This took me so long to finish, mostly because the author included an introductory note that most of the shorts mentioned were available online and were 10 minutes or less. Since I committed to at least trying to watch everything mentioned (including feature-length animated films that were easily accessible, like Snow White), I found out that I'm not a fan of Golden Age animation. It really slowed me down and even though that impacted my enjoyment of the book, I think it would have been similar This took me so long to finish, mostly because the author included an introductory note that most of the shorts mentioned were available online and were 10 minutes or less. Since I committed to at least trying to watch everything mentioned (including feature-length animated films that were easily accessible, like Snow White), I found out that I'm not a fan of Golden Age animation. It really slowed me down and even though that impacted my enjoyment of the book, I think it would have been similar had I not watched them. This is pretty factual in acknowledging how problematic the industry has been, but it really doesn't challenge any of the creators or what they did. I'm someone who can't separate the art from the artist, so that was a problem for me here.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Greg Condon

    This book was great, to put it simply. Written with a real appreciation for animation and the innovation and vision of its pioneers. Mitenbuler does a great job a supplying context and fair look at attitudes films that haven't aged well, though that is just a small part of what the book is about. Really just an inspiring, well written look at the history of a wonderful art form! This book was great, to put it simply. Written with a real appreciation for animation and the innovation and vision of its pioneers. Mitenbuler does a great job a supplying context and fair look at attitudes films that haven't aged well, though that is just a small part of what the book is about. Really just an inspiring, well written look at the history of a wonderful art form!

  5. 5 out of 5

    J Earl

    Wild Minds: The Artists and Rivalries That Inspired the Golden Age of Animation by Reid Mitenbuler is both an entertaining and informative read. This will appeal to more than just those interested in cartoons or the graphic arts. In the past I have taken a couple of courses on comics and cartoons, as well as read several books, so I fully expected to enjoy this volume. What made it an especially good read was the writing. The vast majority of the book reads like a narrative, like a story. This sh Wild Minds: The Artists and Rivalries That Inspired the Golden Age of Animation by Reid Mitenbuler is both an entertaining and informative read. This will appeal to more than just those interested in cartoons or the graphic arts. In the past I have taken a couple of courses on comics and cartoons, as well as read several books, so I fully expected to enjoy this volume. What made it an especially good read was the writing. The vast majority of the book reads like a narrative, like a story. This shouldn't be as unusual as it is but such histories tend toward being episodic, and that doesn't really detract from those books. But making the book flow from event to event and personality to personality made it all seem so much more connected. While this will certainly appeal to those with an interest in cartoons during the first half of the 20th century primarily, it will also offer a great deal for those interested in American history as a whole. We often come to understand historic periods and events in a broad way. To cite an example that this book touches on, the Red Scare and HUAC hearings of the late 40s and 50s. Those interested in US history are familiar with both what happened and the fact that many innocent lives were harmed, livelihoods taken away just for personal political gain of those on the committees. This book illustrates in some detail how this particular industry, tied to but not quite (at the time) fully part of the Hollywood movie industry, was affected. How simply being for worker's rights could get you flagged by a vindictive studio head as a Communist, and even more so as an anti-American communist. This is just one aspect of the larger picture of US history that this specific industry history helps to illuminate. I highly recommend this to readers and fans of cartoons and early film history. I also recommend this to general history buffs as well. As a partial aside, I recently read a book titled Drawing the Iron Curtain by Maya Balakirsky Katz that offers a similar and parallel history of the Soviet golden age of animation. I also recommend that book to both readers of animation history as well as history in general. While I recommend both, I probably would suggest Mitenbuler for most readers unless your interest is primarily Soviet history and/or Jewish Studies. Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michael Reilly

    This is a well told story of American animation from Winsor McCay's 1914 "Gertie The Dinosaur" to the 1972 release of "Fritz The Cat", the first X-Rated cartoon. Walt Disney was at the center of the story. The other studios were either trying to do what he did or were trying to do something different from him. Mitenbuler shows how the Warner Brothers cartoons like Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Sylvester the Cat and Daffy Duck were deliberate attempts to rebel against the "mawkish and sentimental" Dis This is a well told story of American animation from Winsor McCay's 1914 "Gertie The Dinosaur" to the 1972 release of "Fritz The Cat", the first X-Rated cartoon. Walt Disney was at the center of the story. The other studios were either trying to do what he did or were trying to do something different from him. Mitenbuler shows how the Warner Brothers cartoons like Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Sylvester the Cat and Daffy Duck were deliberate attempts to rebel against the "mawkish and sentimental" Disney cartoons of the 40s and 50s. Warner Brothers enjoyed mocking Disney. This story surprised me. Warner Brothers released a parody of 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" entitled "Coal Black and de Seben Dwarfs". It was an all black parody including ,for example, Prince Charming as "Prince Chawmin", a black gambler with dice for teeth. It featured the voices of Black actors and Black jazz musicians on the sound track. It was somewhat popular when released in 1943, although the NAACP boycotted it. Not surprisingly, by 1968 it was on the Warner Brothers "Censored Eleven" list of cartoons that were withdrawn from circulation because of potential offensive material. This book is full of those kind of interesting behind the scenes stuff. The early animators where a mix of visionaries and sharpies. The later animators were a mix of hard nosed business men and artist who wanted to do something worthwhile. This is a business history primarily. Mitenbuler focuses on the personalities and machinations of the people selling cartoons. Cartoonist were often overworked and underpaid and they frequently went on strike. Walt Disney, Mitenbuler argues, never got over his cartoonist strike. After the strike he changed his personal focus to amusement parks. It is not fair to complain that someone didn't write the book you wanted to read. But I am not fair. I would have enjoyed more on the technical developments in cartooning. He notes the introduction of new methods for making cartoons but I would have liked to hear more details about how they worked and how they were developed.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

    * Likely my GoodReads non-fiction pick for best books of 2021; depending on publication date eligibility * I was approved to review an advance read copy of the audiobook; I was so intrigued by the book that I also wanted to see the pictures and sketches that I knew would be provided in the book; so I also bought the book. How is that for a recommendation? And I'm glad that I took the time to review the physical book and listen to the audiobook. The book is presented sequentially and begins with ho * Likely my GoodReads non-fiction pick for best books of 2021; depending on publication date eligibility * I was approved to review an advance read copy of the audiobook; I was so intrigued by the book that I also wanted to see the pictures and sketches that I knew would be provided in the book; so I also bought the book. How is that for a recommendation? And I'm glad that I took the time to review the physical book and listen to the audiobook. The book is presented sequentially and begins with how animation began, through the days when television was invented and ends in the 1960's. This book could be used to provide entertainment for a class in Diversity or Political Correctness; wow ... animators are constantly poking boundaries (and quite creatively). I had no idea that Warner Brothers made a 7 minute all-black parody of Snow White titled Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarfs. Constantly the animators were being recruited by the competition. It is so refreshing to enjoy learning about such interesting topic. Who didn't grow up watching animation, Disney films and Saturday morning cartoons? My favorite in grade school was Popeye; it was interesting finding out how the character evolved. I could go on and on, but I really loved the whole book. The audiobook is 13 hours and 45 minutes long; the hardcover is 432 pages. I learned a lot about animation by reading/listening to this audio; but I'm sure that this had been edited and that this probably could have been double in size. But for me, it was the perfect amount of material. The narration of this audiobook by Kevin R. Free was excellent! Thank you to NetGalley, the author/Reid Mitenbuler and the publisher/Grove Atlantic (Atlantic Monthly Press) for the opportunity to review the advance review copy of this audiobook. Audio publication date is 1 Dec 2020.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alan Braswell

    "Ingenious ideas often seem simple and that their genius seeming simple when the act is actually very complex." Wild Minds by Reid Mitenbuler shows how ingenious ideas came to the forefront in the world of animation by starting with the very beginnings of the craft. The book is filled with short biographical sketches of people who have since been forgotten and some that are not forgotten. In order for these ingenious ideas to come out there has to be something to make the ideas come out of the m "Ingenious ideas often seem simple and that their genius seeming simple when the act is actually very complex." Wild Minds by Reid Mitenbuler shows how ingenious ideas came to the forefront in the world of animation by starting with the very beginnings of the craft. The book is filled with short biographical sketches of people who have since been forgotten and some that are not forgotten. In order for these ingenious ideas to come out there has to be something to make the ideas come out of the mind and into the public persona Max Fleischer with his rotoscope invention opened wide the door for people like: Windsor McCoy, Otto Mesimer, Walt Disney to expand and become more creative in their fields. Reid Mitenbulher also shows the struggles and the trials of each animator in various court cases, strikes, sound, movies,producers, the government, Hollywood,Hays code the advent of television and how if one doesn't adapt to changes one is quickly out of a job. Wild Minds is thoroughly entertaining as is watching what the ingenious minds put forth. Thanks to Netgalley and Grove Atlantic for the arc copy

  9. 4 out of 5

    EVAN

    This was an interesting, if incomplete, book. On the one hand, it was great to see Fleischer Studios get the long-overdue credit it deserves, as the original anti-Disney studio. On the other hand, there was next to nothing about Tex Avery who is among the most influential figures in animation and, arguably, film history. Perhaps, the author felt like MGM had been covered sufficiently elsewhere or, he felt the story worked best as a series of Davids (the Fleischers, then Warner Brothers) vs Golia This was an interesting, if incomplete, book. On the one hand, it was great to see Fleischer Studios get the long-overdue credit it deserves, as the original anti-Disney studio. On the other hand, there was next to nothing about Tex Avery who is among the most influential figures in animation and, arguably, film history. Perhaps, the author felt like MGM had been covered sufficiently elsewhere or, he felt the story worked best as a series of Davids (the Fleischers, then Warner Brothers) vs Goliath (Disney).. Either way, it felt like an important part of history was left out. It also felt like the last few chapters were rushed. Basically, UPA, which revolutionized animation, was given a chapters, Jay Ward (whose influences the author acknowledges) even less. Again, this was interesting and well-written and maybe I expected something that wasn't promised. Either way, it's certainly worth reading. #netgalley

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sara M

    This documentary of a book chronicles economic, political, and social climates that unfold as the evolution of moving pictures grows from its infancy. As someone who got short changed in holistic history lessons throughout American high school, college, and graduate school, I always look for authors that are able to provide a relevant infusion of history through interesting and well written work. This book is a joy to read, especially if one heeds the author’s advice to view the referenced cartoon This documentary of a book chronicles economic, political, and social climates that unfold as the evolution of moving pictures grows from its infancy. As someone who got short changed in holistic history lessons throughout American high school, college, and graduate school, I always look for authors that are able to provide a relevant infusion of history through interesting and well written work. This book is a joy to read, especially if one heeds the author’s advice to view the referenced cartoons as they go. The early handcrafted animation is an underappreciated art, especially in today’s era of programmed CGI and digital animation. This book offers guidance in order to really appreciate the early artist’s work. Reading this book was as much a creative, artful experience as it was a refreshing review of historical perspectives.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ashley Rossetto

    Wow. I absolutely loved this account of the earliest years of animation. As someone who normally cannot get all the way through non-fiction books, I devoured this one and wish there was more. (Thank you, additional bibliography!) Beginning with the earliest animated cartoons (which you can watch on youtube as you read your way through the book to really see what Mitenbuler is describing), we learn the behind the scenes world of animation that began in the early 1900s and ended with the deaths of Wow. I absolutely loved this account of the earliest years of animation. As someone who normally cannot get all the way through non-fiction books, I devoured this one and wish there was more. (Thank you, additional bibliography!) Beginning with the earliest animated cartoons (which you can watch on youtube as you read your way through the book to really see what Mitenbuler is describing), we learn the behind the scenes world of animation that began in the early 1900s and ended with the deaths of Walt Disney and Max Fleischer. Mitenbuler writes the facts like an engaging story and draws us in to the world of studio-hopping artists, evolving animation techniques, and capitalist America. I really, really enjoyed this book. I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book through Edelweiss.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Schultz

    Read if you: Want to learn more about the non-Disney history of animation (Disney is defiinitely included, though!) . I've read several Disney biographies and books about the history of Disney animation, but have always wanted a more general look at animation history. From Felix the Cat and Betty Boop to the days of Saturday morning children's cartoons, the wacky, wild, occasionally infuriating (in regard to racist animation) is revealed in this fantastic read. Librarians/booksellers: Patrons/cu Read if you: Want to learn more about the non-Disney history of animation (Disney is defiinitely included, though!) . I've read several Disney biographies and books about the history of Disney animation, but have always wanted a more general look at animation history. From Felix the Cat and Betty Boop to the days of Saturday morning children's cartoons, the wacky, wild, occasionally infuriating (in regard to racist animation) is revealed in this fantastic read. Librarians/booksellers: Patrons/customers who have fond memories of watching cartoons will gravitate to this book. Many thanks to Atlantic Monthly Press and Edelweiss for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Oliver Harris

    This book was so interesting! I requested this book because I love cartoon. I grew up loving the classics and my affection for the art has only grown as I aged so I knew this would be interesting to be me but I had no idea how much! I learned so much about animation and those creative minds behind some of the biggest names in the business. I was fascinated throughout the whole book and while it was nonfiction it was very fast paced and I felt full of action. If I had any complaints it would be th This book was so interesting! I requested this book because I love cartoon. I grew up loving the classics and my affection for the art has only grown as I aged so I knew this would be interesting to be me but I had no idea how much! I learned so much about animation and those creative minds behind some of the biggest names in the business. I was fascinated throughout the whole book and while it was nonfiction it was very fast paced and I felt full of action. If I had any complaints it would be that I would have liked to learn about some of the women who worked in animation. I know they were few at the time and not exactly a big players. I still would have been interested to learn more about some of the kick and women who managed to fight their way onto the scene. Other than that I really just couldn't get enough of this book! Thank you to Netgalley for an early review copy.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    A rich history of things I had never considered about animation's roots and innovations. Not only do I have context for the lives and rivalries of the earliest animators, I also have insight into why some cartoons appeal to me over others (considering pre- vs. post-censorship Betty Boop). The book is a well woven narrative, chock full of outrageous and nuanced facts. Everyone in my life - husband, mother, random friends - joined me in the delightful journey, as I blurted out my revelations and i A rich history of things I had never considered about animation's roots and innovations. Not only do I have context for the lives and rivalries of the earliest animators, I also have insight into why some cartoons appeal to me over others (considering pre- vs. post-censorship Betty Boop). The book is a well woven narrative, chock full of outrageous and nuanced facts. Everyone in my life - husband, mother, random friends - joined me in the delightful journey, as I blurted out my revelations and insisted on impromptu viewings of the cartoons that I now appreciate so much more.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Judy Aulik

    Covers the history of the big three--Disney, Warner Bros., and Fleischer--studios, plus a bit on upstarts UPA and Jay Ward. For a reader who's deeply into the topic, there's not much new, but the book is well-written and engrossing. Covers the history of the big three--Disney, Warner Bros., and Fleischer--studios, plus a bit on upstarts UPA and Jay Ward. For a reader who's deeply into the topic, there's not much new, but the book is well-written and engrossing.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Frankel

    Really interesting and entertaining read. Learned alot about the early years of animation. Many times went to YouTube to watch a animation mentioned. Kind of peters out in the tv era. Wish it covered a bit of the Hanna barbera era too.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Karsh

    This is a collection of male cartoonists from the early days of the industry. It’s biological in a clinical sense. I find I appreciate the old cartoons less after reading this. Still it is interesting.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    A terrific book. This history of comics and animation reads like a novel, written in a very entertaining way. The lead characters (people -- not cartoons) each has an interesting story.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lacey Loves cats!

    They say there is a book about everything. This proves it. Great fun with sense of period that is engrossing

  20. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    https://www.npr.org/2020/12/02/940115... https://www.npr.org/2020/12/02/940115...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Martin Kilkenny

    A great history of animated movies. Who knew that the J in Homer J Simpson was in honor of Bullwinkle J Moose.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Gary Shapiro

    Loved this breezy history of early animation!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michele

    I recommend listening to Reid Mitenbuler's history of animation with a laptop nearby so you can look up the animations as they are mentioned. I grew up loving Mickey Mouse and remember Felix the Cat, so learning about their origins and predecessors was fascinating. I recommend listening to Reid Mitenbuler's history of animation with a laptop nearby so you can look up the animations as they are mentioned. I grew up loving Mickey Mouse and remember Felix the Cat, so learning about their origins and predecessors was fascinating.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lori White

    I've been fascinated by animation since sixth grade summer school when Mr. Benson taught us how to to make simple flip animation books. Mine showed a stick man jumping over a red ball, and I was hooked. I've an idea Reid Mitenbuler, the author of Wild Minds, has a similar story in his background - his passion for and interest in the animation is clearly on display in this comprehensive and engagingly written book of art history. Wild Minds is a wild ride through 100-plus years of animation and th I've been fascinated by animation since sixth grade summer school when Mr. Benson taught us how to to make simple flip animation books. Mine showed a stick man jumping over a red ball, and I was hooked. I've an idea Reid Mitenbuler, the author of Wild Minds, has a similar story in his background - his passion for and interest in the animation is clearly on display in this comprehensive and engagingly written book of art history. Wild Minds is a wild ride through 100-plus years of animation and the men and women who created it - nearly all of whom I'd never heard about - and the techniques they pioneered. Simply put, this book was fascinating. The writing, structure and scope are nearly flawless, the research is deep and wide, and the storytelling is easy and natural, taking the reader through a well-paced timeline. Seriously, I learned so much, not only about the technology of animation and how it came about, but about the cultural impact of animation, the political and historical context of it (who knew Bambi was a push-back against Nazi antisemitism?), the social references and commentaries, and the forward thinking men and women who made animation what it is today. When I finished reading Wild Minds, I had a whole list of animators and animated projects I wanted to learn more about! My background in animation history prior to reading this book was two movies about Walt Disney, btw., so this review doesn't represent the beating heart of an animation aficionado. But, I love reading about history in all it's shapes and sizes, and, Wild Minds did not let me down. This review is based on an advance copy read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rob Neyer

  26. 5 out of 5

    Charles

  27. 4 out of 5

    John Lamiell

  28. 5 out of 5

    John

  29. 5 out of 5

    Robert

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jade Burnham

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