Fantasyland or Wackyland?
Animation and Surrealism in 1930s America
This article elucidates the factors that might have contributed to the inclusion of Disney’s pre-production material for the animated cartoon Three Little Wolves, (1936) in the Museum of Modern Art, New York exhibition “Fantastic Art, Dada, and Surrealism” (December 9, 1936-Januray 19, 1937). It also argues that Warner Bros. cartoon Porky in Wackyland (1938) should be considered a surrealist animation.
Organized by Alfred H. Barr Jr., the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, the “Fantastic Art” exhibition both introduced Surrealism to a wider audience and gave fodder to its critics. The exhibition is considered key for the understanding of the popularization of Surrealism in America. The creation of the museum’s Film Library in 1935 is reflected in the catalogue, where a list of fantastic or surrealist films already in its holdings includes one of Disney’s Silly Symphonies. Disney’s productions cannot be considered surrealist but several American cartoons from the Interwar Period have been characterized as such.
Warner Bros.’ Porky in Wackyland (1938) has been included in the sparse bibliography that studies the influence of Surrealism in animation. The article explores the conditions that would allow labeling a cartoon surrealist. Animation history offers a novel point of view to the studies that consider the insertion of Surrealism in America in the 1930s. Using a transdisciplinary approach, the article not only sheds light on this particular topic, but also explores the epistemological underpinnings of the disciplines that study art history and animation.