Cartoons at MIT

My first assignment for one of my classes was to come up with a vision of Batman as if he was created in the late 1920s by the Disney animation studios instead of the late 30s DC comics. I was given an early Mickey Mouse short film animated by Ub Iwerks called Plane Crazy as a source of inspiration. Of course I didn’t stop there, I reviewed all of Iwerks’ work and other early north american cartoons from that era, featuring Betty Boop, Felix the cat, Popeye and others. It was very interesting for me to look at the contrast in spirit between the late 20s and the late 30s in the United States. Batman and other superheroes would embody such a different vision than the one conveyed by the animated cartoons and funny strips of 10 years before. On one side, the 20s animations by Iwerks and others seemed to be all about having fun. Their inventive characters would just spend their time chasing the girl or building airplanes out of cardboard boxes, just to crash them on a scared cow a few seconds later. Everything crazy would happen and everything was alive. Your car, your shoes and your fingers would all have a life of their own, and the characters would perform their adventures dancing at the beat of swing or lindy music. Ten years later, and very close to WWII, characters like Batman came to life to protect north americans from the treats of evil, at any cost. How to change this idea of Batman -that of the superpolice- to make it fit in the careless, playful, sloppy world of the animation films from the 1920s? I could think of a short story that would involve Catwoman, Batman, Robin, a haunted house that was built on top of a cave, a whip, and lots of many, many naughty bats.

I find it refreshing that I can combine this kind of stuff with my research, and with other more scientific oriented subjects, like the new class I’m taking from Gerald Jay Sussman, Adventures in Advanced Symbolic Programming. I hope I can survive it, because I am already learning a lot from it.


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