When the clip was shown in class, we marveled at Cab Calloway’s moonwalk, we are bemused at Mr. Boop’s transformation into a phonograph, we laughed at Betty’s incessant crying, her absurd escape from home, amused by the ghosts that were needlessly locked in jail, and satisfied when Betty learns her lesson and runs back home.
The product cartoon evokes emotion from us, the audience, but who is doing it? Performance in animation is distinct from the typical acting one sees in films in that there are no physical actors or actresses to give credit to. A simple, logical explanation of performance in animation comes from Brad Bird: “Animated films are performances... the animators are the ‘real’ performers.” The explanation fits animations like Gertie the Dinosaur and Little Nemo as McCay demonstrates full control over his drawings, but for cartoons and especially Minnie the Moocher, the role becomes hazy. Compare the title cards of three possible performers:…show more content… If Little Nemo’s long shots of McCay announced him as the performer, then what does that say about the beginning the cartoon with a clip of Cab Calloway dancing with his orchestra with a headline that credits him like a guest star? What of Betty, who – more famous and iconic than her animators – is treated like a real life actress? Turns out, performance is more complex than Bird’s definition.
There are two types of performances in animation, embodied and figurative with Betty Boop exemplifying the latter. Embodied performance is introverted; emotion is displayed on the face and in subtle gestures, not unlike acting in movies we see today. In contrast, figurative performance is extroverted; it uses character design, gestures, color, background, and music to demonstrate a character’s emotions and build