Covering much of the same ground as Leonard Maltin's Of Mice and Magic, Hollywood Cartoons is packed with interesting insights and comments from both the author and those that participated in the creation of an American art form. Michael Barrier's exhaustively researched book covers the Golden Age of Hollywood animation and the movers and shakers that had an impact on the art form.
At nearly 650 pages Barrier's book takes a fair balanced look at Disney, Warner Bros., Fleischer and other contributors to this dying art form. It's actually a perfect companion piece to the newely released boxed set of Warner Bros. Looney Tunes classics. Barrier avoids the Disney worship that marred other books of this type and, like Maltin's marvelous but less indepth book, he manages to point out the key contributions of the most important animation directors/producers of the era.
While it does overlook or give only a cursory overview of some important figures in the industry, Barrier's scholarly aproach manages to recognize the merits and flaws of each studio, their system and directors. Although not as well illustrated as Maltin's book, the pictures do provide a glimpse of many of the essential classics that impacted the art of animation. Since much of the documentation for the creation of some of the early Warner classics are long gone, Barrier has to rely on many of the same sources and pictures as other authors. The book could have been improved if he had gone more to private collectors for rare animation cels, production photos, model drawings and notes. I also would have liked many of these illustrations to be reproduced in color. Seeing them in dark black and white illustrations does little justice to the artistry of these pioneers.
Maltin's book was clearly the work of an informed fan; his approach focused on the creation of many of the important classics but didn't lose track of the fun in the finished product. Barrier's scholarly approach is a bit drier and doesn't quite communicate the excited of Maltin's less authoriative book on the same subject. It's still an important look at the pioneers of animation's Golden Age and, as such, should be read by those who love the shorts from the various eras examined here.
Books on the history of animation, especially the early ones, tend to fall into the trap of Disney-worshipping, which Barrier thankfully avoids. However, in his zeal to prove he is not Disney's lap dog, he unfairly bashes some of the studio's features (including one I consider on a par with the best of them, "Lady and the Tramp.") He gives the same slash-and-burn treatment to the Warner Bros. studio--Clampett, in his view, was apparently nothing more than a second-rate hack, when Clampett in fact hit a period of sheer brilliance in the early to mid forties. "Book Revue", "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery", "The Old Grey Hare" and "Baby Bottleneck" were all Clampett creations, and occupy many of the top slots in Jerry Beck's book "The Fifty Greatest Cartoons Ever." Barrier dismisses them all, as well as Clampett's abilities as a draftsman. I would say he is partial to Jones in his longtime feud with Clampett, but Jones falls victim as well. Still, it is worth reading if you like behind-the-scenes stories of the animation industry.