Short Films, Long Talks English Dept
Short Films, Long Talks:
Using Animated Short Films in English Classes 

What?  Why?  How?

ani-skills.JPG (5051 bytes)



What is animation?
(For other definitions, please see Understanding Animation pp. 10-11 or ¡m°Êµe¹q¼v±´¯Á¡npp. 19-23). 
  • One traditional definition of animation is: "a film made by hand, frame-by-frame, providing an illusion of movement which has not been directly recorded in the conventional geographic sense" (Wells 10)   This definition, as Wells points out, does not include animations made with recent technologies (e.g. computer animation). 
  • The frequently quoted definition by Norman McClaren: "Animation is not the art of drawing that move, but rather the art of movements that are drawn.  What happens between each frame is more important than what happens on each frame" (qtd. Wells 10). 
  • The crucial element of animation, for me, is that it shows human efforts to animate, or to make inanimate things move.  These human-made movements strech our imagination and make the impossible possible
  • Animation, in the broadest sense of the word, can refer the whole art of moving pictures.  However, what makes it different from movies is its relative simplicity in its use of media, its content and/or the ideas it conveys.   Simplicity in plot plus cute figures attract children (as well as adults) to animation (or cartoon).   This simplicity does not prevent some animations for children from being visually stimulating, wildly imaginative or self-consciously creative.   For instance, the body can be stretched, compressed and distorted in endless ways in the wild chase between Tom and Jerry in the namesake animation series (¿ß®»¦Ñ¹«); Donald Duck (­ð¦ÑÀn) can also be shown in the process of being drawn or talking to his creator; with the help of computer technology, recent Disney cartoons keep producing new and visually stunning effects (e.g. the dance-hall scene in Beauty and the Beast, musical scenes in most of them). 
  • Although I like watching non-violent cartoons with my daughter, for pedagogical reasons my focus here is on the animations for adults (or both adults and children).  To use Wells' distinction, I choose more "experimental" animations than "orthodox" one (p. 36).
  • Because of the limitation of my knowledge, most animations I choose here are Canadian and produced by National Film Board of Canada.  But I will hope to expand and include more animated shorts made in other countries. 
Why animated shorts in English classes?  Because
  • they are short and with a singlular or limited number of themes, so they can be shown and then discussed in one class period; 
  • they are funny, visually entertaining, and/or thought-provoking
  • a lot of them are without words, so more accessible for tesol students.

  And How?
So far I have used animations in both Conversation and Composition classes (e.g. Fall, 1988 and Spring 1999), and Literary Criticism class (e.g. Fall 1999).  Occasionally, I used it in more advanced literary courses such as: Canadian Literature and Film (Fall 1999) and Postmodern Theory and Text (Fall 1998).

The following are general descriptions of the methods I used:

I. Conversation:

  1. Plot Description -- whether the animations are with or without words, it's always good for students to summarize the story together (one after another).  You will be amazed by their attention to details, but then lack of understanding of some implications.

  2.   Those without words --
    and relatively easy: Getting Started; Jonas and Lisa; Paradise; Neighbors
    more abstract or difficult: The Sand Castle and Mindscape

  3. Plot/Dialogue re-creation by role-play, or playing the video mute --
  4. Discussion of theme and related social issues (see the list of themes)

  6. Imagination Running Wild: Oral or Written Description of Color, Sound and Shape  (see the list)

II. Literary Criticism
As I said above, a close analysis of the form and content of a more artistic animation can serve as a good demonstration of how to analyze a story new critically.  

  1. Feminism Another Great Day!  Urban Steal ,  as well as the others from Nice Girls ... Films by and about Women
  2. Psychoanalysis  Mindscape
  3. Structuralism  The Long Enchantment
  4. Postmodernism  1. animations which are self-reflexive:Animando; Mindscape; The Box
          1.   2.  Another Great Day!
III. Courses on Canadian Literature and Culture (see list for the most representative ones)