Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

From the beginnings of the Cinema, live actors have been introduced into animated worlds: Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks produced the Alice Comedies (1924-1927; > Alice in Wonderland [1951]), Gene Kelly memorably danced with Tom and Jerry in Anchors Aweigh (1946) and the main characters of Mary Poppins (1964) spent a while in an animated land. Until recently, when technological advances made the accomplishment easier, it was less frequent for animated characters to stray into the real world; one of the first successful forays occurred in some sections of the Disney compilation feature The Three Caballeros (1944).

To place animated characters – or Toons, as they are known in the paradigm movie of this sort, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) – into the real world is to render them, despite or because of their loony anarchy and the skew-logic whereby they operate, profoundly vulnerable: as two-dimensional constructs in a three-dimensional world, they lack the solidity enjoyed by the denizens of that world, which naturally tends to be seen as implacable, lacking in free spirits, and ultimately victorious. If they are accepted at all by that world, it may be as an underclass. Toons tend also to be disadvantaged by their perceived naïvety: when Holli, in Ralph Bakshi's Cool World (1992), leads the explosive incursion of Doodles (as Toons are called in that movie) into our world, it is clear that, although our world may itself be destroyed or driven mad in the short term, the Doodles will ultimately be doomed because the simplicity of their rationales renders them inadequate to cope with the complexities of human intercourse; likewise Mark/The Phantom Prowler in A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 5 (> A Nightmare on Elm Street) naïvely believes he has destroyed Freddy Krueger but is then himself ripped to paper shreds.

Some interesting variations have been played on the theme. In Last Action Hero (1993) Danny, the youthful protagonist, is thrust into a created Alternate Reality, that of his movie action hero: the other characters there react with incredulity when Danny is disturbed by the presence of a Toon cat operating alongside its firmly human police colleagues. In The Mask (1994) the transformed protagonist is a three-dimensional Toon in the human world (he owes much to, in particular, Tex Avery's creations) and, against the conventional trend, is less rather than more vulnerable than the humans surrounding him. (The same observation might be made of the muppets (> The Muppet Show [1976-1981]), who – just – can likewise be regarded as three-dimensional Toons.) In Maurizio Nichetti's Volere Volare (1991) the human protagonist becomes vulnerable through gaining unwanted Toon attributes, though those attributes themselves seem indestructible.

In written fiction, Toons – being a 20th-century creation – are most likely to appear in Contemporary Fantasies, where they may represent in modern dress the various supernatural denizens of Faerie whose existence, in countless Crosshatch tales, is threatened (> Thinning) by the rise of humanity; a story of this type is "Harry the Hare" (1971) by James P Hemesath. It would be misleading, however, to regard them as exact Technofantasy equivalents of supernatural creatures, even though the analogy may be close; an important difference is that they are generally regarded by those around them – if regarded at all – as artefacts rather than independently originated beings, a quintessential difference which they themselves usually acknowledge: they have been made. A partial reversal of this scheme appears in John Grant's The World (1992), in which a Toon rabbit is initially encountered as a quasi-independent mental construct, a part of the transtemporal cultural baggage littering a character's mind, but is later reproduced a thousandfold in artefact form as highly vulnerable holographic servitors. In Greg Snow's Surface Tension (1991; vt That's All, Folks! 1991 US) a human wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a Toon, and is soon exploited by the media to satirical effect. Elsewhere Toons may be inhabitants of Polders: it can be argued that Toontown, in Gary K Wolf's Who Censored Roger Rabbit? (1981) – as in the movie which it inspired – is exactly such a polder. And Toons are likely to fade, like those who take refuge in the eponymous waystation for fading Dreams in Shadows Fall (1994) by Simon R Green. [JC/JG]

see also: Animated Movies; Dunderklumpen! (1974); Puppets; Toys.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.