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Shadow of a Mouse Performance, Belief, and World-Making in Animation

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Chapter 1

Performance in and of Animation

"What is typically lost in discussions about animation is the fact that when you watch an animated film, the performance you're seeing is the one the animator is giving to you. If an animated character makes you laugh or cry, feel fear, anger, empathy, or a million other emotions, it is largely due to the work of these often unsung artists, who invest a lot of themselves in the creation of these indelible moments."

-Brad Bird

There's something about Betty. She is one of the earliest cartoon characters to be a fully fleshed-out being and the only classic toon star gendered as female (neither Minnie nor Daisy were leading ladies). Now, truth be told, Betty Boop can be a little annoying. Her high-pitched voice is a bit too squeaky. She and her playmates, Bimbo and Ko-Ko the Clown, behave like children when some adult judgment (and they seem to be adults) would make their lives easier. They are also unthinking colonialists and probably more than a little racist when they travel to exotic lands. Her sexy design is irritating to anyone with the least concern about reducing female identity to a sexual package: the gams, the short skirt showing a to-be-taken-off garter, the heart-shaped dΘcolletage. As her theme song points out in regard to her unmentionable sexual charms, "Those eyes, that pretty nose, / Although aside from these / She's got so much of those!" Then there's her relation to "Uncle" Max, who plays her cartoonist-creator in the films where they appear together. She is vamping him, to be sure, and he clearly is besotted with her, living out the middle-age male sugar-daddy fantasy.

Betty, though "made of pen and ink," will indeed "win you with a wink." Despite her off-putting aspects, Betty Boop definitely had personality. Her cartoons, especially the piquant "pre-Code" ones made before 1934, appeal irresistibly. It is difficult not to respond to this drawing as a vivacious human female, despite her disproportionate, infantile head, chubby cheeks, and absurdly small lips. When she acts, she's lithe and loquacious. Her coo and her wink project knowledge of the ways of the world. She's been around. Yet she also has little-shopgirl innocence. You feel sorry for her because her clothing tends to drift away from her body and she has to fend off the grotesquely horny men (her bosses, the Old Man of the Mountain, etc.) who want to have at her virginal "boop-oop-a-doop." You want to know her better, befriend her, or more. A little Olympia. This might explain the presence of the hula-dancer Betty doll that for many years has occupied a spot on my bookshelf. In my imagination, she's more than a drawing, more than a collectible. She's one of my favorite actresses.

There's nothing weird about my mixed feelings about Betty. She isn't a fetishistic hallucination, a dream, or a delusion. Although I like the experience of encountering her in her own imaginary world, I also know that I can't walk up to her and tell her how neat or annoying she is. Boop's a fan object, not a real object. Still ...

Animator, screenwriter, and director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, 2004; Ratatouille, 2007) knows what he's talking about. The implications of his lapidary observations in the epigraph above seem unassailable:

Animated films are performances.

Animated characters (whether Betty or Mr. Incredible) are actors who may convey strong emotions.

The audience responds emotionally to the acting.

The animated characters and therefore the emotions originate with the animators.

The animators create the performances and therefore are the "real" performers.

These observations are simple enough, but, like all things that we would rather think about as merely entertaining, animated film performances are far from simple. They're hard to make, even now with all our technological savvy, and they are products of the tentacular global media-culture industry. Cartoon stars rival human ones as recognizable celebrities and in the avidity of their fans. As do human stars, cartoon characters create a sense of being live and present in the film experience. The settings, landscapes, and stages they occupy are fictional worlds that we like to believe in, all the while knowing them to be fantastic.

In this chapter, I am interested especially in the ways in which animated beings such as Betty, Mickey, Popeye, and others are so easily rationalized as film performers. Admittedly this is counterintuitive. Although nothing is too outlandish, stunning, or hard to swallow for them, they still seem normal, like other screen actors. They just happen to be animated. Watching them, I enjoy a powerful sensation of recognition and a potent sense of their presence. They are drawings, but are they also movie stars? This dissonance is the most fundamental conundrum. How can inanimate drawings or objects act, or perform at all?

The first thing to point out is that Bird's comments refer to two aspects of performativity. The behaviors, actions, and expressivity of the actors, as well as the dramatic situations, narrative flow, plots, and depictions presented in the films, are part of the performance in animation. This is what happens in exhibition, that is, what we see being done on the screen. So Betty performs in the animation when she moves, acts, and dances the hula. Thus this performance is primarily audiovisual. It is an enacted event in a self-sufficient diegetic world. In animation, no performance occurs until the drawings, clay models, or whatever begin to move.

Bird points to viewers' emotional reactions as they experience watching the film in real time. But he also refers to the animators' earlier work of making the film, which involves the performance of animation. These are the continuously unfolding processes that begin before the film is made and continue after its first performance. What happens on the screen doesn't stay on the screen. For this reason, I agree with Bird that the animators' work is a performance, but I qualify it as a conditional performance, the condition being that the film will be completed and projected to its viewers. Alexander Sesonske got it right when he said,

Neither these lively creatures [toons] nor their actions ever existed until they were projected on screen. Their projected world exists only now, at the moment of projection-and when we ask if there is any feature in which it differs from reality, the answer is, "Yes, every feature." ... For there is no past time at which these events either did occur or purport to have occurred. Surely not the time the drawings were made, or the frames photographed; for the world I know and see had not yet sprung into existence then. It exists only now, when I see it; yet I cannot go to where its creatures are, for there is no access to its space from ours except through vision.

The performance in the film, contrarily, is both a result and a springboard. It is dependent on, but separate from, the performance of animation, which comprises these conditional performances by the animators but also implicates the responsive performances by the viewers as their reflections, conversations, affection for the characters, and other reactions develop over time. In the case of Betty, we might also note the history of the Fleischer studio before the initiation of the character; the poaching of "real" performers' traits (those of Palace headliner Helen Kane, a.k.a. the Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl, in particular); the history of representing and the reception of female entertainers; the techniques such as rotoscoping applied by the filmmakers; the distribution of economic power via film distribution; and the marketing and merchandizing juggernaut that produced the effigy on my bookshelf. Moreover, the elements of Betty's acting, the way she targets her performances to a vaudeville-like theater audience within the films, her interactions with "live" characters (including Max, her putative creator), and the setting of the animated character within the "real" world via photographic backgrounds are just a few streams that may contribute to Boop's incredibly dense performativity.

Thus the encompassing performance of animation refers to the whole contextual process from inception to its open end. Often it is known only by inferences, for instance, through speculation about what the animators were doing and why, and how audiences were responding. Performance isn't a sender-receiver communication model but rather a galaxy of relationships, many of which remain unknowable.

Bird's model places the site of performance solidly with the filmmakers (the original context for the quotation is an introduction to a book on acting for animators). That, however, is not the only option. I will stress the part that film viewers also play, inscrutable though it may be, since they must assent to the films' offers to perform-by paying attention, by "getting into" the show via laughter, singing along, or applauding, and by embracing the characters as show people. And by buying tickets and DVDs or subscribing to streaming services.

Bird notes that expressive communication is the major aim of cartoon performance. These performances are instrumental, meaning that they convey emotions. They are bound to specific times, places, and material conditions of production and circulation and so have an impact on their original audiences. But cartoons are also frameworks that fan backward, outward, and into the future. Historical consumers of these films, then as now, experience them within their own diverse and evolving understanding. The physical print of the film might be the same, but a cartoon viewed in wartime movie houses in 1942 was experienced far differently by those audiences, who likely viewed it as a performance of patriotism, than it is by today's audiences-especially students-who see the characters performing propaganda and racism. From the standpoint of historical reception, these are entirely different performances of the same physical film.

Because acting is crucial, however, let's begin with Bird's concept of performance, which contains the most profound irony. Indeed, according to traditional theories of stage acting, dramatic irony is the basis of performance, since the actors, while performing, are not themselves but a believed-in character. The Hamlet onstage is also the drama major down the hall. Experiencing a temporary forgetfulness, spectators may imagine, contradictorily but without great confusion or anxiety, that they're watching characters and not actors whose bodies just disappear. It's as though viewers are in two places simultaneously, within the fiction and outside it. Disney's characterizations depended on this classical model, which in fact is allegorized in Dumbo (Samuel Armstrong et al./Disney, 1941). The elephant protagonist is convinced that a magic feather is the source of his flying power. It works in the performance because, in fact, he can fly when he holds it with his trunk. We moviegoers, thanks to our superior position inside the narration, know that Dumbo's ability derives from his pure soul and his aerodynamic ears, not from his magic feather. These two beliefs are equally valid, and yet they are incompatible (a stern ethical lesson that the film drives home at the end, opting for the nonmagical explanation). Similarly, we are aware that Betty behaves and enchants like a real actor. We also know that she is different from non-animated screen actors, although she herself seems to be unaware that she's not human.

The Disney animators often described Mickey Mouse and other characters as though they were people. A 1935 memo to the animators asked the question that was preoccupying the studio then, "What Makes and Breaks Personality"? The anonymous supervisor concluded that animal and inanimate objects had to be humanized, not just physically but mentally as well. Sounding like Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein, who had visited the studio, the author observed, "A memorable shock is produced by the mixture of the fantastic and impossible with the believable." The studio was obviously wrestling with the problem of imparting credulity to its characters while retaining their cartoonish charms. The memo discussed Mickey's transformations in Band Concert (Wilfred Jackson/Disney, 1935) as an example of how only "a few human touches and minor traits can vitalize a general character into a personality." Band Concert demonstrated how Mickey's persistent conducting during a violent storm, as well as his oversize uniform with sleeves falling over his hands, "makes him living and unforgettable." The film also demonstrated a foundational concept about animation performance: that it bears the marks of allegory, metaphor, and irony. Mickey's inept appearance is at odds with his masterful and unexpected talent as a conductor.

Perhaps most intriguing in Bird's observations is the issue of personal investment, implying both a psychological and ethical involvement of spectators in performance. What is the process that reifies the animators' feelings in their work so that audiences later will understand and feel those emotions on their own? For that matter, how do audiences invest themselves in the animation experience? What Bird describes initially seems to be a performative situation, but is it really?

One performance studies textbook offers this definition: "Performative events require a performer, a text, an audience, and a context. At the base of all definitions of the performer is a performer who is a human, whose instrument is his or her own body." According to another definition, "a performance is an activity done by an individual or group in the presence of and for another individual or group." Another scholar reflects that if we ask what makes performing arts performative, "I imagine the answer would somehow suggest that these arts require the physical presence of trained or skilled human beings whose demonstration of their skill is the performance."


Stipulating that the performing agent must be a human body sharing a physical space with an attentive audience seems to nip in the bud the existence of performing cartoon characters made of drawings, objects, clay, or pixels. Yet Betty Boop is presented and accepted as a human performer. She certainly seems to be performing "texts" for us, the audience, in a specific time and place (context). No one would disagree that she has definite skills and uses her body as an instrument. Too bad she's a toon, following the impeccable nomenclature for the animated laborers introduced in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Robert Zemeckis, 1988).

Are toons human? No, because they do not have biological human bodies in our physical world. We can't physically feel them or interact with them. They may not-and usually do not-possess human form. They are works of fiction, like Captain Ahab. Yes, if "human" is a metaphor, an attitude, a belief, or a cognitive category whose boundaries are contingent on definitions and functions that we recognize as human. Of course Ahab is human, but the whale is not. Nevertheless, the protagonist effectively demonstrates the ability of people to see animals as embodying human conditions and behaviors. We easily impute humanness to Captain Ahab, but we also humanize Moby Dick the whale when we, sympathizing with Ahab, assign to it the human attributes of evil and bloodthirstiness.

From this we gather that equating "body" with "physically human" is too narrow; germs and splinters are foreign bodies, and there are bodies of stars, of essays, of legislatures. There are cultural beings embodied as human, such as Santa Claus and Mother Goose. Our pets, which for many of us are more like people than like animals, or Donald Duck, who is more human than he is duck, and toons all have personhood without being biologically human. Although they are not lived bodies and may not have human forms, these characters coexist in our lived world thanks to the embodying function of various cognitive, anthropomorphic, and social processes. Then there's the pathetic fallacy.

Perceiving moving lines, colorful shapes, blobs of clay, piles of sand, furry puppets, and even plain forms in motion on-screen as animated bodies-of humans, animals, and any number of other beings-is a complex process. Cognitive psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, art historians, cultural theorists, theologians, and the tweedy professoriat have advanced explanations. John Ruskin called it the pathetic fallacy. He was referring to the tendency of some writers to project feelings and interpretations onto inanimate objects and nature. An old mill, for example, might also be the bosom of a sheltering home, and indifferent Nature or Hope might be immanent in a cloud formation. But he could just as easily have applied the term to animated matches, caricatured people and animals, or simple geometric shapes that move in certain ways. Especially if they are associated with stories, sound, and speech, animated characters may be arranged by filmmakers in ways that let us understand them as humorous (or sympathetic, disgusting, or threatening) humanoids (I give you South Park). Cartoons and their actors are as capable of supporting such projections as other media forms are, plus they carry forward a long tradition from popular graphic arts.

Is Betty Boop a "performer?" Some theorists would have to veto Betty's performativity because of their requirement for human physical coexistence with a human audience. This goes beyond the fact that she happens to be black-and-white and two-dimensional. The living human requirement disqualifies non-animated mediatized expressions such as sound recordings, film, and radio and television broadcasts. Animated performances seem to fail the "live performer copresent with a live audience" test as well. This is not a coincidence, since the test's hidden agenda is to affirm the "intrinsic," "essential," "unique," and "live" properties of theater performance. But wait. Cinema does not fail the test if we simply stipulate that performers need not be human beings, and that the performers may have presence without being physically corporeal. More important than the humanity of the on-screen performer is that of the audience members. Animated films, like all entertainments, are made with the assumption that they will be viewed by some gathering of spectators and auditors. In the classic period of cartoons, this screening was in a movie theater, where a "living" human audience understood that a performance was in progress. The performativity occurs in the unfolding of the event for moviegoers, not in the "blood" of an actor.

The performativity of animation can't be separated from performance in non-animated cinema (the subject of lively ongoing discussions). The cartoon performance occurs in the real time and space of exhibition, but the performance of animation is a composite phenomenon of mind and material that happens in a common space to which animators and audiences have read-write access. I call this zone of fascination and fantasy the Tooniverse. Paradoxically it inducts and repels us while asserting and disavowing its existence by calling attention to its constructedness. No individual constituent (animation studios, material forces such as the motion picture distribution system, or audiences) is solely in control in this movie-made world, which resembles other ephemeral realms of art and culture, such as the worlds of theater, literature, and visual and sonic experience. The Tooniverse is a collaborative construction because it's coanimated by the filmmakers and viewers.

Although ironic representation underlies all animation performance, there are different creative approaches to it. Bird is a proponent of what I'll call embodied acting. The popular wisdom is that it was introduced by Disney, after which it quickly replaced older styles of acting. Historically, this approach was influenced by the teaching of Stanislavsky and developed into "the Method," popular in 1950s stage and films. Embodied acting is still dominant today in feature animation. Actually, Brad Bird is one of its exemplars. Another approach, however, is figurative acting, which never disappeared and now thrives, especially in Japanese anime, in animated television series in the tradition of Beavis and Butt-head, The Simpsons, and South Park, and in much online animated work.

Disney, after he had begun espousing an embodied approach to screen acting, belittled what I'm calling the figurative approach as shallow or primitive. But figuration remained a potent alternative practice for developing personality. Even after Disney's forays into embodied personality animation had been critically acclaimed, "not everybody used it," as Chuck Jones observed. According to the famed Warner Bros. director, "I don't know how many ways there are to animate, but in our pictures, Bugs and Daffy and all our characters were defined by the movement. None of them are funny to look at if you've never seen them in movement. It's like good actors. Woody Allen or Charlie Chaplin aren't funny to look at, but they are funny by the way they move. That's the whole point about character animation. But that's one way of animating." The figurative acting Jones describes emphasized movement that conveys signifying gestures and pantomime typical of broad humor and slapstick rather than emotive personality, character nuance, and emotional expression. The characters, often derived from comic art graphic traditions and from popular theater (vaudeville, burlesque, music hall), accentuated dynamism and immediate legibility. The embodied approach to acting, however, asks actors to look within themselves and use their own intense feelings to engender dramatic bodies for their audience. Actors develop a character, coming to understand its motives, life story, and psychology, in order to materialize it as something that observers will accept naturally, with barely a second thought.

Figurative Performances

Figurative performance is extroverted. Characters behave as recognizable "types," marshaling a small range of instantly identifiable facial and body expressions. They rehearse their distinctive movements and characteristic gags in film after film. They elicit surprise and shock but mostly laughs as they move the gag-laden story along. We appreciate them as we understand clowns or slapstick comedians with distinctive yet familiar styles. James Naremore might agree that figurative acting is ostensive; performers display character by showing off. These performances are formally presentational, meaning that the actors often face the audience and display their talent as though putting on a show. Cartoon characters convey thought and emotion through conventional distortions of their bodies, for example, by stretching and squashing themselves. Sometimes they feign actual presence in the movie theater, acknowledging the audience by gesturing, speaking, or singing to the "camera." The acting is skin deep. So throughout the 1930s, for instance, when characters shout, "Mammy," as they do countless times, everyone would have understood this as a reference to Al Jolson's minstrel singing. Such performances work against audiences ignoring the toons' constructedness and getting "into" the characters, which was a goal of embodied performance. Early cinema's exploitation of "attractions" and its affinity for slapstick relied more on what Andre Gaudreault calls monstration (being shown) than it did on narration (telling). Tom Gunning's observation that early films "reach out and confront" spectators catches the dynamism of figurative performance's antiabsorption aesthetic. Theorists of drama following Brecht, and of film following Eisenstein and Bresson, have promoted acting styles that were extroverted in this sense. Eisenstein was especially smitten by the figurative reflexivity and kinetic performance in these cartoons and rhapsodized about black-and-white "plasmatic" Mickey, who was always moving and morphing like an amoeba: "Here we have a being represented in drawing, a being of a definite form, a being which has attained a definite appearance, and which behaves like the primal protoplasm."

In the early 1930s, the best-known animation actors were Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop, Popeye, and Farmer Al Falfa. Bosko, from Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising at Schlesinger's, and Oswald, produced by Walter Lantz at Universal, rounded out the field. All became cartoon stars through their figurative performances. This was the tradition out of which Disney grew and against which he reacted. Most performances in these cartoons resembled gags that one might see in a comic strip, in a short film comedy, or live on the vaudeville stage, where such routines were, in Naremore's words, "threatening to disrupt coherence at every level of the performance, deriving laughter not only from the foolish inconsistency of the characters but from a split between actor and role." Emotion and empathy, in this other concept of performativity, were less important than immediacy, surprise, visual gags, and witty repartee. Although it was all about performers' bodies and physicality, neither the animators nor their customers expected to learn anything about their toons' depth of being.

Not that animated performances in the figurative mode were bereft of emotion; they simply expressed it using different devices. Performances arising from even the most rigidly conventionalized forms may still convey feeling by way of vocabularies of masklike signs and gestures. The Song of the Birds (Dave Fleischer/Paramount, 1935), for example, uses emblematic displays and music to show the robin parents grieving over their wounded chick. Emotion is conveyed by a chorus of neighbor birds aligning in a semicircle around the parents and singing a mournful song. It resembles a stage apotheosis (Figure 1). Embodied approaches, on the contrary, would try to invoke subjectivity, identification, and empathy to achieve the same empathetic response. FC[figref 1]/FC

A Disney film in which the performance is mostly figurative is The Moose Hunt (Burt Gillett/Disney, 1932). Pluto, though he speaks in a human voice three times in the film, acts as a stereotypical dog doing his canine business, for example biting fleas, peeing inappropriately, and so on. In one scene he pretends that he has been shot by Mickey and winks at the film viewer to show us he's playacting. Distraught, Mickey, after miming his grief over Pluto in a very stagy fashion, looks at the audience and pleads to the "camera," asking, "Is there a doctor in the house?" Elsewhere there are movie references, as when Mickey commands Pluto to "speak" and the dog drops to one knee and replies, "Mammy!" When Pluto ends his charade, he puckers his lips and says to Mickey, "Kiss me," evidently re-performing another movie line that audiences would have recognized but that is now lost in the fog of the past (is it Ronald Colman? John Gilbert? Garbo?). The characters draw attention to their roles as performers in a cartoon. In Mickey, viewers might have seen a hybrid of Charles Lindbergh, Douglas Fairbanks, and Buster Keaton.

The eponymous king in King Neptune (Burt Gillett/Disney, 1932) is a jolly, rotund protagonist who also was the archetype for Father Noah, Old King Cole, King Midas, and Santa Claus in later movies. The supporting cast members are generic mermaids and pirates, including a stereotypical gay buccaneer in a lavender shirt. At this time the Disney studio's approach to acting was more or less similar to that of other studios. As Disney became more invested in alternative characterization strategies in the later 1930s, his actors drifted away from this figurative presentation. Accordingly, Eisenstein's ardor for Disney cooled as he perceived the new style to be less "plasmatic."

Betty Boop was a most interesting amalgam of figurative and embodied performance. She isn't a completed character, but she does have a personal background, individuality, and some agency. Heather Hendershot has noted the bivalence and considers Betty simultaneously a "design motif" and a "designed product." As a movie viewer, I have no difficulty in typecasting Betty as a starring coquette such as Colleen Moore, Clara Bow, Marilyn Monroe, Cameron Diaz, or Reese Witherspoon. Betty's acting, however, has few characteristics of the embodied style: her movements, gestures, and expressions are formulaic; she is not introspective; we don't bond with her as a thoughtful being. We are aware perhaps that she is a marketing franchise. Nevertheless, her performances generate a sense of presence. "Perhaps, at least to a certain degree," observes Joanna Bouldin apropos of Betty, "the material and sensuous connection between image and original is maintained in animation, albeit a complicated, morphed and multiplied connection."

The wonderfully strange Betty Boop's Rise to Fame (Dave Fleischer/Paramount, 1934) illustrates those contradictory connections. A journalist comes calling on cartoonist Max (played by Max Fleischer) to interview the cartoon star. Max obligingly dips his pen into the inkwell and lightning sketches the animated flapper. Riding on his pen from paper to desktop, she subtly transforms from two to three dimensions (Figures 2a and 2b). Betty introduces three scenes showing some of her star turns-actually, clips from two-year-old Paramount cartoons. The show over, she dives back into the inkpot and the reporter gets a splash in the eye.

Now, on the merely commercial level, one might dismiss the omnibus film as what the trade called a cheater, a clever if somewhat lazy attempt to pad a nine-minute cartoon with just a few minutes of new animation. This, however, would be a mistake. Typical of examples of figurative performativity, Rise to Fame replicates in its story line the process by which each subperformance develops from previous ones. Borrowing the Hollywood biopic form, it purports to show how the protagonist grew from her formative appearances on stage and screen into today's movie star. Her celebrity is signaled in several ways in addition to the film title. For instance, the reporter isn't interested in creator Max's life or remarkable talent, only in Betty's star story. She is a professional actor-a vaudevillian-whose job it is to sing, dance, play movie roles, and mold herself into a spectacle. The films she selects to document her "rise" are not titles that might have embodied an autobiographical legend based on her ethnic roots, such as Minnie the Moocher (Dave Fleischer/Paramount, 1931), in which we meet her immigrant parents, or Any Rags (Dave Fleischer/Paramount, 1932), in which we see her at home in a tenement. Rather, Betty selects cartoons in which she's a chameleon-like showgirl. She shifts through identities in nested performances. We see Max's new performance (his creation of Betty), which enacts a story (the implied biography), and Betty's new performance, which encapsulates her old performances. Her distinctive character evolves as we get to know her through these concatenations of talents appropriate for an entertainer from the louche world of burlesque (and animated cartoons). If she were performing in the embodied style, we would have been invited to understand her as an autonomous being much as we would with other contemporary film stars. We might learn more about how her class or ethnicity influenced her behavior. We want to know why she's so attracted to the hula and African American jazz.

Betty is in part a star by association. She shows us how she is a figuration of "the star" by importing celebrity charisma into her Tooniverse. Her personality is an infectious composite of acquired details, more like a collection of poached traits than a complex expression of inner drives and motives. As a figure, she lacks an interior core of emotion or individual expressivity. She does her "imitations" stage act in clips from Stopping the Show (Dave Fleischer/Paramount, 1932) and successively appropriates the mannerisms, accents, and song stylings of Kane, of Ziegfeld Follies chanteuse Fanny Brice, and of the cabaret singer Maurice Chevalier, her fellow employee at Paramount. It is the historicized performances in the old film clips that authenticate her current existence. Rise to Fame builds in plenty of pretend memories. The photographs of Brice and Chevalier speak to Betty in voices that sound like the originals, as though these recognizable "real" people remember and accept her as a "real" showbiz protΘgΘ. In their conditional performance, the animators clearly assumed that their audiences would get the references.

The animators tried to excite their audiences by constructing worlds that acknowledged mainstream cinema but also retained vestigial connections to powerful traditions in live performance, with which their viewers were probably very familiar. Many pre-World War II audiences were as experienced as consumers of vaudeville and radio broadcasts as they were of the movies. (Max Fleischer, for example, was a popular radio personality.) Animators and audiences alike related to theaters as intermedial zones that combined stage acts, live music, and song with cinema, and where the boundaries defining film acting and between on- and offstage became blurred.

Animators used figuration to create the impression that cartoons were anticinema, or at least outside its rules. They mocked the movies and movie stars and poked reflexive fun at themselves as film workers. They relied on graphic conventions that put their toons' bodies through gyrations to show off their nonhuman anatomical rubbery quality, their imperviousness to physical attacks and dismemberment. Characters like Bosko masqued to an incessant visual rhythm syncopated to the jazzy sounds coming from the orchestra pit and early soundtracks. Eisenstein saw in such acting the potential for resisting Stanislavskian notions of embodiment (which he despised), and for world domination by Hollywood's brand of performativity and probably capitalism itself.

Alongside Disney's mid-1930s quest to endow cartoon characters with personality, individuated character, and what the animators liked to call the "illusion of life," other studios continued introducing characters that they hoped would compete with Mickey but also continued to produce figurative performances. For example, the gags with book and magazine titles and trade names that become animated caricatures, as in Speaking of the Weather (Frank Tashlin/Schlesinger, 1937), expect the viewer to match the joke to the popular media image. The many caricatures in films such as The CooCoo Nut Grove (Friz Freleng/Schlesinger, 1936) referenced celebrities (such as bandleader Ben Bernie) and their parodies (Ben Birdie). Many of these persons have long since faded from the radar screen of popular culture, leaving the joke structures behind without the ironic force of the original star figurations.

Standardized character model sheets not only helped the animators working in the figurative mode to maintain a consistent look in scenes, but they also provided a formulary of poses and facial expressions. The studio apprentice system, whereby experienced animators taught standard practices to the newcomers, perpetuated ways of signifying character through pantomimed gestures that had been current for a century in theater and painting. Standardized character model sheets not only helped the animators working in the figurative mode to maintain a consistent look in scenes, but they also provided a formulary of poses and facial expressions. The studio apprentice system, whereby experienced animators taught standard practices to the newcomers, perpetuated ways of signifying character through pantomimed looks and gestures that had been current for a century in theater and painting. As it had been practiced in gaslight melodrama, the actors move from pose to pose, conveying thoughts through conventional broad gestures of face and limbs. Audiences grasp the message by training or by intuition.

The name most often associated with this approach is Franτois Delsarte. Many versions of his so-called system of expression were available to singers, actors, and public speakers. These book illustrations linking poses and gestures to conventional meanings provided a ready reference for stock facial and bodily expressions. Artists of every stripe as well as silent filmmakers such as Griffith were steeped in these poses, which were a staple of theater acting. As the animation studios became industrialized, the model sheets that catalogued the characteristic poses, the roster of facial expressions, and each toon actor's "mouth chart" enabled clarity and consistency of acting. Ken Anderson, in a typical training session for Disney animators, would sketch the various faces associated with specific thoughts. If the filmmaker wanted the character to portray concentration, for instance, he would draw the brows furrowed and the eyelids down.

The plasticity that Eisenstein admired so much in Mickey is actually a characteristic typical of figurative performance, in which the body creates its own expressive space. Betty, for instance, constantly goes in and out of temporal and dimensional zones as well as fictional spaces. When she and Max show us the paper cutouts representing the cartoons' "sets," the "fourth wall" becomes unstable and the viewer's engagement in the space is very confusing, moving from the photographic 3-D of Max's studio to 2-D background drawings and back to 3-D when the film within the film begins and the "sets" become the character's action space. Although Betty presents herself visually and verbally to the reporter and Max in his studio space, she also makes eye contact with "us" in the movie audience when she speaks to the "camera." When she's acting-that is, presenting herself as a professional performer-the display is frontal, with eye contact. It's very stagelike even when she's not actually on a stage. Like Betty herself, the films are coy (Figure 3). That lei lilting across her bare breasts is a voyeuristic temptation that never gives an unobstructed view of what lies beneath, and an emblem, perhaps, of films in the figurative mode. They promise to reveal more than they do, teasing viewers into thinking that they'll learn something about the protagonist, about cartoon stardom, and about the animation process itself. Instead, the animators lead us-without much resistance, it must be said-down a garden path of playful delusion.

Figuratively performing characters don't try to hide that they're manufactured beings; they are happy to show us the process of their making and how they got to be cartoons, often in a funny, self-mocking way. Making {apos}Em Move (Harry Bailey and John Foster/Van Beuren, 1931, rereleased as In a Cartoon Studio) is another cartoon that purports to tell all about cartoon performance. A curious woman (or is she a cat?) wonders how animation is done. A wizened doorkeeper shows us the "secret." Hilarious scenes of musical mayhem ensue as the animal-animators madly manufacture the various phases of their assembly-line product. The conceit is that the cartoonists are sketching other cartoon beings performing, merely reproducing faithful views of the living creatures in the other world they inhabit. The joke calls into question animated embodiment. (It also became the premise of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, in which the Tooniverse is the workers' literalized ghetto, Toon Town.) One Making {apos}Em Move artist-character draws a hula-dancing kitten that obligingly strikes a slightly different pose for each drawing (Figure 4). When the sketchers' sheets are flipped they synthesize an animated dance. A galloping movie camera films the pages of drawings as the animator riffles them past the lens. A "live" band with a phonograph needle hooked up to it scratches the soundtrack onto the edge of the film stock. The characters are comedians without any depth or subtlety of personality. The interest is in putting over the gag, showing their funny actions, and engaging in self-parody, not in setting forth the toons' motivated behaviors.

In A Cartoonist's Nightmare (Jack King/Leon Schlesinger Studio, 1935), the animation studio is pictured as a crazy factory populated by funny folks and caricatures (of the Schlesinger staff, perhaps). One animator stays after hours and falls asleep working on the studio's newest character, Beans. In the cartoon in progress, a monster is chasing Beans, but in a stunning dream sequence the villain drags the animator into the cell. The bad guys of previous Schlesinger cartoons capture and torment him, singing, "The tables are turned and now you're in our clutches." Beans rescues the animator by tossing him a pencil with which he can draw and erase his way out of trouble. This film is mostly a figurative performance. Beans is cute but has few personality features, and he declaims with standard cartoon poses and gestures. The villains-even more cookie-cutter-were actually drawings lifted from earlier films. There is a hint of the developing Disneyesque style detectable, perhaps, in the rounded, relatively individualized depiction of the animator. We are invited to enter the protagonist's inner life and share his subjectivity.

Rather than providing insight into a character's psyche or suggesting a moral, the narratives of films adhering to the figurative approach make their points through repetition and symbolic visuals. Some prior state or activity comes around again as something new. So it makes sense for Betty to recycle her films; for the animators in the factory to turn the performances of toons into cycled toon drawings; for the sleeping animator to cast himself as the lead in the Beans cartoon he's working on. The more repetitions such as these that we experience, the more familiarity we have with the characters' uniqueness and personalities. Not only were such recurrences familiar and satisfying to moviegoers who expected such repetitions, but they also reflexively illustrate the notion of re-performance, which is crucial to figuration.

The term re-performance was inspired by performance theorist Richard Schechner's claim that all performances are "restored behavior." Discussing social practices and rituals, which include organized public performances such as plays, performance art, and films, he deploys a cinematic analogy: "Restored behavior is living behavior treated as a film director treats a strip of film. These strips of behavior can be rearranged or reconstructed; they are independent of the causal systems (social, psychological, technological) that brought them into existence. They have a life of their own. The original 'truth' or 'source' of the behavior