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Animated Personalities

Animated Personalities
Cartoon Characters and Stardom in American Theatrical Shorts

Broadening the field of star studies to include animation, this pioneering book makes the case that iconic cartoon characters, such as Mickey Mouse, are legitimate cinematic stars, just as popular human actors are.

March 2019
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328 pages | 6 x 9 | Hardcover has a printed case, no dust jacket | 45 b&w photos |

Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Felix the Cat, and other beloved cartoon characters have entertained media audiences for almost a century, outliving the human stars who were once their contemporaries in studio-era Hollywood. In Animated Personalities, David McGowan asserts that iconic American theatrical short cartoon characters should be legitimately regarded as stars, equal to their live-action counterparts, not only because they have enjoyed long careers, but also because their star personas have been created and marketed in ways also used for cinematic celebrities.

Drawing on detailed archival research, McGowan analyzes how Hollywood studios constructed and manipulated the star personas of the animated characters they owned. He shows how cartoon actors frequently kept pace with their human counterparts, granting “interviews,” allowing “candid” photographs, endorsing products, and generally behaving as actual actors did—for example, Donald Duck served his country during World War II, and Mickey Mouse was even embroiled in scandal. Challenging the notion that studios needed actors with physical bodies and real off-screen lives to create stars, McGowan demonstrates that media texts have successfully articulated an off-screen existence for animated characters. Following cartoon stars from silent movies to contemporary film and television, this groundbreaking book broadens the scope of star studies to include animation, concluding with provocative questions about the nature of stardom in an age of digitally enhanced filmmaking technologies.


2019 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Section I. Stages of Theatrical Stardom
    • Chapter 1. Silent Animation and the Development of the Star System
    • Chapter 2. Stars and Scandal in the 1930s
    • Chapter 3. The Second World War
  • Section II. Conceptualizing Theatrical Animated Stardom
    • Chapter 4. The Comedian Comedy
    • Chapter 5. Authorship
    • Chapter 6. The Studio System
  • Section III. Post-Theatrical Stardom
    • Chapter 7. The Animated Television Star
    • Chapter 8. The Death of the Animated Star?
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Index

Savannah, Georgia

McGowan is a professor in animation history at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). He holds a PhD from Loughborough University in the United Kingdom.


“[A] never less than fascinating analysis of the lives of animated actors, separate from their performances…this book excels as a fascinating history of who these celluloid celebrities were.”
Austin Chronicle

“[Animated Personalities] is impressive for its lucid historical structure and exceptionally enjoyable content...McGowan breathes life into celluloid figures, giving readers a backstory for some of the most enduring iconic characters of screen history. This is a truly gratifying book.”

“[A] meticulous study…McGowan's project stands out as an extensively researched and timely intervention that simultaneously underscores the need to systematically examine the intersections between animation and live-action stardom and provides a useful model for conducting this type of analysis in an engaging, provocative manner.”
Celebrity Studies

“McGowan delivers an in-depth, concise and convincing line of reasoning as to why animated characters should be considered star quality, whilst providing exceptional discourse on various aspects of cinematic history...This is a bold and powerful exposé on a subject matter that has had an enormous impact on our society extending way beyond the bounds of entertainment.”

“Combining historical, formal, and theoretical modes of analysis, Animated Personalities represents a vital contribution to both star studies and the study of animation in classical Hollywood and beyond. By embracing a key problematic of the study of stardom—the inability to take any element of its construction as authentic—McGowan does not undermine the validity of this approach so much as craft a more honest and complete understanding of it.”

“More than simply adding animation to the existing scholarship in star studies, McGowan raises important questions and contributes a significant work to the field in the twenty-first-century era of CGI artificiality in modern filmmaking...McGowan’s work is an important breakthrough in examinations of stardom.”
Journal of Popular Culture

“[McGowan offers] alternative approaches to star studies that reveal insights into how the field can and should develop.”

“[A] tralblazing book...McGowan draws detailed and insightful comparisons between the processes involved in custom building star personas for live-action and animated films.”
Studies in American Humor

“This excellent book is destined to be a classic in the field of animation studies. I have enjoyed every minute of reading it. By looking at stardom as a concept in relation to animated characters, it strengthens our understanding of the idea of stardom within cinema studies. The book also plays a hugely important role in understanding what actually brought audiences to the cinema in the first place. This is groundbreaking research and should broaden our understanding of cinema history as a whole, not just animated or live-action cinema history.”
Amy M. Davis, University of Hull, author of Handsome Heroes & Vile Villains: Men in Disney’s Feature Animation

“McGowan’s argument that animated characters can and should be considered stars is both original and timely. This book will provide a distinctive and much-needed contribution to film studies.”
Malcolm Cook, University of Southampton, author of Early British Animation: From Page and Stage to Cinema Screens


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca