How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Computer Generated Ideology: The Neoliberal Multi-Verse of Contemporary US Studio Animation

Hannah Frank Memorial Lecture by Mihaela Mihailova
Friday, February 28, 2020 - 4:00pm

In recent years, US animated features have garnered praise for openly engaging with the current political climate and highlighting issues of diversity and social justice. For instance, Smallfoot (2018) has been hailed as a “parable for the fake news age,” while The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019) has been widely celebrated for its dissection of toxic masculinity. But is everything truly awesome in contemporary American studio animation? This talk takes a close look at several computer animated feature films—including the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy (2010-2019), Zootopia (2016), and Frozen II (2019)—in order to deconstruct their allegedly progressive politics, revealing reactionary undercurrents and unearthing fissures and fault lines in their ideological landscapes. Mihailova analyzes narrative in dialogue with a consideration of these films’ digital aesthetics, highlighting tensions between what these films purport to express and what their visual styles and production processes—sometimes inadvertently—render visible.

This annual lecture commemorates the life and work of Hannah Frank (1984-2017), who received her Ph.D. from CMS in 2016. It features young and emerging scholars whose work engages with topics related to her wide range of interests.

Mihaela Mihailova is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan Society of Fellows, with a joint appointment in the Department of Film, TV and Media. She has published in Feminist Media Studies, animation: an interdisciplinary journal, Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema, and Kino Kultura. She has also contributed chapters to Animating Film Theory (with John MacKay), Animated Landscapes: History, Form, and Function, The Animation Studies Reader, and Drawn from Life: Issues and Themes in Animated Documentary Cinema. She is currently editing an essay collection on studio LAIKA's stop-motion feature Coraline and writing a book entitled Drawing (on) Ideology: Contemporary Animated Media in Russia and the United States.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Cinema and Media Studies.