Fantasyland or Wackyland?

Animation and Surrealism in 1930s America


  • Jorgelina Orfila Texas Tech University
  • Francisco Ortega Grimaldo Texas Tech University


This article elucidates the factors that might have contributed to the inclusion of Disney’s pre-production material for the animated cartoon Three Little Wolves, (1936) in the Museum of Modern Art, New York exhibition “Fantastic Art, Dada, and Surrealism” (December 9, 1936-Januray 19, 1937). It also argues that Warner Bros. cartoon Porky in Wackyland (1938) should be considered a surrealist animation.

Organized by Alfred H. Barr Jr., the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, the “Fantastic Art” exhibition both introduced Surrealism to a wider audience and gave fodder to its critics. The exhibition is considered key for the understanding of the popularization of Surrealism in America. The creation of the museum’s Film Library in 1935 is reflected in the catalogue, where a list of fantastic or surrealist films already in its holdings includes one of Disney’s Silly Symphonies. Disney’s productions cannot be considered surrealist but several American cartoons from the Interwar Period have been characterized as such.

Warner Bros.’ Porky in Wackyland (1938) has been included in the sparse bibliography that studies the influence of Surrealism in animation. The article explores the conditions that would allow labeling a cartoon surrealist. Animation history offers a novel point of view to the studies that consider the insertion of Surrealism in America in the 1930s. Using a transdisciplinary approach, the article not only sheds light on this particular topic, but also explores the epistemological underpinnings of the disciplines that study art history and animation.

Author Biography

Jorgelina Orfila, Texas Tech University

Dr. Jorgelina Orfila earned undergraduate degrees in Art History and Museum Studies in Argentina. From 1997 to 1999 she was a Lampadia Fellow at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C, and in 2007 she received her Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Maryland. Dr. Francisco Ortega-Grimaldo received his BA and MA in graphic design from the University of Texas at El Paso and his PhD in Critical
studies and Interdisciplinary Practices from Texas Tech University in 2007. Both are Associate Professors in the School of Art at Texas Tech University and collaborate since 2013 in a book and research project that examines the intersections of animation and the fine arts in 20 th and 21st centuries. They have presented papers on
the subject at many international conferences on animation and art history (Scanners Animafest, Croatia; Society of Animation Studies, Singapore and Italy; College Art Association, New York; Associations of Art Historians, Loughborough, UK; and Modernist Studies Association, Amsterdam). Their latest publication on this topic is “De Top Cat a Don Gato: acerca del doblaje en animación” (From ‘Top Cat’ to ‘Don Gato’: Dubbing in Animation,” Con A de Animación (Journal of the Research
Group on Animation, Art and Industry, Polytechnic University of Seville), (Spring 2018): 150-163.