What is it about?

When we read, or watch, or listen to a story, we expect that the hero or heroine will pursue a goal, and that s/he will encounter difficulties during this quest -- otherwise there is no justification for telling the story in the first place. One way of audiovisualizing that characters try to achieve a goal, and need to overcome problems to do so, is to portray them as going on a journey (which is why there is the genre of the "road movie," and why people undertake a pilgrimage). Everything that happens during this journey, both good and bad things, can be interpreted metaphorically or symbolically, as it tells us something about the specific goal a character wants to achieve. Animation is a marvelous medium to show this. It lives by "movement," need not observe any physical laws, can easily and quickly transform characters and objects, and unproblematically condenses time. The JOURNEY metaphor in the animation films thus does several things at the same time: it portrays a literal journey; it depicts the more general human pursuit of goals; it suggests the (condensed) course of time via spatial means; and it imposes structure on the story. We analyze the following tree animation films: Father and Daughter, Quest, and O, and end by suggesting avenues for further research.

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Why is it important?

The JOURNEY metaphor may be the single most important way in which human beings conceptualize how they make sense of their lives. Understanding how it works therefore provides insight in human nature and human cognition.


Hitherto, animation has insufficiently been studied for its opportunities to teach us how we think. While the "metaphors we live by" (Lakoff and Johnson 1980) are conceptual and thus independent of the medium in which they appear, each metaphor necessarily occurs in a specific medium. As "the medium is the message" (McLuhan 1964), changing the medium has an impact on what can, and cannot, be communicated. Studying animation is fruitful to learn more on how hand-made moving images, music, sound, and language uniquely combine to create meaning.

Dr Charles Forceville
Universiteit van Amsterdam

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This page is a summary of: The flesh and blood of embodied understanding, Pragmatics & Cognition, July 2011, John Benjamins, DOI: 10.1075/pc.19.1.02for.
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