In 2008, Waltz with Bashir shocked the world by presenting a bracing story of war in what seemed like the most unlikely of formats—an animated film. Yet as Donna Kornhaber shows in this pioneering new book, the relationship between animation and war is actually as old as film itself. The world’s very first animated movie was made to solicit donations for the Second Boer War, and even Walt Disney sent his earliest creations off to fight on gruesome animated battlefields drawn from his First World War experience. As Kornhaber strikingly demonstrates, the tradition of wartime animation, long ignored by scholars and film buffs alike, is one of the world’s richest archives of wartime memory and witness.
Generation after generation, artists have turned to this most fantastical of mediums to capture real-life horrors they can express in no other way. From Chinese animators depicting the Japanese invasion of Shanghai to Bosnian animators portraying the siege of Sarajevo, from African animators documenting ethnic cleansing to South American animators reflecting on torture and civil war, from Vietnam-era protest films to the films of the French Resistance, from firsthand memories of Hiroshima to the haunting work of Holocaust survivors, the animated medium has for more than a century served as a visual repository for some of the darkest chapters in human history. It is a tradition that continues even to this day, in animated shorts made by Russian dissidents decrying the fighting in Ukraine, American soldiers returning from Iraq, or Middle Eastern artists commenting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Arab Spring, or the ongoing crisis in Yemen.
Nightmares in the Dream Sanctuary: War and the Animated Film vividly tells the story of these works and many others, covering the full history of animated film and spanning the entire globe. A rich, serious, and deeply felt work of groundbreaking media history, it is also an emotional testament to the power of art to capture the endurance of the human spirit in the face of atrocity.