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John the Bull (1930)


Main image of John the Bull (1930)
35mm, 434 feet, black & white, silent
SponsorMinistry of Agriculture and Fisheries

Cartoon animation promoting British beef.

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Propagandists working in film have often turned to animation in order to express extremes of action and emotion without alienating audiences. Particularly popular is cartoon animation, which draws on the longstanding tradition of political caricature. The humorous tone and abstraction of 'cartoon reality' allows the artist greater leeway to express opinions that might be guarded in plainer speech.

John The Bull makes use of the popular cartoon figure of John Bull to rouse British anger at the importing of foreign meat. While the film is not overtly satirical in intent, the scenes of meat carcasses being hung from the neck from lampposts, or of baying mobs outside foreign butchers, would certainly have appeared a lot more threatening and provocative in live-action than in cartoon form.

Through the 1930s, animators such as Walt Disney would devote ever-greater energies into capturing natural movement and giving realistic anatomy to animals, building up to groundbreaking films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (US, 1937). But such attention to detail takes time, and John the Bull, like most other cartoons of the period, favours expressing the emotion of movements over striving for a convincingly 'real' representation. The film also takes shortcuts by 'looping' certain actions, reusing the same sequences of drawings several times to save time and money. Both traits were common in British and American animation, and John The Bull is more ambitious in attempting perspective than many other films of its time. The sparse line-drawing style would be similarly familiar to contemporary audiences, as more detailed shading of characters and backgrounds could be confusing in black and white.

The film was released on the cusp of the changeover between silent and sound film, when projectors capable of playing synchronised soundtracks would not yet be available at every venue. Because of this, both silent and sound versions were released, the latter identical save for the addition of music and sound effects: no voices were added and the textual intertitles were preserved.

Jez Stewart

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (4:56)
John Bull's Hearth (1903)
Price of Free Trade, The (1932)
Right Spirit, The (1931)
Topical Budget 619-2: And Now Your Food Will Cost You More! (1923)
Political Film
Politics and Film 1903-1935