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Automania 2000 (1963): A closer look at the animated satire about cars, auto culture & consumerism

Automania 2000 (1963)

Directed & Produced by John Halas

Written by Joy Batchelor

Animated by Harold Whitaker

Designed by Tom Bailey

Composed by Jack King

Narrated by Ed Bishop

Sound System by RCA Sound Recording

BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film (1963)

Oscar Nomination for Best Animated Short Film (1964)

Automania 2000 (1963) was created by Hungarian emigrant John Halas and his Watford-born wife Joy Batchelor. The pair had worked together since 1937 and, by the 1960s, operated Britain’s leading animation company. Their 10-minute long cartoon — where a scientist’s inventions cause environmental havoc — is a consumerist satire of the future.

The aforementioned short was made at a time when car ownership was far less common and Britain’s fledgling motorways were still sparsely populated. But in what can be referred to as foreshadowing, Halas’ and Batcherlor’s vision of the future is one in which a massive increase of cars has brought mankind to a grinding halt.

The Oscar-nominated film addresses how the “consumer craze for automobiles leads scientists to develop ‘40-foot supercars’ that house families consigned to eating petroleum-based foods and ceaselessly watching television. Eventually, the crush of vehicles clogs roads, and the cars themselves spin out of control.” Simply put, humanity finds itself stuck in its cars forever.

“Preliminary treatments for this comic, dystopian short reveal that it was initially entitled ‘1985’, intended as a joke on Orwell’s 1984, which would have continued the company’s relationship with the author,” writes Jez Stewart for the British Film Institute. “The final film bears little relation to that idea; there is no dictatorial Big Brother controlling society as there is no need.”

Indeed, cars revolutionized modern life in the early part of the 20th century. Automobiles and their attendant culture even molded labor practices, the fight for civil rights, cities, social norms, and the environment, in radical and often dangerous ways. Unsurprisingly, creatives who observed these changes responded with art depicting an astounding range of emotions.

The launch of Halas and Batchelor Animation, Ltd, in 1940 was pivotal for the animation industry. Their “secret formula was a heady mix of artistic ambition, opportunism and advocacy. John in particular was not just a spokesperson (and salesman) for his company; he was pitching animation as a whole — as an art form, a business, a unique form of visual communication.”

Over the years, the public has grown to appreciate the impact of quality design, which is partially responsible for the film’s recent resurgence in popular culture. Its makers wanted to communicate a warning about our tendency to pursue happiness through consumption, and they chose the automobile to do it.

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