“We have animation,” the concierge explained when we checked into a hotel in Malta. I walked away thinking of the English meaning of animation which is largely related to cartoons. I truly had no idea what the man was talking about.
After experiences with “animation” in Spain, France, Slovenia, Czech Republic, and Italy, just to name a few, I now have a much better understanding of animation. Animation is from the Latin word animare which means “to give breath to.”
In many corners of Europe, we have had the pleasure of experiencing animators which are informal educators that work in the community in artistic ways to inspire growth and expand minds. We have encountered these programs in hotels, campgrounds, piazzas, festivals, village markets, beaches, marinas, and many other places where people gather.
The difference between animation and kid’s club entertainment is that often animation is participatory and not about showing up to be passively entertained.
The celebration of La Befana, or the Christmas witch, brings out the best in animation all over Italy. Last year we watched La Befana zip line over an ancient piazza in Siciliy throwing candy to families awaiting her arrival. This year, she jumped out of a plane followed by hot pink smoke bombs and skydived to the beach where thousands of kids (and parents) welcomed her with the song Viva, Viva La Befana!
We then followed her like the Pied Piper to the village square where stories were told, dancing ensued, candy was tossed liberally and as the sunset, the party was just getting started. I felt lucky standing there but it also struck me how often I have been in the heart of these festivities.
Many times a week I have experienced this atmosphere, that so far is unique to Europe. It is a way to gather that is not rushed and not forced so we can’t help but stay.
Animation is not just for kids. It is a cultural value in the countries where it has been prevalent. It is everywhere for everyone and it is designed to inspire and engage people of all ages. Many of the songs used in various “acts” the parents all know because they grew up with similar programs. It is clearly about the whole family being together.
Sometimes animators simply play games in an open-air restaurant while parents dine. Sometimes they do magic and parents are part of the show. No matter what form of animation we have encountered, it is always geared at families as a way to enhance their experience of being together in the community.
As Walt Disney so eloquently stated, “That’s the real trouble with the world. Too many people grow up!”
I am happy to report that in many places throughout Europe, the kid is alive in all of us, thanks to hard-working animators.