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New DIA exhibit on animation gets weird. And it's great.

This is not your five-year-old's animation.

Although you can certainly bring your five-year-old. They'll be right at home in the exhibits' dark halls lined with screen after screen after screen, like a little iPad addict's paradise.

"Watch Me Move" is, according to the Detroit Institute of  Arts, the  largest animation exhibition ever mounted.

And when you exit, you'll feel like it was both too short, and somehow way too vast to get a good grasp in just one visit.


Here's why it works: "Move" manages to get across a big, head-scratching artistic question (Why are we so mesmerized by 2-D images that move?) and still feels familiar and accessible.

As one curator put it, this is an exhibit for people who would prefer not to read Kafka.

Instead, it shows us how we've been consuming surreal, anxiety-making art all along, without even knowing it.  

In one piece, Daffy Duck moves through a universe that the artist keeps changing around him. Who needs Kafka when you've got Daffy to illustrate through beady eyes and temper tantrums that we can't stand it when the rules no longer apply? 

A lot of what's on display will be familiar: Betty Boop, Bugs Bunny, Disney and Pixar and Saturday morning cartoons.

For the adults, there are more screening rooms, marked with tantalizing yellow signs warning kids away and making even the purest art-lover feel like they're getting to watch a dirty movie ... and in at least one unforgettably beautiful, sad piece about the biblical Judith, they are. 

Those films are often foreign, from Soviet Russia to Poland to Ethiopia. They show us how animation lets us live out fantasies and still feel the consequences, without having to be realistically drawn. 

Brought in from London, "Move" will convert the skeptical adult who thinks cartoons are just for entertaining the kids on Saturday mornings.

It's here through January 5.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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