The animated history of Aotearoa New Zealand

2 Aug 2022
A spotlight on some of the animated items in the collection, and where they fit in the history of animation in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Above image: Screengrab from How the Kiwi Lost His Wings.

Cartoons and animation have an important place in New Zealand’s on-screen history. Reflecting this, Ngā Taonga holds a large collection of animated videos in its catalogue, with hours of footage readily available to view online.

Typically, ‘cartoon’ and ‘animation’ might bring to mind classic feature films like Snow White or The Lion King, or popular televised series like The Simpsons. But New Zealand’s early forays into the world of on-screen animation came in a variety of shapes and forms – often shorter in length given the extensive time and resource it takes to develop the hand-crafted frames.

In 1952 the New Zealand Forest Service and Soil Conservation & Rivers Control Council released Trees. This short cartoon promoted forest fire prevention, presented in full colour with engaging narration and a soundtrack. As an educational video, the colour images would have effectively grabbed the attention of young audiences at the time – and no doubt adults too. Vivid orange flames burning through forest and rising tendrils of smoke are a tantalizing spectacle, and impressive artistry.

Image of burning trees

The striking orange flames of a forest fire in Trees.

Not every animated video was educational or a Disney-esque cartoon, however. It became popular for political broadcasts to utilise animation. This was seen in a Values Party television broadcast from 1978, in which a combination of hand-drawn images and filmed footage was used to deliver the party’s message of change to the people.

Cartoon image of fist hitting bedside alarm clock.

A disgruntled man wake to an early alarm in the Values Party’s broadcast.

Many companies and organisations also utilised animation in their commercials to great effect – and the trend has lasted. In 2002, the New Zealand Lotteries Commission released a cartoon animation about a small cog inside a big, chaotic factory machine (clearly and intentionally representing a working person disillusioned by the daily grind). But this fortunate cog escapes their factory confinement and then cheerily sails off into a sunny horizon, whereupon the Lotto logo appears.

Image from Lotto advert

The cheery cog enjoys freedom outside the factory.

Putting all commercial and political messages aside, there are many wonderful examples of animation for creativity’s sake in the collection. Murray Ball’s Footrot Flats is a superb example of a classic Kiwi-made cartoon, with its instantly recognisable art style and lovable, timeless characters.

Cartoon image of Wal and Dog.

The archetypal farmer Wal and his dog named Dog in Footrot Flats.

Perhaps one of the very best examples of animated artistry in the catalogue is How the Kiwi Lost His Wings, released in 1980. In this short video directed by Kathleen Houston and presented by Churchill Films, Puki the Kiwi tells the story of how kiwis lost the ability to fly. Almost every frame of the video is a beautiful, full-colour presentation of New Zealand’s native flora and fauna and birds of the forest. The art style and quality are reminiscent of those classic Disney films from the same era.

Cartoon image of native birds.

Birds of the forest gathered around Puki to hear the story of how kiwis lost the

There are plenty more animated videos to be discovered in our collection. They can be easily found by searching for ‘Cartoon’ or ‘Animation’ – or the title of the video.