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Director: Winsor McCay
Release Date: 1921
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Still from 'The Flying House' featuring a man behind some machinery‘The Flying House’ is the last of the three ‘Dream of a rarebit fiend’  films Winsor McCay completed in 1921.

In this short a woman dreams that her man has made a flying machine out of their house. They fly to the moon, where they’re almost swatted by a giant. Then they circle in empty space until they’re hit by a rocket.

Compared to the other two Rarebit Fiend films, ‘Bug Vaudeville‘ and ‘The Pet‘, this cartoon uses a lot of dialogue, both in balloons and in title cards. Although it does not quite delivers what it promises, it contains a few good gags, and McCay’s command of perspective is top notch, like always. The film’s most stunning sequence is when the house leaves earth to fly to the moon. In one convincingly realistic shot we see the earth rotating, the moon appearing behind it and growing larger, while the house flies towards us, orbiting the earth. This is a spectacular piece of animation, by all means. Especially because it was done 37 years before the space age.

Unfortunately, ‘The Flying House’ was to be Winsor McCay’s last completed film. His legacy is formidable, and he undoubtedly belongs to the best and most imaginative animators/animation directors of all time.

Watch ‘The Flying House’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Winsor McCay’s tenth and last film
To Winsor McCay’s ninth film: The Pet

Director: Winsor McCay
Release Date: 1921
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Still from 'The Pet' featuring a giant animal eating a building‘The Pet’ is the second of the three ‘Dream of the rarebit fiend’ films Winsor McCay released in 1921. It is arguably the best of the three, and probably the best of all Winsor McCay’s films: it combines a well-executed story with a perfect command of animation. It’s too bad it isn’t more well-known.

In ‘The Pet’ a woman dreams she adopts a small animal that grows larger and larger every day, eating the cat, everything on the table, the furniture, and later on, a tree, a car and some buildings, until it explodes. The dream is totally believable with its inner logic and its wonderful execution. The growth of the animal is shown with a very imaginative use of perspective and beautiful backgrounds. For example, when the pet grows to gigantic proportions, we see it stride behind some very high buildings, towering over our heads.

More than 25 years later Tex Avery would return to the same subject in ‘King-size Canary’ (1947).

Watch ‘The Pet’  yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.spike.com/video/dreams-of-rarebit/2917218.

This is Winsor McCay’s ninhth film
To Winsor McCay’s eight film: Bug Vaudeville
To Winsor McCay’s tenth and last film: The Flying House

Director: Winsor McCay
Release Date: 1921
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Still from 'Bug Vaudeville' featuring a cockroach stunting on a bicycleAfter a period of unfinished projects, Winsor McCay completed a series of three related films in 1921, ‘Dream of a Rarebit Fiend’.

These films are the animated counterparts of his comic strip of the same name, which run from 1904 to 1913. The films, like the comics, are about ordinary people having a bad dream. When they awake, they blame it on the food they’ve eaten.

The three animated Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend can be regarded as McCay’s most mature works. They’re not as revolutionary as ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘ or ‘The Sinking of the Lusitania‘, but they display a total command of form and style, and they are flawless in their execution. It’s too bad, McCay didn’t complete any other film after these three, although he lived for another 13 years.

‘Bug Vaudeville’ is the first of the three ‘Dream of the Rarebit Fiend’ films. In this short, a man falls asleep against a tree and dreams he witnesses a bug vaudeville show. He sees the grasshopper and the ants performing acrobatics, a daddy longlegs (with beard and a a hat) dancing, a cockroach stunting on a bicycle, tumble bugs performing acrobatics, two potato bugs boxing and a butterfly on a horse-like black beetle. He awakes when he dreams that he’s been attacked by a giant spider.

‘Bug Vaudeville’  is an entertaining short, but in some respects it is the weakest of the three Dream of a Rarebit Fiend films. Its viewpoint is static: we see the same stage for the most part of the film, without any change of setting. The bugs are drawn relatively simple, and there’s no particularly outstanding animation involved, either of character or of effects. Highlight may be the cockroach on the bicycle, with its certain control of perspective.

Watch ‘Bug Vaudeville’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Winsor McCay’s eighth film
To Winsor McCay’s seventh, unfinished film: Flip’s Circus
To Winsor McCay’s ninhth film: The Pet

Director: Winsor McCay
Production Date: ca. 1918-1921
Stars: Flip
Rating: ★★
Review:

Still from 'Flip's Circus' featuring Flip and BabyWith ‘Flip’s Circus’ Winsor McCay returned to one of his stars from ‘Little Nemo in Slumberland’.

This is a short and unfinished film featuring Flip performing tricks in a circus, a.o. with a large hippo-like animal called Baby. The film does not have much of a story, and is undoubtedly the weakest of McCay’s surviving films, despite the high quality of the animation.

Watch ‘Flip’s Circus’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Flip’s Circus

This is Winsor McCay’s seventh film
To Winsor McCay’s sixth, unfinished film: Gertie on Tour
To Winsor McCay’s eighth film: Bug Vaudeville

Director: Winsor McCay
Production Date: ca. 1918-1921
Stars: Gertie the Dinosaur
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Still from 'Gertie on Tour' featuring Gertie the dinosaur and a streetcar

‘Gertie on Tour’ is but a short fragment from an unfinished and unreleased film featuring the prehistoric star from ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘ (1914).

In this excerpt Gertie lives in the modern world: she plays with a frog and with a streetcar, then she dreams she’s back in the Mesozoic, dancing for her dinosaur friends.

‘Gertie On Tour’, like almost all sequels, cannot compare to the first film. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see slightly more footage of this sympathetic brontosaur. The dancing scene in particular catches her playful spirit. Like ‘The Centaurs‘, this short contains very beautiful and elaborate backgrounds, which, undoubtedly thanks to the invention of the cell, are a great improvement over the backgrounds in ‘Gertie The Dinosaur’, which had to be retraced over and over again for each single frame.

Watch ‘Gertie on Tour’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Winsor McCay’s sixth film
To Winsor McCay’s fifth, unfinished film: The Centaurs
To Winsor McCay’s seventh, unfinished film: Flip’s Circus

Director: Winsor McCay
Creation Date: ca. 1918-1921
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Still from 'The Centaurs' featuring a male centaur courting a female centaurAfter completing four masterpieces, Winsor McCay produced three unfinished films, ‘The Centaurs’, ‘Gertie on Tour‘ and ‘Flip’s Circus‘ (all animated about ca. 1918-1921). ‘The Centaurs’ is the most interesting of the three.

This short film feels like a study. We see a female and a male centaur meeting each other, then we see the male centaur introduce his future wife to his parents, and then suddenly their baby jumps into the scene, frolicking around.

This film once again contains superb animation, rendering totally convincing centaurs. They indeed stand comparison to those of ‘Fantasia’, which were animated about twenty years later. In this short McCay also experiments with his creations moving behind his elaborate backgrounds, creating a great feel of depth.

Watch ‘The Centaurs’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Winsor McCay’s fifth film
To Winsor McCay’s fourth film: The Sinking of the Lusitania
To Winsor McCay’s sixth, unfinished film: Gertie on Tour

Director: Winsor McCay
Release Date: 1918
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Still from 'The Sinking of the Lusitania' featuring people abandoning the capsizing steamerMcCay’s fourth venture into animation is even more curious than the preceding three (‘Little Nemo‘, ‘How A Mosquito Operates‘ and ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘). It’s an almost real time report of the sinking of the passenger steamer The Lusitania by a German submarine in 1915.

The actions are explained by title cards, and the action is rather slow, but the highly realistic animation contains very believable images of water, smoke, a torpedo moving through water, and people trying to get off the ship. This startling realism is hampered by the clear propagandistic message against Germany, ending with the bold sentence “And they tell us not to hate the Hun!“.

Despite its slow action, ‘The Sinking of the Lusitania’ is an astonishing film, which may be the first animated propaganda film. It’s totally unique in its drama, and, despite its propaganda, an all time masterpiece of animation.

Watch ‘The Sinking of the Lusitania’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Winsor McCay’s fourth film
To Winsor McCay’s third film: Gertie The Dinosaur
To Winsor McCay’s fifth, unfinished film: The Centaurs

Director: Winsor McCay
Release Date: 1914
Stars: Gertie the Dinosaur
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

original drawing from 'Gertie the Dinosaur' featuring Gertie and a small mammoth‘Gertie the Dinosaur’ was Winsor McCay’s third animation film, and it certainly is his most famous one, still capable of entertaining new audiences.

The film follows a same story idea similar to that of ‘Little Nemo‘: during a visit to a natural history museum Winsor McCay bets the famous comic strip artist George McManus that he can make a dinosaur move. After these long nine minutes of slow live action introduction, we finally see McCay’s creation: Gertie the dinosaur.

McCay’s dinosaur appears to be a girl dinosaur. She behaves like a trained animal: she listens to what McCay is telling her, she eats a whole tree, she bows to the camera, she lifts her feet, she’s being startled by a small mammoth, which she throws into te lake, she dances, and she lifts McCay himself on to her back.

The captions in between replace dialogue, which must have been part of a vaudeville act with Winsor McCay talking to Gertie and she listening to him. This vaudeville show, with which McCay toured, has been recreated in the Disneyland special ‘The Story of Animated Drawing’, which aired on November 30, 1955, and which is available on the DVD set ‘Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studio’. At the 2014 Annie Awards Ceremony Bill Farmer also reenacted McCay’s vaudeville performance (included below). The reenactment makes the experience of the original film much more vivid, and watching this version is highly recommended.

The short is  impressive because of its fine animation and command of perspective, but what it really makes a milestone of animation is that Gertie the Dinosaur is the first animated cartoon character with personality. She’s not just any dinosaur, she’s a female dinosaur, behaving half like a trained animal, half like a small spoiled child. Watching the interaction between her and (the off-screen) McCay is impressive, but it’s also delightful and fun. ‘Gertie the Dinosaur’ had a huge impact at the time, and inspired a whole generation of animation film pioneers (e.g. Paul Terry, Frank Moser, Pat Sullivan, Otto Messmer and the Fleischer Brothers). The film truly is an all time classic, and enjoyable to this very day.

‘Gertie The Dinosaur’ was followed by the unfinished and much less successful film ‘Gertie on Tour‘, of which McCay completed only two scenes.

Watch ‘Gertie The Dinosaur’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

Here’s the original vaudeville show reenacted by Bill Farmer at the 41st Annie Awards Ceremony (2014):

This is Winsor McCay’s third film
To Winsor McCay’s second film: How a Mosquito Operates
To Winsor McCay’s fourth film: The Sinking of the Lusitania

Director: Winsor McCay
Release Date: 1912
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Still from 'How A Mosquito Operates' featuring the mosquito on a sleeping manWinsor McCay’s second cartoon is about a giant mosquito who sucks a sleeping man until his body is a giant bulb. Then, suddenly aware of the audience, he performs some tricks on the man’s nose, sucks some more and explodes.

Unlike McCay’s first film, ‘Little Nemo‘, a long live action intro is absent, and more important, this one tells a real story. These are both great improvements. Yet, the action is painstakingly slow, and there’s a lot of reverse animation, reusing the same drawings in reverse order. This may have spared drawings, but it doesn’t look convincing in its perfect symmetry of movement.

Nevertheless this rather original film is both nightmarish and silly and, as are all McCay’s films, very well animated.

Watch ‘How a Mosquito Operates’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Winsor McCay’s second film
To Winsor McCay’s first film: Little Nemo
To Winsor McCay’s third film: Gertie the Dinosaur

Director: Winsor McCay
Release Date:1911
Stars: Little Nemo, Flip, The Imp
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Still from 'Little Nemo' featuring Flip‘Little Nemo’ was master comic artist Winsor McCay’s first animation film. It’s also one of the first drawn animation films ever made. However, unlike most pioneer animators, McCay already displays a tremendous control of form and material.

Star of the film is his world-famous comic hero Little Nemo, the little boy who always dreamed to be in Slumberland, only to awake abruptly at the end of each comic. He’s joined by Flip, the Imp, the princess and the doctor from the same comic. Nevertheless, they’re not the stars of the narrative, because that is their creator, Winsor McCay himself.

‘Little Nemo’ is a film with two clear sections:

the first half is filmed in live action and tells in three scenes about Winsor McCay’s plan to make moving drawings. In the first scene he proposes his idea to make 4,000 drawings in only one month. This only makes his friends laugh at him. In the second scene he orders three barrels of ink and two enormous packages of drawing paper, and in the third scene he can be seen in his drawing room, between huge piles of drawings and a primitive flipbook-like apparatus to preview his film. A young man, who has come to dust the place makes the piles of drawings fall.

In all, these scenes are slow, hardly funny and look as from an era long passed. But when the result is shown, one’s opinion changes completely…

The actual animation itself, completely hand-colored, is as startling and fresh as it was almost a hundred years ago. After an infectious “watch me move!” we see Little Nemo, Flip and the imp move in 3d, Nemo and the imp being build from blocks and lines respectively, Flip and the imp stretching like mirror images, Nemo drawing the princess himself, Nemo and the princess riding a dragon that disappears into the distance, and Flip and the imp crashing with a car, landing on the doctor.

It may not make any sense, but the mastery of form, perspective and movement is astonishing. After McCay no one would surpass this high quality of animation, until Walt Disney’s innovative strive to realism in the late thirties.

Watch ‘Little Nemo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Winsor McCay’s first film
To Winsor McCay’s second film: How a Mosquito Operates

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