Director: Raymie Muzquiz
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: March 12, 1994
Rating: ★★★★½

T.V. or Not to Be © Clasky CsupoAlready in its second episode the Duckman series mocks the medium on which it appears itself: The episode starts with Duckman zapping through countless channels, one even more stupid than the other.

When he finally finds a show he likes, he gets overruled by the rest of the family, who all want to watch ‘Mother Mirabelle’s Home Miracle Network’.

This show clearly lampoons pseudo-religious shows on television, but not too easily. Strikingly, Duckman almost dies and has a near-death experience, which makes him a believer.

The scenes in heaven form the highlight of the episode, but it’s also great to watch Duckman being disguised as Vincent van Gogh or on a hopeless mission to convert the public as a hare krishna at one airport.

The episode also lampoons the art world, with the villain clearly being a caricature of Andy Warhol, assisted by a gift wrapping Christo.

Watch an excerpt from ‘T.V. or Not to Be’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘T.V. or Not to Be’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Directors: Marv Newland, Robin Steele, Drew Takahaki & Andy Knight
Stars: Duckman
Airing Date: March 5, 1994
Rating: ★★★★½

I, Duckman © Clasky CsupoOne of the great things of the animation renaissance that started at the end of the 1980s was the return of animated series for adults.

The first and most prominent of these was, of course, The Simpsons, which started at the end of the 1989, but in the slipstream of their success the nineties saw the emergence of other series, like The Critic (1994-1995), Dr. Katz – Professional Therapist (1995-2002), and The Maxx (1995).

The greatest among these early shows arguably was ‘Duckman’ (or officially, Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man), which ran from 1994 to 1997. The series was made by the Klasky Csupo studio, which also had been responsible for the first three seasons of The Simpsons. But where the Simpsons were clearly in the style of Matt Groening, ‘Duckman’ much more evidently saw the typical Klasky-Csupo style, which was also visible in their Nickelodeon series Rugrats (1991-2004) and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters (1994-1997).

More than the Simpsons Duckman had a genuine independent design style, much influenced by independent greats like Bill Plympton and Igor Kovalyov. Indeed, this first episode was storyboarded and directed by American-Canadian indie veteran Marv Newland, while Kovalyov himself directed the ninth episode.

Thus, the designs and animation of this first episode are an absolute delight to watch. Despite the episode relying heavily on (very witty) dialogue, there remains a lot to look at.

Duckman is a private detective, assisted by two all too cute teddybears called Fluffy and Uranus, whom Duckman tortures and kills in almost each episode, and by a pig called Cornfed (greatly voiced by Gregg Berger). But he’s also a single father of a dimwitted son called Ajax, and a much more intelligent two-headed son called Charles and Mambo (could this Siamese twin be inspired by Daffy Duck’s photo album in ‘The Stupid Cupid’ from 1944?). To complicate matters Duckman lives with his fitness-loving sister-in-law Bernice and his flatulent mother-in-law.

Duckman himself is an utterly cynical, misanthropic and selfish character, but already in his very first entry he gets a considerable amount of depth, when he realizes nobody cares about him. When he’s the victim of bomb attacks this prompts him to dive into his own memories (which features a great scene with Duckman playing old 8mm films to his deputy Cornfed, in a scene lampooning A Clockwork Orange, Steamboat Willie, Popeye, Yogi Bear and The Simpsons in one go. We learn about Duckman’s love for his deceased wife Beatrice, and almost feel for him, despite the wisecracking and sarcasm that surround him.

Cornfed is a great partner to Duckman: stoic where Duckman is explosive, and acting as Duckman’s conscience, whether the latter likes it or not.

Besides the wild animation, bold designs, surprisingly interesting characters and outlandish stories the first season could also boast to be able to use snippets of Frank Zappa’s music in its score, and the previously unknown voice talent of Zappa’s son Dweezil (as Ajax).

In all, ‘I, Duckman’ is a great start of a great series.

Watch an excerpt from ‘I, Duckman’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘I, Duckman’ is available on the DVD-box ‘Duckman – The Complete Series’

Director: Mike Booth
Release Date: October 1996
Rating: ★★★½

The Saint Inspector © BolexbrothersThis Bolexbrothers short tells about a rather fat, naked hermit. He lives in complete meditation on a platform high above the mountains and clouds.

One day he gets a visit from the ‘saint inspector’, a robot. The robot inspects the meditative state of the hermit, who only once reacts to the robot’s tests. This prompts the robot to look inside the hermit’s brain, which leads to a mesmerizing string of rapidly changing and rather disturbing images.

‘The Saint Inspector’ is quite an absurd film, and more than anything else demonstrates the limitless potential of animation.

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

‘The Saint Inspector’ is available on the DVD ‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’

Director: Nick Park
Release Date: December 26, 1993
Stars: Wallace and Gromit
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕

The Wrong Trousers © Aardman‘The Wrong Trousers’ was the second short featuring the cheese-loving duo Wallace & Gromit.

Their first outing, ‘A Grand Day Out’ had been a virtuoso piece of clay animation, but even so, ‘The Wrong Trousers’ was a giant leap forward, taking Aardman’s claymation out of the independent animation atmosphere into the mainstream of slick studio productions, without losing an inch of character.

Despite being only 29 minutes long and featuring only three characters, ‘The Wrong Trousers’ feels like classic cinema. The fifties horror typography of the opening titles immediately makes it clear that we’re in for a mystery plot, and indeed this is a crime thriller with a small penguin as a most unlikely, but very convincing villain.

The film opens on Gromit’s birthday, a day which turns out quite sour. First, Wallace seems to have forgotten all about it, then he gives him the most useless gift imaginable: automatic trousers to walk him out without his faithful master. Then it turns out that Wallace has to cut expenses and … a room for rent.

That very evening the penguin comes in as the new boarder, but instead of taking the vacant room, he heads immediately for Gromit’s room. The mysterious penguin first takes care of Gromit, chasing the poor dog out of the house, then he uses the trousers in a diamond heist scheme.

The whole film is very well shot, featuring expressionistic angles and clever zooming in and out between the  front and back of the set. The suspense is greatly added by dramatic orchestral music by Julian Nott. And throughout the animation, by Nick Park himself and by Steve Box, is top notch.

Especially the two silent characters, the penguin and Gromit, are very well animated: the penguin creepy and enigmatic, hardly revealing its emotions, except in the heist scene, Gromit with a multitude of expressions, making great use of Nick Parks trademark brow technique. In fact, Gromit is such a rounded character, he easily carries the whole film easily using the expressions of his eyes alone. Especially Gromit’s agony, having to watch how the penguin silently takes over his home, is tantalizing.

Nevertheless, the most impressive part of this short is the finale. This is a remarkable chase scene, ridiculously set indoors on miniature trains, but it consists of five frantic minutes with a sense of speed never seen before in a stop-motion film. This finale alone takes the possibilities of stop-motion forward to new heights, and together with ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ from the same year, ‘The Wrong Trousers’ must be regarded as a milestone in animation. Thus, the next year the film rightfully won the Academy Award for animated short.

The film also started a sort of Wallace and Gromit tradition of combining silly inventions with mystery thriller plots, as this would be the promise of all three subsequent Wallace and Gromit films.

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

‘The Wrong Trousers’ is available on the DVD ‘Wallace & Gromit – The Complete Collection’

Director: Tomomi Mochizuki
Release Date: December 25, 1993
Rating: ★★★★½

Ocean Waves © Ghibli‘Ocean Waves’ was an animated feature the Studio Ghibli made for television. It’s also one of those Japanese animation films that could pretty well be made in live action.

According to Wikipedia the film was an attempt by Studio Ghibli to allow their younger staff members to make a film reasonably cheaply. So, it may not come to a surprise that the film is a little underwhelming when compared to contemporary Ghibli films like ‘Porco Rosso‘ (1992) or ‘Pom Poko’ (1994), let alone later masterpieces like ‘Princess Mononoke’ (1997) or ‘Spirited Away‘ (2001).

But taken on its own, ‘Ocean Waves’ is a very nicely told tale of high school romance, full of nostalgia, especially in its depiction of hot summers. The film takes place in Kōchi, on the Southern island of Shikoku. The film is told by Taku, now a student at a University in Tokyo. He reminisces about his high school friendship with bespectacled Matsuno Yutaka, and how he met the erratic girl Muto Rikako.

Rikako clearly is a troubled girl: she has moved to Kōchi from Tokyo, only with her mother and brother, and she hardly makes friends. Yutaka is clearly interested in her, raising jealousy in Taku, but it’s Taku who ends up in an all too improvised trip to Tokyo with Rikako, who wants to see her father again. The trip turns into a disaster, and Rikako even unwillingly manages to separate the two friends, but the film ends on a high note, even if years later.

The film’s style is very understated: only little is spoken out, and most of the feelings transgress through body gestures. Rikako remains enigmatic to the very end, and Taku blunders through his meetings with her. The film remains highly realistic, and the characters believable throughout.

‘Ocean Waves’ may not be a Ghibli masterpiece, it’s still a gentle animation film, well worth seeing.

Watch the trailer for ‘Ocean Waves’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ocean Waves’ is available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Director: Dave Borthwick
Release Date: December 10, 1993
Rating: ★★★

The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb © Bolexbrothers1993 was a great year for stop-motion animation: it saw the screening of the groundbreaking feature film ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, as well as the Wallace & Gromit short ‘The Wrong Trousers’, which also covered new grounds.

Much less well known is the stop-motion feature film ‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’, also released that year. Made by Dave Borthwick at the British Bolexbrothers studio the film is a much rougher affair than the smooth stop-motion efforts of Disney and Aardman. In fact, it stands firmly in a tradition of gritty and disturbing stop-motion films that via Jan Švankmajer harks all the way back to Władysław Starewicz.

To begin with the film takes place in a dark and disturbing world, where large insects crawl and violence roams. In this gloomy world a poor couple gives birth to a child the size of a small fetus, whom they call Tom Thumb (in one of ca. three lines of dialogue in the entire film).

But Tom soon is kidnapped and taken to a sinister laboratory populated by several chimeral creatures tortured by insane experiments. A two-legged lizard-like creature helps Tom escape. Outside Tom meets a human tribe his own size, who unfortunately kill his chimeral companion. Jack, the leader of the tribe and a master of weapons, takes Tom back to the laboratory, where they eventually apparently destroy the laboratory’s power…

Much of what’s happening in this film is rather incomprehensible, and the plot could do with some cleaning. For example, it remains utterly unclear why Tom is kidnapped, and what the origin of the little people is. Throughout Tom remains a silent and innocent character, not unlike Pinocchio or Dumbo, and he hardly acts.

In the end the film is more interesting because of its disturbing images and for its unique artwork than for its story. The creators made especially well use of pixillation (the animation of people), giving all actors a grotesque appearance and ditto movement.

The best scenes remain the ones inside the laboratory, where Tom sees some pathetic creatures. Especially the one in which one of the creatures asks Tom to shut down the power that sustains them, is a moving piece of animation.

The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’ may never get the classic status of a ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ or a ‘The Wrong Trousers’, it still is a film that shows the limitless power of animation in the hands of creators with a lot of imagination.

Watch ‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb’ is available on DVD

Director: Mark Baker
Release Date: May 1993
Rating: ★★★★★

The Village © Mark BakerAfter ‘The Hill Farm‘ (1989) Mark Baker returns with another strong parable on the human condition. If ‘The Hill Farm’ explored man’s relation to nature, ‘The Village’ is concerned with man’s internal relationships.

The village of the title is a circular isolated village with all houses facing the same square. The neighbors seem godly souls, but they are all hypocrites spying on each other. Everything has to be done in secret: a cleaning lady secretly steals apples, the vicar secretly sips wine, and a stingy, bearded guy secretly plays with his money.

In this narrow-minded and stifling community a married woman falls in love with a bachelor with glasses, but they have to flee into the surrounding woods to escape the eternal gaze of their neighbors. Meanwhile the woman’s husband kills the miser, and steals his money, but it’s the bespectacled lover who gets the blame.

The village gladly builds a gallows out of the unjustly accused’s very own trees, but the lover manages to escape, accidentally killing the vile husband in the process. In the morning the omnipresent ants, which form a rather morbid running gag during the whole film, have eaten the corpse dry, and the villagers think it’s the body of the escaped convict. They break down the gallows in deep disappointment, while the two lovers flee from the village into the world.

‘The Village’ is told without words, only using unintelligible dialogue. Baker’s simple and quasi-naive style is used to a great effect, and adds to the story’s timeless value. Moreover, Baker’s timing is excellent, mixing the painful with comedy, especially when using the ants, injecting some black humor into the disturbing tale.

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

‘The Village’ is available on the The Animation Show of Shows DVD Box Set 7

Directors: Herbert M. Dawley & Willis O’Brien
Release Date: November 17, 1918
Rating: ★★★

The Ghost of Slumber Mountain © Willis O'BrienThis film was produced, acted and animated by Herbert M. Dawley and Willis O’Brien.

Dawley plays ‘Uncle Jack Holmes’, who tells two boys a story about how he camped out on slumber mountain and meets the ghost of Mad Dick there (played by O’Brien). The ghost tells Holmes to watch through a magic instrument, and the uncle suddenly sees prehistoric animals in the distance.

At this point the film is nine minutes away, and by O’Brien’s skillful animation we watch a Brontosaurus wandering, a Diatryma (a giant flightless bird, now Gastornis) catching a snake, two Triceratopses fighting, and a Tyrannosaurus killing one of the Triceratopses.

Especially the animation on the first Triceratops is well done, O’Brien even shows the creature breathing. Another nice detail is that of the Tyrannosaurus licking its lips. Most importantly, O’Brien doesn’t show the prehistoric creatures not as monsters but as convincingly living creatures. No wonder this master animation was asked to do the dinosaur animation for ‘The Lost World’ (1925), and for all kinds of creatures in ‘King Kong‘ (1933).

It’s a pity the film is rather lackluster (in the end it all appears to be a dream, and even the boys don’t really buy that trite ending), for the animation is certainly worth watching once.

Watch ‘The Ghost of Slumber Mountain’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Ghost of Slumber Mountain’ is available on the Blu-Ray of ‘The Lost World’

Director: Willis O’Brien
Release Date: 1917
Rating: ★★★★

R.F.D. 10,000 B.C. © Willis O'Brien‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ is a short cartoon by stop motion pioneer Willis O’Brien (1886-1962) of later ‘King Kong‘ fame.

The cartoon tells about two rivaling cavemen, one of them a mailman, craving for the same cave woman, Winnie Warclub. At St. Valentine’s Day the mailmen exchanges Johnny Bearskin’s valentine for an insulting one, but Johnny soon finds out the truth, and knocks the mailman literally in two, winning both Winnie and the mailman’s job.

‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ precedes The Flintstones by 45 years, and shows that from the start Willis O’Brien was a capable stop motion animator. The film also shows he was interested in the prehistory right from the outset. The mailman’s cart is pulled by a sauropod, which we can clearly see breathing heavily in the end.

The puppets of the cavemen are elaborate and capable of rolling their eyes. O’Brien’s animation of the mailman is most impressive: we can clearly watch him carrying heavy mail (the sense of weight is well brought across in the animation), and his moves are genuinely sneaky. Johnny and Winnie aren’t half as good.

The film is entertaining, and shows O’Brien on par with Władysław Starewicz as the major pioneer in stop motion animation.

Watch ‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ is available on the Blu-Ray of ‘The Lost World’

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1918
Rating: ★★★

Les adventures des Pieds-Nickelés © Éclair‘Les adventures des Pieds-Nickelés’ is a short series of animated cartoons that Émile Cohl made for Éclair.

The first episode hasn’t survived, and only parts of the fifth, but from the surviving episodes one can distill that this series is about three criminals: Ribouldingue, who has a beard, Croquignol, and Filochard, who wears an eyepatch. The three flee from an inspector and have all kinds of adventures in Paris.

Cohl’s sketchy drawing style looks like something of the 19th century, and his animation, mostly done in cut-out, is rather stiff and badly timed, with none of the movement being remotely natural. Yet, Cohl’s gags are impressive as they seem to be embryonic versions of common cartoon gags of the 1940s and 1950s. For example, in the second episode there’s a scene in which numerous policemen pop-up from everywhere.

The third episode is the most impressive in this respect: the short contains a scene in which the trio enters a subterranean and rather nightmarish chamber in which everything can happen, making this scene a direct forerunner of ‘Bimbo’s Initiation‘ from 1931. Later, when a part of a fence falls on the inspector, he breaks into several pieces, just like a Tex Avery character. The fourth episode features a policeman who, when hitting a wall, contracts into a flat disc, and later Filochard rolls up like a piece of paper.

The fifth episode is the most incomprehensible of the four surviving films, partly because of only parts of it have survived. The best gag of this episode is when Croquignol almost drowns, and when rescued spits out hundreds of liters of water, including some fishes, only to ask for a drink.

All these gags are way ahead of the humor of contemporary American cartoons, but combined with the archaic drawing style the end result is a strange mix, indeed.

Watch ‘Les adventures des Pieds-Nickelés’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Les exploits de Farfadet’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Émile Cohl – L’agitateur aux mille images’

Director: Wallace Carlson
Release Date: January 9, 1919
Stars: Us Fellers
Rating: ★★★

Dud Leaves Home © Wallace CarlsonWallace Carlson (1894-1967) was a comic strip artist, who had a brief career as an animator from 1914 to 1921. Carlson joined the Bray studio in 1917, for which he created the ‘Us Fellers’ series. The series stars a boy character called Dreamy Dud, whom Carlson had conceived earlier.

Dud is a boy who breaks his bank (and unfortunately the one coin therein) to buy his girlfriend Mamie some ice cream. But instead he’s punished and sent to bed without supper. At night Dud sneaks out and first imagines how his mother gets filled with remorse, while he finds a treasure. But then the figments of his imagination turn into scary monsters, and he runs home, only to get spanked.

‘Dud Leaves Home’ is a well-told film, with great attention to the child’s world and imagination. The night scenes show some pretty background art. The animation, on the other hand, is rather stiff and robotic, especially when compared to Earl Hurd’s or Raoul Barré’s animation from the same era.

Carlson left animation in 1921 to concentrate on comic strips again, creating the highly successful comic strip series ‘The Nebbs’ in 1923.

Watch ‘Dud Leaves Home’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Dud Leaves Home’ is available on the DVD ‘Before Walt’

Director: Earl Hurd
Release Date: November 20, 1918
Stars: Bobby Bumps
Rating: ★★★★

Before and After © Earl HurdIn ‘Before and After’ Bobby Bumps tricks his father into buying a hair restoring lotion, with the help of his pooch Fido and two other dogs.

Bobby spends his father’s dollar on ice cream, but gets spanked in the end by father’s scalp massage machine.

This is a charming short cartoon, full of elegant designs and fine animation, even if it remains as stiff and repetitive as that of contemporary cartoons. But at least the poses look lifelike.

‘Before and After’ is available on the DVD ‘Before Walt’

Director: Paul Terry
Release Date: August 25, 1916
Stars: Farmer Al Falfa
Rating:

Farmer Al Falfa's Revenge © Paul TerryIn this very short animated cartoon a near-sighted British hunter called Sir Henry Bonehead comes poaching at farmer Al Falfa’s game reserve.

The hunter even shoots at Al Falfa, thinking the bearded man is a goat. In the end the farmer disposes of both hunter and his black servant.

This short shows that quality never has been in Paul Terry’s vocabulary. The story makes no sense, there’s no plot to speak of, the gags are lame, and the animation stiff as hell. Others at the Bray studio could do better, much better.

Watch ‘Farmer Al Falfa’s Revenge’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Farmer Al Falfa’s Revenge’ is available on the DVD ‘Before Walt’

Directors: Charles Bowers & Raoul Barré
Release Date: March 2, 1919
Stars: Mutt and Jeff
Rating: ★★★

Fireman Save My Child © Raoul BarréIn this short Mutt and Jeff are firemen. First they extinguish the ‘fire’ of a smoking policeman, then they rush to a real fire. Mutt has to rescue a girl (which turns out to be a vicious dog), while Jeff relaxes, eats some fried eggs and drinks some coffee. In order to escape from the dog Mutt jumps down, but his colleagues are too busy looking at a beautiful dame descending a ladder…

‘Fireman Save My Child’ is a pure gag cartoon, with the gags coming in fast an plenty. The film is pretty fast and funny for its age, but animator Dick Huemer uses some surprising tricks to cut short on animation, making Mutt and Jeff move across the room without movement, or firemen sprouting from beds using the vaguest inbetween drawings. Nevertheless, it’s nice to watch some animation by this later Disney legend.

‘Fireman Save My Child’ is available on the Blu-Ray-DVD-combo ‘Cartoon Roots’

Director: Earl Hurd
Release Date: September 17, 1917
Stars: Bobby Bumps
Rating: ★★½

Bobby Bumps Starts for School © Bray PicturesThe Bobby Bumps series was conceived and drawn by Earl Hurd, the inventor of cel animation, and his series is the first to employ this new technique.

‘Bobby Bumps starts for School’ is the 23rd entry in the series, and this film transcends the tiresome dullness of the limited animation dominating the cartoons of the 1910s with the charm of the drawings.

Bobby Bumps has to go to school. First he’s washed by his ma, then we watch him walking to school, carrying ridiculously large books on his back. At school he imagines himself playing ball with his dog Fido (visualized on his desk). The body of the film involves some antics with the school bell and the headmaster. The film ends with a little mouse writing ‘Earl Hurd’.

‘Bobby Bumps Starts for School’ is full of clever ideas and elegant, if very limited animation. Especially the animation on Fido’s walk is very well done. Throughout it’s clear that Earl Hurd knows how to draw and his perspective drawing is excellent.

Watch ‘Bobby Bumps Starts for School’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bobby Bumps Starts for School’ is available on the Blu-Ray-DVD-combo ‘Cartoon Roots’

Directors: Raoul Barré & Bill Nolan
Release Date: August 18, 1915
Rating:

Cartoons on Tour © Raoul Barré‘Cartoons on Tour’ is an entry in Raoul Barré’s and animator Bill Nolan’s’Animated Grouch Chaser’ series.

The entries in this series were essentially live action comedies, with cartoons injected of ca. three minutes length. ‘Cartoons on Tour’ is a typical example: the film features a live action story of a girl and a boy planning to elope. While waiting for her Bob to pick her up, the girl reads one of Raoul Barré’s animated comic strip: “The Tales of Silas Bunkum”, in which a bearded man tells a tall tale about an elephant (who moves just like Gertie in ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘).

Then Bob arrives and the two drive to the chapel, but the girl’s old man hops along. Luckily he’s distracted by the comic book,, and reads’The Kelly Kids’ Kite’ about a boy flying off with a kite. This part knows a rather crude beheading of a crow. The second comic the old man reads is ‘Mr. Hicks in Nightmare Land’ about an old man spying on a girl in the water. Later he dreams he drinks from the fountain of youth, turning him into a baby. When he lands on the couch of a beautiful lady, he wakes up…  At that point the man discovers a telegram inside the comic, and realizes what’s going on. But he’s easily soothed by a last comic: ‘The Pleasure of Being a Grandpa’.

The animation is extremely limited in this cartoon, with most images hardly moving at all. Moreover, the action is slow and terribly unfunny, making the film a rather tiresome watch.

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

‘Cartoons on Tour’ is available on the Blu-Ray-DVD-combo ‘Cartoon Roots’

Director: Harry S. Palmer
Release Date: 1916
Rating: ★★

Professor Bonehead Is Shipwrecked © Mutual-Gaumont‘Professor Bonehead Is Shipwrecked’ is a short animator Harry S. Palmer made for Mutual-Gaumont. Little can be found about this artist, except that his most well-known series was called ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’, which he had to quit in 1916 because J.R. Bray sued him for infringement of his cel patent.

It’s not even clear whether Professor Bonehead was the star of a series or not. In any case this film is the only one I can find. Perhaps it was a one-shot attempt. I wouldn’t be surprised, because so much is happening in this brief rather stream-of-consciousness-like film the result is hard to comprehend.

The film starts with a drawing of Professor Bonehead out of an inkwell. Then we watch him riding the waves, and being washed ashore carrying a huge egg, which hatches into a miniature duck-billed man. The duck-billed man chases Bonehead, who makes a jump to escape, right into the cook pot of a cannibal tribe, etc. and so on. The film ends with Bonehead and the duck-billed man making a car out of a log.

The film uses stop-motion, cut-out and full animation, but is completely devoid of timing. Some of the animation is remarkably good, however. Especially the rolling waves during the opening scene are very impressive. Nevertheless, the film is too random to be truly enjoyable, and it clearly didn’t secure Palmer’s position in the animation canon.

Watch ‘Professor Bonehead Is Shipwrecked’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Professor Bonehead Is Shipwrecked’ is available on the Thunderbean DVD ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’

Directors: Charles Bowers & Raoul Barré
Release Date: 1916
Stars: Mutt and Jeff
Rating: ★★★★

Cramps © Bud FisherIn this cartoon Mutt and Jeff share an apartment and sleep in the same bed. At night Jeff gets a terrible belly ache, and Mutt tries to prepare a medicine to cure his pal. At one point, however, he thinks he has killed his friend, while he, instead, has cured the little fellow.

‘Cramps’ is a pure gag cartoon that uses quite a lot of text balloons without getting too “talkative”. Instead, the drawing, the staging and the animation are all outstanding. One can really feel the bond between the two friends and we’re totally with Mutt in his attempts to save his partner from the aching pains. The short shows that the Mutt and Jeff cartoons were among the best animated studio shorts of the 1910s. It also reveals that Mutt and Jeff wear their gloves even in bed.

Watch ‘Cramps’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Cramps’ is available on the DVD ‘Mutt and Jeff – The Original Animated Odd Couple’

Directors: John Coleman Terry & Hugh Shields
Release Date: June 1916
Stars: Charlie Chaplin
Rating:

Charlie's White Elephant © Pat SullivanBy 1916 Charlie Chaplin had only been working in the movies for two years, but he was already famous enough to have songs written about him and to have animated cartoons featuring his tramp character.

‘Charlie’s White Elephant’ is a prime example of Pat Sullivan’s those Charlie Chaplin cartoons, which numbered ca. twelve in total. The short features Charlie and ‘Fatty’ both courting a girl who orders them to find a white elephant first. Charlie finds a normal elephant and paints it white, but neither he nor Fatty gets the girl.

‘Charlie’s White Elephant’ is credited to Paul Terry’s older brother John Coleman Terry. According to Donald Crafton (in his excellent book ‘Before Mickey’) ‘Charlie’s White Elephant’ was animated by Otto Messmer, the later animator of Felix the Cat, but in the comments below this post David Gerstein assures us he had nothing to do with this particular short, although he did animate some Charlie Chaplin cartoons later on. Thank you, David, for the clarification!

In any case the animator captures Chaplin’s body language very well. But most of the cartoon is filled with remarkably stiff animation, based on only a handful of drawings and many cycles. Moreover, there’s some odd staging with a lot of action taking place in the distance. The end result is more interesting for its historical value than as an entertainment piece.

Watch ‘Charlie’s White Elephant’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Charlie’s White Elephant’ is available on the DVD-sets ‘Chaplin at Keystone’ and ‘Chaplin – The Essanay and Mutual Comedies’

Directors: Charles Bowers & Raoul Barré
Release Date: 1916
Stars: Mutt and Jeff
Rating: ★★★½

Domestic Difficulties © Barré StudioWhen compared to other studio animation film of the era, Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff cartoons come across as remarkably sophisticated and lush.

Made by animation pioneers Charles Bowers and Raoul Barré at the Barré Studio, the Mutt and Jeff cartoons are very akin to Fisher’s original comic strip, relying heavily on text balloons. In this respect these cartoons are no different from the other studio animation films of the time, However, the animation is much more intricate and less stiff than animation films made at Bray’s studio, and the drawings have an unparalleled clarity, foreshadowing Hergé’s ligne claire. Nevertheless, even this cartoon relies heavily on repeated animation, with many cycles used twice or more.

In this short Mutt sneaks out to go drinking with his mate Jeff, but he’s punished by his wife, who awaits him at home with a rolling pin. There are several gags in this cartoon, but the best is when the whole background keeps revolving around the two drunk characters. This is a very original and wonderful way to depict the drunkenness of the two.

On their way home the two friends sing ‘Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula’, a big hit in 1916. Notice that Mutt and Jeff wear Mickey Mouse-like gloves, showing that these attributes are much older than the mouse.

Watch ‘Domestic Difficulties’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Domestic Difficulties’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

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