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Director: Leon Searl
Release Date: February 29, 1916
Stars: Krazy Kat
Rating: ★★★

Krazy Kat Goes a-Wooing © J.R. Bray Productions‘Krazy Kat’ was the very first animal cartoon star featured in a cartoon series of her own.

‘Krazy Kat’, of course, was taken from George Herriman’s celebrated comic strip, which had started in 1913. The film series started three years later, and lasted until 1940. By then the character had become a far cry from Herriman’s creation.

But the earliest Krazy Kat cartoons still had a lot in common with George Herriman’s comic strip, on which they were based. ‘Krazy Kat Goes a-Wooing’, the fourth Krazy Kat cartoon, is a good example. This short animation film lasts only three minutes and seemingly re-tells one Sunday Page, using a lot of text balloons. Both the designs, backgrounds and characters are still in tune with Herriman’s creations.

Krazy Kat goes serenading her love Ignatz Mouse, but he rushes off to fetch some bricks to throw at her. Leon Searl’s drawings are appealing, but his animation is very stiff. For example, when we watch Krazy serenading, only two drawings are used.

Watch ‘Krazy Kat Goes a-Wooing’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Krazy Kat Goes a-Wooing’ has been released on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: George Vernon Stallings
Release Date: September 4, 1915
Stars: Colonel Heeza Liar
Rating: ★★★

Colonel Heeza Liar at the Bat © J.R. Bray‘Colonel Heeza Liar at the Bat’ is a Colonel Heeza Liar cartoon directed by George Vernon Stallings, who would later join Van Beuren and Disney.

Stallings’s approach to animation is very comic strip-like in this short: the scenes are very flat, and although the drawing and posing are very good, the animation is extremely limited and stiff, relying heavily on repeated drawings and on poses instead of movement.

In this short the colonel joins a ball game, winning it with ease, e.g. by pitching curve balls that defy all laws of nature, and by running a home-run three times in a row. The film uses titles in rhyme, but text balloons are reserved for the umpire only.

Watch ‘Colonel Heeza Liar at the Bat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Colonel Heeza Liar at the Bat’ has been released on the DVD-set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’ and on the DVD ‘Before Walt’

Director: Paul Terry
Release Date: October 18, 1916
Stars: Farmer Al Falfa
Rating: ★★

Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York © Paul TerryIn 1915 Paul Terry joined the Bray studio and introduced a character of his own called farmer Al Falfa.

Farmer Al Falfa never amounted to something of an interesting character, like for example a Bobby Bumps or Felix the Cat, and I doubt whether he ever had many fans. Yet, the animated farmer lasted until 1937, and even didn’t completely disappear after that.

‘Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York’ is Farmer Al Falfa’s ninth film, and has the farmer visiting the big city, where he’s seduced by a remarkably realistically drawn woman. Later he plays cards with some cheating criminals, only to win after all.

Unlike J.R. Bray, Paul Terry was a rather poor draftsman, as this film clearly shows. The animation is weak and formulaic, and the farmer and the woman don’t inhabit the same cartoon universe. The result is a rather inferior cartoon that nevertheless foreshadows the quality of most animation of the silent era, unlike Bray’s own early high quality films.

Indeed, most of the secret of Terry’s success did not lie in the quality of his work, but in his working speed. Yet, his stay at Bray’s studio was not a happy one, and at the end of 1916 he left, only to get inducted in the army. A few years after World War I, in 1921, Terry would return to the animation business, co-founding a studio with Amedee J. van Beuren, reviving his character Al Falfa, and becoming one of the biggest players in the field.

Watch ‘Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York’ has been released on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

Director: Carl Anderson
Release Date: January 27, 1916
Stars: Police Dog
Rating:

The Police Dog on the Wire © Carl AndersonSoon the Bray studio employed more and more animators, becoming the most important studio of the 1910s, greatly helped by some patents, most importantly the Bray-Hurd patent for cel animation, which copyrighted an animation technique that would be the major technique in drawn animation until the late 1980s.

In the 1910s the young studio kept attracting some names that would become some of the most important animators and producers of the future, like Max Fleischer, Walter Lantz and Paul Terry. These new animators were allowed to start their own series, thus the Bray studio produced such diverse series as Earl Hurd’s Bobby Bumps, Paul Terry’s Farmer Al Falfa, and Max Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell.

One of J.R. Bray’s new animators was Carl Anderson, who made ca. a dozen ‘Police Dog’ films between 1914 and 1918, of which ‘The Police Dog on the Wire’ is one. When judged by this film Anderson emerges as one of the less inspired artists of the Bray studio. The film is remarkably plotless, with a female dog phoning ‘police dog’, while a cop called Piffles gets drunk. The animation, too, is poor and formulaic, never reaching the heights of that of J.R. Bray himself, let alone a Winsor McCay. Moreover, the frames are cramped with objects, giving the characters scarcely space to move in. Many scenes are appallingly slow and static, resulting in a film that is best forgotten.

Watch ‘The Police Dog on the Wire’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Police Dog on the Wire’ has been released on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

Director: J.R. Bray
Release Date: 1915
Rating: ★★★½

Diplodocus © J.R. Bray‘Diplodocus’ is J.R. Bray’s own version of Winsor McCay’s ‘Gertie the Dinosaur‘ (1914), being so similar to the McCay’s success film that it’s plain plagiarism.

The film stars a Diplodocus instead of a Brontosaur and shows the differences between Bray’s and McCay’s drawing styles, with McCay showing more art nouveau elegance, and Bray displaying more comic strip like clarity.

Bray’s film reuses much of McCay’s material: like Gertie the Diplodocus lifts one foot, shifts from side to side, he gets startled by a flying dragon, interacts with a mastodon, eats a pumpkin etc. Like McCay’s film it’s clear that the film had to be shown together with a live narrator, who interacts with the drawn prehistoric animal.

The only new elements are the Diplodocus tying its neck in a knot, the arrival of a small monkey, and a sea serpent pulling at the mastodon’s trunk.

Bray’s animation is of a high quality, but his Diplodocus lacks Gertie’s personality. Thus this weak rip off only manages to show what great film ‘Gertie the Dinosaur’ was, and still is.

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

‘Diplodocus’ has been released on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

Director: J.R. Bray
Release Date: January 10, 1914
Stars: Col. Heeza Liar
Rating: ★★★★

Col. Heeza Liar's African Hunt © J.R. BrayCol. Heeza Liar was the first animated series, and the character was the first specially designed for animation.

Col. Heeza Liar was the first star of J.R. Bray’s fledgling studio, only founded in 1913. The character was apparently based on Theodore Roosevelt, but he looks very different. Col. Heeza Liar’s African Hunt’ is only the second film featuring the character.

Drawn by J.R. Bray, the cartoon is filled with loose gags, in which the colonel unwillingly hatches an ostrich egg, has to climb into a palm to flee from a bear, shooting six animals within one shot, and planting a seed which grows into a palm tree instantly.

The looseness of the cartoon betrays the short’s origin as a cheater, for it shares no less than sixty percent with the preceding Col. Heeza Liar cartoon ‘Col. Heeza Liar in Africa’. In this respect, Col. Heeza Liar’s African Hunt’ is a ‘milestone’ of animation, being the first cheater in the business.

Despite being a cheater, the short is well animated. There’s some excellent perspective animation, when a kangaroo hops towards the camera, with the colonel inside, casually defying the African setting. The scene with the bear contains some great comedy. The animation over all is fair, ranging from fast to slow, and cleverly reusing animation cycles.

Col. Heeza Liar is not an immediately engaging character. And worse, as time progressed, his antics became less and less well animated. Nevertheless he would star more than fifty cartoons, lasting until 1924.

‘Col. Heeza Liar’s African Hunt’ has been released on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

Director: J.R. Bray
Release Date: June 12, 1913
Stars: J.R. Bray
Rating: ★★★★

The Artist's Dream © J.R. BrayJ.R. Bray is the father of the cartoon industry, but this short is from a period in which J.R. Bray was still a lone artist, like other animation pioneers as J. Stuart Blackton, Émile Cohl and Winsor McCay.

In fact, ‘The Artist’s Dream’ is only J.R. Bray’s second attempt at animation, and the film is still rooted in the drawings come to life tradition of the earliest animated films.

Bray plays an artist drawing a dachshund and a sausage. While he’s away the dachshund eats the sausage, and later another till he explodes. Of course, all has been a dream, which clearly shows the strong influence of Winsor McCay’s dreams of the rarebit fiend.

‘The Artist’s Dream’ shows Bray’s extraordinary drawing skills, as his drawings are very clear and contain elegant shading. His handling of perspective is perfect and no less than McCay’s. The animation, on the other hand, is less fluent than McCay’s, if still of a remarkably high quality. Unfortunately, he would not transfer this level of art to his later studio films.

Watch ‘The Artist’s Dream’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Artist’s Dream’ has been released on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

Director: Frank Moser
Release Date: 1919
Stars: Bud and Susie
Rating:
Review:

Still from 'Down the Mississippi' featuring Bud, Susie and their cat on a raft pulled by an alligator‘Down the Mississippi’ is a cartoon created by Frank Moser, who would later co-found Terrytoons with Paul Terry.

Like, Ub Iwerks, Moser is known as a very fast animator. However, unlike Iwerks, Moser wasn’t either innovative or funny. It may be unfair to use such an early cartoon as ‘Down the Mississippi’ as an example, but the ‘Bud and Susie’ series was Moser’s own creation, so it could have been inspired. This is not the case.

In ‘Down the Mississippi’ Bud, Susie and their cat read ‘Huckleberry Finn’. When the sandman puts them to sleep, they dream they’re on the Mississippi. The cat catches an electric eel and Bud a crocodile. They camp at the river bank, where they’re eaten by a bear(?, the animal isn’t very distinguished). The animation is crude and the animal design typical of the twenties. Nothing is particularly outstanding in this cartoon, which isn’t funny either.

Watch ‘Down the Mississippi’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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