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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’

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’

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

Director: Émile Cohl
Release Date: 1916
Rating: ★★★

Les exploits de Farfadet © Émile Cohl‘Les exploits de Farfadet’ is a very short cut-out animation film, not even clocking two minutes.

In this short a man dreams he loses his hat at sea, drowns and gets swallowed by a huge fish.

The atmosphere of this film is very surreal and, indeed, dream-like, with a clear feel of unreality, and an illogical flow of events. The man speaks in text balloons , and in the end he blames his bad dream on rum, very much like Winsor McCay’s rarebit fiends.

Watch ‘Les exploits de Farfadet’ 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: 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’ is available 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’ is available on the DVD & Blu-Ray-set ‘Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios Animation Pioneers’

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