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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’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: October 14, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★

The Swimming Pool © Hanna-Barbera‘The Swimming Pool’ was the very first Flintstones episode made, and it shows: Barney, Fred and Wilma all look different from later episodes, and Barney sounds quite different, too. Nevertheless, the episode introduces the visual style of the series: pleasant color schemes with olive skies, thick character lines, and limited animation.

This first episode of the Flintstones also establishes the Flintstones formula: although set in the stone age, it clearly portraits modern suburban neighbors, with telephones, television sets and such. Already in this episode Fred and Barney are portrayed as quarreling, but loving neighbors and friends, and there’s also a short shot of Fred working at the excavation.

In this episode Barney digs a swimming pool in his own backyard, and Fred talks him into sharing a pool with him, spanning both backyards. Nevertheless, it’s still Barney doing all the digging. Unfortunately the shared pool tests Fred’s neighborly attitude, and he even ends up in jail.

The humor in this episode is a little bit slow, with more room for slapstick than later episodes.

Watch an excerpt from ‘The Swimming Pool’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flintstones Season One Episode 3
To the previous Flintstones episode: Hot Lips Hannigan
To the next Flintstones episode: No Help Wanted

‘The Swimming Pool’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Directors: William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
Airing Date: September 30, 1960
Stars: The Flintstones
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

The Flintstone Flyer © Hanna-Barbera‘The Flintstone Flyer’ was the very first Flintstone episode aired on television. The story was one of two already conceived before the series went to production and used to sell the series (the other one was ‘The Swimming Pool‘).

The episode establishes many aspects of the series: the setting may be in the stone age, this is a rather poor excuse for a suburban situation comedy depicting very a very standard family from mid-20th century indeed, complete with modern inventions like cars, telephone and television (how the latter two work is never revealed). This is little wonder, as the series was modeled after ‘The Honeymooners’ (aired 1955-1956), which features remarkably similar characters (for example, they love bowling, too).

Hanna and Barbera’s stone age is one of pure fantasy, and features dinosaurs coexisting with humans, despite the fact that dinosaurs had died out 65 million years before the dawn of man. In that respect ‘The Flintstones’ stand in a long tradition: dinosaurs co-existing with man could be seen in e.g. Willis O’Brien’s short ‘R.F.D. 10,000 B.C.’ (1916), in the Alley Oop comics (starting in 1932), in ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur‘ (1939), in ‘Prehistoric Porky’ (1940), and Fleischer’s Stone Age cartoons from 1940.

The Flinstones tells about Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. The two are neighbors in some suburban area of ‘Bedrock’ (population 2500). They both love bowling, and are willing to lie to their wives (Wilma and Betty, respectively) to go out to play their favorite game. When bowling, Fred has a particular walk on his toes, and when excited he shouts ‘Yabba-dabba doo!’.

In this particular episode, the guys want to go bowling, while they have to go to the opera with their wives. So, Fred pretends to be ill and then the two literally fly off to the bowling alley, using a flying machine Barney has invented before. The opera itself is a typical mismatch of Wagnerian costume and bel canto singing, a trope frequently encountered in cartoons.

The complete cartoon moves at a steady pace, and by 2018 one can only conclude that the humor is rather dated. One cannot resist the thought what poor marriages these must be that one cannot be honest to each other. This sets the tone of many episodes to come: by now they only seem to demonstrate the inequality between men and women at the time.

Moreover, little to nothing is done with the stone age concept: we watch monkeys grabbing the pins, and a soda machine that’s operated by a man, but that’s about it.

No, despite Warner Bros. veterans Warren Foster and Michael Maltese working on the stories, the classic status of this very first animated series to be aired on prime time must come from its appealing designs by Ed Benedict (who had designed cavemen before, for Tex Avery’s ‘The First Bad Man’ from 1955), clever layouts by Dick Bickenbach and Walt Clinton, and great background artwork (e.g. featuring olive skies) by Art Lozzi, Fernando Montealegre, Robert Gentle and Dick Thomas. Even the limited animation (by the likes of top-animators Ken Muse, Carlo Vinci, Ed Love, Don Patterson and Dick Lundy) remains quite interesting throughout, even if the designs are rather off at times.

Watch an excerpt from ‘The Flintstone Flyer’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the first Flintstones Episode. To the demo episode: The Flagstones
To the next Flintstones episode: Hot Lips Hannigan

‘The Flintstone Flyer’ is available on the DVD-set ‘The Flintstones: The Complete First Season’

Director: Bob Clampett
Release Date: October 12, 1940
Stars: Porky Pig
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Prehistoric Porky © Warner Bros.In ‘Prehistoric Porky’ Porky Pig follows the footsteps of Daffy Duck, who had started a prehistoric cartoon in ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur‘.

Set rather extravagantly ‘one billion, trillion years b.c. (a long time ago)’ the short opens beautifully with several moving silhouettes of dinosaurs. Soon we cut to caveman Porky, who has a pet Brontosaur (erroneously with visible ears) called ‘Rover’. Porky reads in ‘Expire – the magazine for cavemen’, and discovers that his own bearskin is outdated. So he goes out to hunt for one. Unfortunately, he encounters a vicious sabertooth tiger…

Like almost all films set in the prehistory, ‘Prehistoric Porky’ cheerfully mixes all kinds of prehistoric periods together. Unfortunately, the short is rather low on gags, and has a trite ending. Moreover, most dinosaurs look like fantasy dragons, instead of the real thing. Yet, the sabertooth tiger is well animated, and it’s interesting to see Porky in a quasi-urban caveman setting, making the cartoon one of the forerunners of ‘The Flintstones’.

Watch a colorized version of ‘Prehistoric Porky’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 78
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Calling Dr. Porky
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: The Sour Puss

‘Prehistoric Porky’ is available on the DVD sets ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5’ and ‘Porky Pig 101’

 

Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: April 22, 1939
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur © Warner Bros.After directing four films with stars of his own, fledgling director Chuck Jones first directed a major Warner Bros. Star in ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’.

Jones does a fairly good job in trying to capture the wacky spirit of contemporary cartoons by Tex Avery and Bob Clampett, although his animation is more Disney-like than that of his peers.

Daffy’s adversary is a grumpy caveman called Caspar, whose surprisingly elaborate design and voice anticipate Elmer Fudd a little. The dinosaur of the title is called Fido. He is the caveman’s pet, and a large brontosaur. However, the dinosaur hardly comes into action, and most of the comedy is between the duck and the caveman.

There are some nice gags, but highlight is the non-animated gag of an enormous string of billboards leading to a duck dinner. Jones is still uncertain with Daffy as a character, but let’s be fair, so was even Tex Avery himself at this point – and he invented the duck. Jones’s caveman in fact is a better opponent to Daffy than Avery’s Egghead was. However, only with his third Daffy Duck film, ‘My Favorite Duck‘ (1942), Jones directed the character to great comic effect.

Watch ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Daffy Duck cartoon No. 6
To the previous Daffy Duck cartoon: Daffy Duck in Hollywood
To the next Daffy Duck cartoon: Scalp Trouble

‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’ is available on the DVD-set ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3’

 

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: January 8?, 1983
Rating: ★
Review:

Ches les dinosaures © Procidis‘Chez les dinosaures’ is the last of three vaguely educational episodes. It’s also one of the weakest episodes in the series.

Pierrot, Psi and Metro now visit a planet inhabited by dinosaurs from the Jurassic period. Its educational value, however, is doubtful: Barillé’s theories on the end of the dinosaurs are no less than ridiculous, and the dinosaurs are designed and animated terribly.

Furthermore, one grows tired of all these earth-like planets, populated by the same creatures that have roamed the earth, too (such planets occur also in ‘La Planète verte‘, ‘Les Cro-Magnons‘, ‘La planète Mytho‘, ‘Les géants‘ and ‘Les Incas‘). As if everywhere in space the same history occurs over and over again.

Luckily, this was the last so-called ‘educational’ episode. With the next episode, Barillé would go back to the main story without leaving it again. Indeed, even ‘Chez les dinosaures’ contributes to it, as Pierrot gets injured during this episode, leaving Psi on her own in the next one, with dramatic results…

Watch ‘Chez les dinosaures’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 14th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 13th episode: Les Incas (The Incas)
To the 15th episode: Les anneaux de Saturne (The Rings of Saturn)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: November 6?, 1982
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Les Cro-Magnons © ProcidisThis is the fourth episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ in which the evil constellation of Cassiopeia threatens a green and primitive planet in the Andromeda galaxy.

This time it’s the planet Diane, which is inhabited by humans, who apparently have descended from humans from earth. Against the regulations, Pierot and Psi visit the small population, who, like the title suggests, live like Cro-Magnons.

Like in ‘Il était une fois… l’homme’ this population knows its own versions of our main protagonists, so they have their own Pierrette, Maestro, le Teigneux and le Nabot. In the end, the visit by the people from Omega induces tales of Gods within the Cro-Magnon population, echoing the ideas of Erich von Däniken.

This episode opens in a neighborhood and a bar on Omega that is very similar to Mos Eisley in ‘Star Wars’ (1977), one of quite a few influences of that film on Barillé’s series. The most interesting part, however, is the computer search for the planet Cassiopeia probably wants to invade, showing several planets inhabited by weird alien creatures.

Watch ‘Les Cro-Magnons’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 5th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 4th episode: Du côté d’Andromède (Towards Andromeda)
To the 5th episode: La révolte des robots (The Revolt of the Robots)

Director: Winsor McCay
Release Date: September 14, 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 rock and a whole tree, she bows to the camera, she lifts her feet, she’s being startled by a small mammoth, which she throws into the lake, she dances, and she lifts McCay himself on to her back.

The captions in between replace dialogue, which was 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, command of perspective and detailed background art (which had to be drawn over and over again), but what really makes the film 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. She cries when being scolded by McCay, and is clearly happy when performing her little dance.

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 tThe 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

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