This page is a collection of quick cartoon notes that wouldn’t justify full articles. It will be updated by all the editors on the site intermittently.
These notes should be taken as snapshots of first impressions; on closer scrutiny they may or may not hold up. As the list fills out this will become something of an index of interesting animation from all over the world.
Our comments are conveniently color-coded by contributor:
Autour d’une Cabine by Emile Reynaud
I didn’t expect a film from 1894 to remind me of John Hubley. The motion isn’t smooth but it is compelling and the characters almost look double exposed. I’m not sure that was even possible yet? It may be due to the very degraded print.
Fantasmagorie by Emile Cohl
When you watch this the idea that animation ended up being limited for a time when it switched to cells feels true. There is a free association of images and physical techniques that very playful. If this is the first true animated film than animation has always been good.
Le Cauchemar de Fantoche by Emile Cohl
If Steinberg like designs aren’t amenable to animation why do the earliest animated films have them? The timing is sharper than Fantasmagorie. The web sequence is impressive.
Un Drame Chez les Fantoches by Emile Cohl
Not significantly different from the last two films. Despite being crude line drawings all 4 characters have clear and unique designs.
Les Joyeux Microbes by Emile Cohl
I only watched the animated sequence. A series of abstract deceptions of cells morphing into well done caricatures. Grandmothers become monsters then have their heads rip off and fly away it’s pretty wild. The morphing only really works because the designs are as clean as they are, good design.
Les Transfigurations by Emile Cohl
I only watched the animated sequences. The same kind of morphing sequences as Microbes, however, it also adds stop motion into the mix. Despite that, I enjoyed it less.
The Hasher’s Delirium by Emile Cohl
The figures drawings are a lot more sophisticated but it does come at the expense of the movement. There is some more abstract animation that is nice and the funny faces are funny.
Little Nemo by Winsor McCay
The gap in draftsmanship compared to everything I’ve seen before is extreme. Complex figures with interesting distortions and even some rudimentary hints of acting, particularly the opening shot with the cigarette.
Essentially foreshadows the US Golden Age of Animation. Without anything else like it predating it, it’s interesting how many techniques McCay could figure out with just his own skill gained from comics. Not many naturally born animators.
The Ant And The Grasshopper by Ladislas Starevich
Watched a terrible quality print, hard to make out the fine acting but it seems present. The models look to be real, dead, bugs and they come to life with an incredibly easy movement.
The grasshopper in particular really acts when taunting the worker ants. Impressive film, will need to see more from Starevich.
How a Mosquito Operates by Winsor McCay
Overall more ambitious than Nemo, it attempts to tell a more complete story even while still being largely antics.
The animation of the human character is going for realism and is more stiff and slow than any of the characters in Nemo. It’s reasonably impressive but too dependant on cycles but it is badly outshined by the fun, proto-cartoony animation of the mosquito.
Real disturbing motion picture, real terrifying seeing this man get so much blood sucked out by the mosquito. The mosquito seems to be the focus of the picture, with the human there just so the mosquito has blood to suck. Winsor McCays ambitions for animation continue to be clear and it’s an important film, with early character animation for the mosquito.
The Cameraman’s Revenge (Ladislaw Starewicz)
He is really incredible. His puppets have life, real life. And to do it with literal dead bugs, it still feels like magic.
The tired bug coming home and stoking the fire before laying down is just perfect. The crowd rejecting the film is maybe the first scene where the animation feels slightly below what was required but as soon as less actors were moving it quickly recovers.
As Winsor McCay was setting the stage for hand drawn character animation, Ladislaw Starewicz did the same for stop motion animation. A beautifully animated film with detailed sets, and tells quite a complex story too about love and rivalries between many bugs.
Gertie the Dinosaur by Winsor McCay
The Jumbo sequence is maybe the best moment. Gertie laying down to sleep then scratching its head has a degree of pathos. Technically impressive but compared to the two prior films he animated it’s pretty boring watched now.
The timing of the animation in Gertie is superior to the previous cartoons, and Gertie is presented as an “alive” creature, like a pet of Winsor McCay. In the way it’s presented, Gertie as a creature which McCay commands, it gives the cartoon a real feeling it’s just a silly vaudeville novelty act. As such it might even foreshadow the influence of vaudeville on the animation of the coming decades.
Gertie on Tour by Winsor McCay
The cycles are still present but this cartoon is less dependant on then than the original Gertie the dinosaur. Gertie and the train seemed to be on separate cells which must have still been somewhat new. The shift to cells allowed more complicated backgrounds but these at times are almost at odds with the characters clean lines. (this film may have been worked on as late as 1921)
Flip’s Circus by Winsor McCay
A return to more animation friendly design. At Times a bit floaty. I wonder if cartoon stars as a symbol for pain was already common in animation at this point. The scene where he is consumed is fun. Overall the film is extremely dull in it’s partially lost state. (and probably if it were completed too.)
Mutt and Jeff in the Flood – Directed by Charles R. Bowers)
Fun enough but utterly unmemorable, the music worked well and the shower flood scene was fun. Actually the pace is really fast which gives it a unique take. Improved over it’s runtime. A thoroughly okay cartoon.
Feline Follies – Directed by Otto Messmer
Motion is decidedly non-naturalistic. For a silent cartoon much too wordy. Reminds me a touch of Yasuji Murata and I’m not totally sure why? There is a slight genius to the motion even it it never feels alive in the disney sense.
Rhythmus 23 by Hans Richter
Really engaging in a way that i hard to communicate. (Giannalberto Bendazzi does not agree) The lack of sound wasn’t really an issue and I found it implied by the visual. Objects pop and slide out of motion with definitive rhythm.
Le Retour à la reason by Man Ray
Avant garde combination of live action and animation. Exists in near constant motion but the timing of the static sections largely fails to be interesting. Quickly cut but does little to distinguish itself outside of it’s mixed media. It does not feel like a singular idea.
The Jolly Rounders – By the Fables Studio – Directed by Paul Terry
An Aesop’s Fable from the “Fables Studio”, we are taken back to a time where Paul Terry cartoons production values were among the best in the world of mass produced animation. Featuring some interesting gags and an “adult storyline”. There are some relatively detailed backgrounds and attempts at character animation too. This is what Walt Disney once saw as the peak of animation.
Symphonie Diagonale by Viking Eggeling
Sequences of complex line drawings being drawn then erased in black and white. Did not really manage to hold interest for me despite thinking a lot of the abstract drawings were quite nice. Despite the motion little of it really feels all that animated. More interesting in concept than execution.
Filmstudie by Hans Richter
The creepy eyeball thing doesn’t really do much for me but the sequences of overlapping shapes are more tightly executed and quickly cut than in rhythmus 23 and are quite enjoyable.
Anemic Cinema by Marcel Duchamp
This film is just series of concentric circles interspersed with metal plates with a message in french also spinning. At times it can be oddly entrancing but at least without being able to read the plates it feels dreadfully thin and long outstayed its welcome.
There was an interesting depth to the final circle
The Adventures of Prince Achmed
A very very strong opening, I did not expect the impact of Ruttmans work. The puppets are incredibly spry and limber. They don’t come across with a sense of reality or feel “living” in the disney sense but they feel completely convincing, if not entirely specific, in the context of the film. Small hesitations and timing are everything. This isn’t to say it’s perfect as the animation occasionally has hitches and jumps but the overall effect is staggering.
The storm sequence is rad. Walter Ruttmann’s presence is strongly felt and gives the movie a strong and important sense of unreality whenever it pops up. The intricacy of the bird attendants matches the world and makes for a lovely scene. The effect of using small cut shards to make reflections in the water is really incredible.
The Tints are crazy effective, the movie never wants for color. It’s stark in a way that recalls my favorite Tsutomu Shibayama work. The Genie is incredible. The sequence of the home being built is incredible.
The is a must watch and in a “you need to do your homework” kind of way. Staggering in it’s time and nearly as impressive now.
The Idea by Berthold Bartosch
The use of light is strongly compelling, in the first street scene it’s hard to tell if the shadows are drawn or cast. (probably drawn) The number of exposures must have been quite high for the time.
The figure drawings are clear caricature as would have to be the case in an explicitly political film. A lot of interesting matching shots and a poetic pace. The street scene with the man looking out the window at crowds is wonderfully effective for how minimal the movement is. Often the backgrounds are just moving scenes of light. Dreamy with effective symbols the film feels far from new but instead of being simply old the film feels out of place in ANY time at all. Animation never looked like this. An essential watch, regardless of if you end up enjoying it (and I basically did).
Night on Bald Mountain by Alexandre Alexeieff
Haunting, beautiful shadow imagery using Alexeieffs pinscreen technique. Nightmarish, realistic visuals created from shadow make for fascinating viewing and a kind of animation you can’t get any other way.
Mashenkin Concert by Soyuzmultfilm – Directed by Mstislav Pashchenko
A lovely little cartoon in the Silly Symphonies mold. Lovely backgrounds and art which reflect the times. Some of the animation is surprisingly energetic and fast paced compared to other soviet animation of the time.