Reviews of “Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics” (1911) and related work

“Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics” (1911Moving picture, 7 minutes)

Seen in 2016.

Seen on Youtube with bad interlacing and some apparently generic silent short music.

McCay makes a bet to produce an animated cartoon. The cartoon itself has neither plot nor characterization, nor even background.

The framing story is dull, but the animation is fascinating on a strictly technical-historical level. The deliberate visual distortions and vector dissolution effects are easy to do in 2D CGI 105 years later. They must have been painful to figure out in 1911. By the same token, the kind of thing that’s still hard to do well in 2016 wasn’t done well by McCay: The fall of Flip and Impie onto Doctor Pill in the last shot is terribly unconvincing and even hard to follow, or that strip of the nitrate wasn’t preserved for Youtube. Note the repetitions, suggesting the use of keyframes.

Animated characters are more detailed in this film, and their movements more fluid, than they would be in feature films for the next seven decades or so, roughly up to the Disney Renaissance. McCay’s ambition was simply immense, setting the standard for the most artistic shorts. Appropriately, McCay even has one of his characters animating another character on screen, which would be a common motif up to about 1927: The animator as a self-figurative godlike creator.

References here: “How a Mosquito Operates” (1912).

moving picture animation fiction

Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989Moving picture, 85 minutes)

Seen in 2016.

I saw the English audio version of the original 1989 cut.

A lot of brilliant animation for a pale and unimaginative story that preserves almost none of McCay’s charm. The addition of Icarus and the Sherman Brothers musical numbers are particularly dull. I fell asleep for the boss fight in my first viewing, and had no dreams. There is virtually no plot, and nothing in the place of plot. When Mickey Rooney’s voice acting is a highlight, you’re in trouble.

Watch it for the animation itself and the bizarrely dysfunctional history of its making. Miyazaki Hayao, Takahata Isao, Kondō Yoshifumi of Whisper of the Heart (1995), Dezaki Osamu of Rose of Versailles (1979), Brad Bird and Jean “Mœbius” Giraud were all involved, but had little to do with the finished film. Ray Bradbury was the least talented person on this project, and one of the more influential.

References here: Catnapped! The Movie (1995).

moving picture same source material Japanese production animation fiction