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McCay's cartoons are all beautiful. This was his first. Typically, the animation exists as a sort of meta narrative, while McCay himself appears in a miniature framing story where he is challenged to produce moving drawings in a certain amount of time. The same device appears in most prints of Gertie the Dinosaur. McCay was a lightning sketch artist and did performances of his swift drawings, so moving picture animation was really an extension of the idea of rapid sketching providing dynamic impressions of motion in his work. Restricted from travelling with his shows by the newspaper that didn't want to lose his cartoons from its pages, it also meant that he could diffuse his talents internationally despite being confined to New York for long periods at a time. The drawings in Little Nemo do not tell a story as such, but instead show characters delighting in their freedom to "stretch and squash", elongating their bodies to demonstrate the malleability of the medium. When Disney studios established its basic principles of animation which would be common to all of its anthropomorphised animal characters, "stretch and squash" was one of the variables which could be applied to a character to give it a distinctive movement. In Disney, the more comedic a character is, the more stretchy and squashy it will be. For McCay, the elasticity of the characters is a way of displaying their triumph over the usual physical laws governing organic bodies. McCay was not concerned with simplistic comedy, as can be witnessed most strikingly in 'The Sinking of the Lusitania'(1918). In the early days of animation, there was no rule which said animation had to be deployed solely for childish comedy, but the industry gradually forced into that pigeonhole to suppress its more (potentially) subversive elements. Kristin Thompson writes superbly on this subject if you're interested. A video and DVD is available featuring all of McCay's animated cartoons. Anyone interested in the history of animation, or early cinema in general, must see it all.
This is a very early cartoon, but it starts off in a most peculiar
manner. The cartoon's creator, Winsor McCay, is shown talking to a
group of friends about his creations--explaining a little about the
process. Then, the camera goes to his studio and he shows some of the
steps needed to produce an animated cartoon. Then in the final portion
of the film, his cartoon comes to life and there are some amazing (for
their time) animations that are also hand-colored. While none of this
stuff will make you forget Looney Tunes or Disney, it is an amazing
insight into the process and as such it's an item of extreme historical
importance. Cute and watchable--even today.
By the way, when I saw the film again, I noticed that the very famous John Bunny was one of the people in the beginning of the film. While practically no one today would recognize him (other than cinema nuts like myself), this rotund man was perhaps the first comedian in film. Sadly, most of his movies have been lost over the years and he died rather young in 1915. I've seen just a few of his remaining films, but his round face is hard to miss in this film.
Winsor McCay, The Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and his Moving
Comics was a 1911 short I saw as part of the Landmarks of Early Film
DVD. It was by far my favorite, beating out even the more popular
Voyage to the Moon and The Great Train Robbery. This movie is simply
perfect. A cartoonist is hired to draw thousands of pictures in order
to make them into moving comics. Moving is used in two senses: the
pictures actually move (animation), and they are surprisingly poignant.
The comics that Winsor McCay makes are fantastic. Again, fantastic in
two senses: They're weird, magical, and are fantasy. They're also funny
and wonderful. This was the only short I watched twice. It was just so
great to see the rigorous process of drawing a cartoon film by hand. A
sort of educational film, catapulted into awesomeness through the light
touch of the (in two senses) moving comic.
Hurray for Winsor McCay My Grade: 10/10
This is an interesting and creative little feature showcasing the work of animation pioneer Winsor McCay. There is a mini-plot built around McCay and his drawings, and the story is itself good for a couple of smiles, but the real highlight is in the animation displays themselves. There's no telling how fascinating this must have been to its original audience, and it is still entertaining to watch as you see the way that his ideas come together. All in all, this is an interesting historical curio that is definitely worth seeing.
Watching this short, it is still quite fascinating to see what Windsor McCay was able to do almost one hundred years ago. The action is still quite good and it entertains even without a story line. The "plot" is that McCay is going to make a cartoon-drawings that move. The animated short had its beginnings in the work of Windsor McCay and others. McCay's work of course is of historical importance, to be sure. But most of what I've seen holds up well today, particularly bearing in mind when it was made. Worth watching. Recommended.
This is a really ingenious combination of vaudeville and cartoons. It starts with Winsor McKay making a bet that he can produce a moving picture within a month; then we see him loading up with giant barrels of ink, boxcarloads of paper etc., the whole slapstick routine. At the end, we see his drawings gradually come to life and we get a genuine little animated cartoon. Anybody who enjoys a good laugh will get a kick out of this one; it's a surprise to see that cartooning could be so sophisticated in 1911.
In the world of comic strips, Winsor McKay was easily one of the greatest artists of all time..and as an animator, his work is comparable. He was firmly convinced that he invented the animated cartoon, and although this is not the case, his work does stand alone. Take a good look at the work he did on the Lusitania sequence, and you will find that only the Fleischer Bros. Superman cartoons approach the realism in illustration, the light simulation, and the smooth, full animation. Also, you get a chance to see George McManus, creator of the "Bringing up Father" strip and a fantastic artist himself. If animation is your metier, it's required viewing..brilliant clear through.
Suddenly seeing Little Nemo and his friends from Slumberland come alive took
my breath away and almost brought a tear to my eye. This is pure cinematic
magic: ingenuous, fantastic, and charming. Like peeping into a world of
harmless ghosts and fairies.
As someone else has pointed out in this forum, the action of LITTLE NEMO unfolds unrestricted by narrative conventions. Nemo and Flip stretch as if they're waking, and for a viewer today, that's where the marvel is. Nemo wakes in 1911 into the world of moving, hand drawn pictures and, after so many years of neglect, he wakes, again, for us.
Well, I could just go on for days expressing my enchantment with this jewel from the past.
While better known for his enormous influence in the history of comic
strips and comics in general, the now legendary American artist Winsor
McCay also played an important role in the development of animated
films in the U.S. when he began to put his talents in animated movies,
creating classics such as 1914's "Gertie the Dinosaur", where he
interacted with his animated dinosaur in ways that precede what Walt
Disney would do decades later in "Song of the South" and "Who Framed
Roger Rabbit". Winsor McCay's first encounter with the movie industry
happened in 1906, when his comic strip "Dream of a Rarebit Fiend" was
adapted to screen by Wallace McCutcheon and Edwin S. Porter. Fascinated
with cinema, McCay produced his first movie in 1911, the
autobiographical short film titled "Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist
of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics", the movie that would contain
his first 2 minutes of animated work.
In many ways, it could be said that "Winsor McCay and His Moving Comics" is a short biopic about McCay's decision to enter the field of animated films. The movie begins with McCay (playing himself) debating with a group of friends and colleagues (John Bunny and George McManus among them) about the possibility of using cinema to create animated movies. McCay explains them the process and his ideas to make it work in a way that the drawings move realistically. To his surprise, his friends laugh at the idea, thinking it's too laborious and complicated to create enough drawings to animate a cartoon the way McCay wants it. However, this only makes McCay more determined to prove he is right, so he bets that he can do a short film in a month. At Vitagraph studios, McCay works without rest, creating the four thousand drawings that will give life to his most famous creation: Little Nemo.
Written by Winsor McCay himself, the frame story for this wonderful "Little Nemo" animation is loosely based on McCay's real experiences with animation. While of course the plot about the bet is an exaggeration, McCay did face a certain degree of skepticism about the way he was planning to animate his drawings. It's not that animated films were new at the time, but the kind of movies McCay wanted to make were considered too difficult to create. In fact, even when McCay does joke about the amount of ink and paper used to make the animation, he really had to draw a lot to create the marvelous 2 minutes that make the last segment. Like in his comic strips, the "little Nemo" animation is a surrealist marvel in which McCay makes a brief introduction of his popular characters: Nemo, the Princess, the Imp, and of course, Flip.
While the animation segment was of course McCay's creation, the frame story was directed by J. Stuart Blackton, former employee of the Edison Production Company who in those years was one of Vitagraph's top directors. Knowing that the movie's highlight was the animation at the end, Blackton keeps a restrained style through his movie, although this doesn't mean he refuses to have fun, as he adds clever visual gags that keep the viewer's attention as McCay's story is told. His handling of the cast is also very good, although the credit for the film's natural and realistic performances must definitely go to legendary comedian John Bunny, who plays himself as a friend of McCay, and together with writer George McManus are McCay's main costars. Bunny's aid was certainly instrumental in helping McCay and McManus to look believable.
Now, as written above, McCay's animated segment is simply a masterpiece of animation, as he achieves a level of detail in his drawings that still few animators attempt to achieve. As in his comic strips, his use of perspective is remarkable, and the fact that here we see it animated just feels as if his drawings were alive. While short, 2 minutes are enough to present his characters, and he offers a small glimpse of what "Little Nemo" is about: a magical fantasy where like in dreams, everything is possible. A great detail about the animation is the fact that the same drawings he made during the frame story are the ones that eventually end up in his animation, enhancing this feeling of drawings coming alive by the magic of cinema. Even now it is truly a fascinating work of art.
"Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics" is an amazing mix of biopic, documentary and animation that definitely is an obligatory viewing for everyone interested in the history of animated films. It is truly amazing how more than 90 years after it was made the movie still looks beautiful and impressive. No wonder why Walt Dinsey liked McCay's work so much that it inspired him to make animations. It is truly a film that must be seen to be believed. 9/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If there was a very good reason Winsor McCay was considered the father of animation, watching this, his first animation test, and a humorous recreation of events that made this happen should clue you in why. As the film begins in live action, McCay is at a table with fellow cartoonist George McManus, film comic John Bunny and a few others telling them his plans to make drawings move. Fascinated, they agree to see the results a month later. In between, there's a humorous scene of deliverymen bringing tons of ink barrels and boxes of paper to his office. Then at his desk with piles of paper stacked high up, a curious onlooker keeps coming in and browsing around resulting in many of those stacks to fall down. Nevertheless, at the exhibit we become fascinated as McCay's comic strip character, Nemo, and his supporting cast start elongating their bodies in various shapes while standing still. Nemo then draws a princess who comes alive as a dragon passes them by. He stops with his mouth open as Nemo and the princess ride on his tongue seat as they wave goodbye and the dragon turns his back on us. Then we see a couple of Nemo's buddies riding in a car with the word "honk" on each door. Then as the car also turns back at us, it explodes, the end. And all this was done in awesome hand-painted color! McCay truly fascinates with his painstaking eye for detail and movement in this experimental film. So for anyone who really is fascinated by animation history, this short is essential viewing.
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