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The Centaurs (1921)

 -  Animation | Short
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Ratings: 6.2/10 from 189 users  
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A female centaur (a creature half-human and half-horse) enters a clearing in the woods, and picks some flowers. She is soon met by a male centaur, and the two then romance each other. They then seek parental consent for their union.



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Title: The Centaurs (1921)

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A female centaur (a creature half-human and half-horse) enters a clearing in the woods, and picks some flowers. She is soon met by a male centaur, and the two then romance each other. They then seek parental consent for their union.

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centaur | mythological


Animation | Short




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Far from McCay's best work.
4 July 2006 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

Winsor McCay was a newspaper cartoonist in the glorious days when cartoonists were given an entire over-sized Sunday newspaper page on which to give their artwork free rein. His full-colour comic-strip art is so remarkable that McCay's original newspaper pages (if you can find them) command high prices at modern art auctions. McCay eventually branched out into film animation, claiming to be the first artist to create moving drawings ... a claim that would come as a surprise to Émile Cohl and J. Stuart Blackton, both of whom preceded him.

Although McCay was a prolific print artist, he made very few animated films. This was largely because McCay drew all the frames himself, without the help of 'in-betweeners'. For McCay's earliest cartoons (including the legendary 'Gertie the Dinosaur'), he drew the background and characters in each frame as a single drawing on paper: a time-consuming technique which required McCay to re-draw the entire background in each frame, even when it remained unchanged. By the time he began 'The Centaurs', McCay was using acetate cels to avoid this necessity.

Like some other McCay animations, 'The Centaurs' was a project that he never finished: the existing footage is almost certainly all that was ever completed. There is no plot here: McCay depicts a youthful adult pair of centaurs chaperoned by an older pair of centaurs, apparently the young she-centaur's parents. The relationship between the young couple is unclear: they appear to be courting, yet we also encounter a pesky boy-centaur who is apparently their child. Or is this brat the she-centaur's kid brother?

These centaurs gambol in an idyllic forest background which McCay draws very realistically. That's actually a drawback, no pun intended: I think that this footage would have looked far more interesting -- and McCay certainly could have completed it much faster -- if the centaur drawings on acetate cels had been superimposed against photographs of actual forest scenery.

I am deeply impressed with much of McCay's work, but 'The Centaurs' -- such as it is -- is hardly McCay at his best. We get none of those breathtaking perspectives which McCay used elsewhere. The animation of the centaur figures is not convincing: their equine portions don't move like real horses, and their human portions move only slightly more realistically. It's a shame that McCay didn't have access to a rotoscope. Admittedly, centaurs are very implausible creatures anyway: a horse reaches maturity much sooner than a human, so the lower end of the boy-centaur should be an adult already.

'The Centaurs' was a strange project for McCay to have undertaken. Centaurs are lusty, sensual creatures, yet McCay has chosen to bowdlerise his figures. The she-centaur's breasts are only briefly suggested, and have no nipples. The males have no nipples either, and the crop of the he-centaur is not seen. If McCay was too much of a prude to give his centaurs sexual characteristics (or if he was drawing for an audience who felt that way), then why did he choose this particular theme?

The older she-centaur (the sour-faced chaperone) wears pince-nez spectacles, leaving us to wonder if centaurs have access to opticians. At one point, the virile centaur shies a stone at a bird, bringing a bit of male violence to this idyl. Perhaps 'The Centaurs' might have been more impressive if McCay had completed it, but I doubt that this is the case. All of McCay's animation is impressive, but 'The Centaurs' is not the best introduction to his work. I'll rate this only 5 out of 10.

Sadly, almost none of McCay's original artwork survives. In 1982, I interviewed American comic-book artist Leonard B Cole, who worked alongside artist Robert McCay (Winsor's son) in the 1940s. Cole told me that McCay once brought a large quantity of his father's artwork to the studio where they worked, and offered to give it away to any artist who would take it. There were no takers, so McCay simply threw out the lot! (Cole, needless to say, long since regretted his refusal of the offer.) Today, those illustration boards would be priceless. Got a time machine handy?

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