Animated anniversary

The Hollywood Animation Archive Project blog drew my attention to a centenary I didn’t even know about: 100 years of film cartoons. I know that trick photography, such as that used by Melies was being used very early on in film (as with his Voyage Dans La Lune) and that the great early artist and cartoonist Winsor McCay (who became so famous in the 20s he was being paid like a Hollywood star) turned his skills to animation with Gertie the Dinosaur in 1914 (possibly the first movie dinosaur, opinion isn’t 100% on it), but I hadn’t heard of this anniversary, which is no doubt one of the reasons they are holding this celebration.

In April 1906 J Stuart Blackton made a very simple experimental film, drawing outline characters on a blackboard which then come to life. Remarkably this century old film is still in existence and, through the magic of a new medium, the web, is now available for all of us to enjoy courtesy of the archivists and librarians at the Library of Congress, with the blog having a link to the film itself. I found it still highly enjoyable with the outlines drawings reminding me of a more basic version of the excellent animations for the TV version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide some seventy-plus decades later.

I’m not sure how ‘official’ this centenary is; I imagine the first movie cartoon is a bit like when movie folks tried to agree on when exactly the centenary of the movie was a few years back, but regardless it is a good thing to celebrate. Think on all those cartoons you’ve enjoyed over the years since, the blog says, and it is right. Think on all the cartoons which have made you laugh, from Bug Bunny outsmarting Yosemite Sam or Elmer Fudd through to the Incredibles. Think on the great animated films which have wowed you as an adult and a child, from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to Spirited Away. And think how many live action films have been influenced by cartoons, both visually and for gags and musical timing.

And of course there is more than the actual film, there is the context to where those films live in your memory. For me I will always associate watching Tom and Jerry or Bugs Bunny with being a young boy and sitting there with my dad, both of us rolling around on the floor with laughter (Bugs is still a role model for me) -now you know where a lot of it comes from! For Disney’s Alice in Wonderland it is sitting inbetween my mum and dad in a darkened cinema watching magic unfold before my young eyes, happy and safe with my folks beside me. Every time I watch one of these today – and as a Seventh Day Cartoonist I watch animation a lot – I have those warm memories riding alongside the enjoyment of the actual film.