Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics (1911)    2 Stars


Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics (1911)
Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics (1911) 

Director: Winsor McCay, J. Stuart Blackton

Cast: Winsor McCay, John Bunny, Maurice Costello

Synopsis: Cartoon figures announce, via comic strip balloons, that they will move – and move they do, in a wildly exaggerated style.






Although both J. Stuart Blackton and Emile Cohl had previously released animation shorts (as far back as 1900 in Blackton’s case), animation still wasn’t a film genre in its own right when this short film was released in 1911. The now largely forgotten Winsor McCay, a popular newspaper cartoonist of the day, was one of its earliest practitioners (he also animated Gertie the Dinosaur a couple of years later) and did much to popularise screen animation with recreations of characters from his comic strips. In this whimsical short which mixes live action with animation, McCay is first seen enjoying a night with the lads (including the rotund early comedian John Bunny). At some point, he perhaps rashly insists that he can draw 4000 moving pictures within one month, much to the derisive amusement of his friends, and in the very next scene we see him taking delivery of unwieldy stacks of drawing paper and barrels of ink at his studio. One month later, McCay emerges from the studio with the finished article, despite being hampered by some ill-advised comic tomfoolery from his office junior (a young Moe Howard of Three Stooges fame)…

The characters featured in McCay’s short film are Nemo, Impie and Flip, characters from his popular newspaper strip, Little Nemo in Slumberland. It must have provided fans of the strip with quite a thrill to see their favourites actually up there moving on the screen; and the way in which McCay’s animations glide across the screen with a relaxed grace bordering on slow motion is mesmerising. Flip is a cigar-puffing clown with spiky black hair; his friend Impie is a black man in a grass skirt who would, of course, be considered a racially offensive character today. He does at least have a character, though – and an endearing one at that – which is more than can be said for Nemo, a boy prince who comes across as a little too bland for a leading character.

There’s no real storyline to speak of, but there is a strong sense of McCay flexing his creative muscle as he experiments with a medium in which he clearly – and correctly – saw great potential. Watching the characters come to life beneath his unerring hand makes for fascinating viewing – and then to see one of those newly created characters turn on the page and begin to draw a second character is almost mind-blowing…

(Reviewed 23rd February 2015)

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