Animated Films


Animated Films Essay, Research Paper

American animation begins with British-born writer, director, and actor J. Stuart Blackton, a former newspaper illustrator who drew the 1906 cartoons Humorous Phases Of A Funny Face and The Haunted Hotel. Newspaper cartoonist Winsor McCay, who made the famed comic strips "Little Nemo In Slumberland" and "Dreams Of A Rarebit Fiend," had a vaudeville act in 1911 which used an animated short he'd drawn and colored by hand, called Little Nemo. The Story Of A Mosquito (1912, aka How A Mosquito Operates) followed, and in 1914 McCay premiered his landmark Gertie The Dinosaur, appearing onstage as the cartoon was projected and "interacting" with his huge trained brontosaurus Gertie. He made longer and more ambitious works, The Sinking Of The Lusitania (1918) and The Centaurs (1919), but retired from cinema a few years later. Key developments in animation were patented by John Randolph Bray after he completed his second cartoon, Colonel Heeza Liar In Africa (1913). Bray pioneered the use of transparencies with static images, thereby elmiminating the need to retrace unchanging backgrounds or motionless characters; he also brought the application of gray tones to animation, which until then had been almost exclusively black-and-white line drawings. Cartoon studios began appearing in the mid teens, centering in New York. Canadian-born Raoul Barr? had the first, in 1914; his series "Grouch Chasers," an Edison release of 1915-16, was noted for its surreal humor. Barr? also handled the successful "Mutt & Jeff" series, which Charles Bowers had launched in 1916 with Jeff's Toothache and The Submarine. Many directors worked on the series over the years, but in what would become a vicious trend in cartoons, the animation director's credit was usurped by another — here, by the comic strip's artist, Bud Fisher. That same year, publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst formed the International Film Service and turned his newspapers'; popular comic strips into various cartoon series, including "The Katzenjammer Kids," "Bringing Up Father," "Happy Hooligan," and "Krazy Kat." For Carl Laemmle's Universal production company, Australian-born Pat Sullivan began his "Sammy Johnsin" series in 1916; soon he was making them with novice animator Otto Messmer, who also worked on Sullivan's series of Charlie Chaplin cartoons. Barr? temporarily left animation in 1918, the same year Hearst closed his studio, its ranks depleted by the wartime draft. Hearst continued to support the production of cartoons based on his newspapers' strips, first with artists under the supervision of John Terry, and then at J.R. Bray's studio. Bray also produced other series during the war years, such as the witty "Bobby Bumps" cartoons of Earl Hurd, Bray's co-inventor and business partner, and the "Farmer Al Falfa" series of Paul Terry. Austrian-born Max Fleischer impressed Bray with his cartoon that used a device he'd made with his brothers Joe and Dave: the rotoscope, which enabled Max to trace live-action film for a more realistic and fluid animation. Postponed by Bray's production of training films when the United States entered World War One, Fleischer's "Out Of The Inkwell" series started in 1919, and Koko the Clown and his dog Fitz were introduced in The Clown's Pup. That same year, Otto Messmer developed a new character for Sullivan: a black cat called Felix, who debuted in Feline Follies. Both series soon became extremely popular. In 1921, the Fleischers left Bray to produce cartoons with their own company, Out Of The Inkwell Films, and made such classics as Bedtime (1923) and Sparring Partner (1924). Dave became the writer and director; he also put on a clown suit so Max could rotoscope the antics of Koko, who usually appeared against the live-action world of Max and his artist's studio. Late in the '20s, the Fleischers made cartoons for Paramount (where copyright claims resulted in a new hyphen for their clown), and did some of their best work with Ko-Ko The Cop (1927) and Ko-Ko's Earth Control (1928). The purely animated Felix the Cat cartoons could be equally imaginative: Felix Saves The Day (1922), Felix In Hollywood (1923), and Comicalamities (1928) offer their own crazy plasticity with the characters. Otto Messmer, the cartoons' principal creator, was helped with gags and animation by William Nolan and Raoul Barr?; but Pat Sullivan, who never drew a frame of Felix, took all the credit for himself, and Messmer remained virtually unknown. Paul Terry found success in the 1920s with his "Aesop's Fables" series. Regularly starring his Farmer Al Falfa, these self-described "sugar coated pills of wisdom" were such a hit that Terry, overseeing a staff of animators and directors, made more than 400 of them over the next eight years. Their popularity rivaled that of Koko and Felix, as part of the new flowering of animation in these years. In 1924 the Fleischers struck gold again with a series of audience sing-alongs, "Song Car-Tunes." (My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean (1926) was the first time viewers could "follow the bouncing ball.") That same year, former Hearst and Barr? animator Walter Lantz was put in charge of cartoon production at Bray, and started his "Dinky Doodle" series which placed animated characters in a live-action world. Besides writing and directing, Lantz also acted in them, playing everything from Cleopatra in Dinky Doodle In Egypt (1926) to a harried cook in Lunch Hound (1927). Another popular series also began in 1924, from a man who would forever change the art of animation: Walt Disney.With his fellow animators and gag men Ub Iwerks, Hugh Harman, and Rudolf Ising, Disney developed the "Alice In Cartoonland" series which reversed the formula of the Fleischers and Lantz (and McCay) by placing a live-action person in an animated world. Soon Disney had turned over all the artwork to his animators, and was delegating and supervising their work on cartoons that all bore the stamp of his personality. Disney brought in animator Isidore "Friz" Freleng, who worked on a new character, Oswald the Rabbit, but the series lasted little more than a year: In 1928 Disney left his distributor, who kept the rights to Oswald. He also lost most of his staff in the break, but Iwerks stayed with Disney and developed a new character, Mickey Mouse, whom they introduced in Plane Crazy (1928). Disney recognized the importance of the sound-recording technology which was beginning to transform live-action motion pictures, and invested in synchronized music and sound effects for his third Mickey Mouse cartoon, the landmark Steamboat Willie (1928). Its success with audiences convinced Disney that the future of animation lay in sound. (Pat Sullivan refused to invest in talking cartoons, and Felix the Cat faded away; Sullivan died a few years later, and Messmer left animation.) With Iwerks and composer Carl Stalling, Disney launched his "Silly Symphony" series with the classic The Skeleton Dance (1929), a musical romp of skeletons partying in a graveyard. Iwerks directed several "Silly Symphonies" before striking out on his own; but his "Flip The Frog" and "Willie Whopper" series failed to catch on, and by the end of the 1930s he returned to Disney.During those years Disney became the pinnacle of animation. Unsurpassed in detail and expressiveness, his sentimental, tuneful, and funny cartoons had no equal. The 1930s was his greatest period for short animation; he began producing color cartoons with Flowers And Trees (1932), and classic "Silly Symphonies" such as The Three Little Pigs (1933) and The Tortoise And The Hare (1934) were instant hits. Mickey Mouse (voiced by Disney himself) became internationally famous as an icon of optimism in the grim years of the Depression, and was soon supported by other beloved characters — his pet dog Pluto, his girlfriend Minnie Mouse, the short-tempered Donald Duck, the dimwitted canine Goofy — in cartoons that were universally enjoyed; among the standouts are The Delivery Boy (1931), directed by Burt Gillett; The Band Concert (1935), directed by Wilfred Jackson; Mickey's Service Station (1935) and Clock Cleaners (1937), both directed by Ben Sharpsteen. Disney's success encouraged a boom in animation. Columbia, Disney's distributor until 1932 (when he joined United Artists, whom he later left in 1937 for RKO) also handled the "Krazy Kat" and "Scrappy" series produced Disney's former distributor, Charles Mintz. Universal had obtained the rights to Oswald the Rabbit from Mintz and hired Walter Lantz, who made over 120 cartoons in the series during the 1930s, often co-directing with William Nolan; notable entries include the Depression-era morale-booster Confidence (1933) and the musical Kings Up (1934). Paul Terry started Terrytoons, with Fox distributing, and busied himself in the '30s writing and producing a steady stream of cartoons, many still with Farmer Al Falfa. The Van Beuren studio released dozens of Terry-less "Aesop's Fables," as well as more original work such as Ted Eshbaugh's Sunshine Makers (1935) and Burt Gillett's "Toonerville Trolley" series; but their attempt to revive Felix the Cat failed, and they ceased production in 1936. At Paramount, the Fleischers temporarily retired Koko to launch their sound "Talkartoons" in 1929. Dizzy Dishes (1930) introduced a female dog who, after a some refining — and a species change into a human — became one of their most popular characters: Betty Boop. In such 1933 cartoons as Boop-Ooop-A-Doop and Is My Palm Red?, the gags were full of sexual innuendo; that year's Snow White, besides its surreal humor, also brought in the voice and music of Cab Calloway. Betty appeared in over a hundred cartoons during the '30s, although her style was cramped by the censorship-conscious Paramount after her first few years. Taking up the slack was a new series with a character who had been introduced in a Betty Boop cartoon called Popeye The Sailor (1933). Max had bought the rights to Elzie Segar's comic strip "Thimble Theatre," and soon the grumbling, spinach-eating sailor was starring with other Segar characters — the reed-thin heroine Olive Oyl, the violent heavy Bluto, the hamburger-loving Wimpy — in such classic cartoons as A Dream Walking (1934), For Better Or Worser (1935), and Lost And Foundry (1937). The Fleischers even made acclaimed two-reelers: Popeye The Sailor Meets Sinbad The Sailor (1936) and the Technicolor shorts Popeye Meets Ali Baba And His 40 Thieves (1937) and Popeye The Sailor Meets Aladdin And His Wonderful Lamp (1939). After Harman, Ising, and Freleng left Disney, they began the "Looney Tunes" series of cartoons in 1930, produced by Leon Schlesinger and released by Warner Bros. Their new character Bosko wasn't anything special, but the cartoons were filled with music and gags, and were enjoyed by the public; a second series, "Merrie Melodies," was launched and new animators were hired, among them Robert Clampett, Robert McKimson, and Chuck Jones. Harman and Ising left in 1933 to head animation at M-G-M, and took Bosko with them. The first of what would become a galaxy of stars from Warner Bros. appeared in 1935, when Freleng's I Haven't Got A Hat introduced a stuttering pig. At the end of the year a new director at Warners, former Lantz animator Frederick "Tex" Avery, took up the character, and in 1936 Porky Pig had his own series at Warners, thanks to Avery (The Blow Out, Porky The Wrestler) and another new director, former Iwerks animator Frank Tashlin (Porky's Poultry Plant, Porky Of The Northwoods). The following year, Clampett was promoted to director, and he too began using Porky (Porky's Hero Agency). Also in 1937, Avery introduced a maniacal bird in Porky's Duck Hunt, who was to become the next Warners legend, Daffy Duck. Avery further developed Daffy (Daffy Duck In Hollywood, 1938), as did Clampett, who teamed him with Porky (The Daffy Doc, 1938); Jones worked with them too, once he began directing in 1939. Director Ben "Bugs" Hardaway had a screwy rabbit confounding hunters in Porky's Duck Hunt (1938) and Hare-Um Scare-Um (1939, co-directed by Cal Dalton). By the mid 1940s Warners had a rabbit who was, after Mickey Mouse, the most beloved and recognizable figure in the history of animation: Bugs Bunny. The rabbit's personality — tough, resourceful, self-assured — crystallized in Avery's A Wild Hare (1940); so did another Warners superstar, Bugs' perennial nemesis, that not-vewy-bwight huntew of wabbits, Elmer Fudd. Over the next 25 years, they'd collide in such classics as Freleng's The Wabbit Who Came To Supper (1942) and Slick Hare (1947), Clampett's The Old Gray Hare (1944) and The Big Snooze (1946), Jones' Hare Tonic (1945) and What's Opera, Doc? (1957). Bugs Bunny also appeared on his own in scores of cartoons, including such gems as Clampett's What's Cookin', Doc? (1944), Freleng's Racketeer Rabbit (1946) and Rhapsody Rabbit (1946), and Jones' Hair-Raising Hare (1946) and Bully For Bugs (1953). Other beloved characters were also created by the unique convergence of talent at Warners — which included writers Michael Maltese, Warren Foster, and Tedd Pierce, voice artist Mel Blanc, composer Carl Stalling, and sound-effects wizard Treg Brown. Clampett introduced a little bird who outsmarts the cats that hunt him in A Tale Of Two Kitties (1942); as Tweety, he starred in a series directed by Freleng, with such classics as I Taw A Putty Tat (1948) and Birds Anonymous (1957). Freleng also introduced a new enemy for Bugs, the diminutive but ferocious Yosemite Sam, with his great western parody Hare Trigger (1945). Jones created the amorous skunk Pep? Le Pew (For Scent-imental Reasons, 1949), the fractious Three Bears (A Bear For Punishment, 1951), and the Road Runner, forever pursued by Wile E. Coyote (Fast And Furry-ous, 1949; Beep Beep, 1952). Robert McKimson began directing in 1944, after Tashlin left; he created the loudmouth rooster Foghorn Leghorn (The Foghorn Leghorn, 1948) and the omnivorous Tasmanian Devil (Devil May Hare, 1954); he also introduced the high-speed mouse Speedy Gonzales, but Freleng got more mileage out of him in Speedy Gonzales (1955). The short cartoons from Warner Bros. came to dominate the 1940s and '50s just as Disney had ruled the '30s. During these years, Disney de-emphasized the production of shorts in favor of animated features, a hugely profitable kind of filmmaking in which he had virtually no competition. His entry into feature production was an enormous commercial risk, but Disney's first effort, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937), offered everything the studio did best: lush, colorful animation; exciting storytelling; memorable songs; and above all, rich, nuanced characterizations. No one had ever seen animation on such a scale, and the film was a box-office smash. A series of classics followed: the wooden puppet who becomes a boy, Pinocchio (1940); the big-eared elephant who can fly, Dumbo (1941); the orphaned deer Bambi (1942). Equally impressive were several combinations of live-action and animation. The illustrated concert Fantasia (1940) alternated the two styles; audiences weren't persuaded in its day, but Fantasia became one of Disney's most admired features. Two other efforts combining cartoons with humans were The Three Caballeros (1945), a salute to Latin America, and the Uncle Remus adaptation Song Of The South (1946). The only attempt to challenge Disney's supremacy in features came from the Fleischers. But neither Gulliver's Travels (1939) nor Mr. Bug Goes To Town (1941, aka Hoppity Goes To Town) could match Disney in script, characters, or songs; despite the popularity of the Fleischers' handsome and exciting 1941-42 series of "Superman" cartoons, they were let go by Paramount. Animator Seymour Kneitel and writer Isadore Sparber became directors and worked on Popeye and a "Little Lulu" series. These cartoons, successful in their day, seem formulaic and repetitious today, as do their 1950s series "Casper the Friendly Ghost" and "Herman & Katnip"; yet the studio was able to keep making short cartoons until the mid 1960s. At Terrytoons, Farmer Al Falfa was finally retired and a new series was launched in 1938, starring Gandy Goose, who was soon teamed with the cat Sourpuss. More memorable were their cartoons starring the superhero Mighty Mouse, and a series with the twin magpies Heckle & Jeckle; although these shorts were also overly formularized, they were successful in theaters and did even better on television, after Terry sold everything to CBS in 1952. Less popular were the cartoons made at Columbia. In the early 1940s, the studio hired Frank Tashlin and Dave Fleischer, but neither man was able to start a successful series; they soon left, and before the end of the decade Columbia closed its animation department. At M-G-M, Rudolf Ising launched the "Barney Bear" series in 1939; that same year, Hugh Harman made the acclaimed anti-war allegory Peace On Earth. The studio's greatest successes in cartoons, however, came from co-directors William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. Their Puss Gets The Boot (1940), a slick, gag-filled slice of cat-and-mouse mayhem, was the start of over a hundred "Tom & Jerry" cartoons; adored by audiences and lavished with awards, too many of them seem repetitous and mindlessly violent today, but such efforts as Mouse Cleaning (1948) and Heavenly Puss (1949) have their admirers. More impressive were the cartoons Tex Avery made at M-G-M, after he left Warner Bros. in 1942. Despite his essential role in creating Warners' greatest cartoon stars, Avery's strength wasn't in characterization, and the unassuming dog Droopy, the quiet eye in a hurricane of gags, was the only long-running character Avery developed at M-G-M. But he was a genius at constructing and pacing gags, and made some of the funniest cartoons of all time: Dumb-Hounded (1943), Red Hot Riding Hood (1943), Who Killed Who? (1943), Hound Hunters (1947), King-Size Canary (1947), The Cat That Hated People (1948), Bad Luck Blackie (1949), Little Rural Riding Hood (1949), Dare-Devil Droopy (1951), Drag-A-Long Droopy (1954). Walter Lantz oversaw cartoon production at Universal, where director Alex Lovy had begun making cartoons starring Andy Panda. In 1940 Lantz directed one of the series, Knock Knock, in which Andy is tormented by a crazed woodpecker. The character became a star the following year, when Lantz made Woody Woodpecker. Lantz became more involved with production in the '40s, and turned over the character first to Lovy, and then to James "Shamus" Culhane (The Barber Of Seville, 1944; Woody Dines Out, 1945) and Dick Lundy (Bathing Buddies, 1946; Banquet Busters, 1948). In the '50s, some of the best Woody cartoons came from Don Patterson (Termites From Mars, 1952; Alley To Bali, 1954) and Lantz himself (Wicket Wacky, 1951; Stage Hoax, 1952). Tex Avery briefly joined Lantz in the mid '50s, but made only a few cartoons, most notably two 1955 efforts starring the penguin Chilly Willy, I'm Cold and Chilly Willy In The Legend Of Rockabye Point. Lantz would continue producing Woody Woodpecker cartoons until 1973, an amazing longevity for an animated character.At the end of the 1940s, Columbia agreed to distribute cartoons made by the independent UPA studio. Director John Hubley, a former Disney animator, began making more shorts in Columbia's "Fox & Crow" series, but kept to UPA's more original and stylized brand of animation. Hubley's 1949 Ragtime Bear introduced the character of a nearsighted old man, voiced by Jim Backus; the "Mr. Magoo" series became a major hit with the public, thanks to such delightful cartoons as Hubley's Fuddy Duddy Buddy (1951). Director Pete Burness took over the series and made such favorites as Captains Outrageous (1952), When Magoo Flew (1954), and Magoo's Puddle Jumper (1956). The studio clinched its popularity with a second series, launched with director Robert Cannon's Gerald McBoing Boing (1950), about a little boy who speaks in sound effects; Cannon also made Madeline (1952), based on Ludwig Bemelman children's story. UPA's other noteworthy cartoon shorts include A Unicorn In The Garden (1953), adapted from James Thurber by director Bill Hurtz, and Ted Parmelee's stylish version of Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart (1953), narrated by James Mason. In 1959 UPA starred Mr. Magoo in a feature, 1001 Arabian Nights, directed by Jack Kinney, but the box-office was weak and only one other feature followed: Gay Purr-ee (1962), a Magoo-less musical of French felines, written by Chuck Jones and his wife Dorothy, and directed by former Jones prot?g? Abe Levitow. It too fared poorly, but by then UPA had switched to making cartoons for television. The switch from theatrical to television cartoons was common in the '60s. M-G-M failed to recognize the potential market of the tube, and closed its animation department in 1957. (A few years later, the studio unsuccessfully tried to revive Tom & Jerry with theatrical cartoons, directed first by Gene Deitch and then by Chuck Jones.) Hanna and Barbera began working on television with their own company. Their success was meteoric, and children grew up watching such limited- animation series as "The Flintstones," "Huckleberry Hound," "Yogi Bear," "Top Cat," "The Jetsons," and "Johnny Quest." Some of these shows even led to theatrical animated features: Hey There, It's Yogi Bear (1964); A Man Called Flintstone (1966), Jetsons: The Movie (1990). In 1960, Warner Bros. started showing its cartoons on television with "The Bugs Bunny Show," for which Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng provided new, linking animation; the studio closed its animation department in 1963, but the show is still on the air after more than 36 years! (Both men later made theatrical features combining their old cartoons with new sequences: Jones with The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie (1979, aka The Great American Chase), and Freleng with Friz Freleng's Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie (1981), Bugs Bunny's 3rd Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales (1982), and Daffy Duck's Movie: Fantastic Island (1983).) Freleng formed DePatie-Freleng Enterprises with David H. DePatie in 1963, and had a star almost immediately with the wordless Pink Panther, introduced in Freleng's The Pink Phink (1964), co-directed with Hawley Pratt; but by the '70s, they too were working for television. Disney began making successful live-action features in 1950, and launched its long-running television series in 1954; by the '60s, its short theatrical cartoons were produced only rarely. But the flow of animated features kept on and maintained their popularity: Cinderella (1950), Alice In Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Lady And The Tramp (1955), Sleeping Beauty (1958), One Hundred And One Dalmations (1960), The Sword In The Stone (1963). The Rudyard Kipling adaptation The Jungle Book (1967) was the last animated film on which Disney worked; it was released a year after his death. The studio went through many uncertain years without him, despite the quality of such cartoon features as The Aristocats (1970), Robin Hood (1973), and The Rescuers (1977). But by the late 1980s, with Oliver & Company (1988) and The Little Mermaid (1989), the studio was finding new audiences for its features. In the '90s, Disney has been one of the industry's best moneymakers again, still combining groundbreaking animation, sentimental stories, and catchy songs for a string of box-office hits: Beauty And The Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1996), and Hercules (1997). Another Disney smash was director John Lasseter's Toy Story (1995), the first computer-animated feature. Cartoons found a new maturity in the 1970s with the raunchy and provocative features of Ralph Bakshi. A former Terrytoons animator, he combined comedy, sex, and violence for his adults-only accounts of urban frustration, starting with Fritz The Cat, adapted from Robert Crumb's underground comics. Bakshi's autobiographical Heavy Traffic (1973) and his controversial dissection of racism, Coonskin (1975), both featured live-action sequences; he stuck to cartooning in Hey Good Lookin' (1975, released 1982) and the mostly rotoscoped American Pop (1981). Less impressive were his forays into sword-&-sorcery animation: Wizards (1977), the Tolkien adaptation The Lord Of The Rings (1978), and Fire And Ice (1983). Director Bill Melendez, having found success adapting the "Peanuts" comic strips of Charles Schulz for television, also did well in animated features: A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969), Snoopy, Come Home (1972), Bon Voyage Charlie Brown (And Don't Come Back!) (1980). Former Disney animator Don Bluth had hits with The Secret Of NIMH (1982) and the Steven Spielberg production An American Tail (1986). Bluth's The Land Before Time (1988), All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989), and Rock-A-Doodle (1992) were more uneven; when Spielberg decided to make a sequel, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991), he turned to director Phil Nibbelink. By then, Spielberg had given animation a new life at the box office by joining with Disney to produce Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). With Robert Zemeckis directing the humans and Richard Williams helming the animation, this animation/live-action blend combined media with a slickness never before seen, and offered a heartwarming retrospective look at many classic figures of American animation. The success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? encouraged more films combining people and cartoons; Ralph Bakshi may have flopped with his noir Cool World (1992), but box-office gold was struck by Space Jam (1996), which brought together basketball superstar Michael Jordan and animation superstars Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and their Looney Tunes cohorts. All-animated features continue to thrive, with such recent efforts as FernGully … The Last Rainforest (1992), directed by Bill Kroyer, and The Tune (1992), with the stylish and original animation of director Bill Plympton. Mike Judge brought his television series of braindead teens, "Beavis & Butt-Head," to the screen for the hit Beavis & Butt-Head Do America (1997). Today, our cartooning seem almost as far removed from the techniques of Gertie The Dinosaur as we are from real dinosaurs. But the thread of imagination, humor, and innovation has been a constant, as has the enthusiastic delight of audiences of all ages; both will certainly remain constants as animation enters the next century.

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