81 of 82 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2004
This is the third time around for the animated shorts of Winsor McCay on video and this is the best version by far. Those of you familiar with the previous Lumivision and Slingshot editions will find the same films as before only this time the source prints are better (for the most part), the piano music by Gabriel Thibaudeaux suits the material better, and the optional commentary from animator John Canemaker gives the necessary background on McCay and his films. For those of you not familiar with Winsor McCay (1867-1934), he was a celebrated comic strip artist whose principal strips LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND and DREAMS OF THE RAREBIT FIEND (that's Welsh Rarebit) were mainstays in the Hearst papers during the first decade of the 20th Century. The astonishing quality of the artwork and the imaginative scenarios employed were and still are a marvel to behold.
Between 1911 and 1921 McCay made a series of animated shorts almost entirely drawn by him. The most famous is GERTIE THE DINOSAUR from 1914 presented here for the first time in a copy made from a 35mm print. The initial offering LITTLE NEMO from 1911 was not only drawn by McCay (on rice paper!) but hand-colored by him as well. The propaganda film THE SINKING OF THE LUSITANIA (1918) remains one of the great achievements in animation history. While the quality of the animation is beyond reproach, some people may be surprised by the dark and disturbing nature of the Rarebit shorts THE PET and THE FLYING HOUSE (both 1921) and HOW A MOSQUITO OPERATES (1912). McCay saw animation as an artform and not as a vehicle for popular entertainment. This ultimately forced him to give it up once the likes of FELIX THE CAT took over in the early 20's.
As such these are not cartoons for children but serious films made with adults in mind and they still play better to them today (although my children were quite taken with them). If you have the previous editions you will want to acquire this one for the quality of the prints and the bonus materials. If you don't have them then buy this DVD now and introduce yourself to a true original whose influence on those who followed (especially Walt Disney) can be seen to this day. Winsor McCay was much more than a comic strip creator and an animation pioneer. He was truly a one-of-a-kind artist whose works like those of any great artist will continue to be an endless source of fascination for generations to come. If you get the chance, check out John Canemaker's coffee table book on McCay or any book that reproduces some of his comic strips. They will help to give you a more fully rounded picture of this unique talent.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
It's unbeliveable that one man sat down with ink and pens and cranked out these animations page by page. This was long before cartoons were put on the assembly line by Hannah-Barbera and Warner Brothers. No wonder there are only a handful of Winsor McCay animations.
McCay made his fortune from newspaper comics. Little Nemo (which took up an entire page in color) and Dream of the Rarebit Fiend were very successful. It's possible that due to this success he was able to branch out into animation. He was by no means the first to dabble in animation, but he defintely was a pioneer in the popularization of the medium. Donald Crafton's "Before Mickey" is a great place to get some inside info on McCay and his place in animation history.
McCay seems to have been obsessed with metamorphosis of shapes, particularly of people. His newspaper comics use metamorphosis (i.e, a tailor is trying to fit a man for a suit, but he keeps changing shape telling the tailor to "hurry now! I haven't all day!") but with animation McCay is able to visually depict amorphous shapes. The "Little Nemo" cartoon on the DVD is packed with characters whose heads expand and contract, then their feet, then their bodies, etc. Drawings were almost limiting for McCay, so animation was a natural progression.
One interesting way McCay popularized animation was through a live-action/animation mix, which usually utilized a bet. "Gertie the Dinosaur" is based on a bet McCay (himself starring in the movie) makes with friends that he can make a dinosaur come to life with pen and paper. His freinds have a good guffaw and take the sucker on his bet. Then we visit McCay in his studio surrounded by towering stacks of paper. Someone always enters the room and knocks the stacks over. Lastly, the bet is won after McCay shows his animation and his freinds gaze in wonder and pay their bet. This combination of live-action with a real-life situation animation gave viewers a personal demystified connection with animation that full animation probably did not give in the 1910s.
Other fascinating pieces on the DVD include "The Sinking of the Lusitania", a war propaganda movie that McCay evidently felt very strongly about.
"The Pet" and "The Flying House" are incredible animation by any standards, and are as entertaining without sound or color as any modern cartoon.
No, the kids will not be enthralled with this DVD. Nonetheless, it's important to remember that cartoons were not always a medium aimed at children. Entertainment was once aimed more at adults, and cartoons were no exception. The animation on this DVD was made for and by adults (they may seem more for kids because comedy dates badly). Go ahead and enjoy it as an adult.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
It is almost sad to read the review below, and hear someone condescending the work of Winsor McKay as a curiosity from the dawn of animation. I am here to say nothing is further from the truth; this animation is some of the finest ever created, vastly outstripping the likes of anything you will see in the cineplex in 2006.
The first time I saw his dramatic rendering of the sinking of the Lusitania, it was an old 16mm print, projected in a private screening room. I was BLOWN AWAY. When the U-boat surfaces, the rippling waves and silhouettes of the soldiers on deck where hauntingly realistic. This film involved me emotionally in the Special FX more than anything in Return of the King to say nothing of most any other Hollywood tripe of late.
So, let's just bring this a little back to reality. Winsor McKay was nothing short of a genius. His portion of the "Masters of the American Comic Book" exhibit here in Los Angeles was hypnotic. No wonder the newest reproduction of his newspaper work is now sold out and selling for 250% of its retail cost on Amazon. If only there were more artists like him around now...
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2000
Winsor McCay is the influence and mentor of such greats as Walt Disney and Chuck Jones, and the father of motion cartoons. This DVD contains all known moving cartoons of Winsor McCay, all created between 1911 and 1921.
Most of these films come from a stroke of luck: the nitrates were found in a Long Island garage belonging to a friend of McCay's son Robert in 1947. Many of the canisters were in a serious state of deterioration, some of them turning to dust in the hands of the discoverers. The 8-dozen canisters were eventually turned over to La Cinematheque Quebecoise for restoration. Luckily for us, most of them were successfully transferred to safety stock and that's what we see here.
To today's standards, much of the animation is quite crude, but it's important to remember we have computers, animation teams, professional storywriters, not to mention almost 100 years of practice. The Winsor McCay cartoons were completed by 1 man who created an entire industry with his pen.
Each cartoon is hand drawn by McCay: thousands of drawing in each, and sections of 'Little Nemo', his earliest known work, are even hand colored frame-by-frame!
McCay is also responsible for the 1st repeated cartoon character: Gertie the Dinosaur. McCay contructed Gertie to assist him is a vaudeville routine in which he projected the cartoon behind him, stood in front and interacted with the dinosaur, thus creating the first multimedia live and animation interaction in history.
Other high points of this DVD are the darkly ominous 'Sinking of the Lusitania', 'The Centaurs' and 'Flip's Circus'.
I rated the DVD 4 out of 5 because although this is truly an amazing and complete DVD, the cartoons themselves are not as entertaining as I hoped. They need to be taken in small doeses, otherwise you will quickly lose interest. Their true value comes from their history, heritage and the creative mind of Winsor McCay.
I recommend this DVD to those who wish to see history and appreciate innovation. It will bore your average modern child, as the entertainment stimulation factor is quite low.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2003
I remember reading LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND from a big book of early turn of the century comics. I was fascinated by the sheer amount of detail that the strip had... its vision... and its sense of wonder.
With 'Animation Legend', I now know a great deal more about McCay. The animation given the period is truly inspiring. Thankfully, most of the transfers, where possible, have utilized 35mm prints. Unfortunately, some of these have been lost to the ravages of time, and in their places we have been given 16mm prints... and I guess I would rather watch these than have nothing at all.
There are ten shorts included in this DVD, and fragments of one of them in a 35mm version (you can see the difference easily). They are in chronological order, so you can feel the way that his animation evolved. One short, 'Centaurs', only exists in fragments... which is sad, because it looks very beautiful. McCay even tackles newsworthy pieces, such as 'The Sinking of the Lusitania'. Very powerful stuff, indeed.
Anyone who is interested in the pioneers of early cinema, and especially animation, will enjoy this DVD.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on July 23, 2004
Dispite some obvious technical advances, this still ranks as some of the best animation ever done. It is simple to see how it influenced everyone from Miyazaki to Disney. In particular, the "centaurs" feels very much like a scene from Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke. This film also has scenes of Windsor drawing his figures confidently, which is nice to see. Some of the footage in between the cartoons gets a little corny, but educational nevertheless. It is also easy to see that from the start, animation had elements for adults, and elements that appealed more to kids. "The way a mosquito operates" almost looks like a classical Picasso drawing in motion, except with Windsor's quirky sense of humor which is really always present. If you are interested in animation, check out this dvd. Even if you're dissappointed you will definitely feel you've witnessed the foundation of it all.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Most people don't know who Winsor McCay is. He is, in fact, a cartoonist and animator from the silent film era that inspired the work of people like Walt Disney. He was almost completely forgotten from the 1920's until the 1970's when some of his animations were first restored and exhibited. This DVD set has remastered versions of his ten surviving animations. McCay was the creator of "Little Nemo in Slumberland" comic strip. Nemo was a little boy haunted by Freddie Kruger like dreams circa 1910, and the strip would always end by the boy awakening and being scolded for crying in his sleep. McCay carries this idea of the surreal and grotesque attacking people in their sleep in his early animations "How a Mosquito Operates," "Bug Vaudeville," and "The Pet". These are not children's cartoons by a long shot. In each one, human anxieties bleed over into nightmares. In "How a Mosquito Operates" a hungry mosquito follows a man home and prepares to feed on him, but the man keeps waking up. The mosquito gets a little too greedy and the cartoon ends with the mosquito exploding due to engorging himself. "Bug Vaudeville" shows various insects performing feats to entertain the audience. "The Pet" shows a creature that looks something like a dog that meows taken in by the dreamer's wife. "The pet" has a great appetite, and each time it eats it grows larger until it becomes menacing in size.
Gertie the Dinosaur, McCay's best-known creation, was originally part of McCay's vaudeville act and is the star of two animations on this DVD. McCay would introduce Gertie to the audience as the world's first trained dinosaur, even cracking a whip at her to make her perform. Why anybody would want to crack a whip at Gertie, though, is anyone's guess. She's such a big friendly herbivore. McCay would interact with Gertie to the point of tossing her an apple to get her to behave. The title cards on the DVD are meant to mimic what McCay was actually saying to Gertie during the act. "Sinking of the Lusitania" is probably McCay's best known work. It is timed so well that you feel like you are watching a filming of the disaster as human figures leap to their deaths from the sinking ship's stern, and McCay turns this truly outrageous event of history into a very effective propaganda tool. The ship and its motion, along with the smoke billowing out after its impact with the torpedoes, appear so realistic they are almost photographic in nature.
There are a pair of incomplete experiments ("The Centaurs" and "Flip's Circus") and a fragment of a Gertie sequel, in which our favorite dinosaur plays with a train and then dreams about performing in front of a crowd of dinosaurs. These might have been meant as part of McCay's vaudeville act too. McCay's animations show that he was an excellent draftsman with a fine sense of perspective whose animations had very natural looking motion in them fifteen years before Disney began his work in the field. He also credibly gave his creations weight, such as when Gertie is taking a drink out of the lake and the bank realistically crumbles beneath her tremedous girth. However, McCay wasn't very good at creating memorable characters suitable for serial animations outside of Gertie.
Animation scholar John Canemaker fills in some of the history behind these shorts on an informative commentary track. He does a very good job of helping the audience understand McCay's importance to the history of animation and even his possible motivations for entering and then abruptly exiting the field of animation. His 1976 documentary, Remembering Winsor McCay, consists of an interview with one of McCay's surviving assistants. Finally, there is a gallery of photos that show McCay's family, some shots of his studio, and even some pages out of his diary.
I recommend this to any fan of early cinema, and to those who might need a reminder that when it comes to the history of animation, Uncle Walt did not come first.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2001
I unexpectedly ran across a copy of this at a store that was closing it out, and wouldn't part with it for anything. Anybody who has seen a documentary about the history of animation has seen clips from these films, and here they are complete and in one place! Amazing stuff. The version of "Gertie The Dinosaur" here is the later one-when McCay wasen't using it as part of his act, the additional material was needed for it to make sense. (The titles fill in for his spoken words). Grab this by any means-it is beautiful, surreal, and beyond historic.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2007
This wonderful disc brings together all of Winsor McCay's known surviving films, made between 1911 and 1921, although some of them, such as 'The Centaurs,' are just fragments, and some of the dates they were made is unknown. Though Mr. McCay actually was not the inventor of animated cartoons, as was often claimed in his day, he was still one of the very first cartoonists to bring drawings to life, and was the father of the personality cartoon, creating cartoon characters such as Gertie the Dinosaur and the Rarebit Fiend whom the viewer gets to know and feel for, much like Disney began doing with their cartoons in the Thirties.
'Little Nemo' (1911) is also available on 'Landmarks of Early Film, Volume One,' but this version is slightly different, particularly in that much of the animation is hand-colored. This one is also notable for being one of the few known surviving films the largely forgotten popular comedian John Bunny appeared in. John is the white-haired and somewhat rotund gentleman. It's followed by 'How a Mosquito Operates' (1912), which may disturb the more squeamish, even though it really gives this bothersome bloodsucker a personality and shows that he's intelligent. The next short on the disc is McCay's best-known cartoon, 'Gertie the Dinosaur' (1914), which is also widely considered his masterpiece. Gertie is so cute, sweet, and charming, like a big lumbering dinosaur who nevertheless has the mind of an impish little kid. The fourth short is the blatantly propagandistic 'The Sinking of the Lusitania' (1918). Although the actual sinking of the ship and the carnage that follows is very realistic and historically accurate, today we no longer have such a simplistic view on why the ship was sunk. For example, there were warnings that such a thing might happen, the American and British governments were at just as much fault in ignoring warnings as the German government was in firing the torpedo, the Lusitania was carrying some pretty hefty ammunition and wasn't just some innocent ship on an innocent trip to England (and therefore made it a legit target under the rules of warfare), and the second explosion was not from another German torpedo but rather from an explosion somewhere on the ship. I'm also glad to know I'm not alone in finding the final title card to be distasteful, urging the public to hate the German people instead of just their government or the person responsible for the attack (though race-based propaganda in wartime seems inevitable), and in how the deaths of some millionaires and celebrities (whom I'd never even heard of) are the ones being eulogised, as though their deaths were more worthy of being mourned that of all of the people down in steerage, esp. considering McCay seemed to have been rather progressive in his social and political outlook.
The rest of the cartoons are 'The Centaurs,' 'Gertie's on Tour' (sadly only survives in a short fragment, thus depriving Gertie of much of her original charm and personality), 'Flip's Circus,' and three cartoons based on McCay's very popular 'Dream of a Rarebit Fiend' comic strip, 'Bug Vaudeville,' 'The Pet,' and 'The Flying House.' Extras are a brief 1976 featurette, 'Remembering Winsor McCay,' audio commentary by historian John Canemaker, and a quite large gallery of stills, comic strips, pictures, letters, and other memorabilia. Although it might not interest a more casual viewer, it's an invaluable treasure-trove of early film, particularly early animation. It might not be as technically advanced or well-known as the films made by Disney, but these characters have a lot of personality and charm, and the plots are so interesting. People in the Teens and early Twenties wouldn't have cared that these examples of animation weren't technically very complex, since they didn't have any examples from decades later to unfairly compare them against.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2002
Though there are certainly moments of charm and wonder, and some of the drawing is representative of the man's considerable abilities, these early efforts don't hold up as the jaw dropping entertainment that Gertie the Dinosaur had provided back in 1913. (A much better representation of McCay's genius is found in any decent collection of his Little Nemo in Slumberland or Rarebit Rabbit newspaper cartoons.) But this stuff is invaluable in its historical role of propogating all the film animation that followed. If you fancy yourself a student, then the viewing is beyond satisfactory, but don't try to quiet the kids with this stuff.