The Early Days of Animation Preserved in UCLA’s Video Archive

Ani­ma­tion has come so far, explor­ing such ever-expand­ing fron­tiers of elab­o­rate­ness, real­ism, and styl­iza­tion, that tru­ly under­stand­ing the medi­um might require a return to its ear­ly years. Luck­i­ly, the UCLA Film and Tele­vi­sion Archive has made avail­able a selec­tion of pre­served shorts from the silent era, free to watch online. You’ll find the ear­li­est of these, The Enchant­ed Draw­ing from 1900, embed­ded above. But I rec­om­mend watch­ing not this YouTube ver­sion but the one on the Film and Tele­vi­sion archive’s site. There you can select one of four sound­tracks — piano accom­pa­ni­ment, a full score, the preser­va­tion­ist’s com­men­tary, or, of course, silence — and read notes from preser­va­tion­ist Jere Guldin and his­to­ri­an Jer­ry Beck. The Enchant­ed Draw­ing, Beck writes, “is con­sid­ered one of the fore­run­ners of ani­mat­ed films to come. It’s more appro­pri­ate­ly a “trick film,” employ­ing stop-action tech­niques pio­neered by Georges Melies to make a sketched face, cig­ars, a bot­tle of wine, and a hat appear as real objects after being drawn.”

Just below, you can watch the YouTube ver­sion of 1928’s The Wan­der­ing Toy, the most recent film now view­able in this archive of pre­served ani­ma­tion. But again, if you watch it on UCLA’s site, you can enjoy their range of audio options and pro­gram notes. “A size­able amount of the silent fea­tures and short sub­jects still in exis­tence do not sur­vive on the­atri­cal 35mm film gauge but in the small­er 16mm ama­teur and home-movie for­mat,” writes Guldin, shed­ding light on the archive’s rai­son d’être, not­ing that this par­tic­u­lar short “was pre­served from what is thought to be the only 16mm print in exis­tence.”

The Wan­der­ing Toy, as Beck describes it, “com­bines paper cut-out ani­ma­tion mixed with live trav­el­ogue footage of Swe­den, Bavaria, Moroc­co, Hol­land, Mex­i­co, India, and Japan. [ … ] The results are an attrac­tive and unique com­bi­na­tion of trav­el­ogue and car­toon, cer­tain­ly quite dif­fer­ent from the usu­al ani­mat­ed fare at the time” — and, I might add, a world apart from, though a clear antecedent of, the high-tech, high-bud­get, spec­ta­cle-ori­ent­ed ani­ma­tion we see in the­aters today.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Best Ani­mat­ed Films of All Time, Accord­ing to Ter­ry Gilliam

Ger­tie the Dinosaur: The Moth­er of all Car­toon Char­ac­ters

Lots of Free Ani­mat­ed Films in our col­lec­tion of 500 Free Movies Online

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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