Watch the World’s First Animated Cartoon, 1908’s Trippy, Funny Fantasmagorie

Try­ing to describe the plot of Fan­tas­magorie, the world’s first ani­mat­ed car­toon, is a fol­ly akin to putting last night’s dream into words:

I was dressed as a clown and then I was in a the­ater, except I was also hid­ing under this lady’s hat, and the guy behind us was pluck­ing out the feath­ers, and I was maybe also a jack in the box? And I had a fish­ing pole that turned into a plant that ripped my head off, but only for a few sec­onds. And then there was a giant cham­pagne bot­tle and an ele­phant, and then, sud­den­ly I was on an oper­at­ing table, and you know how some­times in a dream, it’s like you’re being crushed to death? Except I escaped by blow­ing myself up like a bal­loon and then I hopped onto the back of this horse and then I woke up.

The brain­child of ani­ma­tion pio­neer Émile Cohl (1857 – 1938), the trip­py silent short from 1908 is com­posed of 700 draw­ings, pho­tographed onto neg­a­tive film and dou­ble-exposed.

Clock­ing in at under two min­utes, it’s def­i­nite­ly more divert­ing than lis­ten­ing to your bed mate bum­ble through their sub­con­scious’ lat­est inco­her­ent nar­ra­tive.

The film’s title is an homage to a mid-19th cen­tu­ry vari­ant of the mag­ic lantern, known as the fan­tas­mo­graph, while its play­ful, non­sen­si­cal con­tent is in the spir­it of the Inco­her­ent Move­ment of the 1880s.

Cohl, who cut his teeth on polit­i­cal car­i­ca­ture and Guig­nol pup­pet the­atre went on to cre­ate over 250 films over the next 15 years, expand­ing his explo­rations to include the realms of live action and stop motion ani­ma­tion.

Fan­tas­magorie has been added to our list of Free Ani­ma­tions, a sub­set of our larg­er col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

For the defin­i­tive biog­ra­phy of Emile Cohl, read Emile Cohl, Car­i­ca­ture, and Film by Don­ald Crafton (Notre Dame).

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Take a Free Ani­ma­tion Course from a Renowned French Ani­ma­tion School

Ear­ly Japan­ese Ani­ma­tions: The Ori­gins of Ani­me (1917 to 1931)

Watch The Idea, the First Ani­mat­ed Film to Grap­ple with Big, Philo­soph­i­cal Ideas (1932)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in New York City tonight, May 13, for the next install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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