Animated films are much older than most people realize and audiences of the silent era loved their cartoons just as much as modern moviegoers. Today, we’ll be unboxing two sets of cartoons with material dating from the mid-1900s to the early 1930s.
The sets are Cartoon Roots and Cartoon Roots: The Bray Studios – Animation Pioneers, both released by Tom Stathes’ Cartoons On Film.
A huge thanks to Tommy Stathes for providing review copies!
Before we start, let’s cover format. Both sets are DVD/Bluray combo packages, meaning you get one disc of each with the complete program included. The sets also come with booklets of historical notes covering the cartoons and their creators.
As the title indicates, this set is all about tracking animation down to its beginnings and sharing early highlights. We start with Vitagraph and work our way up:
Lighting Sketches (1907)
Cartoons on Tour (1915)
Col. Heeza Liar, Detective (1923)
Bobby Bumps Starts to School (1917)
Out of the Inkwell: The Circus (1920)
The Jolly Rounders (1923)
Mutt and Jeff: Fireman Save My Child (1919)
Jerry On the Job: The Bomb Idea (1920)
Felix Comes Back (1922)
Krazy Kat: Scents and Nonsense (1926)
Lost and Found (1926)
Hot-Toe Mollie (1930)
The Milkman (1930)
(The last three titles are talkies.)
Bray Studios is not a household name today but they were an animation powerhouse during the silent era. Their ambitions were not limited to animation either; their signature product was a “film magazine” which consisted of snippets of general interest content (mini documentaries, etc.) along with the cartoons as the comics section. (I reviewed one of their news items, In the Moonshine Country, here.)
The cartoons found in this set range from 1913 to 1927.
The Artist’s Dream (1913)
Col. Heeza Liar’s African Hunt (1914)
Farmer Alfalfa Sees New York (1916)
The Police Dog on the Wire (1916)
Bobby Bumps’ Pup Gets Flea-Enza (1919)
Krazy Kat: The Best Mouse Loses (1920)
Jerry on the Job: TALE OF A WAG (1920)
A Fitting Gift (1920)
The Pied Piper (1924)
The Lunch Hount (1927)
Tantalizing Fly (1919)
How Cartoons Are Made (1919)
Chemical Inspiration (1920)
The Point of View (1921)
Here are sample shots from the Blurays. I have cropped the pillarboxes so you can get a better look at the screenshots. Very nice!
The sets include excellent music by Robert Israel, Ben Model, Charlie Judkins, as well as a few titles that use vintage music and effects. Obviously, the sound cartoons include their original soundtracks.
Cartoon Roots includes vintage clippings of the newspaper strips upon which some of the animated cartoons were based, a remake comparisn, vintage recordings and other goodies. The Bray set includes vintage publicity materials, internal studio documents, 1950s era footage of J.R. Bray and more.
All in all, quite a generous package.
These sets present a great opportunity to dive into a neglected section of film history. The quality is excellent and there is a broad selection, something for everyone. My personal favorites were Felix the Cat and Mutt and Jeff (both of which I saw as a kid, so major nostalgia!) but standouts in the set for me were the mix of live action and animation. (Max Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell series is probably the most famous but not the only one.) Yeah, I know, I went for the obvious.
I definitely recommend these sets. They’re fun and they will teach us something. What could be better?
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