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?
Availability: You can order Cartoon Roots here and Cartoon Roots (Bray) here.
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Felix the Cat is, of course, Australian:
But I’d like to see that very American (and very crazy) Krazy Kat; I didn’t know that the strip had been animated.
I’ll spare you James Joyce’s references to Mutt & Jeff in ‘Finnegans Wake’ they were probably based on the strip, not the animated films.
The silent era certainly had its share of great cartoon cats! 😸
Krazy Kat has been animated surprisingly many times, from the 1910s through the 1960s. A while back I reviewed samples of the different studios and different attempts on my blog ( https://nebushumor.wordpress.com/tag/krazy-kat/ ). They were all over the place as far as quality and fidelity to the strip go.
Yes, even the small sample I saw showed great variance. What I’m curious to compare is Mutt & Jeff: live action vs. cartoon vs. comic.
I ordered both via your links. A little hazardous perhaps for you, but both are classified “All Region” by Amazon, which would likely sell more to us foreigners.
For what it’s worth, I tested out the DVD in my Region 2 player (I know Australia is 4) and it worked just fine, so I think you should be okay. 🙂
Ouch: The “Coon” and “Cohen” is a bumpy start. But a quick skip through feels like this is an isolated item.
Yes, there’s always one or two in sets from this period.
I personally enjoy ethnic animation and am always grateful to see them included in these nostalgia box sets. You can’t change history, and you shouldn’t close your minds to it, either.
I don’t think acknowledging that racist material is racist is a sign of a closed mind. It’s simply acknowledging reality. Too often “we have to look at context!!!!” is used as a silencing tactic when, in fact, the targets of racist humor WERE offended and DID object. I have written extensively on the topic of African-American protest in particular but I have material related to Asian-Americans, Native Americans, Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans objecting to racist material when it was first released.
No one is calling for censorship. In fact, it is important to know that this racist material existed so we can understand what it was like for ALL moviegoers, white and non-white. Again, calling racist humor out for what it is was done in the silent era and the classic era. The real “political correctness” is pretending that these films existed in a la-la land where all the moviegoers were white and no one minded anything.
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