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From the Beginning: Cartoon Roots (2014) - Black Maria

From the Beginning: Cartoon Roots (2014) - Black Maria (
Roots (2014) - Black Maria ( (


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From the Beginning: Cartoon Roots (2014)



May 16, 2015


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CD & DVD Catalog Direct From Disc Makers & Make CDs! J. Stuart Blackton. J.R. Bray.

J. Stuart Blackton. J.R. Bray. Raoul Barré. The Fleischer brothers. Otto Messmer. Paul Terry. These names may not be all that recognizable today, but even the most casual observer of popular culture can see the ever-present results of their collective legacy. These men are just a few of the pioneers of animation–the artists, di- rectors, and visionaries who laid the foundation for what the genre would become.

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From the Beginning: Cartoon Roots (2014) - Black Maria

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An essential new collection of remastered and restored early cartoons seeks to shine the spot- light on these and other legends of animation–a goal at which it excels exceedingly well.

Seriously, there aren’t enough superlatives in my vocabulary to fully express just how much I enjoyed this collection.

Cartoon Roots, recently released on Blu-ray and DVD, serves as a solid and impressive primer for introducing modern audiences to the joys of rare and classic animation. Roots is the brain- child of historian and avid cartoon collector Tommy José Stathes, the founder of Cartoons on Film ( and cura- tor of the Bray Animation Project (http://brayan-, an online tribute to and resource on the rst animation studio. In putting together this (hopefully rst of many) compilation, Stathes turned to Thunder- bean Animation, an animation company (head- ed by historian Steve Stancheld) which special- izes in producing high-quality restorations of classic cartoons and features. Drawn largely from Stathes’ substantial personal cache of classic cartoons, and spanning a twenty-ve year period from the earliest days of lm itself through the dawn of sound, the fteen car- toons included in this carefully-curated collec- tion represent the work of many talented inno- vators who built an industry from the ground up.

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From the Beginning: Cartoon Roots (2014) - Black Maria

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Indeed, what Cartoon Roots does so e ectively is to show, in brief, the evolution of animation

as an art form, from its earliest days as a novel- ty act (Blackton’s “Lightning Sketches”) through its melding with live-action (Barré’s “Cartoons on Tour”), to a narrative place solely its own, marked by interesting, recurring characters and entertaining, fully-animated stories. We see ani- mation’s beginnings, from experimentation and painstaking-yet-crude craftsmanship, and its growth into an industry, in which technical clev- erness and assembly line-type construction methods allowed for quicker and more skilled production. And not only do we see the devel- opment of the art of animation itself, but also the early work of young cartoonists who would go on to nd great acclaim in their later years, among them Bob McKimson, who found renown with Bugs Bunny at Warner Bros.; Pre- ston Blair, who worked for both Disney and MGM; Grim Natwick, the “father” of the Fleisch- ers’ Betty Boop (http://theblackmari-

dizzy-dishes-1930/); Walter Lantz, the creator of Woody Woodpecker; and Dick Huemer, who spent most of his career shepherding shorts and feature lms for Disney.

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From the Beginning: Cartoon Roots (2014) - Black Maria

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Cartoon Roots is a veritable Who’s Who of early animation stars, featuring a mix of more famil- iar characters (Felix the Cat romps through a misadventure in the freezing north; Koko the Clown takes us on a trip to the circus; Col. Heeza Liar solves a real-life crime involving a wayward chicken) along with some genuine rar- ities, including a sample of the never-released Binko the Bear Cub series from the ill-fated Romer Grey Studio. Though some of the char- acters found in this collection have been some- what lost to the passage of time, they are

brought back to vivid life through the e orts of Stathes and the Thunderbean team. Their restoration e orts are truly a wonder; with visu- als as crisp and clear as we could possibly hope for, the old gang has never looked better. And the cartoons haven’t sounded this great in a long time, either, with the silent shorts boasting


selection of lively new scores thanks to com- posers Ben Model and Robert Israel.

The animated shorts are treasures in and of themselves, but that’s not all Cartoon Roots has

to o er. The Blu-ray is chock full of extras, from vintage publicity materials ranging from news- paper and magazine ads to theatrical posters and reviews, to behind-the-scenes material about the making of certain cartoons, including copyright documents and original art and sketches. Just about the only thing it’s missing is


commentary track for any or all of the includ-

ed cartoons. Still, while that would be a wel- come addition to an already exceptional collec-

tion, there is more than enough here to satisfy even the most voracious fans of early anima- tion.

Editor’s note: On Monday, Black Maria will fea- ture an interview with the inimitable creator of Cartoon Roots, Tommy José Stathes. Be sure to check it out!

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