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DVD Review: Cartoon Roots | jlneibaur-writer

12/7/16, 9:52 PM

DVD Review: Cartoon Roots

James L. Neibaur

November 19, 2016 | James L. Neibaur

A great set that offers both a DVD and a Blu Ray, this
release from Tommy Jose Stathes’ “Cartoons on Film”
series is among the most important releases to current
home video. It presents some of the truly brilliant and
historically significant animated films in cinema’s
history.

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At the turn of the 20th century, the idea of a moving
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At the same time, animation pioneers discovered ways
to make art move. From the simplicity of J. Stuart
Blackton drawing stereoytypical images of African
Americans and Jews (out of the words “coon” and
“Cohen,” no less) to the gradual development from
outlined sketches with jerky gestures, to fully shaded
drawings with naturally flowing movement, animation
has an alternative history that is every bit as rich and
fascinating as live action cinema.

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On “Cartoon Roots,” we are offered many great efforts among the pioneers of
animation, some early examples of classic characters, and even some early sound
productions. Many of the earlier films combine animation and live action,
including the wonderful “Col. Heeza Liar, Detective” (1923) made by the Bray
studios, an important company that gave several top animators their start. The
effects are quite dazzling -- The animator, in live action footage, tosses props like a
hat and a gun to his drawing on a sheet of paper, they become drawings
themselves, and are caught by the character.

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“The Circus” is one of
the earliest from the
Out of the Inkwell series, produced by Max and
Dave Fleischer. Best known for Popeye and Betty
Boop, this live action and cartoon combo
features Koko the Clown before the character
even got his name. The rapid flowing movement
of the character is especially impressive in this
1920 production. There is constant movement
among the characters, making them manic,
fidgety, and more amusing.

Paul Terry’s “The Jolly Rounders” (1923) is remarkable for its rough subject matter about a drunken hippo
character who cheats on his wife. He gets his brother to dress up as a female and pretends to flirt with him
to fool his wife. The kids come in and state “here comes pa with a bimbo.” The wife chases the both with a
rolling pin and beats up the brother in drag.

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“Cartoon Roots” also offers some great animated subjects from noted characters such as Mutt and Jeff, Felix
the Cat, Farmer Alfalfa, and Krazy Kat. These films are chiefly interesting for presenting early examples of
some of animated cinema’s first noted stars. Clever visuals are abounding as animation grows and refines
several elements throughout this era, from more detailed background, to the movement of several
characters at once.
This disc also features a world premiere. A proposed Binko The Bear series produced two cartoons in 1930,
neither of which were released The films remained lost until one of them was found by Stathes and David
Gerstein at the Library of Congress in 2012. It has been restored for this set. The animators, Robert and Tom
McKimson, would make a much greater impact years later.
This disc concludes nicely with the visually dazzling “The Farmerette” (1932) from RKO/Van Buren. The
farmer’s animals are lazy and won’t work, until a flapper comes along and introduces them to jazz music.
When she squeaks out “Some of These Days” and it results in the plowing of fields and the laying of eggs, the
entire rhythm of the short is enhanced.

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DVD Review: Cartoon Roots | jlneibaur-writer

12/7/16, 9:52 PM
Cartoon Roots is an absolute must for fans of
animation, as well as libraries and research centers.
The importance of its subject matter cannot be
overstated. The hard work of the disc’s producers
benefits anyone with an interest in film history.
Cartoon Roots is available here.

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