Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Animated World of Winsor McCay


Winsor McCay is easily one of the most important, and most talented pioneers of animation. Contrary to some stories you might hear though he is not the first filmmaker to use animation (Emil Cohl, J. Stuart Blackton, Charles-Émile Reynaud, and Segundo de Chomón beat him to it).  However his importance to the history of animation can not be underestimated.

 Winsor McCay had already enjoyed much success before entering the field of animation, as creator and writer of the newspaper comic strips, Little Nemo in Slumberland, and Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend. These comic strips were the highlight of the comics page back then. They transcended what comic strips had been know for through their abundance of imagination, and expert drawing style. It is only natural for a man who created this to be attracted to the art form of animation.

His first film was Little Nemo (Also called Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics) based off his own comic strip. Released in 1911, animation was still a novelty, and McCay took full advantage of that. This film in fact starts out in live action with McCay betting he can make drawings move (although he incorrectly credits himself as the first to do this), and his friends respond with laughter and disbelief. The live action segment of this film is very clever, and humorous. The highlight of the live action portion though is seeing McCay draw his characters before the animation starts. This is when you know you are watching a great talent at work. The animation segment itself is very well done and entertaining, but it is a little dated. It is obvious he had not yet figured out what to do with animation, and that leads to a lack of understanding our characters, and therefore a lack of personal involvement. However this animation is expertly done. It is very appealing and still looks very good by today's standards. This entire segment was hand-drawn by one man, Winsor McCay himself. He drew four-thousand drawings all by himself for this one short segment of the film. The early color was achieved by hand painting the 35mm film itself after it was complete. this was also done only by McCay.



The most famous film Winsor McCay made is easily Gertie the Dinosaur (1914).  This film was actually a vaudeville act before it was in theaters. The act consisted of Winsor McCay talking to his animated dinosaur Gertie. He would tell her what to do and Gertie would do it (most of the time). This was translated to theaters by having an off screen narrator, who speaks through intertitles (since this was a silent film). This film has often times wrongly been called the first cartoon ever made. While this is not true (It isn't even McCay's first cartoon, it is his third), its place in animation history is still extremely important. The reason for this is Gertie, herself. She is one of the first animated characters that the audience was allowed to see think. Unlike the characters in Little Nemo, Gertie does not seem like she is just moving drawings projected on a screen, but instead like a real character that we know and relate to over the course of the film. This was the beginning of character animation, and probably the first successful attempt at it. Like Little Nemo this film begins in live action. Winsor McCay bets his fellow cartoonists that he can make a dinosaur come to life and boy does he.



  Despite the great success of Gertie, McCay decided to do something complete different with his next adventure into the world of animation. His next film was The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918). This was not only the first completely serious cartoon that Winsor McCay made, but also the first animated documentary. For a cartoon to approach such a serious event as the sinking of the Lusitania was unheard of at this time. For the animation McCay knew he needed to achieve much more realism in his animation. The amount of detail in the animation still remains an unbelievable feet. Due to this different style it took much more work and time than anything that had been before. Yet still the entire film was animated solely by Winsor McCay. This film remains a masterful and moving piece of patriotism and probably one of the greatest propaganda films ever made.



















-Michael J. Ruhland

Saturday, October 14, 2017

My Little Pony, Freindship is Magic: Secrects and Pies

This morning's episode was the third episode written by Josh Hamilton. His previous episodes were Parental Glidance and Triple Threat. It was storyboarded by Jen Davreux (who has been boarding for the show since season 5) and Megan Willis (who has been boarding for the show since season 6).

This is an excellent episode. It recalls such episodes as Party of One and Lesson Zero however it never feels like a copy of those episodes. This is a quite a funny episode and where it really shines is the humor. Nearly every joke hits perfectly here. The bizarrely complicated ways Rainbow gets rid of the pies and the extreme lengths Pinkie goes to give her pies is funny enough but it is built up perfectly. It starts up pretty normal with nothing too over the top. However it gets more and more silly as the episode goes on and therefore becomes funnier and funnier with each joke. Also helping out is some excellent character animation, especially of Rainbow Dash and Applejack lying. The characters are at their most likable here and I always love these type of episodes because they are not afraid to embrace the fact that they are cartoons and can do anything.

-Michael J. Ruhland    

Friday, October 13, 2017

Gigantic is Cancelled


For years the Disney has been working on an animated feature film based off of the classic fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk. This movie was going to be called Gigantic. It would have differentiated from the classic tale quite a bit as it would feature Jack befriending a female giant at the top of the beanstalk. It was set to be released in 2020. After all the work put into this film, it was just decided that something wasn't working. The film did not come together and no one was happy with how it was turning out. Ed Catmull one of the heads of Walt Disney animation has stated that the film has been cancelled simply due to the fact they can no longer move any further with this project. However he also stated that that a different animated feature will be released at the time this film was going to be released. It is unknown what that film will be at this time, but Catmull has stated it will be an original movie and not a sequel to anything.   

-Michael J. Ruhland

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

My Little Pony the Movie


Review By Michael J. Ruhland



















Michael's Movie Grade: B

Review: A highly enjoyable adventure movie, but those who have seen enough of the TV show it is based off of will know that show does outshine this film by quite a bit.

The highlights of this movie are the returning characters and animation. The characters are just as well developed and likable as they are in the TV show. Twilight is given the biggest role and is handled very well. While it is unfortunate that her geekiness is toned down here, she is extremely likable and relatable. At all times you fully understand what she is going through. She may be a hero but she is far from perfect and does things that she soon regrets. The other members of the mane six are also very well written but are not given as much development as they have received in episodes of the TV show as this film is mostly Twilight's story and there is nothing wrong with that. The animation is the one thing that really is an improvement over the show. This animation is absolutely incredible. It stays true to the TV show's roots but does something quite different with the look here. The film beautifully combines 2-d animation with 3-d animation. This never feels forced and the two look perfect together giving the film a bit of scope not seen in the show. The character animation is equally effective and just by looking at the animation you can tell just what the characters are thinking. They tell you everything with just a look. The story itself is quite charming and fun. It is not anything that rises above anything the show itself has done (and in fact repeats what episodes of the show have already done), but is still a lot of fun. It has a great sense of adventure, and scope.

However this film does have problems the main one is many of the new characters. The Storm King himself is a very disappointing villain. Despite his great power and how much he intimidates other characters he does not feel the least bit threatening when appearing on screen. This is strange considering how intimidating the villains in the show were (Discord, Quenn Chrysalis, Tirek). The fact you know they have done so much better on this front makes him all the more disappointing. His character is also given some humor but this falls flat. Speaking of unfunny villains Grubber a "comic" sidekick to the villains is extremely unfunny. Every one of his jokes feels forced and annoying. This character also talks in a very modern "hip" style that will soon date each scene the character is in. Tempest however is a fairly strong villain even if she treads ground already done in episodes of the series. Despite this she is quite enjoyable and a nice addition. Capper is another strong new character. On another downside Songbird Serenade feels like just what she is a forced celebrity cameo.

There is nothing (besides the animation) here that makes it stand out among all the episodes of the TV show. In fact some of the show's best episodes are better. However for what it is this is a very enjoyable movie. It is a lot of fun to watch and fans of the TV show (myself included) will have a lot of fun watching it. Newcomers should enjoy the movie, but will not understand the huge obsession the show's fanbase has as well as if they had watched A Canterlot Wedding (for a quick example). So just understand that the show is better and sit down and enjoy a fun movie, because there is still a lot to recommend here.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Movie Review: My Little Pony the Movie


Review By Michael J. Ruhland



















Michael's Movie Grade: B

Review: A highly enjoyable adventure movie, but those who have seen enough of the TV show it is based off of will know that show does outshine this film by quite a bit.

The highlights of this movie are the returning characters and animation. The characters are just as well developed and likable as they are in the TV show. Twilight is given the biggest role and is handled very well. While it is unfortunate that her geekiness is toned down here, she is extremely likable and relatable. At all times you fully understand what she is going through. She may be a hero but she is far from perfect and does things that she soon regrets. The other members of the mane six are also very well written but are not given as much development as they have received in episodes of the TV show as this film is mostly Twilight's story and there is nothing wrong with that. The animation is the one thing that really is an improvement over the show. This animation is absolutely incredible. It stays true to the TV show's roots but does something quite different with the look here. The film beautifully combines 2-d animation with 3-d animation. This never feels forced and the two look perfect together giving the film a bit of scope not seen in the show. The character animation is equally effective and just by looking at the animation you can tell just what the characters are thinking. They tell you everything with just a look. The story itself is quite charming and fun. It is not anything that rises above anything the show itself has done (and in fact repeats what episodes of the show have already done), but is still a lot of fun. It has a great sense of adventure, and scope.

However this film does have problems the main one is many of the new characters. The Storm King himself is a very disappointing villain. Despite his great power and how much he intimidates other characters he does not feel the least bit threatening when appearing on screen. This is strange considering how intimidating the villains in the show were (Discord, Quenn Chrysalis, Tirek). The fact you know they have done so much better on this front makes him all the more disappointing. His character is also given some humor but this falls flat. Speaking of unfunny villains Grubber a "comic" sidekick to the villains is extremely unfunny. Every one of his jokes feels forced and annoying. This character also talks in a very modern "hip" style that will soon date each scene the character is in. Tempest however is a fairly strong villain even if she treads ground already done in episodes of the series. Despite this she is quite enjoyable and a nice addition. Capper is another strong new character. On another downside Songbird Serenade feels like just what she is a forced celebrity cameo.

There is nothing (besides the animation) here that makes it stand out among all the episodes of the TV show. In fact some of the show's best episodes are better. However for what it is this is a very enjoyable movie. It is a lot of fun to watch and fans of the TV show (myself included) will have a lot of fun watching it. Newcomers should enjoy the movie, but will not understand the huge obsession the show's fanbase has as well as if they had watched A Canterlot Wedding (for a quick example). So just understand that the show is better and sit down and enjoy a fun movie, because there is still a lot to recommend here.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Movie Review: The Lego Ninjago Movie

Review Written by Michael J. Ruhland



















Michael's Movie Grade:D

Review: Sadly an extremely disappointing film after the last two Lego movies, and just not a very good movie period.

The major problem with this movie is that is simply extremely clichéd and predictable. The only thing that is really surprising in the story comes quite early on and everything that happens after that can easily be seen coming. This is equally true of almost all of the film's jokes, most having a punchline we see coming from a mile away. There are some good jokes here, but sadly they are not as common as the weak jokes are. However these weak jokes are rarely that bad they just don't invoke much laughter. The characters are similarly very familiar. They aren't bad characters but they feel like characters from so many different films, and have little to make them stand out on their own (yes I do know this is based off a TV show). However the weakest part of the movie is the live action opening a closing sequences. These really feel out of place in this movie and like they were tacked on at the last minute. They add nothing to the movie and the film wouldn't lose anything if they were cut. The inclusion of these scenes feel more puzzling than anything.

The movie has its good points though. The animation is excellent, as should be expected from these Lego movies, the voice acting is quite good, there are a few good jokes (even if they are in the minority), and the characters are pretty likable if not exactly memorable.


This movie doesn't leave much of a bad taste in your mouth, but instead just leaves one with little if any impact. This unfortunately though does make this a huge disappointment after the last two Lego movies.

-Michael J. Ruhland   

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Animated Feature Films Before Snow White


Though I cannot deny that the Disney animated classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a milestone in film history and a great movie, it is not the first animated feature film ever made. Why it is sad that this is often believed is because some of the animated features that came before are really good and definitely deserve more attention. That is why today we are going to look at these films.






El Apostol
1917. Director: Quirino Cristani. Writer: Quirino Cristani. Animator: Quirino Cristiani. Character Designs: Diógenes Taborda. Models: Andrés Ducaud.

El Apostol
is believed to be the first animated feature film made. This was a silent film from Argentina. Unfortunately this film is lost today due to a fire in 1926. The film was a political satire about Argentinian president Hipolito Yrigoyen, and the film ran around 70 minutes.

Sin dejar rastros1918. Director: Quirino Cristani. Writer: Quirino Cristiani. Animator: Quirino Cristiani. Producer: Federico Valle.

Sin dejar rastros (or in English Without a Trace) was a silent movie from the same country and director of El Apostol. It is based on a true story of Baron von Luxburg and how he affected Argentinian history. It is unknown if any copies of this film exist today and the film is considered lost.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed1926. Director: Lotte Reiniger. Technical Director: Carl Koch. Animators: Walter Ruttman, Berthold Bartosch, Walter Turck, Alexander Kardan. Titles: Edmund Delco.

This German silent film is the earliest animated feature available for viewing and it is a delight. Through expert film making and subtle but extremely expressive character animation, this film tells a simple story in the best way possible. Director Lotte Reiniger started directing animated films in 1919 and specialized in a style of animation called silhouette animation. This was achieved by cut out figures made from cardboard. Each limb of these cardboard figures had wires attached, creating the onscreen illusion of these characters moving of their own will. The rest of the crew working on the film had amazing film careers themselves. Carl Koch would for instance be a co-writer for Jean Renoir's 1939 classic The Rules of the Game. Walter Ruttman and Berthold Bartosch would direct some films themselves. Ruttman would direct the 1927 classic Berlin: Symphony of a Great City and Bartosch directed one of the most brilliant animated art-house films ever made with the 1932 short The Idea. In The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Ruttman and Bartosch animated mainly on the special effects. Because of this Animation Historian Jerry Beck has referred to them as "the world's first effects animators". When originally made it was hard for the film to find a distributor in Germany. However a composer named Wolfgang Zeller got permission to book a showing at a concert hall with his own  music. Reviews from this showing were extremely positive and the film was picked up for a year at a theater in Paris. This was followed by the film playing all over the world.

  Peludópolis1931. Director: Quirino Cristiani. Music: José Vázquez Vigo.

Peludópolis is believed to be the earliest sound animated feature. This is another film from Argentina and directed by Quirino Cristiani. Unfortunately like his earlier features this one is assumed lost. It is another political movie, this time about Argentine president Hipólito Yrigoyen and how a group called The Radicals were trying to overthrow him.

The New Gulliver1935. Director: Aleksandr Ptushko. Writers: Aleksandr Ptushko, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Grigori Roshal. Cast: Vladimir Konstantinovich Konstantinov, Ivan Yudin, Shaolin Santiago. Cinematographer: Nikolai Renkoi Renkov.

This stop motion/live action hybrid was the first Russian feature to make extensive use of animation and the first mostly stop motion feature film released. This movie takes Jonathan Swift's famous book Gulliver's Travels and turns it into soviet propaganda. While this film's combination of stop motion and live action is well ahead of its time, it is really only of interest to film buffs with a special interest in the history of animation, or those who want to see soviet propaganda. All others will surely find this movie just boring.

The Adventures of Pinocchio Directors: Raoul Verdini, Umberto Spano.


This is a debatable film to put on this list because it was never actually finished. The film had production trouble from the start and simply seemed to be fated not to be. If released when it was planned to (1936) it would have been the first cell animated feature and the first animated feature from Italy. It would have also beat Walt Disney's animated adaption of Collodi's book by four years.

The Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda1936. Director: Mikhail Tsekhanovsky.

Based on a poem of the same name by Alexander Pushkin, this was the first hand-drawn Russian feature film. Sadly due to a fire only six minutes of this movie still exist today as the rest was destroyed in a fire.

The Tale of the Fox 1937. Directors: Irene Starevich, Ladislas Starevich. Writers: Irene Starevich, Ladislas Starevich, Roger Richebé, Jean Nohain, Antoinette Nordmann, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Voices: Romain Bouquet, Claude Dauphin, Sylvain Itkine, Léon Larive, Robert Seller, Eddy Debray, Nicolas Amato, Pons, Sylivia Bataille, Suzy Dornac, Jamie Palma, Marcel Raine. Music: Vincent Scotto. Cinematography: Ladislas Starevich. Animators: Irene Starevich, Ladislas Starevich. Editor: Laura Sejourné.

This was the first French animated feature, and the first feature to be completely stop motion. It is only appropriate that one of the directors was Ladislas Starevich, one of the pioneers of stop motion animation and one of the first filmmakers to prove animation was art and not just a novelty. Not surprisingly this film is a pure work of art and one of the all time great animated features. Sadly this is the only animated feature film he worked on. The film was originally finished in 1930, but it there were problems with its original French soundtrack. This film ended up being released in Germany and in the German language in 1937, and wouldn't play in France or French until 1941.

Academy Award Review of Walt Disney Cartoons1937. Cartoons directed by Wilfred Jackson, Burt Gillett, Dave Hand..

With no new animation and simply being some short films put together and released as a feature, it is very debatable to include this here. This film is made up of five of the Disney studio's Silly Symphonies cartoons (Flowers and Trees (1932), Three Little Pigs (1933), The Tortoise and the Hare (1934), Three Orphan Kittens (1935), The Country Cousin (1936)). It would be released in 1966 with four cartoons added (The Old Mill (1937), Ferdinand the Bull (1938), The Ugly Duckling (1939), Lend a Paw (1941)). Naturally as these short films are all great the feature film is a lot of fun to watch, but there is nothing new offered here, which leaves it out of most lists of Disney feature films.

The Seven Ravens
1937. Directors: 
Ferdinand Diehl, Hermann Diehl. Writer: Paul Diehl. Cinematographer: Alfonse Lufteck. Music: Walter Pepper. Animators: Ferdinand Diehl, Hermann Diehl.

This stop motion animated feature from Germany just barely makes this list as it was released earlier the same month as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This movie is based off of a story by the Brothers Grimm.

-Michael J. Ruhland

Resources UsedThe Animated Movie Guide edited by Jerry Beck
Animation Art edited by Jerry Beck 

The Animated World of Winsor McCay

Winsor McCay is easily one of the most important, and most talented pioneers of animation. Contrary to some stories you might hear thoug...