The early years of British animation offer a cornucopia of unexpected delights that are little known and rarely seen. Just this one programme offers jealous stalking dolls, futuristic airships blasted by electric rays, Bolshevik dogs, malevolent morphing shadows, a singing monkey and a dancing fox. It bridges the silent and early sound era and features a generous helping of early colour film processes – including what might be the world’s earliest surviving animated film in colour.
Dir: Walter Booth, 1907
Magical scissors are just one of the tricks up the sleeve of Walter Booth, a pioneer of special effects and stop motion in British cinema. Mixing live-action, cut-out animation, statue smashing and some hand coloured scenes this is one of the earliest animated films in the BFI National Archive. [Silent]
Jealous Doll, Or, The Frustrated Elopement
Dir: Percy Stow, 1909
A pair of young children eloping from the inattentive care of a sleeping nanny might be worrying enough, but when the little girl’s doll gets off the floor to follow them alarm bells really start ringing. This unusual tale was likely intended as a charming comic tale but the uncanny movements of the jealous toy give it a strangely gothic edge. [Silent]
Animated Doll and Toy Town Circus
Dir: G.A. Smith? (this information is subject to change), c1912
Colour in animation is older than you think. This film experiment uses the British Kinemacolor process and stop-motion filming to bring toys to colourful life. Originally filmed through alternating red and green filters it could well be the world’s oldest surviving colour animation, recreated through modern digital techniques. [Silent]
Ever Been Had?
Dir: Dudley Buxton, 1917
The rapid development in technique and storytelling in British animation in the First World War culminates in films like Dudley Buxton’s Ever Been Had? Featuring a henpecked man on the moon and the last Englishman on Earth, it is a clever mix of propaganda, science fiction and comedy, with a killer punchline. [Silent]
Geni and a Genius (Series 1 & 2) [Extracts]
Dir: Victor Hicks, 1919
There were many cartoon versions of Chaplin in early British animation but none were as handsome and interesting as Victor Hicks’ take on The Little Tramp. The comic genius rescues a genie from a bottle and is taken around the solar system to find fresh worlds to conquer. [Silent]
Popski’s Early Life
Dir: Lancelot Speed, 1921
A bedtime story for the stars of the Daily Mirror’s comic strip “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred” tells the tale of Popski the Bolshevik dog. Lancelot Speed was a classically trained artist bitten by the animation bug in his later years, creating this globe-trotting series of “Wonderful Adventures” in cut-out animation. [Silent]
Booster Bonzo; Or, Bonzo in Gay Paree
Dir: unknown, 1925
Britain’s answer to Felix the Cat was a loveable little pup with a cheeky streak a mile wide. George Studdy’s Bonzo the Dog was a sensation of the roaring 20s, moving from print cartoons to the silver screen with consummate ease. In this episode he hitches a ride to Paris, chats up a barmaid and goes a little overboard on the vin rouge. [Silent]
Dir: Joe Noble, 1928
Sammy and his dog Sausage were a cartoon double act of the 1920s, but they co-starred with their creator – the innovative animator Joe Noble. Cleverly interacting with his pen and ink creations, in this episode Joe comes off worse in a bout of shadow boxing. [Silent]
Experimental Animation 1933
Dir: Len Lye, 1933
Avant-garde monkey business from the New Zealand-born artist Len Lye, who whipped up the film scene of the 1930s like a spinning top. Produced before his polychromatic explosion A Colour Box hit the cinema screen in 1935, this test footage of a stop-motion simian is as delightful as it is bizarre.
Dir: Anson Dyer, 1936
Burlesque, bite-size Bizet. Four-acts of opera are sliced and diced into nine minutes of cartoon leaving wine, one woman and a little bit of song. One of the more unusual and ambitious films produced at Anson Dyer’s colour animation studio using the unusual Dunningcolor process.
Dir: Hector Hoppin & Anthony Gross, 1936
This Technicolor follow-up to the modernist masterpiece Joie de Vivre (1934) is little seen and ripe for rediscovery. Hoppin and Gross worked with Korda’s London Films on this beautifully choreographed delight.
Adolf’s Busy Day
Dir: Lawrence Wright, 1940
Who do you think you are kidding? Lawrence Wright was an architect who turned his hobby into a vocation, using animation to take Herr Hitler down a peg or two in this comic propaganda cartoon.
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