Walt Disney (1941)

The Reluctant Dragon is a 1941 American film produced by Walt Disney, directed by Alfred Werker, and released by RKO Radio Pictures on June 20, 1941. Essentially a tour of the then-new Walt Disney Studios facility in Burbank, California, the film stars radio comedian Robert Benchley and many Disney staffers such as Ward Kimball, Fred Moore, Norman Ferguson, Clarence Nash, and Walt Disney, all as themselves.

The first twenty minutes of the film are in black-and-white, and the remainder is in Technicolor. Most of the film is live-action, with four short animated segments inserted into the running time: a black-and-white segment featuring Casey Junior from Dumbo; and three Technicolor cartoons: Baby Weems, Goofy’s How to Ride a Horse, and the extended-length short The Reluctant Dragon, based upon Kenneth Grahame’s book of the same name. The total length of all animated parts is 40 minutes.

The film was released in the middle of the Disney animators’ strike of 1941. Strikers picketed the film’s premiere with signs that attacked Disney for unfair business practices, low pay, lack of recognition, and favoritism. At one theater, sympathizers paraded down the street wearing a “dragon costume bearing the legend ‘The Reluctant Disney'”.

Some critics and audiences were put off by the fact that the film was not a new Disney animated feature in the vein of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Pinocchio, but essentially a collection of four short cartoons and various live-action vignettes. On the other hand, Photoplay said it was “one of the cleverest ideas to pop into that fertile mind of Walt Disney and results in this rare combination of a Cook’s tour of the Disney studio, a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Mickey Mousedom and two of Disney’s latest cartoon features… Cleverly thought out and executed.”

Winsor McCay (1914)

Gertie is the earliest animated film to feature a dinosaur. McCay first used the film before live audiences as an interactive part of his vaudeville act; the frisky, childlike Gertie did tricks at the command of her master. McCay’s employer William Randolph Hearst curtailed McCay’s vaudeville activities, so McCay added a live-action introductory sequence to the film for its theatrical release. McCay abandoned a sequel, Gertie on Tour in 1921, after producing about a minute of footage.

Winsor McCay was an American cartoonist and animator. He is best known for the comic strip Little Nemo and the animated film Gertie the Dinosaur. For contractual reasons, he worked under the pen name Silas on the comic strip Dream of the Rarebit Fiend.

From a young age, McCay was a quick, prolific, and technically dextrous artist. He started his professional career making posters and performing for dime museums, and in 1898 began illustrating newspapers and magazines. In 1903 he joined the New York Herald, where he created popular comic strips such as Little Sammy Sneeze and Dream of the Rarebit Fiend. In 1905 his signature strip Little Nemo in Slumberland debuted—a fantasy strip in an Art Nouveau style about a young boy and his adventurous dreams. The strip demonstrated McCay’s strong graphic sense and mastery of color and linear perspective. McCay experimented with the formal elements of the comic strip page, arranging and sizing panels to increase impact and enhance the narrative. McCay also produced numerous detailed editorial cartoons and was a popular performer of chalk talks on the vaudeville circuit.

McCay was an early animation pioneer; between 1911 and 1921 he self-financed and animated ten films, some of which survive only as fragments. The first three served in his vaudeville act; Gertie the Dinosaur was an interactive routine in which McCay appeared to give orders to a trained dinosaur. McCay and his assistants worked for twenty-two months on his most ambitious film, The Sinking of the Lusitania, a patriotic recreation of the German torpedoing in 1915 of the RMS Lusitania. Lusitania did not enjoy as much commercial success as the earlier films, and McCay’s later movies attracted little attention. His animation, vaudeville, and comic strip work was gradually curtailed as newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, his employer since 1911, expected McCay to devote his energies to editorial illustrations.

In his drawing, McCay made bold, prodigious use of linear perspective, particularly in detailed architecture and cityscapes. He textured his editorial cartoons with copious fine hatching, and made color a central element in Little Nemo. His comic strip work has influenced generations of cartoonists and illustrators. The technical level of McCay’s animation—its naturalism, smoothness, and scale—was unmatched until the work of Fleischer Studios in the late 1920s, followed by Walt Disney’s feature films in the 1930s. He pioneered inbetweening, the use of registration marks, cycling, and other animation techniques that were to become standard.

Ralph Bakshi (1973)

Watch the full movie on YouTube.

Heavy Traffic is a 1973 animated film written and directed by Ralph Bakshi, based on the 1964 novel Last Exit to Brooklyn. The film — which begins, ends, and occasionally combines live-action — explores the often surreal fantasies of a young New York cartoonist named Michael Corleone. The film uses pinball imagery as a metaphor for inner-city life. Heavy Traffic was Bakshi’s and producer Steve Krantz’s follow-up to the film Fritz the Cat. Krantz made varied attempts to produce an R-rated film, but Heavy Traffic was given an X rating by the MPAA. The film received positive reviews and is widely considered to be Bakshi’s biggest critical success.