Steamboat Willie is a 1928 American animated short film directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. It was produced in black-and-white by Walt Disney Studios and was released by Celebrity Productions. The cartoon is considered the debut of Mickey Mouse and his girlfriend Minnie, although both the characters appeared several months earlier in a test screening of Plane Crazy. Steamboat Willie was the third of Mickey’s films to be produced, but was the first to be distributed because Walt Disney, having seen The Jazz Singer, had committed himself to producing the first fully synchronized sound cartoon.

Steamboat Willie is especially notable for being the first Disney cartoon with synchronized sound, including character sounds and a musical score. Disney understood from early on that synchronized sound was the future of film. It was the first cartoon to feature a fully post-produced soundtrack which distinguished it from earlier sound cartoons such as Inkwell Studios’ Song Car-Tunes (1924–1927) and Van Beuren Studios’ Dinner Time(1928). Steamboat Willie became the most popular cartoon of its day.

Music for Steamboat Willie was arranged by Wilfred Jackson and Bert Lewis, and included the songs “Steamboat Bill”, a composition popularized by baritone Arthur Collins during the 1910s, and “Turkey in the Straw,” a composition popularized within minstrelsy during the 19th century. The title of the film is a parody of the Buster Keaton film Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), itself a reference to the song by Collins. Walt Disney performed all of the voices in the film, although there is little intelligible dialogue.

While the film has received some criticism, it has also received wide critical acclaim, not only for introducing one of the world’s most popular cartoon characters, but for its technical innovation. In 1994 members of the animation field voted Steamboat Willie 13th in the book The 50 Greatest Cartoons, which listed the greatest cartoons of all time. In 1998 the film was selected for preservation in the United States’ National Film Registry for being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Plane Crazy – 1928

Hans Richter (1921)

Hans Richter was a German painter,  graphic artist, avant-gardist, film and animation experimentalist, and producer. He was greatly influenced by cubism in the 1910s.

Richter believed that the artist’s duty was to be actively political, opposing war and supporting the revolution.

Throughout his career, he claimed that his 1921 film Rhythmus 21 was the first abstract film ever created. However, this is simply not true. He was in fact preceded by German artist Walther Ruttmann, among others. Nevertheless, Richter’s film Rhythmus 21 is considered an important early abstract film by filmmakers and film scholars throughout the world.

Otto Messmer (1919)

Otto James Messmer was an American animator, best known for his work on the Felix the Cat cartoons and comic strip produced by the Pat Sullivan studio.

The extent of Messmer’s role in the creation and popularity of Felix is a matter of ongoing dispute, particularly as he only laid his claim to the character after the death of Sullivan, who until that time had received the credit. However, most prominent comics and animation historians support Messmer’s claim, as do the veterans of the Sullivan studio.

Felix the Cat is a funny-animal cartoon character created in the silent film era. The anthropomorphic black cat with his black body, white eyes, and giant grin, coupled with the surrealism of the situations in which his cartoons place him, combine to make Felix one of the most recognized cartoon characters in film history. Felix was the first character from animation to attain a level of popularity sufficient to draw movie audiences. Felix was also the first cartoon to be merchandised and soon became a household name.

By the late 1920s, with the arrival of sound cartoons, Felix’s success was fading. The new Disney shorts of Mickey Mouse made the silent offerings of Sullivan and Messmer, who were then unwilling to move to sound production, seem outdated. In 1929, Sullivan decided to make the transition and began distributing Felix sound cartoons through Copley Pictures. The sound Felix shorts proved to be a failure and the operation ended in 1932. Felix saw a brief three-cartoon resurrection in 1936 by the Van Beuren Studios.

Influenced by Émile Cohl, the author of the first puppet-animated film, Russian-born Polish director Ladyslaw Starewicz, started to create stop motion films using dead insects with wire limbs and later, in France, with complex and really expressive puppets. In 1912, he created The Cameraman’s Revenge, a complex tale of treason and violence between several different insects. It is a pioneer work of puppet animation, and the oldest animated film of such dramatic complexity, with characters filled with motivation, desire and feelings.

Émile Cohl (1908)

Considered by film historians to be the first animated cartoon, The French artist Ă‰mile Cohl created this animated film using what came to be known as traditional animation methods: the 1908 Fantasmagorie. The film largely consisted of a stick figure moving about and encountering all manner of morphing objects, such as a wine bottle that transforms into a flower. There were also sections of live action where the animator’s hands would enter the scene. The film was created by drawing each frame on paper and then shooting each frame onto negative film, which gave the picture a blackboard look. Cohl later went to Fort Lee, New Jersey near New York City in 1912, where he worked for French studio Éclair and spread its animation technique to the US.

Priit PĂ€rn (1987)

Eine Murul (Breakfast on the Grass), inspired by Édouard Manet’s Le DĂ©jeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), is one of Priit PĂ€rn’s most powerful films. It’s also one of his most difficult, and its message is at times hard to decipher. PĂ€rn doesn’t tell straightforward stories, and much remains unexplained. Most importantly, it’s one of the few films showing insight in Eastern European life under the communist oppression. Its atmosphere is gloomy, its graphic style crude and scratchy, its humor dark, and its surrealism disturbing. Breakfast on the Grass won the Nika Award for Best Animated Feature Film in 1988.

Eine murul (Breakfast on the Grass) was made during a unique time in the 1980s when Soviet Bloc animation was enjoying both the new freedoms of Gorbachev’s regime while at the same time still receiving state funding, something that would soon largely disappear under the new capitalist-style free markets. As Estonian animation began to push its own identity and achieve recognition just before independence, Priit PĂ€rn’s films attracted attention with their naĂŻve drawing style and controversy for a perspective on life behind the ‘iron curtain’ that would have been considered dangerously subversive a decade previously. PĂ€rn managed to sidestep both the Disney-style kiddie cuteness previously prescribed by the government controlled Soyuzmultfilm studio and the dull preaching of a lot of his contemporaries’ ‘serious’ political animation. Along with the gritty social commentary, his films are also characterised by bizarre, surreal and ironic humour.

“PĂ€rn also managed to find a stylistic middle ground between traditional cartoon drawing and raw primitivism, his scratchy style of drawing was confident and original and managed to be both figurative enough to be easily readable while retaining a free, spontaneous nature (by its painstaking nature a quality hard to find in much animation). His complex films were not only a simple criticism against totalitarian communist societies but also seemed to question the flip-side of the coin, a free market extreme where naked competition and materialism can lead to alienation, exploitation and the coarsening of values.

“In Eine murul (Breakfast On The Grass), four overlapping stories show various citizens struggle not only against poverty, shortages and the limitations of life under communist rule but against their own inner demons. Uncontrolled desires for wealth, power and beauty lead to various forms of self-hate, greed and corruption, often expressed with surreal symbolism. The film ends in a dreamlike sequence in which the four main characters are admitted into a symbolic, private pleasure garden based on Èdouard Manet’s painting Le dĂ©jeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), perhaps the culmination of all their dreams.

“Many Ukrainian animators were heavily influenced by PĂ€rn’s style and, as travel limitations loosened for Soviet Bloc citizens, this influence spread around the world where its design can even be seen in mainstream examples such as the children’s TV series Rugrats.

-Stephen Cavalier

The music-loving inhabitants of Pepperland are under siege by the Blue Meanies, a nasty group of music-hating creatures. The Lord Mayor of Pepperland (Dick Emery) dispatches sailor Old Fred (Lance Percival) to Liverpool, England, where he is to recruit the help of the Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr). The sympathetic Beatles ride a yellow submarine to the occupied Pepperland, where the Blue Meanies have no chance against the Fab Four’s groovy tunes.

Paul McCartney wrote the majority of this song. He explained shortly after it was released in 1966: “‘Yellow Submarine’ is very simple but very different. It’s a fun song, a children’s song. Originally we intended it to be ‘Sparky’ a children’s record. But now it’s the idea of a yellow submarine where all the kids went to have fun. I was just going to sleep one night and thinking if we had a children’s song, it would be nice to be on a yellow submarine where all your friends are with a band.”

Paul purposely used short words in the lyrics because he wanted kids to pick it up early and sing along.

 

In this animated short, director Peter Foldùs depicts one man’s descent into greed and gluttony. Rapidly dissolving and ever-evolving images create a contrast between abundance and want. One of the first films to use computer animation, this satire serves as a cautionary tale against self-indulgence in a world still plagued by hunger and poverty.

Squirrel Nut Zippers (1998)

Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Ghost of Stephen Foster music video. From the album Perennial Favorites (Mammoth Records). Winner of “Best Animated Music Video” at the 1999 Vancouver Animation Festival. Directed and produced by Raymond Persi and Matthew Nastuk.

Animators include Ben Jones, Michael Ludy, Jason Magness, and Ashley Mims.

Pearl Jam & Todd McFarlane (1998)

The animated music video for Do the Evolution was co-directed by Kevin Altieri, known for his direction on Batman: The Animated Series, and Todd McFarlane, better known for his work with the popular comic book Spawn and Korn’s 1999 Freak on a Leash video. The video was produced by Joe Pearson, the president of Epoch Ink animation, and Terry Fitzgerald at TME. It was written and developed by Pearson and Altieri with input from McFarlane and Vedder. The total production time on the music video was 16 weeks. The animation pre-production was produced by Epoch Ink Animation at their studio in Santa Monica, California. Under Altieri and Pearson’s supervision the Epoch team boarded and designed the short in less than six weeks. Once McFarlane, Vedder, and Sony gave their final approvals, the short was taken to Korea by Altieri and Pearson for animation at Sun Min Image Pictures and Jireh Animation. Over a four-week period, a team of more than one hundred artists worked to deliver the finished animation.

Once the final animation was back in Los Angeles, California, Altieri, McFarlane, and Vedder edited the final cut at Vittello Productions. In a press release, McFarlane stated, “We choose to work with people who convey a particular attitude and this video is a tribute to that attitude,” while Pearl Jam stated, “As artists we are challenged to expand the meaning of our work and by utilizing this visual medium and working with a visionary like Todd, we were able to further explore some of the themes we depicted in the song Do the Evolution. Basically we’ve tried to make a good stoner video.” The video premiered on August 24, 1998 on MTV’s 120 Minutes. The video was the band’s first since the final video for the song Oceans on the album Ten. At the 1999 Grammy Awards, the music video received a nomination for Best Music Video, Short Form. The video clip for Do the Evolution can be found on the Touring Band 2000 DVD as one of the Special Features.