Surrealism in American Animation

Tonight, The Secret Cinema presented an amazing program of short cartoons:  Surrealism in American Animation.  Awesome, awesome, awesome, even if you don’t buy the program’s premise that surrealism in the cartoons of the 20’s and 30’s is related to the rise of Surrealist art.

Each piece in the program was a testament to the creativity of early animators, and I liked most of them better than Logorama, this year’s Oscar-winning animated short.*  Here are the toons I remember, and happily, most of them are on YouTube (although this format doesn’t do justice to many of the brilliant details).

  • Max Fleischer’s Dancing on the Moon:  newly-married animal couples ride the Honeymoon Express for some dancing (and necking, in the case of the giraffes).
  • Tex Avery’s King Size Canary (1947), in which a cat, a dog, a bird, and a mouse drink a bottle of Jumbo-Grow plant food.
  • Van Beuren’s Tom and Jerry–not the cat and mouse–Rocketeers (1932):  Tom and Jerry accidentally land in the deep sea and end up living the good life with mermaids.
  • Betty’s Museum (1932):  Betty Boop gets locked in a museum overnight.
  • Ub Iwerk’s Balloon Land (1935):  A land made of balloons is threatened by the evil “pin cushion man.”  Silly me–I thought Billy’s Balloon was about as twisted as balloon cartoons get.  Not so.
  • Music Land, a Disney Silly Symphony (1935):  The Isle of Jazz’s saxophone prince falls in love with the Land of Symphony’s violin princess.  Unfortunately, they are separated by the Sea of Discord, the prince is imprisoned in a metronome, and the two countries wage a battle of classical versus jazz.  There’s a happy ending!
  • Paul Terry’s The Magician (1927):  Secret Cinema showed this silent film with pre-recorded music and was kind enough to prevent audience confusion by explaining Tong Wars beforehand.  Sadly, I couldn’t find an online video for this cartoon about a cat who takes his girlfriend to Chinatown for chop suey.
  • To Spring (1936), a Happy Harmonies piece about the the little men who create Spring.  Interesting side note:  the Happy Harmonies name (and Merrie Melodies too) were derived from Disney’s very successful Silly Symphonies series.

The Secret Cinema event came two day’s after I saw Kristy Graybill of MiNDTV give a computer animation workshop at Philly’s Free Library.  As part of the discussion, Kristy pointed out that stories and artistic concepts trump animation tools and techniques.  So true.  Long live creative animation!

*The technical execution of Logorama is top-notch, and it’s a very clever way to display logos, but it lacks a good story.  It didn’t deserve to beat out some of the other nominees.

2 responses to “Surrealism in American Animation”

  1. Wade Bloggs

    King Size Canary reminded me of major league baseball’s steroid era (also very surreal).

  2. Scott McNulty

    The animated short is an oft overlooked art form.

    And welcome back to blogging, the blogosphere missed you.

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