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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dredging Up Another Forgotten Cartoon


Live Action and Animation Combine (Again) in Tail Of The Monk (1926)

What's fun at times is watching a really obscure cartoon, then digging up origin of same and possible others in a series. Few animated shorts were stand-alones, virtually all tied to a maker's hope that showmen would like their pilot and ask for more. The silent era was rife with try-and-mostly-fail cartoon groups. At times, it seemed a public was fed up altogether with drawings that moved, that the result of so many letting them down. J.R. Bray (called "Jay" by associates) had been hustling shorts since the teens and by the mid-20's was at output's peak. His newest brainstorm was the "Unnatural History" cartoons, an ongoing survey of how camels got humps, piggies grew curly tails, ostriches acquired plumes, and so on. In other words, a series with built-in expiration, good for a season or two at best. After all, you could account for only so many animals before they'd run out.


Live action bumpers were used to set up animation middles, that a labor and dollar saving device permitting Bray to sell Tail Of The Monk and other Unnatural Histories as both comedy and cartoon. Veteran shorts producer Joe Rock, lately off a group with Stan Laurel, shepherded live action inserts to precise script measurement of animating Walter Lantz, who, along with future Disney hire David Hand, got director credit. Rock later told interviewers that footage had to be measured to the frame so cartoony stuff could be overlaid. This was early combination of people with animation, a signature of the Fleischers (who were better at doing them), and stolen afterward by others. Tail Of The Monk has an organ grinder who explains to a weepy child (she's lost her lollypop to his monkey) how that animal learned to make practical use of his tail. The merge of live and cartoon is crude, but so was much of Walt Disney with his Alice series that was coming out at a same time. The Unnatural Histories rose and fell to little acclaim, though trade reviews for Tail Of The Monk were kind ("Great stuff for the young," said Moving Picture World). Don't know how many of them survive today, so we may never learn how the camel got his hump, or the piggy ... whatever ... but I'd guess Tail Of The Monk represents the group as well as any, and should satisfy cartoon curiosity seekers.

4 Comments:

Blogger Dave K said...

And that's Lantz himself playing the organ grinder, right? WL was actually pretty cute playing straight man in the Dinky Doodle series... anyone remotely interested in this stuff should track down Thunderbean's new OSWALD RABBIT DVD.

3:43 PM  
Blogger King of [Silent] Cartoons said...

A great post! I always enjoy attention being given to these early cartoons. Thanks!

Just so everyone will know, there has been ongoing researching and archiving with regard to the Bray cartoons. Here’s the Unnatural History-specific page at the Bray Animation Project:

http://brayanimation.weebly.com/unnatural-history.html

12:30 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

A pleasure and honor to hear from Tom Stathes, who truly is the King Of Silent Cartoons, and one of the last great champions of 16mm film collecting, having rescued many otherwise lost cartoons in that format. Tom's webpage is a must, by the way,

http://cartoonsonfilm.blogspot.com/

...and his Bray Animation site is an amazing and ongoing project. By all means, go there and learn the whole history of these fascinating cartoons:

http://brayanimation.weebly.com/unnatural-history.html

4:57 AM  
Blogger King of [Silent] Cartoons said...

Thanks immensely, John!

12:19 PM  

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