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Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 16, 2015

This isn’t Popeye yet, but Popeye purveyor Max Fleischer’s amazing Rotoscope invention, put to the use of animating the character that would presently become Koko the Clown. This is from Fleischer’s famous “Out of the Inkwell” series, and like so many old, old films, its most evident value and interest is historical. But also, as with so many, as with nearly any old, old film, there are conceptual and aesthetic benefits here, as well.

The rotoscope allowed Fleischer to transcribe the movement of actual figures onto a drawn surface, or rather a series of them. The effect is extremely impressive. The “Out of the Inkwell” cartoon featured Max himself, interacting comically with his animated creature. At this point of the series, though a number of films had been released, the live action and the animated material are still only partially integrated with each other. That’s true at least when it comes to plausibility and flow, which is probably what we have come to expect from the many, many cartoons that stood on this one’s shoulders. The stories aren’t fully integrated yet, but the Fleischers’ signature good cheer, not to mention their technical agility, are very much in evidence.

Is this also a prejudice that comes unfairly as a result of the cartoon wealth that we’ve also long enjoyed? For me, anyway, silent cartoons often make me think that it wouldn’t be until the arrival of sound—dialogue, effects, especially music!—that the animated film would actually reach its majority.