Back to the Drawing Board: Landmark Firsts of Animation

Welcome to Back to the Drawing Board, a celebration of animation at a glance thanks in part to my sister, Jenni Chante, and I’s love for this particular art form of filmmaking. We have decided to take some time to give our views on popular and obscure films of animation, either retrospectively or with fresh eyes, giving a personal view. Animation isn’t a genre. It is a variety of genres ranging from adventure to horror to fantasy. It also certainly is not ‘kids stuff’. Animation can tell the simplest childhood story to the darkest and high complex adult stories. Animation isn’t the lowest common denominator of filmmaking.  It takes hard work and talent, be it with the hundreds or dozens of hands of animators, thousands of codes on a keyboard, or even cutting piles construction paper to bring it to life.

Animation knows no bounds.

Time to start with the first landmarks of animation being the first stopmotion film (The Adventures of Prince Achmed), the first feature length animated feature (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), and the first  CGI animated feature (Toy Story).

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

Serg Beret: I had seen this film before many years ago on Turner Classic Movies as they were running a retrospective on animation. I never knew that there was an animated film before Snow White, let alone a stopmotion feature. Prince Achmed is another adaptation (possibly even first) of the 1001 Arabian Nights story telling the tale of Prince Achmed reclaiming control of his lamp to take down the African Sorceror with the aid of Aladdin. A typical fairy tale, but told in pure silence and silhouette. Don’t let that steer the viewers wrong because it is a wonderful film with fantastic use of bright colors and thrilling music to get its point across. Originally a lost film, the restoration of Prince Achmed is a true stellar wonder and a classic.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Serg Beret: Snow White and the Sven Dwarfs is the hardest to talk about because everything that I could say about it has already been said.The animation is stunning, the story, though simplistic, is lovely, and the songs still hang on today. It remains one of my favorite animated features combining beauty and emotion to grab you from the beginning and never let you go. The climax and finale of the highlights of the film. Snow White eating the apple and the dwarfs chasing after the treacherous queen to avenge Snow White is thrilling. The funeral for Snow White is heartbreaking, but the finale is what wraps it all together. Prince Charming comes to save Snow White with the kiss of true love letting the violins swell, the chorus sings, and they live happily ever after. I recently watched it again by myself with the volume way up and brought to tears finally appreciating what a wonder it is. Snow White is the fairest of all for all these reasons, paving the way for what animation is today.

Jenni Chante: Before I get to talking about the film, I will admit that Snow White is not my favorite princess that Disney has brought to the screen. The movie itself is very well done and the animations and look of the film is breathtaking. The character are fun and memorable with the Dwarfs stealing the show. I love how every dwarf has a different personality and style to them. Snow White, as I mentioned before, is not my favorite princess but she is far from being the worst. The voice of her is fantastic and I do decent impression of it. This film I will always remember as being the first film and the first Disney feature overall bringing Disney to the world.

Toy Story (1995)

Serg Beret:  Pixar’s first full length animated feature, Toy Story, is the complete opposite of Snow White, not because it is a bad first step, but it is a completely original concept. From the ground up, the team at Pixar made an animated comedy that breaks away from the mold that Disney set with the renaissance containing the Broadway musical spectacle elements and becomes something they can make their own. The characters are still memorable and the story is still a delight as Buzz and Woody must try to escape the hands of the evil Sid Philips, while Buzz slowly realizes he is, in fact, a toy. It’s emotional, it’s laugh out loud funny, but at it’s core, it is a classic buddy comedy and a near-perfect one at that. Hell, I still chuckle at the amount of Buzz related puns and I hate puns. Like Snow White before it, it paved the way for a new step in the animation genre and lead to a string of sequels, which is a legacy in its own right. Toy Story is a classic and I love every minute of it.

Jenni Chante: This was the first CGI animated film and, as we know, CGI animation and films have started to become better over the years. There is no denying though: Toy Story is still pretty damn good. The characters are so interesting and delightful, despite my hatred fro Mr. Potato Head. This film was amazing and because of it, I would leave toys out and hide just toy see if they would move. The movie brings a lot of memories when I look back on it and I will never forget it.

Next time, we take a look at the works of Hayao Miyzaki and Studio Ghibli with the 1989’s Kiki’s Delivery Service, 1997’s Princess Mononoke, and the magnum opus that is 2001’s Spirited Away.


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