Saturday, May 17, 2014

Mutt and Jeff - Animation Blast from the Past

Mutt and Jeff
Mutt and Jeff.
Here's a blast from the past - the way past - with a couple of ancient Mutt and Jeff cartoons.

If you thought that Walt Disney invented animation, well, he didn't. Anyone who's really interested in animation can learn something about their craft by taking a peek at these short clips that show that animation goes back pretty much as far as the film itself.

The "Mutt and Jeff" cartoons became an expression for the pairing of short and tall people. People still vaguely understand the expression, but the source of it is long gone. Except, it isn't, because it is right here.

The phrase is also, in a larger sense, a term used to describe the pairing of opposites of any sort - happy and sad, or athletic and wimpy, whatever. In "The Flintstones," for instance, Fred is big and gruff, while Barney is short and thoughtful - a true "Mutt and Jeff" pairing.

Mutt and Jeff - "Domestic Difficulties" (1916)

One of the animation field's early heroes was Bud Fisher. Probably not a name you've ever heard of, but back in the day, there was nobody bigger in the field.

Harry Conway “Bud” Fisher began the first comic strip, "Mutt and Jeff," in 1907. It stuck around for 75 years, which isn't bad at all. Augustus J. Mutt was a gambler, while about a year later he met Edgar Horace Jeffries, who was short and dimwitted. And thus was born comedy gold.

Animation in movies began to take off in the 'teens. Since Mutt and Jeff were big hits in the "funny pages," filmmakers figured they would work on the screen, too. In 1916, Fisher worked a deal with Charles Bowers and Raoul Barre’ to make some animations. The opened up Bray studio, and the animations were successful for a decade.

The last Mutt and Jeff animation were "Globetrotters" in 1926 (colorized):

Then things changed. Sound films took over, and Fisher's entire catalog of silent animations became pretty much worthless. Exhibitors simply wouldn't show them. His rivals such as Paul Terry ("Mighty Mouse"), a talented former colleague, had come up with newer material. Fisher didn't. Walt Disney came out with "Steamboat Willy" and brought Mickey Mouse to life with synchronized sound. That was the end for Bud Fisher and his classic silent creations, Mutt and Jeff.

He never was able to work another deal for Mutt and Jeff, though he had some opportunities. Fisher made various attempts to use his old animations by adding color and soundtracks to them, but their time had passed. Bud Fisher paved the way for countless others, including Walt Disney, but he's completely forgotten today.

Mutt and Jeff
Bud Fisher


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