18 September 2008

Play Safe (1936)

When I was but knee-high to a grasshopper I had a VHS of classic cartoons. This tape--along with a bootlegged copy of Dumbo that also contained Disney's rendition of Jack and the Beanstalk--was a cornerstone of my sad, sorry childhood. While most respectable children were outside climbing trees and breaking limbs, I was watching cartoons (and getting fat).

One of the cartoons on my tape was Play Safe, a 1936 production by the legendary Max Fleischer. Play Safe is the story of an anonymous lad who is enamored of trains. When a train goes by his house, the boy runs to have a look but is stopped by his dog, who has ostensibly been placed in charge of the boy. Determined to check out the trains anyhow, the boy ties his dog's leash to a tree. As the helpless dog tries struggles, the boy climbs aboard a train, which begins to move. The boy falls off the train, and is knocked unconscious. Still laying on the railroad tracks, the boy descends into a nightmarish realm of trains the likes of which must have been the invention of Clive Barker and H. R. Giger (well, maybe that's stretching it a bit, but the whole dream sequence is nevertheless pretty freaky). The dog manages to escape the rope and pull the boy off of the tracks, just in time to keep him from being run over by a train (the very thing which the boy loved so dearly!).

One of the things which made the cartoon particularly striking to me back in the day (and which allow it to continue to be striking today) is the use of rotoscoping, a process which Fleischer himself patented in 1915 (back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth). Along with such phantasmagorical details as mountains with faces and trains that scold, the rotoscoping gives the dream sequence an extremely vivid, almost three-dimensional feel, as though one were experiencing the whole cartoon in a dream. Rotoscoping was commonly used in Paramount cartoons of the 1930s and 40s, which allowed them to have a similarly vivid feel.

Play Safe is one of those 1930s cartoons that I mentioned in an earlier post. Give it a watch, and appreciate all the little Fleischerian touches that make it so great.

No comments:

Post a Comment