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GAC Cartoons: Video Reviews
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George Herriman's Kinomatic Krazy Kat Kartoon Klassics

DVD Review by Pietro Shakarian

January 9, 2005

The history of George Herriman's Krazy Kat is a particularly interesting one. This DVD cartoon compilation/documentary by Ray Pointer is certainly one of the more fascinating that this writer has seen. In addition to Mr. Pointer's input, the historical content is smoothly narrated by Leonard Robinson and the cartoons are accompanied by original music from Michael Gonzales and Alan Oldfield. Kinomatic Krazy Kat Kartoon Klassics establishes an accurate sense of the subject, exploring films that had either minimal video or DVD exposure.

First, Mr. Pointer treats us to a history of George Herriman. Herriman was the son of an interracial couple (French and African American). Because of the segregated atmosphere in America at the time, Herriman felt that he needed to hide his ethnicity in order to succeed in a field that had been generally closed to African American artists. Herriman's skin color was of no consequence to his colleagues nor did they inquire of his ancestry. They simply referred to him as "the Greek".

When Herriman launched the "Krazy Kat" comic strip, it became a big success and remained in print until his death in 1944 because of its unique art form. Krazy was a free spirit whose sexuality oscillated between male and female. Herriman described Krazy as a sprite or elf and since sprites are sexual beings, the cat could be neither male nor female. Nevertheless, Krazy showed tireless devotion to the cynical Ignatz Mouse while Offisa Bull Pup represented a balance between both characters.

Krazy became so popular that in 1916, William Randolph Hearst, successful in converting comic strips (such as the Katzenjammer Kids) into animated shorts, borrowed the rights to the cat and began making cartoons about him. Herriman's name was on each of the Hearst shorts, but he clearly had no input at all. The shorts rarely featured Offisa Pup or were ever situated in Kokonino Kounty. They were centered around Krazy and Ignatz, though they lacked the true Herriman style. Herriman's lack of input also became apparent in Krazy's personality. In one cartoon featured on this DVD, A Tail That is Knot, Krazy makes a racial remark that certainly would have offended Herriman if he had been involved. However, despite these flaws, the Hearst Krazys are fascinating and fun to watch. The highlight is Krazy Kat Invalid, a short in which Krazy tells us the story of how he/she got "Locomotive Ataxia".

Two frames from 'The Great Cheese Robbery' — the one on the right displays the scene absent from most prints

Two years after the Hearst studio halted production of the Krazy cartoons, the Bray-Goldwyn Pictograph Company acquired the rights to the cat in 1920. The Bray shorts come remarkably close to the Herriman product. The backgrounds and character designs reflect their funny paper counterparts. The films themselves are quite enjoyable. The first in the series featured here, The Great Cheese Robbery (directed by Vernon "George" Stallings who later helped to develop the human Tom and Jerry at the Van Beuren Studio), involves Krazy getting arrested as the infamous cheese robber - who is really Ignatz Mouse. In the end, Ignatz's conscience gets the best of him and he pays for the cat's bail. Additionally, Mr. Pointer features this short complete with its original ending intact, one that was absent from many other earlier copies of the short.

Bokays and Brickbatz

After the Bray series ended in 1921, no Krazy shorts were produced for the next three years. However, in 1925, Charles Mintz, spouse of Margaret Winkler, the cartoon film distributor, produced the third set of "classic" Krazy Kat cartoons. To ensure the series of success, Mintz hired Bill Nolan (a gifted draftsman whose credentials consisted of inventing the panorama background, developing the "rubber-hose" style of animation, and streamlining Felix the Cat) to lead the series. Despite the wild gags and wonderfully rubbery animation, the series made no effort to imitate Herriman's input. Krazy would become a full-fledged male cat whose persona would reflect that of Felix.

Unfortunately, Margaret Winkler-Mintz could no longer pay for negative storage on the Winkler Film Library in 1949. Since the Krazy shorts were highly flammable nitrate films, she ordered them destroyed, thus making the early silent Mintz Krazys among the rarest of all cartoons. Here, Mr. Pointer presents two of these extremely-rare films in the best picture quality possible.

Nolan's Krazy Kat

Nolan left the Krazy series in the late 1920s and decided to produce a series of satirical cartoons called Newslaffs. Mintz asked Manny Gould and Ben Harrison to continue supervising the series until its demise in 1940. During this time, Krazy would become more of a Mickey Mouse knockoff, with only a few highlights here and there. Li'l Ainjil, a 1936 Mintz Krazy is the only exception. It is the only cartoon to ever have portrayed Herriman's work so accurately, more so than the Bray shorts of the early 1920s.

The last attempt at creating animated Krazy Kat shorts was in the 1960s when Al Brodax hired Gene Deitch to create new Krazys for television. Unfortunately, Brodax put certain restrictions on Deitch, a big fan of Herriman himself, who urged him to make the series as close to the original as possible. While these shorts did not succeed, they still managed to attract a minority of baby boomers and instruct them in the comic strip itself.

Herriman's death in 1944 brought an end to the Krazy comic strip and was discontinued because nobody could reproduce the wit or sophistication of Herriman's original work. The strip still lives on today in reprints and is now open to a broader audience.

This writer highly recommends this DVD. It is certainly well-researched and well-produced, featuring films that have not seen the light of day in decades. Other shorts included on this set are presented in picture quality which is superior to earlier prints. Krazy is a character whose likeness is known to comic and animation buffs alike. This DVD captures the true essence of the character as well as the genius behind the comic strip.

The Best Mouse Loses
The Best Mouse Loses (1920 - Bray)

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