Review: Little Nemo (1911)

Little Nemo in Slumberland was a newspaper comic strip by Winsor McCay that started in 1905. The story would usually involve some bizarre and fantastic dream by the title character, Nemo, and usually end with him waking up in bed in the last panel. McCay is considered a pioneer in both the newspaper comic and animation genres. McCay animated several films over his lifetime, achieving an amazing level of realistic movement that would be unmatched by most studios for years to come. His early films used rice paper where backgrounds were traced either by him or an assistant. He developed the system of keyframing and using cycles for repetitive motion.

The 1911 film shows McCay entertaining several of his friends, drawing some of his characters in pen, then promising to make 4,000 drawings in a month to show them moving. We then get a scene of people delivering all the barrels of ink and boxes of paper to his studio. The artist is hard at work drawing and testing a shot when a nosey guest causes piles of drawings to topple over. McCay shows off some of his drawings and the film continues a month later where we see him showing off the finished piece to his friends. Parts of the film are hand-colored to make them match their newspaper counterparts.

This was in the early days of animation when these sorts of shorts would be shown to vaudeville audiences. In films like Gertie the Dinosaur McCay would do tricks of interaction such as telling the character to do things or appearing to pet her. Little Nemo is very technically advanced for it’s time. There’s a level of draftsmanship to the art and quality to the animation that many similar contemporary films never achieved. There’s something to admire about an artist making their own films, especially today when most people tend to think of animation as some huge studio production.