DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

The Flying House Project – Revitalized by Bill Plympton (2012)

A fun "revitalization" of Winsor McCay's 1921 short about a flying house, along with the original, complete with speech balloons (comic-strip style) and silent film intertitles.

Published on December 15, 2012

The Flying House Project – Revitalized by Bill Plympton (2012)

1921 Animation Classic by Winsor McCay
Voices: Patricia Clarkson & Matthew Modine
Studio: Plymptoons/ [11/27/12] Microcinema
Video: 4:3 B&W / color
Audio: English PCM mono
Extras: Both 1921 original and Plympton’s color & sound revitalization, “Making of” documentary, Interview with historians of animation and more, Plympton tour of McCay’s house
Length: Orig. short – 9 min.; entire DVD – 120 min.
Rating: ****

Plympton and some other animation experts interviewed in the extras, regard Winsor McCay (famous for his Gertie the Dinosaur early animation) as not only the progenitor of all motion picture animation but also as the greatest genius in animation ever. His The Flying House was an amazing, forward-looking silent animated cartoon of 1921 which has mostly languished in obscurity for 90 years now. Its actual full title was Dreams of a the Rarebit Fiend: The Flying House. (There were a lot of humor shorts at the time about people having nightmares after imbibing too much Welsh Rarebit.) Plympton and his crew of youngish animation people resurrected the nine-minute classic film by getting rid of all the intertitles and speech balloons in it, cleaning it up frame by frame on computers, adding color, and recording a soundtrack for it using a couple of professional voice-over people and a new musical score.

The result is delightful, and shows how far ahead of his time McCay really was. In fact it appears that the idea of a man about to lose his house, converting it to fly away with him was copped for the recent Pixar success, Up. It’s actually a dream of the wife in the short after she sees a letter in which the holder of their mortgage threatens to kick them out.  It should not be confused with the artificial color versions of some black & white classics which Turner Classics were doing for a time. It is more than appropriate for Plympton to have done this new version, since McCay drew every frame by himself and was responsible for the whole film; Plympton is one of the few animators today who does his entire features all by himself, one frame at a time. He raised money for the project on the Kickstarter web site. For those who might prefer the crude comic-strip-type approach of McCay’s  original short, that is also provided on this DVD. This is a fine tribute to the genius of McCay and deserves to be seen by anyone interested in animation. The various interviews are pretty loose, but the animation fan can pick up some worthwhile facts from them.

—John Sunier




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