Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: Bug Vaudeville (1921)

Article 4618 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-31-2014
Directed by Winsor McCay
No voice cast
Country: USA
What it is: Early animation

A bum takes a nap after getting a handout, but the food makes him have strange dreams. He dreams he is in the audience of a vaudeville show featuring insects, but it takes a dark turn…

I recently picked up some DVDs of very early animation, and most of the cartoons from the period from 1910 through the mid twenties were pretty primitive; in many cases, they were like barely animated comic strips. Within this context, it is easy to see that Winsor McCay was one of the best and most ambitious animators of his time, though he never quite caught again the magic of GERTIE THE DINOSAUR. This one was from a series of shorts he did called DREAMS OF THE RAREBIT FIEND, and it’s mostly made up of setpieces in which various insects perform dance routines, acrobatics or athletics; there’s a dancing daddy long legs and a scene of two potato bugs boxing, just to give examples. It’s well animated, though it’s not up to the level of GERTIE, and, possibly because the cartoon doesn’t really give the animator to do much with character, it gets a little dull. The dark turn doesn’t come until the very end of the cartoon, and given the fact that we know our main character is having a nightmare, we’re not really surprised. It’s one of McCay’s less interesting efforts.


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