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Cartoon CultureClassic

1960 Cartoon predicts Skype and Roomba

Silly Science (released May 1960). Director Seymour Kneitel. Animation: I. Klein, Irving Dressler. Story: Carl Meyer, Jack Mercer. Scenics: Robert Owen. Music: Winston Sharples.

Silly Science is a somewhat forgettable Paramount Modern Madcap cartoon from 1960 featuring numerous spot gags about “space-age living”. However, its worth another a look due to its rather accurate predictions of a telephone-video combo (Skype), a pint-sized flat vacuum cleaner (Roomba), and wide-screen drive by movies (I’m still waiting for this). Disney buffs will note an unauthorized appearance by Baby Weems at the 30 second mark.

This cartoon also made use of subtle cut-out animation techniques. This is cited in Eli Levitan’s long-out-of-print book Animation Techniques and Commercial Film Production (1962). The process is described on three pages which I’ve posted below (click thumbnails to enlarge each page). This is how it was done before Flash. Paramount made even better use of cut-outs in another short released later that year, Bouncing Benny.

(Thanks, Mark Kausler)

  • Almost a bit of a riff on “The Road Ahead” segment from Disney’s Magic Highway USA as well.

  • On a slightly related note, today would be Seymour Kneitel’s 102nd birthday.

  • doug holverson

    Anybody care to guess how much of this was inspired by Tex Avery’s “…of Tomorrow” shorts and how much by Ward Kimball’s “Science Factual” films? Or why the sound is so tinny?

  • David Breneman

    Yes, the sound was terrible. It sounded like it was recorded off a telephone in a steel drum. But a lot of people were thinking about the “amazing world of the future” in the late 50s and early 60. The Brussels, Seattle and New York World’s Fairs were heavily invested in portraying the future as a wonderful, chrome and glass place. It was ripe for parody. The future ain’t what it used to be.

  • Mr. Crankypants

    I always find Winston Sharples’ music to be wierdly menacing, even when it’s striving for whimsical fun.

  • The dishwasher was a pretty good prediction too, although mechanical dishwashers already existed at the time. It’s kind of funny how people talk about wanting robots to do housework like dish washing without realizing that most homes already have one.

    Arguably, in-car DVD systems are the real-world equivalent of drive-by movies.

    And of course, toll booths have actually been partially automated away, at least in major metropolitan areas.

  • Mike Fontanelli

    Nice pre-Jetsons backgrounds. (The BGs are the most interesting part of the post-Fleischer Paramounts, for me anyway.)

    I wonder what the theory was behind the methodical timing? The Modern Madcaps often seem as if everything is happening underwater; not just the sluggish pacing of the story, but the animation itself. They seem like they were designed for a FF button.

  • Too bad they couldn’t predict EZPass.

  • Colin Lougheed

    On a somewhat related note, anyone see the opening to an excellent, most-recent episode of The Simpsons?


  • The “World Of The Future” film is how old a concept? It dates all the way back to Georges Melies’s “A Trip To The Moon,” from around 1900!

    Then there’s Buster Keaton’s “The Electric House” (1922), Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” (1927), Chaplin’s “Modern Times” (1936), and the list goes on and on… including industrial and promotional films made from the 30’s through the 60’s by such (then) corporate giants as GM, Ford, RCA, and the Bell System.

    It’s very likely that Seymour Kneitel, I. Klein, and the rest of the old Fleischer crew went to the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and saw the Norman Bel Geddes-designed “GM Futurama,” with its scale-model freeways and self-guided cars (the latter being an anticipation of GPS, but it’s still not a good idea today to take your hands off the wheel and let your car attempt to find its own way down the road).

    There are a number of echoes of that exhibit and of the ’39-40 Fair in this cartoon, especially the fact that most of the gags are devoted to cars and highways.

    Ironic, in that this studio had basically no future after 1960…!

  • J Lee

    Famous was ripe with spot gag cartoons during the Screen Song period, which was how many of the Fleischers’ later Screen Songs also played out. So spot gag cartoons were pretty old hat for the staff, while Myron Waldman directed the Color Classic “All’s Fair at the Fair”, that lampooned the 1939-40 World’s Fair almost a year before the fair opened, and had its own take on futuristic gadgets (though, unfortunately, the people jammed into the subway cars like sardines going to the fair is as real today on the No. 7 line in New York as it was in 1938).

  • Chris Sobieniak

    “Or why the sound is so tinny?”

    This is the typical “point-the-camera-in-front-of-the-TV” approach to video capture that is too common to see on YouTube these days for those who either don’t know how to do it right or can’t invest in a little hardware to boot. Most of this guy’s videos are like this. I just try to ignore that.

  • Wayne

    Transforming this film into “wide screen” certainly didn’t make it any better. I wish Youtube would develop an option button that would restore films back to their correct aspect ratios for decent viewing.