Researching early sound cartoons is fascinating. By studying these efforts, it becomes easier to see why Disney’s Steamboat Willie was such a sensation and how Mickey Mouse became a superstar. In addition to Iwerks’ polished animation, Willie’s synchronized sound track is clearly more sophisticated, compared to the competition. But that isn’t to say the initial sound cartoons of Disney’s rivals don’t have their charms.
A few months ago, on Cartoon Brew TV, we posted the first Van Beuren cartoon with sound, Dinner Time (1928) – and today we present another rarity: the first Columbia Krazy Kat cartoon, Ratskin (1929). For decades, this cartoon was considered lost, but several years ago Sony’s restoration team found the negative and restored the visual element. However, the soundtrack was still lost. Luckily, I was able to show the restored film, sans soundtrack, at an Asifa-Hollywood screening in 2006. Knowing I might never see it again, I video taped it off the screen with my hand held camera.
Recently, Ron Hutchinson of the Vitaphone Project located a rare Vitaphone disc for Ratskin (it was found in Australia) and sent me a copy on CD. Next, our friend David Gerstein graciously put these two elements together — and now we are able to see and hear the film as intended (see embed below).