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).
Gerstein, on his Ramapith blog today, posts a companion commentary about some of the songs used on the track. It’s remarkable how many “song gags” musician Rosario Bourdon managed to squeeze onto the track. Listen for Please Go Away and Let Me Sleep, Oh How I Hate To Get Up In the Morning, You’re In The Army Now, Turkey In The Straw, A Hunting We Will Go, Mean To Me, Lucky Lindy, London Bridges, Glow Worm and several others, appropriately accompanying the on screen action.
Thanks to David Gerstein, Ron Hutchinson, Michael Schlesinger and our friends at Sony Restoration (whom we hope will contact Hutchinson to reunite the actual picture neg and track) we can now sit back and, for the first time in 80 years, watch Ratskin. Enjoy!
UPDATE: Animation historian J.B. Kaufman adds this historical tidbit: “At the risk of telling you things you already know, I’ll just point out that the title, Ratskin, is surely a takeoff on the Paramount silent film Redskin, which was also released in 1929. The action in the cartoon is nothing like the plot of Redskin, but I don’t think that title can possibly be a coincidence.”