The first sound Krazy Kat cartoon: <em>Ratskin</em> The first sound Krazy Kat cartoon: <em>Ratskin</em>

The first sound Krazy Kat cartoon: Ratskin

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.”

  • Down in front!

    That’s not much of a cartoon but it’s a convincing show of the audio superiority of the Vitaphone system. That’s a zillion times better than the warbling soundtrack that survives for Steamboat Willie.

  • I haven’t seen too many early sound cartoons lately other than the Flip the Frog series (which I think is highly under-rated), so I don’t know how common this was, but at least in Flip, the characters’ dialogue is constantly read to whatever beat the scene is set to, so they say everything rhythmically– “I… Want… My… Money!” “What… Do we… have here?” That’s probably one of the funniest things about them.

  • Justin

    Charming. Thanks to everyone who put this together!

  • uncle wayne

    Now that is a true treat!! And me who’s reading the “Felix” book which was plugged on (& “sold” on) CB a “few days ago!” Great! Thank YOO!

  • JJ

    Vitaphone’s so-called “superiority” is a fallacy. The SOUND was initially better (a very brief window), but the synchronization was most often off. DeForest’s sound on film got real good real fast. I love Vitaphone, especially when discs are found in good shape. But it’s not “superior” in any practical or artistic sense.

    This cartoon gives credence to the fact that a WHOLE LOTTA old films and cartoons were terrible. The ratio of good to bad is pretty much the same as today. That doesn’t mean to say they aren’t historically interesting (I’ve had this cartoon w/sound for a while), but Jerry’s right by mentioning Steamboat Willie/Disney’s rightful place in advancing the medium of film with his experiments.

    THAT SAID, I’d rather watch this cartoon than anything produced for the Cartoon Network.

  • Mintz Meat


  • When will cartoon characters learn that blocking someone’s nose will only make the snoring worse?

    It’s unfortunate that the video is only in the form of a camcorder taping of a projection (with all the problems that introduces), but the audio is amazingly good, especially considering the age of the source material and the recording technology available when it was made.

  • Wow, an interesting film. The animation and sync was tighter than I expected. Thanks Jerry!

  • Wow, great work fellas! This is my favorite period of animation, so thanks for reassembling a cartoon gem. Now if you could any get your hands on the original restored film again.

  • Rose

    I felt very privileged to watch that. Thank you to all those who assembled the pieces of this and produced it to what we have here. Thank you, Jerry, especially, for promoting, preserving, and sharing it.

    It’s history is fascinating, and from a historical point of view, alone, worth watching.

    It’s true, it’s a loose bit of visual vignettes some of which are more clever than others…but the use of sound, and it’s ernest use of it is wonderful. It keep delivering and delivering jokes, and creates background based on it’s soundtrack. All well synced and sounding quite sophisticated for it’s time.

    It was a great experience watching this, and I feel very lucky to have done so. Thank you again!

  • Paul Penna

    I was half expecting Krazy to turn around and aim his blunderbuss at those real-life people walking in front of the screen.

  • That’s actually pretty good quality for a camcorder, and the sound is remarkably clear for its age. The cartoon’s pretty good, too…True, “Steamboat Willie” had a little more finesse and polish, but this is still well-crafted and entertaining. I still have to wonder why they call this character “Krazy Kat”, because he’s nothing like the George Herriman comic strip character, who was usually referred to as female. This one is more like Felix, actually.

  • Enoch Allen

    That’s mind-blowing.

    I would have just given up on finding the media elements to something this old. Jerry, your are truly the Prof. Robert Langdon of old animated short films!

  • Speaking of you getting Sony to use the pic and trac negative, I wrote a letter to Paramount so they can bring back the Paramount cartoons. I know Lionsgate has the video rights, but I told Paramount Pictures that they should have the video rights.

  • Chris

    Fascinating! Beautiful, full sound. Thanks very much for posting, Jerry. BTW, The gag song after glow worm sounds like “She Wouldn’t Do What I Asked Her To.”

  • Mark Newgarden

    So ahead of it’s time! That “silhouette in the audience” gag precedes Avery by years! Thanks Jerry, thanks David.

  • Viridis

    At least Steamboat Willie has a plot. o__O This is kind of… all over the place.

    Definitely interesting to see Disney’s competition, though. It gives me new appreciation for how Disney came to be the biggest name in the industry. They really did do some fantastic ground-breaking stuff, especially in the early days.

  • Jason

    Yeah, that cat’s nothing like George Herriman’s Krazy from the comic strip. Herriman’s Krazy was a gentle dreamy soul. This Krazy is pissed 98% of the time. And has no trouble doling out violence. Still, I’m glad I saw this. It’s interesting to see Disney’s competition – and how wise he was to learn from other’s mistakes.

  • Ben

    The sound was surprisingly very clear! Even more so than what survives for Steamboat Willie. The cartoon here was not as tight on gags, but the soundtrack was pretty good for the time. I also like the use of popular songs of the day to help sell the gags. Although I do appreciate Disney and others using unique compositions for their cartoons.

  • William H

    JJ is not kidding about the De Forest sound on film tehnique being ‘real good…’ Check out this clip of Ben Bernie’s Orchestra using it in the 1920’s:

  • hmmm… comparing the the Ben Bernie clip and the Krazy Kat cartoon, and presuming both represent the apex of their kind, I’d say the Vitaphone sound comes out on top. Less “flutter” and better highs.

    But I doubt either example is the best of their lot.

    I know that Vitaphone could get out of synch if the projectionist didn’t handle it right, but I’ve sat through whole sound-on-film features where the audio was obviously out of synch, either because it was printed wrong on the film or maybe the projectionist had too big a loop between the lens and the sound head.

    Thanks, JJ, for confirming that Vitaphone did indeed offer superior sound, I wasn’t asserting anything about its practical complications when I used the term “audio”.

    Whatever Vitaphone’s difficulties, it obviously was workable enough for studios to continue issuing sound on disk versions of movies for 10 years after “The Jazz Singer” to accommodate theaters that had Vitaphone audio and not sound on film.

    I’m not campaigning to bring Vitaphone back, but I suspect it wasn’t the total disaster that the legend would have.

  • Robcat, I wouldn’t use my RATSKIN re-syncing as an example of any sound system’s success or failure. The visual element was marred here by tons of skips and splices, so no matter how I synced up the sound at any one point, it invariably would be way off half a minute later.
    Basically, what I ended up doing was breaking the soundtrack into pieces at the starts and ends of music cues, then nudging individual segments forward or backward until as many SFX as possible matched the action. For all I know, my results were *better* than what Harrison and Gould had in 1929, though they’re still not great.

  • Wasn’t theatrical DTS a variation on Vitaphone, with a CD-ROM synched up to a digital code on the film print itself?

  • Fun to look at, for sure. But where’s Ignatz?

  • Mark

    Anyone who would like some help in synching up lost films, I have a lot of tools and expertise, and can do exact matches by time stretching or compressing the audio without changing pitch. Feel free to contact me – I’d be happy to help for no charge.