May 28, 2015 posted by

Cohl, McCay and Blackton Would Be Proud


Five days ago, Sweden won the top prize in this year’s Eurovision song competition, with Heroes by Måns Zelmerlöw.

The Eurovision contest goes on for many days, and if you’re a diehard follower like both Mary (my other half) and I am, chances are you know many of the songs months before the contest comes together, as each country decides what song and artist to have compete.

Eurovision is known for it’s often extravagant performances and sometimes equally extravagant singers-often pulling out all the stops to garner the most votes. Whoever wins Eurovision is then the hosting country the following year. If you’re a fan of current trends in music and culture, Eurovision is a wonderfully interesting watch.. and you can see years of performances on youtube. This year, in comparison to many of the other performances, this year’s winning song – and performance – were quite simple in many respects, but very well done, and sharing a huge kinship with the pioneering days of animated filmmaking. I think it’s really interesting that, 100 years later, the ideas of combining animation with performance are strikingly similar in both look and technique to some of the most famous pioneers of animation.

emile-cohlEmile Cohl’s early efforts combine performance with a combination of live action and animation. Cohl’s films, like Georges Melies, were often projected in settings designed for live performance, with the screen basically imitating a proscenium stage. In this space, all sorts of magic could happen, even with the limited film language that existed in these early days. J Stuart Blackton’s early efforts have a similar interplay between the artist and animated images,setting the stage for so many others to follow. Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) was designed to utilize these same ideas in a live performance, with the ‘act’ being performed between McCay on stage and the animated drawing ‘on stage’ with him. I think it’s interesting that this new performance does both – it was a live stage performance there, and works as a combination of live action and animation as film in the taping of the performance.

In memoriam illustration, published a week after Cohl's death in 1938. (via

In memoriam illustration, published a week after Cohl’s death in 1938. (via

Zelmerlöw’s interaction with the animated character and effects clearly hearken back to all of these early films, but oddly, there doesn’t seem to be a mention in any of the press or publicity of these nods to history. Certainly the influence is clear, but I have to wonder if we’re at a point where only the film and animation history folks take notice.

Personally, I just like the idea of people enjoying the performance above all else. I like the fun interactions throughout – The only thing I would wish for would be a little finer animation.

Here’s a really nice copy of Fantasmagorie:

..and here is Zelmerlöw performing Heroes at Melodifest in Sweden in March, where the song won the national selection to represent the country at Eurovision. Note that the character is this earlier version has a pointed hat, bearing a stronger resemblance to Cohl’s Fantasmagorie. You’ll have to go about halfway through the video to see the performance:

Now, here is one of the live performances of Heroes at Eurovison. The character’s hat has been changed here, and the umbrella was changed to a balloon. If you look on youtube, you can see his other performances with the same animation. I think it’s lined up best here:

Have a great rest of the week everyone!


  • Hi Steve. Mind blown – another animation + Eurovision fan! I’ve had the misfortune (?) of being buried in freelance work so I couldn’t follow the contest this year with the same obsessive enthusiasm I usually do, but of course I was parked in front of my TV on Saturday afternoon anyway.

    There was a good reason Måns’s team changed the character design and the flight propulsion method of choice: They got sued by this guy:

    Måns’s director admitted that he was inspired by the A Dandy Punk performance, but didn’t consider it a copyright violation.

    Given the Contest’s propensity to be “inspired” by the previous year’s winner, I bet we see more animation integrated into future performances.

    For those who want to dive into this crazy Eurovision world, the 2015 Grand Final can be seen in its 4-hour entirety (plus an after-show press conference) here:
    The actual performances run about 2 hours (plus a 15-minute opening number). The second half of the broadcast is the voting – which is fascinating in itself, thanks to the ever-present political implications, and satellite link malfunctions.

    This year was lower-key than usual, short on wacky props and costumes, long on wind machines and elaborate video screen shenanigans. Things have been known to get quite a bit crazier in the past …

  • Could you possibly do a post on the Kromocolor “Alona of the South Seas”, with Mutt and Jeff (1926)?

  • Does anybody over here REALLY give two whoops in Hades over the winner of any Eurovision Song Contest?”

    So, somebody is able to use today’s computer technology to replicate the animation style of a hundred years ago.

    Big (fill-in-the-blank) Deal!

    The Eurovision song contest has been going on since 1956. In that time, how many of the winning songs have gone on to be successful in the United States?

    I submit that the answer may well be “one”–“Waterloo:” by Abba, which came out at a time that Bjorn and Benny could do n wrong here, as was the case in much of the rest of the world.

    American artists do not look to “cover” Eurovision winners. And, usually, even if the song has an English-language lyric (as this one does); then if it gets issued here, it winds up at the Goodwill outlet store in record time!

    Was all this worthy of a post on Cartoon Research, when we could read the latest on the progress of Thunderbean’s upcoming DVD/Blu-Ray packages?

    I leave that for you to decide.

    • Sheeeesh, whatta grouch!!

    • Hey, it’s Steve Stanchfield’s column, we’re just along for the ride. Personally, despite my lack of interest in 99% of pop music regardless of its country of origin, I found this column interesting and informative.

    • Winning songs? Clever lad. Not that having hits in the USA (the country that gave the world “Dear Mr. Jesus”) is any way to judge a European song contest, but let’s look at some songs that competed but didn’t win:
      Ciao, ciao bambina
      Love Is Blue
      Eres tú
      Save Your Kisses For Me (which DID win by the way)
      Ooh Ah Just a Little Bit

      As for Abba, they were total unknowns outside Sweden at the time. Their Eurovision win launched their career. Eurovision did the same for Celine Dion 14 years later.

      Should I bring up Riverdance? Nah. Haters gonna hate.

    • I’m glad Steve is open-minded enough to give Eurovision a chance when nobody else does. Seriously, it’s a surprise no cable network ever landed a chance to air the finals over here at least. That should’ve been done 20 years ago.

    • Actually, it is a big deal over here. Sorry it’s not on any corporate shill channels. But it was on MY television that night! Somehow…

  • Well, that was a weird performance.

  • This is all my fault. When we first saw Eurovision online 3 years ago we were completely hooked. At least mostly I was. I enjoy showing Steve all the over the top performances- they are the best ones! The fact that one of them involved vintage style animation in a similar vein to the pioneers of animation was a nice surprise. As for artists being unknown over here, Il Volo is actually quite well known in America in the pop opera genre (this year’s Italy competitor) and they just finished performing with Barbra Streisand. And of course Olivia Newton John sang for the UK 40 some years ago! It was before anyone here had heard of her. Of course Gina G, Jedward, Cezar (also a well known pop opera star in America), ABBA of course. Volare was the #2 song! Radio is entirely corporate owned in America since the mid 90’s, so it is a stark landscape of the same slick shiznit heard on every channel. There is no longer any Los Angeles KROQ or it’s Detroit equivalent, WABX. You do, however, hear some of these songs overseas, as I have heard them while in Denmark, Sweden and Finland the last couple of years. But then again, these are the beloved local stars in their countries who have been around for a while, have paid some dues, who get to be on Eurovision. It is never an unknown. A talent show, it is NOT. There’s some good animation coming out of Stockholm and for them, we are thankful! Happy that Steve chose to expose some new people to this delightful subject.

  • I first saw Fantasmagorie on Curiosity Shop back in the early 70s, when I was a kid, of all places.

  • A great number of songs by European and Latin American songwriters, outfitted with English-language lyrics by American or British writers, have become hits or standards here over the years. This list is probably just the “tip of the iceberg.”

    SPANISH EYES (Al Martino)
    L-O-V-E (Nat “King” Cole)
    DANKE SCHOEN (Wayne Newton)
    FOOL (Elvis)…all of the above composed by German orchestra leader Bert Kaempfert

    HAPPY HEART (Andy Williams)
    GAMES THAT LOVERS PLAY (Eddie Fisher)…both by another German bandleader, James Last

    YOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME (Dusty Springfield)
    LET IT BE ME (Everly Brothers)
    WHAT NOW MY LOVE (Sonny and Cher)
    BEYOND THE SEA (Bobby Darin)
    MY WAY (Sinatra, Elvis, others)
    I WANT TO BE WANTED (Brenda Lee)
    LOVE ME TONIGHT (Tom Jones)
    THE WAY IT USED TO BE (Engelbert Humperdinck)
    IT MUST BE HIM (Vikki Carr)
    SEASONS IN THE SUN (Terry Jacks)
    IT’S IMPOSSIBLE (Perry Como)
    THE WAY OF LOVE (Cher)
    GLORIA (Laura Branigan)

    And I’ve purposely omitted “British Invasion” songwriters; also omitted are ABBA, Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki,” and instrumentals like Bent Fabric’s “Alley Cat,” Jorgen Ingmann’s “Apache,” and Kai Winding’s “More,” which also had lyrics added and became a standard. So is European songwriting irrelevant to US audiences? No, or at least it shouldn’t be.

    • And “Strangers in the Night”, of course, also has an animation connection, as Frank Sinatra’s “doo-be-doo-be-doo” that closed out the song provided CBS executive Fred Silverman with the inspiration for the name of a Great Dane in a cartoon being developed for him by Hanna-Barbera…

    • A few more I overlooked…

      WOODEN HEART (Elvis on screen, sound-alike Joe Dowell on records)…adapted by Bert Kaempfert (him again?) from an old German folk song, and still containing some of its original lyrics.
      YESTERDAY, WHEN I WAS YOUNG (Roy Clark) The unlikelihood of a French ballad climbing the US country music charts is beyond staggering by today’s standards.
      IF YOU GO AWAY (Many versions, ranging from Neil Diamond to Dottie West)

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