The PBS special A Year in Space premiered last night; it concentrated on documenting American astronaut Scott Kelly’s nearly full year at the International Space Station, ending with footage shot it Kazakhstan on March 2nd, with the landing of Kelly and two other Cosmonauts from Russia.
They’ve been back less than 24 hours as I write this; after watching it, I started to think about how space travel captured the imagination of the world both before it was possible, and exploded as a subject of film and animation in the 50s into the late 60s. I find the fantasy aspects of the pre-space travel films to be charming, and also enjoy the confident ‘coolness’ of the late 50s and early 60s TV animation.
Of course, there’s a *ton* of animated content over the years about space travel, but I thought it would be fun to talk about just a few as comparisons. These are the first things that come to mind to me….
Some of these are familiar to everyone here most likely. Here are my favorites:
The Fleischers win the award for some of the most fun space travel films:
Koko’s trip to Mars (1924) of course includes Uncle Max too:
Bimbo in Up to Mars (1930) is also much fun!
Of course, Dancing on the Moon (1935) is a wonderful entry in the Color Classics series, especially with all the setback model sequences:
Little Buck Cheeser features a spoof of the Buck Rogers character, elaborate and beautiful:
I don’t have a good copy of Scrappy’s Trip to Mars (1938) surprisingly…
I’ve always loved The Milky Way (1940), the Oscar-winning MGM cartoon, is closer to Winken, Blinken and Nod, though I always think of it as a space cartoon:
Of course, there’s all the great Warners cartoons as well, but you folks all know them even better than this stuff!
One of my absolute favorite things is something called Mr. E from Tau Ceti (1963). The best documentation of this series recently appeared in an entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (SFE) website here.
It turns out it was a series of 20 five- minute episodes constructed from all sorts of different footage, put together by your hero and mine, Fred Ladd! According to SFE, the main narrative footage is from Murilka the Sputnik Pilot (1960). Also according to the entry, much of the footage was from a rights-swap with European distributors. Much of the other space footage was produced by the United States government for various industrial films, and since it was made with tax payer dollars, the footage was immediately public domain, and usable by producers like Ladd.
The odd thing is that the episodes seemed to have vanished nearly entirely, even though it’s clear that it was distributed in 16mm. Many years back (maybe around 1986 or 87) I got a overstuffed 16mm reel of ‘Mr. E‘ clips from Jeff Missinne or Dave Kirwan. They appear to be the open and end tags from many episodes of the series. Jeff guessed that perhaps they were edited out to make a ‘long’ version of the 20 episodes since they are mostly recaps of what happened in the episode before.
Now, what are yours?