Historians estimate that one-half to two-thirds of the films made before 1950 have disappeared. For animation from the silent era, the toll is probably even higher--which makes tonight's program of animated shorts in the "Fourth Annual Festival of Preservation" at UCLA such a treat for anyone interested the medium: The Academy Foundation staff has assembled a group of early animated films that have long been unavailable or existed only in worn, faded prints.
Probably the most interesting selection in the show is the assortment of "Newman's Laugh-O-Grams" (1920). Named for a Kansas City theater owner, the "Laugh-O-Grams" were the among the first films made by Walt Disney, who did much of the animation himself (and who appears in a live-action sequence as a 19-year-old). A hodgepodge of topical gags about life in Kansas City, these brief cartoons only hint at Disney's future dominance of animation.
Even rarer are three "shadowgraph" films--two of them long believed lost--by Tony Sarg, who used back-lit cut-out figures to create an effect reminiscent of Asian shadow puppets. "The First Circus" (1921), "Adam Raises Cain" (1922) and "The Original Movie" (1922) combine charming designs reminiscent of folk art with some surprisingly sophisticated animation. These films probably haven't been screened publicly in at least 50 years.