10 Landmark Moments in Animation History

Tetiana Lazunova/istock via getty images
Tetiana Lazunova/istock via getty images

1. 1914: A Prehistoric Dinosaur Leads the Wave of the Future

In the early 20th century, theaters were already showing animated films on the big screen, but the characters were usually no more than spokesdrawings for various advertisers. That is, until Winsor McCay drew his way onto the scene in 1914. The legendary cartoonist, who'd earlier become famous with his classic comic strip, "Little Nemo," believed that animated characters could hold an audience's attention without the help of a sales pitch. With that in mind, McCay created the groundbreaking film Gertie the Dinosaur.

The most innovative part about the movie's animation was the way McCay interacted with it. Gertie actually started out as part of McCay's "chalk talk" vaudeville act, and rather than having Gertie attempt talking via speech balloons, McCay spoke for both of them. Standing on stage next to a projected image of the dinosaur and holding a whip, he would bark out commands like, "Dance, Gertie!" Then, suddenly, the image would change and she would obey. In another sequence, McCay would toss an apple behind the screen and the impish dinosaur would appear to catch it in her mouth.

Eventually, McCay was ready to let Gertie loose on the big screen by herself. Using cell animation and drawing thousands of illustrations of his beloved dinosaur, he turned Gertie into one of the first successful character-based animated cartoons. With such ingenuity and style, it's clear why McCay was often called "The Father of American Cartoons."

2. 1920s: Charles Lindbergh and the Queen Fall for the Same Cat

 Because live-action films were such a big hit with moviegoers, early cartoon characters were often modeled on popular actors of the day. One such cartoon character was Master Tom—a black feline with enormous eyes and an inviting ear-to-ear grin. His creator, legendary animator Otto Messmer, based the cat's personality on silent-film star Charlie Chaplin. Fitting because, within a year, a slightly boxier version of the cat, now named Felix, started appearing regularly in animated shorts before Chaplin's feature films.

The fact that cartoon characters were still speaking in speech balloons hardly affected Felix's popularity. By 1923, the cat's star power at the box office rivaled not only Chaplin's, but Buster Keaton's and Fatty Arbuckle's, as well. From Germany to China, people were fascinated by the technology that enabled Felix to take his tail off and turn it into a pencil or a question mark or a shovel, and they couldn't wait to see what gags Messmer would dream up next. In fact, the wily feline became such a celebrity in Great Britain that Queen Mary named her own cat after him. Back in America, Felix's popularity continued to soar, literally, as a picture of him accompanied Charles Lindbergh on his historic flight across the Atlantic. The character's adventures didn't stop there, though; Felix was also the first image ever successfully transmitted by RCA during its early TV experiments.

3. 1920s: Doing It for the Kids

 Although Walt Disney's impact on the world of animation can't be downplayed, much of the credit for the studio's trademark style belongs to animator Ub Iwerks. A boyhood pal of Walt's, Iwerks served as Disney's righthand man. And where Disney had the business sense, Iwerks had the technical know-how to create characters that moved with fresh elasticity. Mickey Mouse's predecessor, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, was Iwerks' creation. Oswald had big floppy ears that appeared almost rubbery when he walked. So while characters like Felix the Cat might have squeezed themselves through telephone lines, Disney characters had a softer profile. Ultimately, it upped the hugability factor, and that paid off with a whole new audience—children.

4. 1928: When the Mouse Speaks, People Listen

 While Disney's animation house floated by for a while, it wasn't until Walt made his first "talkie" that America truly started buzzing about him. 1928's Steamboat Willie signaled the end of the silent-film era. Disney had followed engineers' experiments with sound and film throughout the 1920s, and he was convinced talkies were the future. Even though Mortimer Mouse (who Disney's wife wisely re-christened Mickey) never actually speaks a complete sentence during Steamboat Willie, he more than makes up for it with his whistling—not to mention his energetic xylophone performance on the teeth of an open-mouthed bovine.

The combination of dazzling, synchronized music and pictures of a kid-friendly, large-eared mouse made Mickey and Walt Disney household names. In fact, the success of Steamboat Willie spawned a stream of new films, including 1929's The Opry House—the movie in which Mickey dons his trademark white gloves for the first time.

5. 1930s: Marketing Kills the Animation Star

 Although cartoons continued to be made for adults first, children second, one thing in the industry did change. From about 1930 onwards, many of Disney's merchandising efforts were geared toward kids. In addition to Mickey Mouse dolls, there were combs, watches, pencils, T-shirts, coins, and even bedsheets—all of them exported the world over. It wasn't long before Mickey became one of the most recognizable symbols of America. In 1935, The League of Nations proclaimed Mickey Mouse a "symbol of universal goodwill."

All that attention came with plenty of responsibility, though. The economic pressure of the marketing strategy forced Disney to erase Mickey's mischievous side and turn him into an all-around Mr. Nice Guy. And while the move succeeded in boosting merchandising sales, it did the opposite for Mickey's on-screen popularity. The mouse's star power was soon usurped by the naughtier, hot-tempered Donald Duck, who made it cool to be bad. Disney attempted a comeback for the mouse by giving Mickey a more bad-boy role in 1940's Fantasia, but the film was a box office flop. It wasn't until The Mickey Mouse Club premiered in 1955 that Mickey began to regain his star status.

6. 1930: Betty Boop Gets Sexed Up (and Shot Down)

 During the early days of animation, Disney's studio wasn't the only one having trouble defining its characters' personalities. Max Fleischer (creator of Popeye) also had a giant hit on his hands with the seductive, garter-wearing flapper Betty Boop. However, some theater managers began reporting that their conservative audiences found the pint-size coquette too risqué, and in 1935, Betty became the first cartoon character to be censored by the Hays Office. Forced to make a change, Fleischer responded by transforming her into a more wholesome and domesticated lady. Sadly, the makeover proved fatal. By the end of the decade, Betty had fallen into her own Great Depression, never to be heard boop-boopy-dooping again.

7. 1933: Toons Get Looney

 Four of the most original and creative artists ever to come along—Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Friz Freling, and Robert McKimson—had a different philosophy when it came to their animated creations: the zanier, the better. As the minds behind such classic characters as Daffy Duck, the Tasmanian Devil, Elmer Fudd, and Bugs Bunny, the animators made sure their stars ran wild, shouted at the top of their lungs, and killed, maimed, blew up, slugged, shot, and destroyed their foes. They even dressed 'em up in drag when the occasion called for it. As the Warner Brothers slogan promised at the beginning of each film, these were, indeed, Looney Tunes.

But it wasn't just their wackiness that made the Looney Tunes the largest collection of animated stars any studio had ever created. It was their animators' inventiveness. Bugs and Daffy were two of the first characters aware of their own cartoon-ness, which meant they were not only characters, but actors, as well. And while Felix the Cat may have been able to turn his tail into a baseball bat, Bugs Bunny could play pitcher, catcher, umpire, and himself all at the same time.

8. 1941: Animators Strike Back

 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs might have had a happy ending, but for the animators working behind the scenes, things were less than fairytale. Cramming to meet the film's deadline, many artists worked well into the night with the understanding that they'd get bonuses once the film earned back its money. The film grossed oodles, but instead of doling out bonuses, Disney earmarked his handsome profits for a new studio he wanted built in Burbank. Fighting back, the Screen Cartoonists Guild went up against the Disney powerhouse in 1941. The ensuing strike lasted more than two months, and it took a White House intervention to halt it. The dispute was only settled when F.D.R. sent in mediators and forced Walt to cave.

Although the strike served as a disappointing reality check in the animation world, it ultimately sparked a series of positive changes in the industry. Artists were finally given on-screen credit for their work, and wages for 40-hour weeks doubled.

9. 1942: X Marks the Rating

 At times, the Warner Brothers' lunacy knew no bounds. During World War II, they created racy cartoons solely for American soldiers stationed in Europe. Full of expletives, X-rated images, and the occasional scatological humor, these animated shorts featured an inept trainee named Private Snafu. Amazingly, one of Snafu's writers was Ted Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.

Other wartime WB cartoons created for regular civilian consumption featured edgy characterizations of Hitler and Mussolini that would never pass military muster today. For instance, in "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips," Bugs sells ice cream bars stuffed with hand grenades to Japanese soldiers he affectionately calls "Slant Eyes." Not exactly politically correct by modern standards.

10. 1956: Cartoons Go Prime Time

 Following the disillusionment of the Disney strike in 1941, hundreds of animators were motivated to set out on their own. Zachary Schwartz, David Hilberman, and Stephen Bosustow were three of the most notable Disney artists to take the opportunity to head in a new direction. The result was United Productions of America, better known as UPA.

Whereas every year Disney pushed its cartooning style further toward realism and literalism, UPA pushed its style toward contemporary art. Disney's characters were soft and cuddly, while UPA's were angular and almost cold. And while Disney was mainly interested in animating animals, UPA made humans the stars of its films—and it paid off.

One of its first big hits was Gerald McBoing-Boing (the brainchild of Dr. Seuss, who collaborated with UPA on the series), which beat out both Tom & Jerry and Mr. Magoo for the 1951 Oscar. In 1956, CBS turned the film short into a Sunday afternoon TV series. And although the show didn't last nearly as long as later animated series such as The Flintstones, McBoing-Boing—and the UPA animators—have had a huge impact on the world of animation. From the minimalist backgrounds of Spongebob Squarepants to the flat, cutout look of South Park, the studio has influenced more than a half-century of cartoons by showing animators that it's OK to avoid realism altogether.

The History Behind 10 Thanksgiving Dishes

VeselovaElena/iStock via Getty Images
VeselovaElena/iStock via Getty Images

Halloween is for candy comas, and on Independence Day we grill, but no holiday is as completely defined by its cuisine as Thanksgiving. No matter what part of the country you're in, it's a safe bet that at least a few of the below dishes will be making an appearance on your table this week. But what makes these specific entrees and side dishes so emblematic of Thanksgiving? Read on to discover the sometimes-surprising history behind your favorite fall comfort foods.

1. Turkey

A roasted turkey on a platter.
612645812/iStock.com

Turkey has become so synonymous with Thanksgiving that most of us probably imagine the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans chowing down on a roast bird in 1621. Although we don't know the exact menu of that first Plymouth Colony feast, a first-person account of the year's harvest from governor William Bradford does reference "a great store of wild turkeys," and another first-person account, from colonist Edward Winslow, confirms that the settlers "killed as much fowl as … served the company almost a week." However, culinary historian Kathleen Wall believes that, although turkeys were available, it's likely that duck, goose, or even passenger pigeons were the more prominent poultry options at the first Thanksgiving. Given their proximity to the Atlantic, local seafood like oysters and lobsters were likely on the menu as well.

As the holiday grew in popularity, however, turkey became the main course for reasons more practical than symbolic. English settlers were accustomed to eating fowl on holidays, but for early Americans, chickens were more valued for their eggs than their meat, and rooster was tough and unappetizing. Meanwhile, turkeys were easy to keep, big enough to feed a whole family, and cheaper than ducks or geese. Even before Thanksgiving was recognized as a national holiday, Alexander Hamilton himself remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." The country followed his advice: according to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey in some form on Thanksgiving Day—an estimated 44 million birds!

2. Stuffing

Pan of breaded stuffing.
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Stuffing would have been a familiar concept to those early settlers as well, although their version was likely quite different from what we're used to. We know that the first Plymouth colonists didn't have access to white flour or butter, so traditional bread stuffing wouldn't have been possible yet. Instead, according to Wall, they may have used chestnuts, herbs, and chunks of onion to flavor the birds, all of which were already part of the local fare. Centuries later, we're still stuffing turkeys as a way to keep the bird moist through the roasting process and add extra flavor.

3. Cranberries

Dish of cranberry sauce.
bhofack2/iStock.com

Like turkeys, cranberries were widely available in the area, but cranberry sauce almost certainly did not make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. Why not? The sugar reserves the colonists would have had were almost completely depleted after their long sea journey, and thus they didn't have the means to sweeten the terrifically tart berries.

So how did cranberries become such an autumnal staple? For starters, they're a truly American food, as one of only a few fruits—along with Concord grapes, blueberries, and pawpaws—that originated in North America. They grow in such abundance in the northeast that colonists quickly began incorporating cranberries into various dishes, such as pemmican, which mixed mashed cranberries with lard and dried venison. By the Civil War, they were such a holiday staple that General Ulysses S. Grant famously demanded his soldiers be provided cranberries for their Thanksgiving Day meal.

4. Mashed Potatoes

Bowl of mashed potatoes.
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Potatoes weren't yet available in 17th-century Plymouth, so how did mashed potatoes become another Thanksgiving superstar? The answer lies in the history of the holiday itself. In America’s earliest years, it was common for the sitting president to declare a "national day of thanks," but these were sporadic and irregular. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt the holiday, and others soon followed suit, but Thanksgiving wasn't a national day of celebration until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

Why did Lincoln—hands full with an ongoing war—take up the cause? Largely due to a 36-year campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific novelist, poet, and editor, who saw in Thanksgiving a moral benefit for families and communities. In addition to her frequent appeals to officials and presidents, Hale wrote compellingly about the holiday in her 1827 novel Northwood, as well as in the womens' magazine she edited, Godey's Lady's Book. Her writing included recipes and descriptions of idealized Thanksgiving meals, which often featured—you guessed it—mashed potatoes.

5. Gravy

Plate of turkey and potatoes covered in gravy.
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Despite a dearth of potatoes, it's likely that some type of gravy accompanied the turkey or venison at the earliest Thanksgiving gatherings. The concept of cooking meat in sauce dates back hundreds of years, and the word "gravy" itself can be found in a cookbook from 1390. Because that first celebration extended over three days, Wall speculates: "I have no doubt whatsoever that birds that are roasted one day, the remains of them are all thrown in a pot and boiled up to make broth the next day." That broth would then be thickened with grains to create a gravy to liven day-old meat. And, if Wall's correct, that broth sounds suspiciously like the beginning of another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers!

6. Corn

Plate of corn.
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Corn is a natural symbol of harvest season—even if you're not serving it as a side dish, you might have a few colorful ears as a table centerpiece. We know that corn was a staple of the Native American diet and would have been nearly as plentiful in the 17th century as today. But according to the History Channel, their version would have been prepared quite differently: corn was either made into a cornmeal bread or mashed and boiled into a thick porridge-like consistency, and perhaps sweetened with molasses. Today, we eat corn in part to remember those Wampanoag hosts, who famously taught the newcomers how to cultivate crops in the unfamiliar American soil.

7. Sweet Potatoes

Bowl of mashed sweet potatoes.
bhofack2/iStock

In the midst of so many New England traditions, the sweet potatoes on your table represent a dash of African-American culture. The tasty taters originally became popular in the south—while pumpkins grew well in the north, sweet potatoes (and the pies they could make) became a standard in southern homes and with enslaved plantation workers, who used them as a substitution for the yams they'd loved in their homeland. Sweet potato pie was also lovingly described in Hale's various Thanksgiving epistles, solidifying the regional favorite as a holiday go-to. More recently, some families further sweeten the dish by adding toasted marshmallows, a love-it-or-hate-it suggestion that dates to a 1917 recipe booklet published by the Cracker Jack company.

8. Green Bean Casserole

Plate of green bean casserole.
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Beans have been cultivated since ancient times, but green bean casserole is a decidedly modern contribution to the classic Thanksgiving canon. The recipe you probably know was whipped up in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economist working in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchens in Camden, New Jersey. Reilly's job was to create limited-ingredient recipes that housewives could quickly replicate (using Campbell's products, of course). Her original recipe (still available at Campbells.com), contains just six ingredients: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions. Her recipe was featured in a 1955 Associated Press feature about Thanksgiving, and the association has proven surprisingly durable—Campbell’s now estimates that 30 percent of their Cream of Mushroom soup is bought specifically for use in a green bean casserole.

9. Pumpkin Pie

Slice of pumpkin pie.
bhofack2/iStock.com

Like cranberries, pumpkin pie does have ties to the original Thanksgiving, albeit in a much different format. The colonists certainly knew how to make pie pastry, but couldn't have replicated it without wheat flour, and might have been a bit perplexed by pumpkins, which were bigger than the gourds they knew in Europe. According to Eating in America: A History, however, Native Americans were already using the orange treats as a dessert meal: "Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey." It's likely that Hale was inspired by those stories when pumpkin pie appeared in her culinary descriptions.

10. Wine

Two glasses of wine.
Moncherie/iStock.com

Chances are good that a few glasses of wine will be clinked around your table this November, but did the pilgrims share a tipsy toast with their new friends? Kathleen Wall thinks that water was probably the beverage of choice, considering that the small amount of wine the settlers had brought with them was likely long gone. Beer was a possibility, but since barley hadn't been cultivated yet, the pilgrims had to make do with a concoction that included pumpkins and parsnips. Considering the availability of apples in what would become Massachusetts, however, other historians think it's possible that hard apple cider was on hand for the revelers to enjoy. Whether or not the original feast was a boozy affair, cider rapidly became the drink of choice for English settlers in the area, along with applejack, apple brandy, and other fruit-based spirits. New England cider thus indirectly led to a less-beloved Thanksgiving tradition: your drunk uncle's annual political rant. Bottoms up!

8 Festive Facts About Hallmark Channel Christmas Movies

The holiday season means gifts, lavish meals, stocking stuffers, and what appear to be literally hundreds of holiday-themed movies running in perpetuity on the Hallmark Channel, which has come to replace footage of a crackling fireplace as the background noise of choice for cozy evenings indoors. Last year, roughly 70 million people watched Hallmark's holiday scheduling block. If you’re curious how the network manages to assemble films like Check Inn to Christmas, Christmas at Graceland: Home for the Holidays, and Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen with such efficiency—a total of 40 new films will debut this season on the Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, and Hallmark Movies Now—keep reading.

1. The Hallmark Channel Christmas movie tradition started with ABC.

The idea of unspooling a continuous run of holiday films started in the 1990s, when ABC offshoot network ABC Family started a "25 Days of Christmas" programming promotion that would go on to feature the likes of Joey Lawrence and Mario Lopez. The Hallmark Channel, which launched in 2001, didn’t fully embrace the concept until 2011, when ABC Family moved away from the concept in an effort to appeal to teen viewers.

2. Most Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are shot in Canada.

To maximize their $2 million budget, most Hallmark Channel holiday features are shot in Canada, where tax breaks can stretch the dollar. Wintry Vancouver is a popular destination, though films have also been shot in Montreal and Toronto. One film, 2018's Christmas at the Palace, was shot in Romania to take advantage of the country's castles.

3. Each Hallmark Channel Christmas movie only takes a couple of weeks to film.

If you’re wondering why a holiday movie on basic cable can regularly attract—and keep—a list of talent ranging from Candace Cameron Bure to Lacey Chabert, the answer is partly scheduling. Most Hallmark holiday movies take just two to three weeks to shoot, meaning actors don’t have to commit months out of the year to a project. Actors like Rachael Leigh Cook, who stars in this year's A Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas, have also complimented the channel on giving them opportunities to be with their families while on location: Cook said that the production schedule allowed her time to FaceTime with family back home.

4. Hallmark Channel Christmas movies use a variety of tricks to create snow.

Even more pervasive than Dean Cain in the Hallmark Channel Christmas line-up is snow. Because some of the films shoot in the summer, it’s not always possible to achieve that powder naturally. Producers use a variety of tricks to simulate snowfall, including snow blankets that mimic the real thing when laid out; foam; commercial replica snow; crushed limestone; and ice shavings. Actors might also get covered with soapy bubbles for close-ups. The typical budget for snow per movie is around $50,000.

5. There’s a psychological reason why Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are so addictive.

Like a drug, Hallmark Channel Christmas movies provide a neurological reward. Speaking with CNBC in 2019, Pamela Rutledge, behavioral scientist, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, and a faculty member in the Media Psychology department at Fielding Graduate University, explained that the formulaic plots and predictability of the films is rewarding, especially when viewers are trying to unwind from the stress of the holiday season. “The lack of reality at all levels, from plot to production, signals that the movies are meant to be escapism entertainment,” Rutledge said. “The genre is well-defined, and our expectations follow. This enables us to suspend disbelief.”

6. Hallmark Channel Christmas movie fans now have their own convention.

Call it the Comic-Con of holiday cheer. This year, fans of Hallmark Channel’s Christmas programming got to attend ChristmasCon, a celebration of all things Hallmark in Edison, New Jersey. Throngs of people gathered to attend panels with movie actors and writers, scoop up merchandise, and vie for prizes during an ugly sweater competition. The first wave of $50 admission tickets sold out instantly. Hallmark Channel USA was the official sponsor.

7. Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are helping keep cable afloat.

Actors Brooke D'Orsay and Marc Blucas are pictured in a publicity still from the 2017 Hallmark Channel original movie 'Miss Christmas'
Brooke D'Orsay and Marc Blucas in Miss Christmas (2017).
Hallmark Channel

In an era of cord-cutting and streaming apps, more and more people are turning away from cable television, preferring to queue up programming when they want it. But viewers of Hallmark Channel’s holiday offerings often tune in as the movie is airing. In 2016, 4 million viewers watched the line-up “live.” One reason might be the communal nature of the films. People tend to watch holiday-oriented programming in groups, tuning in as they air. The result? For the fourth quarter of 2018, the Hallmark Channel was the most-watched cable network among women 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, even outpacing broadcast network programming on Saturday nights.

8. You can get paid to watch Hallmark Channel Christmas movies.

If you think you have the constitution to make it through 24 Hallmark Channel holiday films in 12 days, you might want to consider applying for the Hallmark Movie Dream Job contest, which is sponsored by Internet Service Partners and will pay $1000 to the winning entrant who seems most capable of binging the two dozen films and making wry comments about them on social media. You can enter though December 6 here.

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