The popular history of animation starts with Walt Disney—a tragic oversight and a considerably US-centric misconception. In addition to the pre-Disney animation in America, the Soviets were making cartoons early on (starting with cautionary propaganda, of course) and the Japanese produced amazing early animation referencing folklore. However, the most beautiful and ambitious of early cartoons have to be from Charlotte “Lotte” Reiniger, a German filmmaker who produced lush, elaborate scenes using stop-motion with excruciatingly detailed silhouette cut-outs. Even more impressive was the duration of her films—which qualify as features—made ten years before Disney’s Snow White, which is generally recognized as the first animated feature film.
Below you can watch Reiniger’s most famous work, 1935’s Papageno, which was set to music from Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute.” While it lacked the production values of some of her later features, Papageno is the most fantastical, following Papageno the birdcatcher’s quest to find his true love. The silhouettes themselves are a perfect example of Reiniger’s cut-out style, which was inspired by Chinese silhouette puppetry. The cut-outs were generally set against brightly monochromatic backgrounds, but the painstakingly cut scenery and subjects really pop against white as well. The piece is a perfect fairy tale—richly evoked with drama, romance and humor.
Despite her success (she was particularly popular in the avant-garde scene alongside artists like Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill), Reiniger’s career was sporadic. As known leftists during the rise of the Third Reich, she left the country with her husband and collaborator Carl Koch. Unable to get permanent Visas, the couple hopped around Europe for over ten years and still managed to create twelve films, including Däumelinchen (better known as “Thumbelina”), Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, and 1955’s beautifully colored Hansel and Gretel
Via Network Awesome