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What Was The First Animated Feature Film?

Prince_AchmedAsk just about anyone what the first animated feature film was, and they will probably say Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Not only was it not the first animated feature, it was not even the first from Disney! There were a good half dozen animated features that predate Snow White, going back as far as 1917, twenty years before the Disney feature!

Defining a Feature Film

Let’s lay some ground rules out at the begin­ning– like what is a fea­ture film. The Acad­emy of Motion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences– the Oscar peo­ple– and their British coun­ter­parts at the BFI con­sider any film over 40 min­utes a fea­ture length film. We will go with that. Ani­mated is a bit tougher to define, but let’s start with the film must be over 50 per­cent ani­mated. As for ani­ma­tion itself, let’s just agree that it means the act of cre­at­ing motion with sta­tic objects through the use of the per­sis­tence of vision illu­sion cre­ated by the frame rates of film. This can be cre­ated in a vari­ety of ways: pup­pet, cel, stop-motion and com­puter to name a few.

Whose On The List?

Quirino Cristiani making El Apóstol

Quirino Cristiani making El Apóstol

The first film gen­er­ally accepted as meet­ing all these require­ments is the Argen­tin­ian film El Após­tol (The Apos­tle) from 1917. The film was writ­ten, directed and ani­mated by Quirino Cris­tiani, and ran 70 min­utes. Well-known car­i­ca­tur­ist Dió­genes Taborda headed a team of five ani­ma­tors which pro­duced 58,000 draw­ings for the film over 12 months. Unfor­tu­nately, the film no longer exists (although no one dis­putes that it did exist). All known copies dis­ap­peared in a 1926 fire in pro­ducer Fed­erico Valle’s vaults.

Cris­tiani went on to direct Sin Dejar Ras­tros (With­out A Trace) the fol­low­ing year, but this ani­mated fea­ture film was con­fis­cated by the gov­ern­ment and destroyed. Peludópo­lis (Peludó City) was released in 1931 with a Vita­phone sound-on-disc syn­chro­niza­tion sys­tem sound­track, mak­ing it gen­er­ally cred­ited as the first ani­mated fea­ture film with sound. All of Cristiani’s films were black & white, and tra­di­tion­ally animated.

Still from Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed

Still from Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed

The first color feature-length ani­mated film was Lotte Reinigers’ Die Aben­teuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adven­tures of Prince Achmed) from 1926, pre­dat­ing Disney’s film by over a decade. You prob­a­bly remem­ber this film for also using a mul­ti­plane cam­era years before Dis­ney, too. This silent film was pup­pet and paper cut-out / sil­hou­ette animation. Prinzen Achmed is the oldest surviving animated feature, too.

Other Animated Films Released Before Snow White

The Rus­sians beat Dis­ney to the punch with the puppet-animated Novyy Gul­livyer (The New Gul­liver) in 1935. Ladis­law Starewicz released the third ani­mated film with sound titled Le Roman De Renard (The Story Of The Fox) in April of 1937, and the Ger­mans fol­lowed up later that year with Die Sieben Raben (The Seven Ravens) which came out the week before Snow White.

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