The Sunday Intertitle: Poultry in Motion

I’d never seen this early (1917!) work by Willis H. O’Brien — a comic short about the ancient ancestor of today’s chicken, the Dinornis, or “great roaring whiffenpoof.”

“The dinornis was the ancestor of our modern chicken. It had long legs and a kind face.”

Crude compared with THE LOST WORLD or KONG, this piece nevertheless has an interesting, slightly creepy design style. Comparing it to Starewicz’s roadkill puppetshows, I wonder if stop motion has an inherently eerie quality, which can only be conquered by careful and tasteful attention to the cuteness factor. There certainly is something a little worrying about the idea of dolls coming to life, which is somehow less disturbing when the animated figures are drawings.

The bolder among you can watch this Nazi-era stop-motion horror, but be warned — it’ll ruin your day. I mean, it actually will make you feel sad and horrible for hours. The ending, where two children are ground into mincemeat, is the most heartwarming moment.

Of course, what’s also shown in PREHISTORIC POULTRY, with its weird, emaciated cave-people figurines, is that “Obie,” unusually for an animator, wasn’t particularly humorous (and his life story would be marked by appalling tragedy) — it’s especially awkward to see him reaching for comedy effects in SON OF KONG. The funny bits of the first KONG — the ape nursing his injured finger, for instance — come naturally out of character, rather than schtick or gags.

Still, if POULTRY isn’t hugely funny, it’s quite charming in spite of its jolting, skeletal effigy stars: the love that’s gone into it transcends the superficially eerie look.

NOT the CITIZEN KANE animated bird!

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6 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Poultry in Motion”

  1. Never knew this existed. Wonder if Forry Ackerman ever saw it? I was reminded of the Warner Bros. cartoon DAFFY and the DINOSAUR with that caveman modeled after Jack Benny. How widely distributed would this Obie short have been?

  2. No idea, but I’m sure there must have been something arranged. Gertie the Dinosaur no doubt lurks at the back of it, and I’m a little reminded of the stone age sequence in Keaton’s later The Three Ages.

  3. Re: The Nazi-era stop-motion. Let’s see now, the little scamps indulge themselves in theft, animal cruelty, and two attempted murders.

    Aw, they’re just a couple of high-spirited young boys. And they make such good duck feed!

  4. Yes, that’s one thing you can always say for them.

    There’s a Nazi-era version of Chicken Little with very gory scenes of all the murdered animals at the end — some have taken it as a subversive critique of the Holocaust, but based on this it may just be that the society as a whole had a rather brutal idea of children’s entertainment!

  5. Strangely, I stumbled on a copy of this recently but Now I can’t recall where. And stranger yet, I decided not to peruse further after reading the entry on… King Kong.

    The weird coincidences are still coming… probably something to do with the approaching end of the Mayan calendar.

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