When I think of films with toon characters interacting in the real world, I think of the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Touchstone, 1988). The film’s main star is not only brought to life with superb animation and great special effects, but with his interactions with humans and the real world environment. I find that the interactions between the character and the real world environment are what make these films very compelling and entertaining to watch. Roger Rabbit is not the first animation to have characters interact in the real world. This idea goes as far back as the early days of animation, with Winsor McCay’s The Centaurs and Walter Lantz’s Dinky Doodle series. But I find that Max Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell series, featuring Fleischer and his toon character Koko the Clown, are the most compelling as they consider to what a toon can do in its interactions with people and the real world environment.
Koko is capable of performing many feats in the real world environment once he is out of the canvas. In find his interactions in the real world environment very compelling many respects, as the canvas acts as his home and the real world acts as his backyard. Koko is able to look around Fleischer’s studio to see what is going on and can jump or climb to get to where he needs to go. He also knows where many objects are placed in studio and has a sense of how to use them, even though it may not be for Fleischer’s benefit. In the episode Ouija Board (1920), for example, Koko is able to jump inside a hat and move it around floor, scaring Fleischer, his assistant, and the janitor. Another example is in the episode Modeling (1921), where Koko takes a piece of clay from a model head and moves around across the floor, scaring everyone in the studio.
The Out of the Inkwell series is also compelling by Koko’s interactions with the human cast, including Fleischer himself. Upon first glance, the relationship between Fleischer and Koko seems more antagonistic than friendly. It will seem that Koko’s sole purpose is to try to make Fleischer’s day difficult, as in the episodes Modeling and Ouija Board, where Koko hides under objects, making it difficult for Fleischer to catch him. But there is also another side to this relationship where Koko tries to help Fleischer solve a predicament. For example, in the episode The Tantalizing Fly (1919), a fly is buzzing around the studio harassing Fleischer and Koko. Koko tries to help Fleischer by hitting the fly with an ink pen, even though he misses and ink is splattered on Fleischer’s face.
And so, the Out of the Inkwell series is more than just good animation and special effects. It’s Koko’s interactions in the real world, with his knowledge of the studio and his relationship to Fleischer, that make such films timeless and compelling to watch.
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