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Discover the 13 Oldest Cartoons in the World

Avoid Hisense R6

Discover the 13 Oldest Cartoons in the World

Key Points

  • The oldest cartoon ever created is ‘Fantasmagorie’ by French animator Émile Cohl in 1908.
  • Winsor McCay’s ‘Little Nemo’ from 1911 is one of the oldest examples of drawn animation and closely resembles modern cartoons.
  • Winsor McCay’s ‘Gertie the Dinosaur’ from 1914 is considered the most popular creation of McCay and showcases animation techniques that would influence future animators, including Disney.
  • The ‘Looney Tunes’ series, introduced in 1930, featured iconic characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and evolved into a successful franchise.

It’s safe to say that, for the most part, modern cartoons are a far cry from the early days of animation. Animation’s roots are in the late 19th century, with cartoons hitting the screen in the early 20th century. Although they may seem relatively simple, these old cartoons were responsible for pioneering techniques that would help progress the art form as we know it, and influence generations of animators that would come after. Come with us on a journey through the oldest cartoons ever made, and see how many you’re familiar with. And if you want another dose of nostalgia, check out our sum-ups of the oldest TV stations and Disney movies!

Oldest Cartoons in Chronological Order

#13 – Fantasmagorie (1908)

Fantasmagorie.
Fantasmagorie is considered to be the first cartoon.

Fantasmagorie is thought of by most to be the first cartoon ever created, by French animator Émile Cohl. Understandably, it’s a very short cartoon, with a runtime of under two minutes, and shows a simple example of hand-drawn animation. The film centers around a stick man, who moves around and transforms into various objects, including a flower and an elephant. Fantasmagorie laid the groundwork for animation to be artistic and creative.

#12 – Little Nemo (1911)

Little Nemo.
Little Nemo is one of the first cartoons created by Winsor McCay.

Little Nemo, or Little Nemo in Slumberland, is both the first animated film by animator Winsor McCay and one of the oldest examples of drawn animation. Considering that Nemo is over a century old, it’s particularly impressive how much it resembles modern cartoons. Funnily enough, a large part of the film depicts McCay betting his co-workers he can make thousands of drawings move. But the rest dives into the surreal landscapes of Nemo’s dreams. The cartoon was highly praised, motivating McCay to color each frame by hand after the initial premiere.

#11 – How a Mosquito Operates (1912)

How a Mosquito Operates.
McCay’s second film builds upon the technicality of his first.

This was the second film that Winsor McCay produced, capitalizing on the success of his first. Since Little Nemo, McCay had significantly improved his skills. He invested more time and energy into creating a story with a more developed character. This film is one of the earliest examples of line drawing animation. This is one of the aspects that makes it a technically superior cartoon to others of the time. How a Mosquito Operates is also notable for forgoing the use of intertitles, which were commonly used in silent films.

#10 – Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)

Gertie the Dinosaur.
McCay’s third work exemplified how cartoons could be used to tell a story.

Gertie the Dinosaur is considered to be the most popular creation of Winsor McCay. It’s a relatively long film for this time, running for over 12 minutes. Gertie is a great example of animation techniques like keyframe animation, tracing paper, and loops, mixed with live action. The cartoon helped to showcase how animation could be used to explore a narrative and would influence animators of the future, including Disney. Due to its impact, there’s even a copy of Gertie in the U.S. Library of Congress.

#9 – Feline Follies (1919)

Felix.
Felix the Cat is a memorable character from the early history of cartoons.

This cartoon was the first to introduce Felix the Cat, who would go on to be one of the most recognizable characters of this era. Felix found himself in many amusing situations, and his mischievous personality was a hit. Although cartoonist Pat Sullivan is generally credited with creating Felix, this has been disputed by Otto Messmer, the animator who worked for him. Either way, Felix was an enduring success in the early history of animation.

#8 – Alice’s Wonderland (1923)

Alice Comedies poster.
Alice’s Wonderland set a precedent for Disney cartoons to come.

There’s a good chance when you read this title, you’ll instantly think of Alice in Wonderland. However, Alice’s Wonderland isn’t the same thing. This cartoon isn’t exactly based on Lewis Carroll’s novel, but uses the character of Alice to showcase a mixture of animation and live action. It would be the inspiration for Disney’s Alice Comedies series, and although it was never distributed in theaters, it displays experimental techniques that were innovative for the time.

#7 – The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

Prince Achmed.
Prince Achmed was innovative in its use of silhouettes.

This silent animation is based on a Middle Eastern folktale and uses an animation technique developed by Lotte Reiniger to retell the story creatively. Prince Achmed finds himself in a mythical world, and through the use of silhouette animation, this film gives us a spin on a classic tale. Although seemingly simple by today’s standards, Prince Achmed was nevertheless a groundbreaking milestone for animation.

#6 – Trolley Troubles (1927)

Trolley Troubles.
Oswald helped to light the path for Mickey Mouse.

Trolley Troubles is a short silent film created by Disney, introducing a lesser-known character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. This creative adventure centering on Oswald trying to operate a trolley car set a precedent for Disney and would influence productions that came after. Although Oswald came before Mickey Mouse, he helped to pave the way.

#5 – Dinner Time (1928)

aesop's film fables
Dinner Time wasn’t as popular as Steamboat Willie, but was the first synchronized sound cartoon.

Dinner Time, created by Paul Terry, is part of his Aesop’s Film Fables series, and stars Farmer Al Falfa, one of his most iconic characters. Feeding a dog seems simple enough, but this premise leads to a lot of mischief and hilarity. Dinner Time premiered only a month before Steamboat Willie, and would unfortunately fall far behind in terms of popularity. However, in the history of animation, Dinner Time still stands as an earlier example of a synchronized sound cartoon and helped mark the end of the silent era.

#4 – Steamboat Willie (1928)

Mickey Mouse and Bob Graham
Steamboat Willie introduced one of the most iconic cartoon characters, Mickey Mouse.

Like many early cartoons, Steamboat Willie was significantly shorter than modern shows, running for only seven minutes. However, this was long enough for Mickey Mouse to make an impression with his debut. Set on a steamboat, as the name suggests, Mickey stars as a deckhand with a cheeky attitude. As one of the first cartoons released with sound, Steamboat Willie helped catapult Mickey into stardom. As such, it’s a hallmark in the animation industry and marks the beginning of a very successful era for Disney.

#3 – Silly Symphonies (1929)

Three Blind Mouseketeers cartoon
Many techniques were introduced for the first time during Silly Symphonies.

Disney produced the Silly Symphonies series between 1929 and 1939. In contrast to Mickey Mouse, Silly Symphonies focused on music and sound instead of characterization. Every short includes original compositions to accompany the lively animation, and usually different characters, in a sort of anthology style. Silly Symphonies pioneered several innovative techniques, including the multiplane camera as well as Technicolor.

#2 – Looney Tunes (1930)

Sinkin' in the Bathtub cartoon
The Looney Tunes franchise began with the 1930 cartoon.

Following the success of Mickey Mouse, lightning struck again when Disney introduced the Looney Tunes in 1930, with the first short “Sinkin’ in the Bathtub.” Many Looney Tunes characters would go on to become iconic in their own right, such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. The whimsical humor and character development of Looney Tunes would endure much longer than the original cartoon shorts. The series would evolve into an entire franchise, incorporating TV shows, films, books, and music albums.

#1 – Betty Boop (1930)

Betty and Bimbo cartoon
Betty Boop is one of the most memorable cartoon characters from the 1930s.

Betty Boop was originally a supporting character. But she quickly became a mainstay in early cartoons thanks to her personality, catchphrase, and striking caricature of the flapper subculture. Although many fans were enthralled with Betty, her original characterization was deemed not friendly to kids and unsuitably sexual. Her success declined after she was reconceived as a wiser, more demure, and less flirtatious character. However, her appeal lasts to this day.

Summary of the Oldest Cartoons

RankCartoonYear of Release
13Fantasmagorie1908
12Little Nemo1911
11How a Mosquito Operates1912
10Gertie the Dinosaur1914
9Feline Follies1919
8Alice’s Wonderland1923
7The Adventures of Prince Achmed1926
6Trolley Troubles1927
5Dinner Time1928
4Steamboat Willie1928
3Silly Symphonies1929
2Looney Tunes1930
1Betty Boop1930

Frequently Asked Questions

What's considered the oldest cartoon?

Most consider Fantasmagorie to be the first cartoon, which was released in 1908.

When did Mickey Mouse come out?

Mickey Mouse debuted in 1928, in the cartoon Steamboat Willie.

Who are the most iconic early cartoon characters?

Aside from Mickey Mouse, famous early characters include Betty Boop, Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, and Farmer Alfalfa.

What's the most significant early cartoon?

Many would consider Steamboat Willie to be one of, if not the most, iconic of the era, and think of it as the first synchronized sound cartoon. However, Dinner Time actually came before, but only by a month, and failed to be anywhere near as successful.

When was the silent era?

The silent era of animation and cinema is generally thought to have been from the late 19th century until around 1927, when the first feature film with sound, The Jazz Singer, was released. Silent films were made after this, but their popularity diminished as sound became more commonplace.

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