Title Card of Dinky Doodle cartoon

Walter Lantz got his start in animation working for the John R. Bray studios in New York. One of his first jobs at the studio was working as an animator on Bray's animated adaptation of Jerry on the Job with George Stallings. "I animated one 250-foot Jerry on the Job every two weeks," Lantz once recalled. "The drawings in those days were black and white on paper. We'd pencil the drawings, then ink them in, and photograph each sheet." Lantz's next task at Bray was animating and co-directing the revived Col. Heeza Liar series in 1922. Heeza Liar was a man who wove many interesting tall tales of his "travels" and "experiences" (a sort of Baron Munchausen character). The most notable aspect of these early cartoons is that, much like Max Fleischer's Out of the Inkwell series, they combine live-action with animation.

The typical Dinky cartoon would usually tap into the storybook realm and Lantz's two personal favorites from the series, Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella (both 1925), are a prime examples of this. Additionally, most of the films finished with Lantz himself taking on the villain in a madcap fist fight or duel. For a scene like this, Lantz would first be filmed dueling with a real person, usually head animator Clyde Geronimi. Then, according to Shamus Culhane, "each exposure of the film was enlarged on nine-by-twelve photographic paper, which had been punched like animation paper. The stack of finished prints was sent to the animator, and over each image of the live actor he drew a cartoon on oninionskin paper... When these drawings were duly inked and painted on cels, each combination of live-action enlargement and cel was shot in the cartoon camera. The final result was Walt dueling merrily with an animated cartoon."


A comic-strip promotion for the Film Daily newspaper featuring Dinky Doodle and Weakheart, drawn by Walter Lantz in 1925. Courtesy of Cole Johnson.

The Dinky Doodle shorts enjoyed a widespread success with audiences. People at restaurants and service stations even began to recognize the Lloyd-esque Lantz who, in 1925, devised a second live-action/animation series, the Aesop-esque Un-Natural History cartoons. Then, after the Dinky Doodle shorts ran their course in 1926, Lantz introduced yet another series of live-action/animation films entitled Hot Dog cartoons featuring Pete the Pup. This new character was utilized by Lantz when he made the first sound tests for Bray at the Fox Studios' New York office. Unfortunately, the success of such tests or of Bray's transition to sound will never be known. In 1927, the studio went bankrupt, leaving Lantz to seek out new fortune. He left for Hollywood, secured a job with Charles B. Mintz on the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series and the rest is history.

A poster for the 1927 Hot Dog cartoon The Farm Hand, drawn by Clyde Geronimi.

Most of Lantz's Bray work is very difficult to find today. The original negatives were destroyed in a warehouse fire and so all that exists of these films are largely scattered television/home movie reissues and foreign-language prints. Nine Dinky Doodle shorts The Giant Killer (1924), The Pied Piper (1924), The Captain's Kid (1925), Cinderella (1925), The House That Dinky Built (1925), Little Red Riding Hood (1925), Peter Pan-Handled (1925), Robinson Crusoe (1925), and Lost and Found (1926) exist as beautifully restored, French-titled prints in the Lobster Films archive in Paris, France. Four of these titles The Giant Killer, Little Red Riding Hood, Peter Pan-Handled, and Robinson Crusoe were included in Lobster's Cartoon Factory television program that was broadcast from 1995 to 2001 on the European network arte in both France and Germany.

Additionally, the UCLA Film and Television Archive owns three Dinky Doodle films The Giant Killer (1924), The House That Dinky Built (1925), and Magic Carpet (1925) while the Library of Congress owns a print of one Little Red Riding Hood (1925). At least eleven more Dinky Doodle shorts The Magic Lamp (1924), The Babes in the Woods (1925), Just Spooks (1925), The Circus (1925), The Hunt (1925), The Arctic (1926), Egypt (1926), The Wild West (1926), Dinky's Bed Time Story (1926), The Magician (1926), and The Army (1926) exist in various private film collections.

As for the Un-Natural History cartoons, at least eight of those How the Bear Got His Short Tail (1925), The Leopard's Spots (1925), The Goat's Whiskers (1926), The Ostrich's Plumes (1926), The Pelican's Bill (1926), The Mule's Disposition (1926), The Tail of the Monkey (1926), and The Hyena's Laugh (1927) are also known to exist in private collections. Furthermore, prints of seven of Lantz's Hot Dog cartoons Pete's Party (1926), Dog Gone It (1927), Lunch Hound (1927), Jungle Belles (1927), Petering Out (1927), The Puppy Express (1927), and S'matter Pete (1927) are owned by the Library of Congress, while at least one more For the Love o' Pete (1926) has surfaced in private collections.

The character of Dinky Doodle himself, perhaps Lantz's best-known Bray creation, has been largely forgotten by the general public since his retirement from the screen. Still, he was mentioned in the 1988 motion picture Who Framed Roger Rabbit, likely in recognition of the fact that the Dinky shorts, like the Roger Rabbit film, combined live-action with animation. If such was the case, then it would be difficult to find a more fitting tribute to Lantz's tenure at the Bray studios.