The World’s First Animated Feature Film Was Made In Argentina

Drawing by Diógenes Taborda for El Apóstol
Drawing by Diógenes Taborda for El Apóstol

Intro

People often like to take credit for someone else’s achievement. But corporations are just as guilty of that same sin if they think a ‘white lie’ can improve their reputation.

 Take, for instance, Walt Disney. If you were to ask anyone who made the first animated feature film, everybody will jump at the answer saying is ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, an animated movie made by Disney in 1937.

And you would be wrong. This is but a lie that has been perpetuated by Disney for a very long-time. Disney has been caught in this lie so many times by movie historians that they eventually had to backtrack and claim that they were the first feature-length movie produced using cel animation, the first coloured or the first musical feature film. This is not untrue, but it is a far cry from their original claim.

The first film-based animator appears to be J. Stuart Blackton, who created a series of Humorous Phases of Funny Faces in 1906. Two years later, Emile Cohl would create Fantasmogirie, the world’s first fully animated cartoon.

However, the first animated feature-length film was made not by Walt Disney, but by  Quirino Cristiani in 1917 in Argentina.

Drawing by Diógenes Taborda for El Apóstol -
Drawing by Diógenes Taborda for the animated film El Apóstol

Quirino Cristiani

Quirino Cristiani (1896-1984) was born in the little Italian village of Santa Giulietta. After his father lost his job, he immigrated to America in search of a better life to provide for his wife and five children. The family followed suit, in 1900.

The family had moved to Buenos Aires (Argentina), and Quirino simply loved every aspect of the flourishing and feverish pace the city had to offer. He grew happy and with lots of friends, and in his teens, he also discovered a passion for drawing. He briefly attended the Academy of Fine Arts, where he learned to refine his sketches.

At the time, Argentina was undergoing political upheaval and many new changes under shifting regimes. Cristiani found himself hanging around newspaper offices, where editors were more than happy to publish his political caricatures. While he was not famous, he became ‘known’ in editorial circles.

Quirino Cristiani
Italian-Argentine Quirino Cristiani

Quirino Cristiani was eventually hired by Federico Valle to work on the political discussion and satirical newsreel “Actualidades Valle”. He made a two and a half minutes animation titled ‘La intervención en la Provincia de Buenos Aires’ in 1916 (The Intervention in the Province of Buenos Aires).

Quirino had drawn the film frame-by-frame using cardboard cut-outs, a technique he later perfected and patented. The short animation was a success with the audience and Cristiani was happy with it.

Valle raised funds to create the most ambitious project to date in the history of Latin American Cinema: a feature-length political satire based on the country’s president, Hipólito Irigoyen. The film title was ‘El Apóstol’ (The Apostle) and was entirely animated by Cristiani.

El Apóstol – The Apostle

The Apostle was an Argentinian silent black-and-white animated film released in 1917. It was a feature-length animation produced and inspired by the works of French animator Emile Cohl.

Quirino Cristiani used cut-out animation to animate the film, which consisted of 58,000 drawings and had a running time of 70 minutes, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The script was written by Alfonso de Laferrére, the initial character designs were drawn by Diógenes Taborda and the background models of Buenos Aires were created by Andrés Ducaus.

The 58,000 drawings and an hour and ten minutes at 14 frames per second of the film, took less than a year to produce and was released for the first time in Buenos Aires, in November 1917.

The advertising flyer for the film El Apóstol – The Apostle - 1917
The advertising flyer for Argentina’s First Animated Film El Apóstol – The Apostle – 1917

The plot of the film was a political satire featuring the then president of Argentine Hipólito Yrigoyen, and his dreams of ascending to Olympus dressed as an apostle to speak to the gods about the misdeeds of the porteños.  Porteño is the name Argentinians from Buenos Aires give themselves as a native of the region. It is also occasionally used for people living in port cities.

Argentina First Animated film - The Apostle
Argentina First Animated film – The Apostle

After speaking with the Gods, Zeus grants his requests and sends lightning bolts to consume the city of Buenos Aires of its immorality and corruption.

The First Twice Over

Cristiani was not also only credited with creating the first feature-length animated movie, but he is also credited with having created the first animated feature with sound, too. The animated film was called Peludópolis (1931), again before Disney released theirs.

Frame enlargement from Peludópolis showing Juan Pueblo confonting members of the junta.
Frame enlargement from Peludópolis showing Juan Pueblo confronting members of the junta.

Walt Disney went on a tour to Argentina as part of a Latin America research tour. There he met Cristiani, who showed him his films and introduced him to other cartoonists and animators of the time. Cristiani has been called “The man who anticipated Disney.”

Tragedy Struck

A year after the creation of El Apóstol, Quirino Cristiani, together with a new group of producers, released a second animated film ‘Sin Dejar Rastros’ (Without a Trace) in 1918. Unfortunately, the movie was never seen by the public, nor was there anything printed about it in the press. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs seized (and presumably destroyed) the film for ‘diplomatic reasons.’

Quirino went on to make three more feature-length animated movies, none of which were memorable. He is credited with numerous other works as an animator, writer, producer and director.  

Quirino Cristiani in Santa Giuletta,on November 29, 1981, when he was being honored by the local government.
Quirino Cristiani in Santa Giuletta, on November 29, 1981, when he was being honoured by the local government.

The full scope of his work can be seen in the following list:

List of films

  • 1916: La intervención en la provincia de Buenos Aires
  • 1917: El Apóstol
  • 1918: Sin dejar rastros
  • 1923: Firpo-Dempsey
  • 1923: Firpo-Brennan
  • 1924: Uruguayos forever
  • 1924: Humberto de Garufa
  • 1925: Rhinoplastia
  • 1925: Gastronomía
  • 1931: Peludópolis
  • 1938: El mono relojero
  • 1940–1951: Da Nasrda mono eco Mornici (released 1970)
  • 1941: Entre pitos y flautas
  • 1943: Carbonada

The film ‘Sin Dejar Rastros’ (Without a Trace) was seized by the government never to be seen again.

The only copies of The Apostle were destroyed by a studio fire in 1926, although some accounts say the studio fire occurred in 1928.

Another two fires, one in 1957 and one in 1961 destroyed most of Quirino’s work, including his first animated feature film with sound Peludópolis.

“Entre pitos y flautas,” Credit - Cineteca Vida
“Entre pitos y flautas,” Credit – Cineteca Vida

Sadly, most of Quirino Cristiani’s work was lost to the flames and very little remains of his achievements. Despite this, his legacy is cemented as one of animation’s greatest pioneers and a legendary filmmaker.

He died in Bernal, Argentina on August 2, 1984. Cristiani’s studio was converted into a voice-over/dubbing laboratory, one of the best such laboratories in Argentina.

3 thoughts on “The World’s First Animated Feature Film Was Made In Argentina in 1917

  1. Os curta metragens tem uma mensagem super positiva, e nos lembra da importância da imaginação como um caminho para fazer do mundo um lugar mais colorido.

  2. Os curta metragens possui uma mensagem super positiva. E nos mostra a importância da imaginação como caminho para fazer do mundo um lugar mais colorido.

  3. Historians write in the context of their own time, and with due regard to the current dominant ideas of how to interpret the past, and sometimes write to provide lessons for their own society. In the words of Benedetto Croce, “All history is contemporary history”.

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