This is the earliest surviving American animated film (in the strict sense of single exposures of drawings simulating movement). The opening title, animated with bits of paper, repeats a trick seen the previous year in Edison films. The flickering seen in this film was common to the earliest animations and resulted from the camera operator's failure to achieve consistent exposure in manual one–frame cranking.
James Stuart Blackton, the creator of this film, is considered to be the father of the animated cartoon. Born in Sheffield, England, on January 5, 1875, this British–born motion picture pioneer began his career as a journalist and cartoonist for the New York Evening World. He became fascinated with motion pictures in 1896 when Thomas Edison had Blackton photographed drawing funny faces for three one–minute Kinetoscope films. Blackton went on to establish the American Vitagraph Company with Albert E. Smith, producing, directing, writing, and even starring in a series of motion pictures.
By 1900 Blackton had developed his "chalk talk" quick–sketch act, which he had performed for various groups (often to raise money for a charity), into the first motion picture to feature animated sketches, "The Enchanted Drawing". This short Vitagraph film was made at their roof–top studio in New York City, and turned over to the Edison Manufacturing Company for sale and distribution. The following is a description of "The Enchanted Drawing" taken from the July, 1901, catalogue of Edison Films:
Upon a large sheet of white paper a cartoonist is seen at work rapidly sketching the portrait of an elderly gentleman of most comic feature and expression. After completing the likeness the artist rapidly draws on the paper a clever sketch of a bottle of wine and a goblet, and then, to the surprise of all, actually removes them from the paper on which they were drawn and pours actual wine out of the bottle into a real glass. Surprising effects quickly follow after this; and the numerous changes of expression which flit over the face in the sketch cause a vast amount of amusement and at the same time give a splendid illustration of the caricaturist's art.
In addition to being the first studio to experiment successfully with animated cartoons and make them commercially viable, the Vitagraph Company of America went on to become the first studio to build up a stable of stars, the first to film the classics from Shakespeare to Dickens, and the first to use the motion picture for propaganda purposes.