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By Phil Hall | December 8, 2012

Oscar-nominated animator and beloved iconoclast Bill Plympton took it upon himself to remaster Winsor McCay’s 1921 animated short “The Flying House.”

The film, which was part of a series based on McCay’s comic strip “Dream of a Rarebit Fiend,” focuses on a woman who goes to bed after a Welsh rarebit dinner and dreams that her overweight husband has rebelled against paying their mortgage by turning their home into a giant airplane – complete with a propeller. The couple flies their home through various locations, knocking over a water tower and wrecking an arboretum before taking off into space and landing on the moon – where an unfriendly giant tries to crush them with a fly swatter.

McCay’s animation is subversively inventive, and this would seem like a perfect film to preserve. However, Plympton took the restoration process a little too far – the silent and black-and-white film was colorized and saddled with a new dialogue track featuring Matthew Modine and Patricia Clarkson as the airborne couple. Even worse, Plympton re-edited the film by removing the comic strip-style dialogue balloons used by McCay to compensate for the lack of sound recording. In doing this, Plympton completely transforms the distinctively goofy style of a comic strip-turned-motion picture – and, quite frankly, the dialogue balloons are more enchanting than Modine and Clarkson’s hammy voice performances.

This DVD, which includes a pre-restored original print of the McCay work, also provides a behind-the-scenes view of how this well-intended but strange endeavor came about.

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