The Story of British Animation

To accompany an important new BFI book, we chart this extraordinarily fertile area of British film.

In The Story of Animation (BFI / Bloomsbury 2021), BFI curator Jez Stewart charts the astonishingly rich history of UK animation, from early stop-motion experiments to the latest advances in computer graphics. With Hollywood’s shadow always looming, the UK industry has struggled against almost overwhelming economic headwinds. But the skill, wit and ingenuity of British animators has never dimmed. Here, we present a selection of films highlighting key chapters in the story.

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Artistic CreationArtistic Creation

Trick film19012 minsSilent

This burlesque film fantasy has striking sexual overtones - and a surprising feminist twist

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A Colour BoxA Colour Box

Advert19354 mins

Part experimental cinema, part advert for the parcel post service, always joyful.

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Johnny BarleycornJohnny Barleycorn

Documentary19501 mins

A delightful animated appeal to help bringing in Scotland’s harvest, made by the legendary Lotte Reiniger.

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Noddy Goes to ToylandNoddy Goes to Toyland

Animation & Artists Moving Image196312 mins

How can you not say yes to Noddy? It’s all he can say to you.

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Animation & Artists Moving Image19731 mins

Home safety is child's play if you have the feline guardian angel of the 70s on hand

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Spherical HarmonicsSpherical Harmonics

Animation & Artists Moving Image20145 mins

Spherical Harmonics is about the strange power of the CG image. It's a fantasy under construction, full of digitally created memories, counterfeit physics and controlled accidents.

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Animation & Artists Moving Image19759 mins

Don’t tell the Spotty man but Superted has a new friend. A stop motion predecessor of the superhero teddy idea

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Super Natural GasSuper Natural Gas

Animation & Artists Moving Image197510 mins

Kenneth Williams as the voice of methane? It’s a gas! This British Gas sponsored short is the origin of cult kids TV classic Willo the Wisp

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The VictorThe Victor

Animation & Artists Moving Image198515 mins

Military mind experiments, pacifists, Brighton beach and Billy Bunter in a bumper car – there is a lot going on in this fantastic animated short

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Robinson CharleyRobinson Charley

Animation & Artists Moving Image194810 mins

No man is an island, but Charley represents his nation in this economical cartoon tale of Britain’s economics

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Giro the Germ Episode 1Giro the Germ Episode 1

Animation & Artists Moving Image19278 minsSilent

The germs in this silent 1920s cartoon seem to have caught the Flapper bug

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The MathematicianThe Mathematician

Animation & Artists Moving Image19763 mins

2 + 2 = BOOM! The apocalyptic danger of maths is explored in this computer animated cartoon from the mind of Stan Hayward

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Adolf's Busy Day Adolf's Busy Day

Animation & Artists Moving Image19408 mins

Who does he think he’s kidding? This parodic day-in-the-life portrait of Mr Hitler is one of the very few British examples of comic cartoon propaganda from WW2.

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Pretend You'll SurvivePretend You'll Survive

Animation & Artists Moving Image19819 mins

Nuclear nightmares realised in cartoon form by a Yorkshire women’s collective that advocates protest over pointless preparation

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The Battle of WangaporeThe Battle of Wangapore

Amateur film19559 minsSilent

Charge into this slick amateur cartoon from the Grasshopper Group which was three years in the making

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Animation Has ChangedAnimation Has Changed

Advert19717 mins

Out with the old and in with the new – one of Britain’s leading animation companies pitches its new image with great humour

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Animation & Artists Moving Image197422 mins

Trust me – you will never look at custard the same way again

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Animation & Artists Moving Image19369 mins

Carmen get your cartoon opera fix in this (very!) loose version of Bizet’s classic tale of romance and treachery.

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The Elstree ErbsThe Elstree Erbs

Animation & Artists Moving Image19308 mins

Teddie, Piggie and Poll might not have gone down in history like Mickey Mouse, but here is a British answer to Disney’s Steamboat Willie

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The Smoke from Grand-pa's PipeThe Smoke from Grand-pa's Pipe

Animation & Artists Moving Image19209 minsSilent

I’ll have what he’s smoking! - US import Jesse “Vet” Anderson breathes life (and smoke) into the UK animation industry

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Tropical BreezesTropical Breezes

Animation & Artists Moving Image193011 mins

A British Steamboat Willie? This early British sound cartoon might not have been the first, but it’s a cracker

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Love on the WingLove on the Wing

Advert19394 mins

A line-drawing love story in a surreal land, made to advertise Empire Air Mail but withheld due to "Freudian" symbolism.

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The Story of TimeThe Story of Time

Animation & Artists Moving Image195010 mins

… as brought to you by Rolex, with the help of incredible model animation.

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Love on the RangeLove on the Range

Advert19396 mins

An animated Western mock-opera about Horlicks? Bring it on!

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Football FreaksFootball Freaks

Animation & Artists Moving Image19716 mins

Do not adjust your set! This off-beat jukebox cartoon is definitely more freaky than footbally

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Animation & Artists Moving Image19746 mins

If anyone can bring Henri Toulouse-Lautrec’s sketchbooks to life, Geoff Dunbar can-can

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Fox HuntFox Hunt

Animation & Artists Moving Image19368 mins

Spoiler alert! The fox is always going to outsmart the hounds in this delightful, balletic cartoon that heads from the countryside into 1930s suburbia.

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Green Men, Yellow WomanGreen Men, Yellow Woman

Animation & Artists Moving Image19734 mins

Even Clark Gable doesn’t live up to his image in this off-beat cartoon about a woman fed up with the attentions of little green men

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Plain Man's Guide to AdvertisingPlain Man's Guide to Advertising

Animation & Artists Moving Image196220 mins

Does your home suffer from BO? This gag filled pastiche of the ad industry is happy to nibble the hand that feeds it

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Goodwill To All DogsGoodwill To All Dogs

Animation & Artists Moving Image19606 mins

An animated xmas with paper dog Snap

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Animation & Artists Moving Image19283 minsSilent

Meet Sammy, his dog Sausage and their creator, early British animator Joe Noble, whose inventive streak sees him chased by his own shadow

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The Sorcerer's Scissors The Sorcerer's Scissors

Animation & Artists Moving Image19074 mins

This trick film of magical transitions features some early animated flourishes that, for their time, were clearly at the cutting-edge

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Ever Been HadEver Been Had

Animation & Artists Moving Image19179 minsSilent

Blackly comic cartoon portrait of an apocalyptic England, destroyed 50 years after signing a premature peace in WWI.

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Two FacesTwo Faces

Animation & Artists Moving Image19684 mins

An abstract poetic tale that tells both one and a thousand stories of love and loss, by a designer on The Beatles Yellow Submarine film

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The LadderThe Ladder

Animation & Artists Moving Image19675 mins

This abstract animated short by Yellow Submarine director George Dunning reaches great heights.

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Polygamous PoloniusPolygamous Polonius

Animation & Artists Moving Image19609 mins

An off-beat animated love story of sorts as Polonius meets his match in Agnes the art lecturer

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Geni and a Genius (Series 1)Geni and a Genius (Series 1)

Animation & Artists Moving Image191910 minsSilent

Remember when Charlie Chaplin went into space? Reality is no obstacle in this endlessly inventive silent cinema cartoon of the 'Little Tramp'

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Filling the GapFilling the Gap

Animation & Artists Moving Image19425 mins

No time to veg out – there's a war on. Get your vegetables out!

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"T" For Teacher"T" For Teacher

Sponsored film19475 minsSilent

Do you know the golden rules of tea making? The Tea Bureau set out to put your cuppa straight in this progressively designed post-war cartoon

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Booster Bonzo; Or, Bonzo in Gay PareeBooster Bonzo; Or, Bonzo in Gay Paree

Animation & Artists Moving Image19256 mins

1920s canine icon Bonzo the Dog tests the Entente Cordiale to the limit in this silent British cartoon

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Jealous Doll, Or, The Frustrated Elopement Jealous Doll, Or, The Frustrated Elopement

Animation & Artists Moving Image19094 mins

Toy Story meets Fatal Attraction in this tale of an Edwardian childhood romance scuppered by poor finances and a stalking dolly

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John the BullJohn the Bull

Advert19305 mins

Bloody foreign cows coming over here and becoming our dinners

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Animated Doll and Toy Town CircusAnimated Doll and Toy Town Circus

Animation & Artists Moving Image19123 mins

Roll up, roll up! Come witness staggering feats in what might be the earliest surviving animated film made in colour.

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The Clown and His DonkeyThe Clown and His Donkey

Animation & Artists Moving Image19103 minsSilent

A pioneering effort in bringing shadow puppetry to the cinema

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The Tale of the ArkThe Tale of the Ark

Animation & Artists Moving Image19096 minsSilent

Toy Story meets biblical epic in this pioneering stop-motion short from Arthur Melbourne-Cooper

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Abu and the Poisoned WellAbu and the Poisoned Well

Animation & Artists Moving Image19438 mins

Hitler as a snake and Mussolini as a toad feature in this British propaganda cartoon made for distribution in the Middle East

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Coco and the BearCoco and the Bear

Advert19462 mins

A cinema advert for cocoa that apes American cartoons, from a little-known corner of British animation history.

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Tim Marches BackTim Marches Back

Animation & Artists Moving Image19442 mins

A Peter Strausfeld animation, encouraging the public to use the telephone more sparingly in wartime.

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The Dream of Arthur SleapThe Dream of Arthur Sleap

Advert19721 mins

Dangerously addicted to boring old movies? This is a case for Dr BFI, as demonstrated in this 1970s animated promo

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LFF Trailer 1995LFF Trailer 1995

Animation & Artists Moving Image19951 mins

Aardman turn the cinema screen into a mirror and offer this delightful portrait of the typical film festival audience

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Aladdin and the Junior GenieAladdin and the Junior Genie

Advert19425 mins

Washing day keeping you from a spin on your flying carpet? This quality cinema features a young apprentice genie learning a helpful solution.

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Experimental Animation 1933Experimental Animation 1933

Animation & Artists Moving Image19332 mins

Long before MTV, Len Lye crafted this antecedent of the music video with a cheeky monkey singing and dancing to Cuban hit 'Peanut Vendor'

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Animation & Artists Moving Image197819 mins

Farting and swearing and violence – oh my! Albert Jarry’s controversial play translates beautifully to splattered inks in Geoff Dunbar’s award-winning animation.

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Bride and GroomBride and Groom

Animation & Artists Moving Image19557 mins

Newlyweds meet a nuisance in an enjoyable mix of cartoon comedy and real-life actors, including Roobarb legend Bob Godfrey.

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Sea DreamsSea Dreams

Animation & Artists Moving Image19146 minsSilent

Skilled artist Lancelot Speed brings his cartoons to life to mock the German navy at the start of WWI.

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John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 4John Bull's Animated Sketchbook No. 4

Animation & Artists Moving Image19155 minsSilent

An animated recreation of the sinking of the Lusitania is the centrepiece of this pioneering mix of comedy, satire and outrage in cartoon propaganda.

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Steve's Cannon CrackersSteve's Cannon Crackers

Animation & Artists Moving Image19379 mins

Come on Steve! The 1930s comic strip carthorse both starts and stops a naval battle in this cartoon animated by Carl Giles

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To Demonstrate How Spiders FlyTo Demonstrate How Spiders Fly

Animation & Artists Moving Image19091 minsSilent

Charming animated illustration of one of nature's wonders from Britain's most inventive pioneer of wildlife filmmaking.

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The Latest NewsThe Latest News

Animation & Artists Moving Image19041 minsSilent

The “Bill Bailey” punchline might have lost its meaning over the years, but this comic gag short features some of Britain’s earliest animation

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Dreams of ToylandDreams of Toyland

Animation & Artists Moving Image19087 minsSilent

Decades before Toy Story, a young boy’s toys come to life through animation