Mister E from Tau Ceti

Tagged: TV

Animated tv series (1963). A Cayton Inc and Radio and Television Packagers production. Produced by William D Cayton. Written and directed by Fred Ladd. Cast includes Peter Lazer, Ray Owens, and Sam Raskin. 20 five-minute episodes. Black and white, colour.

"2010 AD": an American newsman detects signals from a Spaceship approaching Earth at twice the speed of light from Tau Ceti; its pilot "Mr E" is portrayed as a small boy in a tiny space capsule. The newsman explains to him the history of mankind and gives various lessons in geography and astronomy before governments on Earth ready to fire on the vessel. Later in the series, Mr E is seen on the planetary surface conversing with a boy named Tim.

There are no intact episodes of Mister E from Tau Ceti and documentation exists only in the form of catalogue and copyright entries. The serial was seen by a large number of children as part of the Cartoon Classics series syndicated in the United States. It was constructed mostly out of footage received by Cayton's agency in a rights swap with European distributors, and edited by Fred Ladd (whom see for further efforts) into five-minute episodes, dubbed into English. Some US documentaries and army training films were also used.

Ladd used the Soviet animation Murzilka na Sputnike ["Murzilka the Sputnik Pilot"] (1960) to frame the new narrative. Footage from Space Documentaries depicting the triumphalist history of Sputnik was dropped and remaining scenes were scattered through the serial, mixed with scenes from various short films and cartoons, such as the Romanian Scurta Istorie ["A Brief History"] (1956). The footage that does survive comprises poor quality black and white fragments from several episodes, spliced together without transition. This is included as Mr E from Tow City in the Thunderbean Animation anthology DVD Cultoons! Volume 3: Monkeys, Monsters & More (2008).

Mister E from Tau Ceti seems largely forgotten; Ladd said in a 2016 interview that he had not heard the title spoken aloud in fifty years. Its chaotic heterogeneity of style, its reliance on a narrator to describe actions for which footage was not available, and its pedagogical elements – much of the running time seems to have been devoted to discussions of history and science, with musings upon humanity's propensity to War – may have been off-putting for its intended audience. But the sophistication and wit of the animation – especially that sourced from Murzilka na Sputnike – and the apparent complexity of the twenty-instalment series stood in pronounced contrast to the other sf cartoons broadcast to US children in the mid-sixties, which may explain why some writers born in the 1950s retain vivid if fragmentary memories of the show. [GF]

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