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Wanted: More Fleischer Cartoons

by Leonard Maltin
October 3, 2013 1:22 PM
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Betty and Bimbo in "Betty Boop’s Bizzy Bee" (1932). A frame this sharp and clear could only come from an original 35mm source.

The good news: Betty Boop has never looked better, thanks to Olive Films’ new DVD and Blu-ray releases Betty Boop: The Essential Collection, Volumes 1 and 2, mastered in 4K from original 35mm materials. The bad news is that it’s taken well over a decade for someone to produce a legitimate DVD release of these cartoons, while bootlegs of inferior quality have flooded the Internet. This has been the unhappy fate of the Max Fleischer cartoon library for many years, sorry to say. Only the now-defunct Republic Pictures Home Video company thought to release the complete Betty Boop library on vhs and even on laserdisc.

Betty Boop’s sudden popularity took Paramount by surprise, but they were quick to capitalize on it in this trade ad from October of 1931—even though they put a hyphen in her name (at lower right)

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of other short subjects from the Fleischer library that have yet to see the light of day: the Talkartoons, which gave Betty her first exposure (no pun intended)…the Screen Songs featuring the Bouncing Ball and such guest stars as Ethel Merman, the Mills Brothers, and the Boswell Sisters…the Color Classics, Fleischer’s bid to compete with Walt Disney’s Technicolor Silly Symphonies…the studio’s two-reel color “specials” featuring such characters as Raggedy Ann and Andy…and most important, the Out of the Inkwell shorts of the 1920s starring Koko the Clown and Max Fleischer himself.

Fortunately, many Koko shorts are available, along with Fleischer’s early sound experiments with Dr. Lee DeForest, from Ray Pointer’s Inkwell Images (click HERE). It has taken this dedicated entrepreneur to bring about what no archive or mainstream distributor has been willing to do, since most of these films are now in the public domain. The late-silent Inkwell shorts are still under copyright and were released both on vhs and laserdisc by Republic—but there’s been no sign of them on DVD.

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More: DVD Reviews, Max Fleischer, Betty Boop

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  • John | October 3, 2013 9:20 PMReply

    Second and third your comments on the Fleischer Screen Songs, Color Classics, Two Reel Specials etc! I believe there is quite a hungry niche market for these! They are truly beautiful cartoons. Many of us have been waiting decades for something to happen so it is quite an occasion when it does! That said there was a problem with the post mastering of BETTY BOOP ESSENTIAL COLLECTION vols.1 & 2 which caused the image to be 'squished' horizontally. You can read about it here:

    A shame since everything else on BETTY BOOP ESSENTIAL COLLECTION looks and sounds better than ever. Some can't detect a difference so here is a link with comparisons between an original animation drawing from BETTY BOOP'S MAY PARTY (as well as previous video versions) and the Olive disc.

    Hopefully they can correct the problem by Vol.3 and, like you, I am always hopeful that we will one day see a DVD release of all the Fleischer's amazing cartoon series.

  • DBenson | October 3, 2013 8:29 PMReply

    VCI has "Somewhere in Dreamland", a two-disc set of the public domain "Color Classics". Thunderbean has a very nice collection of "Noveltoons," a series produced after the Fleischers were booted from their own studio. Both are far superior to any other PD releases I've seen, with restored titles and commentaries.

    But yes, too much Fleischer is still bottled up (including "Mr. Bug/Hoppity Goes to Town"). Along with Tex Avery's essential MGM shorts, George Pal Puppetoons, Scrappy, Krazy Kat, the Karel Zeman features, etc.

    But hope springs eternal -- We DID finally get the B&W Popeyes, UPA, a good chunk of Walter Lantz, and even "Sita Sings the Blues."

    The crazy thing about Betty Boop is that she's thrived as a licensed property even with her films largely unavailable.

  • Norm | October 3, 2013 7:43 PMReply

    This is welcome news. LM does a thorough job informing us of these "lost" gems. Amazing how culture survives itself...Hopefully it will be gathered and restored for broad Public consumption.

  • Martin Grams | October 3, 2013 4:23 PMReply

    Add to that the recent discovery of the complete bound volumes of radio scripts from the 1930s BETTY BOOP radio program, which starred Mae Questel in the lead role. No recordings are known to exist but the scripts were recently found and being digitally scanned for archival purposes. A magazine article for SPERDVAC's "Radiogram" will no doubt appear in print, documenting the radio program, with a complete episode guide (including plot summaries, titles, airdates, cast, music cues, etc.) sometime next year.

  • S Feilds | October 9, 2013 2:39 PM

    Your wrong, Bonnie Poe was the voice for Betty on radio NBC.

  • Kip W | October 4, 2013 10:10 AM

    I'm not sure trying to technically recreate Questel would be advisable. It would be better, in my mind at least, to engage a present-day voice actress who specializes in capturing the essence of the character, rather than zombify Questel from existing recordings that weren't made for the same purpose. I think the ability exists (both the voice talent and directors capable of guiding the voice talent) for recreations.

    As a first step, why not take one of these scripts to one of the big conventions and have a panel of voice actors do a live read-through? Then, after Evanier posts the video on his blog (he's actually the director I was thinking of), the world will take notice, and I'll be rich! Rich, I tell ya! (Okay, not really sure how that last part is going to happen, but I'm not doing all that badly anyway.)

  • Fairportfan | October 3, 2013 7:44 PM

    Hmmm. Given current computer/voice synthesis tech ... it might be possible to reproduce Questel's voice to record new versions of the radio plays.

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