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Wanted: More Fleischer Cartoons

by Leonard Maltin
October 3, 2013 1:22 PM
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An example of Fleischer innovation: in this scene from "House Cleaning Blues" (1937), Betty is drawn and inked on a cel, but everything surrounding her is a live-action set, made of paper maché and cardboard! This is one of the later 1930s cartoons not yet available on DVD or Blu-ray.

Many years ago, the annual silent film festival in Pordenone, Italy mounted a major Fleischer retrospective and persuaded archives from around the globe to loan their 35mm prints of Out of the Inkwell shorts. I was lucky enough to attend that year, as did Max Fleischer’s son, director Richard Fleischer, who reveled in the opportunity to see some of his father’s rarest and most entertaining creations for the first time, with an enthusiastic audience. Spread throughout the festival fortnight as added attractions, these vintage cartoons were a complete delight—not a lemon in the batch.

This trade advertisement for Fleischer’s "Out of the Inkwell" series dates back to 1919

Following the festival, the prints were sent back to their homes in storage vaults around the world. This is something of a cultural crime, it seems to me. These are important milestones in the parade of American animation, as well as great entertainment. It’s even more infuriating that readily-available cartoons like all those talkies are so hard to find, legally or otherwise.

Perhaps if Olive enjoys healthy sales with its first two Betty Boop releases, other Fleischer collections will follow. Wouldn’t that be nice?

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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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