Friday, August 28, 2009

Betty Boop Film Class Part 2

Fleischer Studios was grinding out cartoons at a pretty rapid pace. Dizzy Dishes was August 9, 1930, while this new cartoon, Mysterious Mose was December 26 of the same year.

I chose two cartoons so close together chronologically to illustrate the advances being made in a short time, because this is as much a retrospective on the development of animation on the whole as it is of merely Fleischer and Betty Boop.

First off, it's funny how at this point, Betty Boop is still un-named. Bimbo, who is now much shorter and looking more like his final form, is the star of the show and he would remain that way for a couple of years. Fleischer again relies on spooky happenings to explain his bizarre animation, which gets more and more surreal as time goes on. See Minnie the Moocher and Bimbo's Initiation.

I prefer this to the more rigid animation later introduced and developed by Disney. Yes, the animation was technically amazing, but there was something missing. Animation is at its best when used to exceed what's believable. Snow White was most interesting when the Seven Dwarfs appeared. Again, I fully recognize that what Disney achieved was remarkable. I appreciate, I love it, I've watched it a dozen times. Still, Disney and Fleischer in many ways represented different takes on animation. Disney wanted to legitimize it as a form of genuine drama, whereas Fleischer, pretty obviously, wanted to push the boundaries of what could be thought up without the use of drugs. Disney set down aesthetic rules; Fleischer tried to eliminate as many rules as possible.

So I'm sad that Disney's form of animation gained prominence, while the more fluid form of animation fell into disuse. Warner Brothers danced a sort of happy medium, where their cartoons were more fluid than Disney, but still didn't approach the level of otherworldly imagery that Fleischer used. So in that sense, even though I mock most of the animation on Cartoon Network, Disney, and Saturday morning as pale rip-offs of Dexter's Laboratory.

Granted, the bold, bright look of Dexter's Lab had been brewing for awhile in Hannah Barbera's late-80's, early-90's line-up, and was most firmly formulated by John Kricfalusi for Ren & Stimpy. Still, the hyper-geometry of Fairly Odd Parents, Evil Con Carne, Power Puff Girls, and any number of cartoons had their artistic quickening in Dexter.

So yeah, after that, rewind 70 years back to Betty. The lip-syncing is noticeably better, and the overall consistency of the characters is better than in Dizzy Dishes. I don't want to use the word rigid, instead I mean to describe the smoothness in shape transitions. There's focus to the morphs, and fewer random bulges in the lines. All in all, there's more of the Betty we know and love today in the character on screen.

Sex is very important in Betty Boop cartoons. Remember, back then, most of these films were being shown before a major theatrical release to adults. Cartoons as the purview of children would only develop years later. The cartoons were meant as humorous distractions, and as such they contained seeds of adult concerns. In this cartoon, Betty appears to own her own house, and there appears to be some sort of weird romance going on between her and Bimbo. Notably! Betty's night gown leaps off of her body, showing quite a bit of skin. Twice! It's little erotic details like this that would be completely excised by the time the Hays Commission would emerge.

On the voice front, Betty is voiced by a different woman by this point. I'm not sure who, but Mae Questel provided the voice starting in 1931 in Silly Scandals until the retirement of the character in 1938. I know that a variety of women provided the voice, including a turn as some cowboy contralto in The Bum Bandit. IMDB lists Mae Questel as voicing Betty in Barnacle Bill and Mysterious Mose, which I'm pretty sure is wrong. I've listened to the voices and I think they're different.

The moose head on the wall also appears to be voiced by the same guy as the thug from Dizzy Dishes. I don't know who it is, but Fleischer would frequently source employees to provide voices.

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