Monday, April 4, 2011

Betty Boop Film Class

It's been awhile. Busy and whatnot, but here I'm back, with some new pictures nearly ready to post. First off, though, is a new film class.

By this point in Betty's history, 1932, she was the biggest cartoon character in Hollywood and one of its biggest stars. Mickey Mouse wasn't nearly the iconic star that he is now. It's not hard to see why Betty remained popular right up until the Hays code took effect; she had actual character. Mickey has always been a shockingly bland creation. He has little personality aside from being the archetypical "good guy." That's not entirely surprising since he was created in an era where cartoons were still something of a novelty. You didn't have time to create character, you had staging, events, and sight gags, all of which had to be delivered in less than ten minutes. Disney's later characters would be much more inventive and dynamic, like Donald and Goofy. Truly, the only character to really rise to the level of genius was Goofy.

For a better comparison, compare Bimbo to Mickey. Bimbo always had more edge than Mickey, but was almost as bland. His construct is similar, with pointy ears instead of round. Both Bimbo and Mickey were creations of their time. Koko was a bit more unique, which is funny since he far pre-dated both Mickey and Bimbo. Hell, Koko was essentially a tech demo for rotoscoping. Still, as far as character went, he was a clown and that's about it. Only Betty would become an icon. She would also become the best cartoon creation until Goofy

I've added a cartoon from Disney, also from 1932, which conveniently is the first cartoon appearance of Goofy. Or, really, a proto-Goofy that was referred to internally as Dippy Dawg. It's interesting to see the difference in the cartoons. Disney's cartoon characters were better animated, and each individual frame was better constructed, but shockingly boring in comparison to Fleischer's cartoons. Disney knew quality, but he had a terrible sense for comedy, timing, and direction. The cartoon isn't bad by any measure, but it is undeniably bland.

Alright, enough comparison. I posted this Betty cartoon because it is the second cartoon to feature a now-famous jazz performer in a role. Fleischer loved jazz music and enjoyed working with them and it shows in the music choices for his cartoons. They were less classically inspired like Disney's cartoons. They were also, again, more lively.

This is also another Fleicher cartoon that gets dredged up for racist accusations. Not as frequently as Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle, but frequently enough. It's also a bit more reasonable to see racism in this cartoon. An idiot, monkey-like savage is directly likened to Louis Armstrong. Still, I think that it's incorrect to interpret this as racism. It was a cartoon where everything was stereotyped for visual boldness. We know that Fleischer himself was not racist, and this is more accurate explained as a jazz singer singing the role of an antagonist, just like Cab Calloway did in Minnie the Moocher. Only in that one, we can't extract any racist interpretation since Calloway is represented as a dancing walrus ghost.

Other than that, this isn't Fleischer's best. The timing is a bit slow, the animation isn't as lively or entertaining, and he almost completely abandoned any lip-syncing. If it wasn't for Armstrong, this wouldn't much warrant a mention.

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