Friday, April 19, 2013

Supermarathon Update: The Fleischer Cartoons

On Wednesday night I watched some of the Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons from 1941 and 1942.

TitleRelease dateNote
Superman (a.k.a. The Mad Scientist)September 26, 1941The short film Superman is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
The Mechanical MonstersNovember 28, 1941The short film The Mechanical Monsters is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
Billion Dollar LimitedJanuary 9, 1942The short film Billion Dollar Limited is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
The Arctic GiantFebruary 27, 1942The short film The Arctic Giant is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
The BulleteersMarch 27, 1942The short film The Bulleteers is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
-lifted straight from Wikipedia

There's a lot more to go, and I'll watch a few more before I'm done with the Fleischer/ Famous Studios Superman cartoons.

If you're a Superman fan in any capacity, these early Superman cartoons are must viewing.  You have to remember these played in movie houses that might have seen Superman in a comic book, but had never really seen stuff quite like this animated - and it's so amazingly well crafted, it's hard to imagine something like this being made again even today.

The animation is often rotoscoped - a process in which actors are filmed performing the actions, and - much like today's motion capture - art was created that used the frame-by-frame reference of a human in motion, often tracing over the actor onto a cell.  It's what keeps Lois's movements so recognizably human and the sudden change from the gravity-bound Clark Kent to Superman, leaping through the air, so dramatic.  And, of course, the "otherness" of the villains can be played up with hand-drawn movements.

I don't love all versions of Superman equally, but this one is pretty top notch.  It's that early, rabble-rousing, street-fighter Superman who doesn't say much, gets knocked around a bit, and gets back up.  Seeing him tangle in the first episode with what we'd now call a laser, then robot thieves, a run-away freight train, a behemoth of a dinosaur, and a sci-fi fantasy vehicle is all pretty thrilling, and the short-form works well to keep the action moving.

But don't listen to me, download these things at the links I gave you.

Also, here's a bit of bonus material!

All of us Super-fans try to see a bit of themselves in Superman, but if I had to pick one take that I think is kinda/ sorta me in a cape and tights, it's the Superman from the Seinfeld webisodes from a few years back.


and in this one, I believe that's a guest appearance by Noel Neill (aka: Lois Lane) at the 1:16 mark

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