Max Fleischer was a pioneering animator responsible for some of the all-time classic animated cartoons. Together with his brothers Dave and Joe he founded Fleischer Studios, one of the first animation studios. It was Fleischer, not Disney, who produced the first sound cartoons. The studio was responsible for the Betty Boop cartoons, KoKo the Clown, Gullivers Travels, the original (and best) Popeye animated cartoons, and a wonderful series of Superman cartoons that are treasures of classic animation.
Fleischer was working as the art editor of Popular Science in 1925 when he came up with the idea for what would eventually become the process of rotoscoping – using live action as the basis of drawn animation. The studio was also using Fleischer’s rotograph, to blend animated characters with live backgrounds on film 70 years before Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The studio was the first to introduce the practice of in-betweening, using junior artists to fill in between key frames drawn by the main animator to expedite the production of cartoons.
Despite their innovations and excellent work, when the era of full-length animated cartoons arrived they couldn’t keep pace with Disney and the studio went bankrupt trying to compete.
Fleischer’s Superman cartoons, with their art-deco design, beautiful drawing, film noir “cinematography” and artful use of shadows, lighting and color are still marvels of cartoon animation and, no offense to Christopher Reeve, still the best version of that character ever brought to film. You can see their influence not only in the modern run of Warner Brothers Batman and Superman cartoons (see my post on Bruce Timm), but also in films like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, where the first half hour is basically a homage to the Fleischer Supermans.
There is a treasure trove of freely downloadable Max Fleischer cartoons as part of the Internet Archive.
Try some classics like Electric Earthquake or Bulleteers.
Or you may want the convenience and image quality of the versions available on DVD: “The Superman Cartoons of Max and Dave Fleischer”, “The Animated World of Max & Dave Fleischer: Superman / Popeye” (and others).
5 Replies to “Max Fleischer”
great post! i’ll be checking out those cartoons… i always loved the gothic look of the modern cartoons you mentioned, but i didn’t know what inspired them.
I’d be curious to hear your impression when you’ve had a chance to check them out.
i have always loved fleischer’s superman cartoons– that internet archive link is great, thanks so much.
didn’t know a lot of this! great info here. thank you for sharing!
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