Betty Boop, in her original incarnation, was sexy, surreal (in the accurate sense of that word), imaginative, beautifully done and entertaining on several levels.
These were cartoons done when animation as an art form and entertainment medium, while no longer in its infancy, was in its wide-eyed childhood, exploratory and robust with the heady enthusiasm of youth. Animators were delighting in the possibilities animated drawings presented, particularly in freedom from the restraints of physical laws and the conventions of formal narrative.
People, objects and animals bend, morph, disintegrate and reintegrate. The laws of physics are rescinded. The artists indulge in dream-like displays of the bizarre and wonderful. Characters, and logic, assume pretzel-like configurations.
All of this is done with wit, style, imagination and wonderfully snappy drawing. The backgrounds, at times surprisingly dark and strange, are filled with wonderful details that are easy to miss on first viewing.
This example, Betty Boop: Snow White, is one of the best. Directed by Dave Fleischer and animated by Roland C. Crandall, this 7 minute masterpiece takes our darling Betty (created by animator Grim Natwick) through the Snow White story.
But if Disney’s Snow White is a symphony (and it’s a wonderful milestone of animation), this is an improvisational jazz piece by players at the top of their form for inventiveness, exploration and animation “chops”.
The piece, in fact, makes extensive use of the music of the great band leader Cab Calloway, often an integral feature of the Betty Boop cartoons, in this case a smashing rendition of St. James Infirmary Blues, to which all manner of bizzare imagery is set.
There is also a site devoted to the Betty Boop cartoons in general that makes them easier to browse (something the Archive is not the best for) and links to them both on the Archive and YouTube.
[Suggestion courtesy of Susan Casper]