Betty Boop: Snow White

Betty Boop: Snow White, Fleischer StudiosA friend of mine recently reminded me of the amazing Fleischer Studios Betty Boop cartoons from the 1930’s (see my posts on Max Fleisher and the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons).

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 The laws of physics are rescinded.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.

You can view it on the Animation Archive, where you can find a treasure trove of early animation (a good place to start is the Film Chest Vintage Cartoons collection).

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]

 
 
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9 Replies to “Betty Boop: Snow White

  1. First off, I love your blog. This has been a great source of inspiration and knowledge and I wanna thank you for it.

    This is one of the very few times I think I’ll have to completely disagree with you though. Fleichers animations were always clumsy and gag ridden. The gags and simple ideas completely overrun the actual story. Imaginative yes, for sure but it’s just nonsensical scene after nonsensical scene.

    The guards (her friends)throw away the stump, then fight it on the way down? and die or fall unconscious at the bottom? Why’s there even an exit for a grave? none of it makes sense, its all just there for the gag for a gag’s sake. She freezes them all, finds out she’s the fairest… then turns into a dragon? There’s no reason for that except that they wanted a chase scene. And adding in the song (while it is a completely fantastic song, don’t get me wrong) it has no real place in the animation or story. It’s just there because that’s what got people into theaters.

    Compare Max’s animations with the same animations done that very year by Disney and the difference is astounding.
    This is just a random Mickey short I found, this doesn’t include the silly symphonies which are generally fantastic.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzwMoDfHRlY
    Even compare it to the Three Little Pigs, done the very same year and in colour. A process Disney brought to the forefront and Max didn’t pick up for years.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUmyx4p6QXM

    I don’t much care for what Disney does these days (bolt was pretty darn good however) but really, they’re the ones that were innovating at that time and really pushing animation as a respectable medium.
    Fleischer was still just pumping out gag reels every year just to fill seats. Imaginative yes, but also somewhat pointless.

    The superman films however were wonderful to behold. But I found, not terribly compelling story wise when compared to other animations around the same time. Beautiful animation though.

  2. Thanks for your thought, Dan, and your good words about the blog.

    I’m perhaps coming at these from a different angle. As much as I complain about the lack of good and compelling stories in say, Hollywood action movies, when it comes to this kind of the thing my fondness for Surrealism (the actual art/poetry movement, not the general overuse of the term) comes into play. I love the nonsensical, dreamlike logic (hence truly Surrealistic) and indulgence in loopy, goofy images. That very abandonment of logic, sense and traditional narrative, along with the abandonment of gravity and all other physical laws, is a big part of the appeal for me. I agree that Disney’s work at the time was stunning, and certainly more coherent, but also more staid and predictable. I think my analogy of a composed, written and conducted symphony vs. a brilliantly unorthodox improvisational jazz piece is an apt one.

  3. Thanks for the informative response Charley.

    I definitely see what you mean. At this point and it truly is the way you describe it. I think just the way I see it at the point, the real mastery is in whether or not the surrealism and weirdness was intentional and had some higher (in some way at least) meaning or if it was just pointless gags. Similar to a discussion about contemporary art and renaissance realism. Some see aimless scribbles and paint marks, some see great meaning and often times, such as now, I think there’s no saying definitively one way or the other.

    Regardless, always good to show off old animation to people again! Keep up the great work on the blog, you’re doing wonderful work here.

  4. I have to point out that I actually agree with you in that a lot of it is pointless goofyness and attempts to be entertaining by throwing just about anything at the wall to see what sticks, it’s just that in the process some inspired Surrealism and both conscious and unconscious art occurs as well. It’s a glorious stew of all of the above, and for me it works.

  5. The part I’ve always loved about this cartoon is its grounding in realistic weight and movement of objects. When there’s surrealism, it’s intentional. Fleischer invented the rotoscoping technique of tracing a film (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotoscoping). As a dancer, I love the clown. His surreal changing form coupled with the realistic human movements of his dancing is amazing.

  6. hi my name is georgina connolly and i would like to know when the frist betty boop was made and the frist picther and who did it also would like the year and the friast time it come in clouer . thanks georgina

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