Post by Old Man Dream on Jan 15, 2019 15:25:15 GMT
For any diehard comic book fan, you may be aware of Superman being one of the oldest comic book superheroes created by DC Comics in 1938 via Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. But did you know there was a short feature cartoon series made in the early 1940s with the Man of Steel? In the era where Warner Brothers and Disney animated shorts were popular at large, the Superman animated shorts were created by Fleischer Studios, whom some animation fans may recognize as the creators of popular 1930s cartoon characters Popeye and Betty Boop. The Superman animated shorts were notable for having a couple unique elements that stuck out compared to other short feature animated titles of its era.
The first major element that stuck out was its animation. Whereas many animated shorts of the era relied on a more exaggerated drawing style due to their comedic focus, the Superman animated shorts employed a more realistic drawing style in the design of its characters and settings, with more fluid movement than was the norm for many animated projects of the time period. This was employed by rotoscoping, an animation style where animators traced over live-action motion picture coverage frame by frame. While considered a controversial animation style by some, this allowed for more lifelike character designs and movement. Remarkably, the animation holds up quite well today as some may be mistaken to think these were more recent animated works. The Superman shorts were actually the most expensive animated shorts made during the early 1940s, costing almost $50,000 per short to make, and this certainly shows in how nicely animated the Superman shorts were during their era.
The other element that stuck out with the Superman shorts were their more serious storytelling. Many animated shorts of the era were comedic shorts filled with slapstick and exaggerated humor, with the occasional pop culture nod to appeal to audiences. The Fleischer Superman shorts depicted serious situations such as crimes, war, natural disasters, and monster threats that Superman would have to overcome to save Lois Lane and the city of Metropolis. Each animated short had a plot formula it followed where a criminal or disaster made its presence felt, Lois and/or Clark Kent are sent to investigate it for a news story, they are eventually affected by the crisis, Lois gets in over her head with trying to directly investigate it, Clark becomes Superman, Superman rescues Lois and overcomes said crisis, and Lois and Clark have a brief banter before the episode ends. This plot formula is obviously rather dated for modern audiences used to more complex plots and characters with comic book superhero titles. But for its time, the serious plotting for the Superman shorts allowed it to stick out from the comedic animated shorts put together by popular studios such as Disney and Warner Brothers.
There are some things that need to be noted about the Superman shorts before you try seeking them out, the first being about Superman himself. These older cartoons adapt the Golden Age incarnation of his character who is nowhere as overpowered as his more modern incarnations. While Superman still has superhuman levels of strength and durability, they are not to the ridiculous degree of modern incarnations and his abilities to fly and use x-ray vision were recently included in the Fleischer animated shorts during the time period.
The second thing to note is that some of these shorts have not aged well in regards to political correctness and racial sensitivity. Over twenty years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, racial stereotyping was still the norm in various animated shorts and movies up to that point, including a number of Warner Brothers animated shorts that have some rather unflattering depictions of African and Native Americans. In addition, some animated shorts made during World War II were used as propaganda to promote the American war effort and often demonized foreign enemy threats such as Nazi Germany and Japan. The Superman shorts were no different in this regard as some shorts made for it had stereotypical depictions of some villains that Superman has to overcome and actively show him fighting some Nazi and Japanese soldier threats. I have a compiled list of the questionable shorts and the concerning content that you should watch at your discretion if you may get offended from watching it…
• “Electric Earthquake” - Depicts a Native American scientist utilizing a machine to trigger earthquakes to destroy Metropolis and reclaim land once owned by his people. • “Japoteurs” - Depicts a trio of Japanese spies trying to seize control of an American military war plane. • “Eleventh Hour” - Features Superman sabotaging Japanese military efforts and their military later taking Lois captive to try dissuading his efforts. • “Jungle Drums” - Features a Nazi spy disguised as a high priest for a tribe of African natives trying to get information on an American military convoy.
The last thing I need to mention is that all the Superman animated shorts from Fleischer Studios are in the public domain to freely access from online. The 17 animated shorts were originally owned by National Comics (DC Comics’ company name at the time), but they never renewed the copyright for the shorts in the late 1960s and there is no longer any legal ownership of the shorts from any entity connected to their creation.
In short, the Superman animated shorts are a rather interesting piece of animated history in regards to depicting the Man of Steel’s earliest animated adaptations and sticking out from the many comedic animated shorts made for its time period. While the plot formula for the shorts is dated and some of their plots would be considered politically incorrect for modern audiences, the animation still holds up surprisingly well today and its development by Fleischer Studios has some interesting history to read up on it if you’re a fan of classic American animation like it. I would at least recommend checking out the animated shorts at least once so you could get a sense of what made it stick out to audiences that seen it during the early 1940s.
Rating: 6.5 of 10
Someday I’ll be gone To somewhere that we belong And God has never played his role 'Cause I’m the one who saves my soul It’s a perfect world we’re longing for
I remember watching these on VHS. Not all of them. I remember the Native American one way before I was young and not recognize racism. This was a quite informative review on the background.
I found these shorts on the DC Universe app. The animation was certainly fluid. Did not notice the rotoscoping. I had assume wrongly that rotoscoping was rebuilding a real face because I had the Flower of Evil faces on my mind when rotoscoping is mention.
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