Color Classics: Betty Boop in Poor Cinderella

I want to close out the string of Fleischer Color Classics cartons. There are a couple dozen more of them, but I think we’ve seen a fair sampling of what they’re like. For the last one, then, I’d like to go to the cartoon that inaugurated the series, Poor Cinderella, which as the title suggests, stars Betty Boop.

Of course it stars Betty Boop. When the Color Classics line of cartoons began, in 1934, the biggest stars Fleischer studios had were Betty Boop and Popeye and … well, actually, Popeye would probably be able to launch a line of musical cartoons on his own too. But Betty Boop was big. She still is; it’s still easy to find her licensed and marketed, which is all the more impressive when you consider there hasn’t been a new Betty Boop cartoon released since July of 1939. Let me put that in perspective: every single Tom and Jerry cartoon, and every Bugs Bunny cartoon, was made after Betty Boop was last in theaters (apart from cameo appearances as in Who Framed Roger Rabbit), and yet, she’s still at least recognizable.

(For my rhetorical purposes, yeah, I’m declaring A Wild Hare to be the first Bugs Bunny cartoon, but the precursors are hard to ignore.)

I honestly have no idea why Betty Boop wasn’t summoned for a series of cheaply-made cartoons in the 60s, at least, which seems like the natural era in which she might have got that degrading honor, or maybe in the early 80s as part of an attempt to show actual cartoons with female-type women as lead characters. A bunch of her cartoons were colorized, badly, in the 60s, at the same time a lot of the black-and-white Popeye cartoons were. This was done by South Korean animators hand-tracing and painting the frames, making the cartoons generally shoddier and more shady. Some madman then pulled out sequences to stitch together into a compilation cartoon titled Betty Boop For President, which can most properly be described as “Frankensteinian” and “dated and sexist in weird ways even for the 70s”. Wikipedia claims there was an attempt to make a new Betty Boop movie in the 90s that fell apart; I can accept that happening. I’m just surprised there hasn’t been more of that.

Poor Cinderella is Betty Boop’s only canonical appearance in color, although since at the time Disney had an exclusive license to use three-strip technicolor, Betty Boop’s cartoon was in two-strip Cinecolor. Cinecolor was built around red and cyan as the base colors. The color schemes to me look like vaguely reminiscent of old Christmas wrapping paper. It also gives the whole cartoon a faintly muted dreamlike attribute. I don’t think it’s just this cartoon; other Cinecolor films I’ve seen make a similar impression on me.

The cartoon — well, the story is exactly what the title implies. The Fleischers put in all their technical tricks to launch it well, though, with three-dimensional sets and lushly detailed animation, and didn’t forget the sorts of strange little comic asides that marked their most surreal work, even as the whole cartoon tries to be pretty sincerely direct and gentle.

The Prince is drawn in a rather realistic style, which never quite meshes with Betty Boop’s character design. That’s part of the price paid for trying to do a realistic-model cartoon with a character as stylized as Betty Boop at the core. The Fleischers had a similar problem with their first feature-length movie, Gulliver’s Travels, in which they needed characters ranging from rotoscoped-human-form (Gulliver, the Prince and Princess) through to very cartoonish (Gabby the Town Crier). Somehow Disney seems to have managed that blend more naturally in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, although it might be that that movie is so much a part of everyone’s childhood they don’t even notice that, somehow, Snow White and Grumpy exist on-screen at the same time.

The title song isn’t going to haunt your mind the way Dancing On The Moon still does, but I enjoy it, and hope that you do also.

Really, Though, Comic Strip _Momma_ Going Quite Mad

I don’t mean to harp on this too much, but, did you see Mell Lazarus’s Momma for today? No, because there’s only fourteen people under the age of 50 who read the comics and most of them have better sense than to read Momma. But, well, just look at the strip for the 17th.

Momma notes yesterday was Presidents Day; someone agrees and points out it was Heritage Day in Canada. Another woman says we shouldn't compete with Canada, 'After all, they're always our allies', and two women beyond her say 'true' three times. That's it.
Mell Lazarus’s baffling Momma for the 17th of February, 2015. Also, I question whether it was actually Heritage Day in Canada.

While I criticized a couple strips last week for not making sense, I have to admit that at least the comic from the 13th is a joke-like construct: Francis talks about how his boss yelled at him for seven hours, Momma asked a question about this, and we get back a non sequitur response. Momma’s question doesn’t make contextual sense, but it at least has the grammar; the structure is right even if the humor is lacking.

Francis says he made a mistake at work, his boss yelled at him for seven solid hours and threw him out of the office; then the scene teleports from the front porch to the living room.
Mell Lazarus’s crazy Momma for the 13th of February, with a setup that just … I don’t know. I just don’t know.

The Lincoln’s Birthday one hasn’t got the structure of a joke, but it does have the pop-cultural-reference form of things, by showing off a thing (Abraham Lincoln) and then some things that remind you of that original thing (“four score and seven years”, “civil”, “mint julep” — well, he was born in Kentucky). This “here’s a thing that reminds you of another thing!” form in brilliant hands gives you Mystery Science Theater 3000, the movie Airplane!, and those Bugs Bunny cartoons stealing jokes from then-current radio comedians. In clumsy hands, it gives you the Scary Movie franchise and Animaniacs and the like. These might be the humor equivalent of junk food — a quick laugh that, on reflection, you really can’t justify having found funny — but it is at least a form that inspires a giggle.

Lincoln, I guess, tells Francis he's thirsty, so Francis asks Momma to bring him a mint julep, which is 'very civil' of us. It doesn't make more sense in the illustration. Sorry.
Mell Lazarus’s crazy Momma for the 12th of February — Lincoln’s birthday — 2015.

But this, well, I don’t know what there is even to giggle at. Maybe some vague nervousness at elderly people acting kind of daft? That seems cruel in an abnormal form for Momma, though.

So as not to be too negative on an otherwise decent day, let me close with this picture of our pet rabbit doing that thing where he’s nodding off but keeps waking himself up when his head droops too fast. Also he might be melting through the bars of his play area.

Our Flemish giant, nestled up against the bars of his play area, as he naps.
Our pet rabbit doing that thing where he’s nodding off, but keeps waking himself up because his head droops too fast.

Does This Old-Time Radio Plot Really Make Sense?

So I was listening to an episode of Inner Sanctum, the old-time radio series that you maybe heard of from that Bugs Bunny cartoon where he says this creaking door “sounds like Inner Sanctum,”, and it was an episode where the newlywed husband spends the whole train ride back home tying little nooses out of loose pieces of string and warning his new wife that if he ever goes crazy she’ll just have to shoot him, which sounds pretty dire but is actually one of the more upbeat episodes of Inner Sanctum. It’s kind of what I love about the show. That and that the narrator delivers, archly, the kind of jokes that you think are gallows humor when you’re twelve, like, “a bachelor ghoul is someone who knows two can die as cheaply as one”, and I’m not even making that one up. I’m not sure anyone ever made that one up.

Anyway, the villain turns out to be the Creepy Butler, voiced by Jackson Beck, also known as the cartoon voice of Bluto or, in this particular episode, the Other Character In The Story. It turns out he, his father, his grandfather, and so on back for generations have been the servants of the groom, the groom’s father, grandfather, et cetera, going back generations, and each of them have been busy waiting for their employers to get married and then kill their wives in horrible mysterious circumstances so as to perpetuate a curse, all because generations ago the groom’s great-something-grandfather wronged Bluto’s great-something-grandfather.

Gotta say. I admire traditions, especially quirky local traditions that are clearly not mass-produced and supported by commercial interests. I just don’t see how being a lifelong servant of the guy who’s wronged you pays out, especially given the extra workload involved in being a serial killer. And passing that down through generations? I mean, I can barely keep track of my own grudges, and I only have two of them. If my father (hi, Dad!) wanted me to pick up one of his grudges, I guess I’d tell him I was going to, but I can’t see putting more effort into it than making some snarky comments about someone on the Internet. I realize that wasn’t an option in the days of Inner Sanctum, because that series ran from 1941 to 1952 when the Internet was just a big round-robin typing circle, and typewriters were strictly rationed during the War so it’d be hard to requisition one just to insult someone your Dad was angry about, but.

Of course, if all Bluto’s ancestors in this were that good about killing their employers’ brides, how have they got around to like four generations of this? I guess I’m just having problems with the inner logic of this. I hope I’m not hurting the feelings of whoever wrote that episode. I don’t think I’m hurting Bluto’s feelings by saying all this.

Also, you know, killing wives for decades because one guy cheated another guy about a gold mine or whatever it was people in the west did to wrong themselves in the mid-19th century? Besides being a ripe slice of evil there’s also incompetent planning at work here; there’s supposed to be a karmic link in a good story of horror and retribution and here it’s just … what? Yes, the groom are being pretty irresponsible in not mentioning the “long string of horrible, mysterious deaths” to their wives before getting married, and introducing it by giving her the gun she should use to shoot him if he starts getting murder-y is just … you know, I’m glad I don’t live in an old-time radio suspense series, that’s all I can really say about it.

Statistics Saturday: Hi, Dad

After a little chat with my father not related to his appearance in dreams of warning, I’d like to include a couple of numbers for Statistics Saturday or Sunday or Whatever which relate to him and to the humor blog posts from this month.

  • Number Of Entries That My Dad Thinks Were Funny He Guesses Though He Didn’t Understand Them: 4.
  • Number Of Entries That My Dad Didn’t Notice But Is Sure He’d Think Were Great: 6. (Thank you!)
  • Black Knight 2000 Lightning Wheel: 200,000 points.
  • Number Of Entries About The Scary Problem In The Basement I Needed My Dad’s Advice On Fixing: 0.
  • Number Of Things I’ve Done To Fix That Scary Problem In The Basement: 1, if going to the hardware store counts.
  • Number With No Particular Connection To My Dad: 2,038.
  • Number Of Times I Realize I Ought To Call My Dad In-Between Times I Actually Do: Like 8 or something embarrassing like that.
  • Year When My Father Revealed To Me That “I’m Looking Over A Four-Leaf Clover” Wasn’t A Little Ditty Bugs Bunny Just Made Up: 1979.
  • Number Of Times Out Of Ten That My Father Refers To It As “Ruptures” Instead Of “Rutgers”: 6.
  • Runs Batted In: 26.