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.

Color Classics: A Car-Tune Portrait

A Car-Tune Portrait, a Fleischer Color Classic cartoon from June of 1937, takes a bit to get going. It starts with several of the key players in an orchestra, and the conductor, being drawn in by realistic hands, in a gimmick familiar to how Koko the Clown and other characters would be instantiated in the start of an Out of the Inkwell cartoon. Even the orchestra stage is drawn in in this way. The result is the cartoon takes nearly 90 seconds to have any action happen, and that action is the conductor apologizing that cartoon animals have a reputation for being uncultured and ridiculous and so here is some proper music.

The music is, of course, Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2, which you may better know as “Oh yeah, that classic piece they always play in cartoons.” I’m not sure just how this piece, of all the orchestral music out there, came to be the orchestral piece, although it’s a great choice for one. The music starts simple and builds to a frantic climax, one that almost begs to be matched to an action-packed finale. In this light, the slow build of the opening serves the pacing of the cartoon: the action at the end feels more frantic because of the sedate opening.

Walt Disney ran across Liszt’s comic potential in 1929, with the Mickey Mouse short The Opry House, which used it for a small segment of the whole. The Krazy Kat line of non-Krazy-Kat-like cartoons used it for 1931’s Bars and Stripes, which built most of the action, a war between Krazy and musical instruments, around the piece. A Car-Tune Portrait is still one of the earliest uses of the Hungarian Rhapsody, and interesting to me for being done before Friz Freleng’s Rhapsody in Rivets and William Hanna and Joe Barbera’s The Cat Concerto, which seem to have secured the composition’s place as one of the things that just sounds like a cartoon.

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