Betty Boop: Dizzy Dishes


Previously entered as the first Betty Boop cartoons:


While there’s one more “first” Betty Boop to include, the above review of first appearances — of her character design, of the short-lived revision in the late 30s, of her character as someone named Betty Boop, of her as protagonist — brings me to the final of the really compelling “first Betty Boop cartoons”. This would be Dizzy Dishes, the 1930 short that’s credited as the original appearance of Betty Boop.

She’s not named, although come to it nobody in the cartoon really is. She’s also not the protagonist; she comes in at about two minutes forty seconds in, and spends a minute on-screen, as the waiter-protagonist gets distracted from his mission of delivering spot gags set in a cabaret. She sings, with the protagonist — usually identified as Bimbo, and I suppose that’s as good a name as any — taking some or all of her “boop-oop-a-doop” refrain from “I Have To Have You”.

Plot and characterization are not the primary focus of an early-30s Fleischer cartoon, which is why we never really get a clear answer why Bimbo is so reluctant about delivering the roast duck to the demanding customer, who looks to me like Disney’s Pegleg Pete, with a couple early hints of Bluto worked in. The Internet Movie Database claims the character is Gus Gorilla, which is believable enough, and that he’s voiced by William Costello, who would be the first animated voice of Popeye. Delivering six minutes or so worth of gags are the focus and that’s done fairly well with an opening string of demanding customers and Bimbo’s attempts to keep up (watch how he handles a demand to make two bowls of stew).

I hate to say it, but Betty Boop’s appearance slows the proceedings down, though they do recover their odd and occasionally nightmare-fuelish bent (the roast duck lays an egg! And it hatches!) soon enough. Soon enough Gus Gorilla loses his patience, and goes after Bimbo, and I am kind of on Gus’s side here. It all ends, as any great early-30s cartoon will, with a resolution that makes you go, “wait, what?”

Betty Boop: Silly Scandals


Since last week I showcased the first Betty Boop cartoon, I thought to change things up a little bit by this week showing the first Betty Boop cartoon. This reminds us of the need to have a clear conceptual theory of what constitutes a Betty Boop cartoon. The character began as an unnamed dog-human critter, but reappeared in Fleischer Studios Talkartoons, with her design gradually becoming more human, the character gaining some personality. In this cartoon, Silly Scandals, she gains a name — at least, she gets to be called Betty — and she’s almost completely made the transition to extremely slender, wide-headed human. She’s still got dog ears; those wouldn’t last much longer.

Still, she isn’t the star of this cartoon, released the 23rd of May, 1931. Bimbo is. He’s still the vaguely genial presence that every early-30s cartoon had, here, sneaking his way into a vaudeville show. What saves the cartoon from being too generic is that the famed Fleischer Studios strangeness is hard at work here. Any cartoon character — well, any silent cartoon character; the habit strangely faded away once sound came in and grey-washed art came into vogue — might morph into an umbrella to sneak around somewhere; it’s a rarer mind that has the sun hide behind a cloud and pull a drawstring to start the shower. And the final sequence, with a hypnotized Bimbo subject to a string of body-shaping manipulations, finds that boundary between “technically impressive” and “unwitting nightmare fuel” and charges right over like it’s trying to start a war. And then it gets dazzling. It’s an amazing production all around.