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Winstar Home Video presents
The Great Animation Studios: The Fleischer Studios (1914-1941)

"I don't know what to say, I've never made love in Technicolor before - ."
- Popeye the Sailor (as Aladdin)

Review By: debi lee mandel   
Published: September 28, 2000

Stars: Koko, Max (Fleischer), Betty Boop (Mae Questel), Popeye (Jack Mercer), Olive Oyl, Gabby
Other Stars: Bimbo, Pudgy, Swee'pea, Grampy, Junior
Director: Max and Dave Fleischer

Manufacturer: DVXX
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (minor cartoon violence)
Run Time: 01h:27m:34s
Release Date: September 05, 2000
UPC: 720917310428
Genre: animation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BC+A- D+

DVD Review

This disc contains a summary collection of my (second) childhood favorite animators, the Fleischer Brothers. There was something very real in their characters' movements, more lifelike and human than anything Disney or Warner Bros. offered; even more so than my hero, Felix the Cat. I can still see the "serious" characters of Gulliver's Travels so richly in my imagination, and it is that naturalness that renders them indelible.

In 1914, Max Fleischer invented the Rotoscope and then teamed up with brother Dave to create "Out of the Inkwell"—out of these murky depths leapt some of early cartoondom's best loved characters: Koko the Clown, Bimbo and, with the advent of sound, the controversial Betty Boop (who started life as a dog—literally!—a French Poodle). Later, the brothers lifted Popeye from the Funny Pages and gave him a new career in Hollywood the old salt enjoys to this day. In 1937 they produced their first animated feature, re-creating Lemuel's journey in Lilliput from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. The schlemiel character Gabby was even spun-off into his own series of cartoons. In the early 40s the Fleischers went on to create the first animated Superman series which ran for 2-1/2 years until the studio changed hands.

Max Fleischer also invented the 3D setback, a process that allowed his characters to appear to be moving in a 3-dimensional space. This added another layer of "realism" to his work, even his less-than-life-like characters.

The animations on this disc include:

The Tantalizing Fly (04m:38s) and Bubbles (10m:46s)
Two examples of Fleischer's earliest work featuring (himself and) Koko the Clown. This style of mixing live action with animation has remained one of my favorites, especially when it entails the animator himself rendering and interacting with his creations. Over 50 years later, Monty Python member Terry Gilliam would bring us his updated version of this classic style.

In the first short, both Koko and Max are plagued by a fly. Bubbles has Koko and his creator playing with soap bubbles. What I find particularly well done is when the animation jumps off the page and into Max's "real world" that begins when he blows his biggest bubble.

Both of these are in black & white; silent with piano scores.

Betty Boop's Ker-choo (06m:22s)
This germfest would probably be censored today for teaching kiddies bad manners!

It's race day, the crowd is ready but Betty is late. When she arrives she sings a song about her cold, sneezing on everything in sight. This is a full-figured Betty, but in a racing jumpsuit, joined by her friends Koko and Bimbo among the drivers. Note that when Koko's tires go flat, he simply lifts his car and starts running, a precursor of Fred Flintstone by almost half a century.In black & white with full sound.

More Pep (05m:09s)
In this cartoon from 1936, "Uncle Max" (as only Betty is allowed to call her "maker") tries to cajole a sleepy little pup called Pudgy into performing tricks but fails—until Betty comes to his aid. This is a later, less risqué Betty after the ratings certification was in place.

Also in black & white with full sound.

The Song of the Birds (07m:15s)
This Color Classic is a lesson for a naughty little boy who comes to understand the consequences of his actions, this time with a happy ending. It seems the Fleischers had some learning to do themselves, as this piece appears to be an outing in which they establish plot, storytelling and color, preparing them to take on Disney's Snow White.

Popeye the Sailor with Little Swee'pea (07m:10s)
From 1936, this classic black & white Popeye features the aforementioned 3D setback. Our hero takes his sweetheart Olive Oyl's foundling to the zoo, where the innocent babe crawls his way into perilous situations. (Does anybody else think this little orphan bears a remarkable resemblance to Wimpy? Hmmmmm - .)

I have a knowledgeable friend who swears that the concept of spinach as a wonder food originates from a typo or mistranslation. But whether Popeye boosted sales of the leafy green or not, we know it did immediate wonders for him!

Grampy's Indoor Outing (02m:02s)
Another black & white outing from 1936 stars Betty Boop and Junior (another "foundling"?) whose day at the carnival is washed out by a sudden rainstorm. Their good neighbor, Professor Grampy, invents his own rides for their amusement. Another example of the 3D setback technique.

Small Fry (06m:53s)
Another color short that, this time, teaches a naughty little fish that growing up to fast is not all it seems to be. The theme song, featuring the tag, "O me, O my, Small Fry" is nagging at my memory, although I cannot recall having seen this cartoon before.

This piece uses effects new to the Studio: white ink on black, fully animated titles and real scare tactics.

Ants in the Plants (08m:28s)
A true Color Classic that seems to borrow in style from rival Disney on many levels. I suppose that it is only fitting that Disney would sign on over half a century later to present an updated version in A Bug's Life.

This older story features an ant colony's battle with the dreaded Anteater, with a chorus that sounds like Munchkins. If you are a fan of A Bug's Life or Dreamwork's Antz, you might want to see where it all began.

It's a Hap-Hap-Happy Day (07m:01s)
Another cartoon song that fills my head with memories, this Color Classic stars Gabby, the well-meaning town crier from the feature Gulliver's Travels. The annoying Lilliputian tags along on the Mayor's camping trip and brings it to ruin. Gabby had a successful series run with Fleischer Studios in the 40s.

Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp (21m:33s)
(Misnamed Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp in the menu and on the packaging.)

A truly classic Popeye features Olive Oyl as a screenwriter for Surprise Pictures, who pounds out the tale of Aladdin, starring Popeye—and herself as the princess.

It is a sweet surprise that this cartoon actually does attempt to follow this old Chinese folk tale while managing to let Popeye "ams what he ams."

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Well, I might beg to differ with Winstar as to the definition of "fully restored." Accepting that some of the cartoons in this collection are over 85-years-old and therefore the source materials would be found in perilous condition, "fully" is a bit of a stretch. The Betty Boop cartoons look great; her blacks are black with good clean gray levels around her. With only minor pixelization and shimmering, her shorts are certainly the most "restored" of the set. On the other end of the spectrum are the Koko reels that show every sign of their intrepid age. Dust, scratches, shimmering, reel marks, contrast banding—you name it. HOWEVER, at 85, how glorious that Koko is still with us, as playful as he ever was. Difficult to view, but heck, there for our viewing, a small miracle of this digital medium.

The aspect ratio (4:3) seems correct for some of these cartoons but not others. The latter seem cut at their edges, either top/bottom or left/right. Not terribly important, but incorrect.

The minority selections in color are tired and bleed-y. In the case of Aladdin, they are much too dark.

Overall, the transfer is serviceable. I am always an advocate for preservation, which this disc does—I have no qualms with the term "Collector's Edition" on the grounds.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Offered in ProLogic, Stereo and Dolby Digital, the audio HAS been wonderfully restored in most cases here, with the ever-controversial addition of Foley work in the rear channels. In Betty Boop's Ker-choo the cars race across the back speakers. The Song of the Birds fills in the rears with twitters and ambient sound while the main activity remains up front.

The piano scores in the silent Koko cartoons come off appropriately "tinny." Dialogue across the disc is balanced and understandable, even the closed-mouth mutterings of Popeye.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 12 cues
Cast and Crew Biographies
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: An informative history of the Fleischer brothers and their studio is laid out in 14 text screens (note that the "Back" menu button did not work on every frame). The Main Menu has an animated loop that while not quite in the same vein as the cartoons produced by this studio (spinning 3-D graphics) is easy enough to move through. Also note that the order listed on the packaging differs from the menu.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Fleischer Studios stands out for its invention and creativity in the early era of animation. Their techniques were both daring and successful, and some of their own unique characters (especially Betty Boop) are as enduring as they could have hoped.

While awash with imperfections, this disc is a must have for fans of early animation, the Rotoscope, and the spunky Ms. Boop.


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