6.13.2010

Max Fleischer's Superman : 4 of 5

Max Fleischer's Superman: 1941-1942It's well known that the original Superman animated shorts from the early 1940s are some of the most spectacular animation ever produced (rivaling Disney's work at the time), but I have held off on buying a DVD set of them since so many cheap, inferior discs have been produced (since the works are in the public domain now). Thankfully Warner Bros. has released a semi-official DVD set of these historic gems (which I got for Christmas), using a high-quality transfer that makes the cartoons look sharp and vibrant. However, this is not a true restoration, since there are obviously visible defects and film scratches, but nothing can take away from the brilliance of these 17 Superman adventures! The Max Fleischer studio (who also produced Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons) really went all out on these "big budget" theatrical shorts, combining incredible animation with character designs actually inspired by the comic book, great art deco design with science fiction flourishes (such as lanky robots and ingenious devices), wonderful special effects (lightning, lava, and water are rendered beautifully), and even amazing orchestral scoring! In each ten-minute episode, Clark Kent usually speaks the traditional line "This looks like a job for Superman!" before doing battle with mad scientists, natural disasters, terrible creatures, or even World War II Axis villains (being produced in 1941-42, the depictions of Japanese and German foes are as stereotypical as you can imagine). Although I've seen all of these cartoons before, there were several I didn't fully remember, and as always I was astounded at the way the animators were able to depict Superman's efforts with realistic struggling (especially difficult to do when your hero is flying). This two-disc set includes a couple of short documentaries about the mythological origins of Superman, as well as comments from today's superhero animators (such as Bruce Timm) about the genius that went into these cartoons. I don't think an animation collection could be complete without these Superman shorts, so I'm glad to finally have a good edition of them in my library!

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