"MAX FLEISCHER’S SUPERMAN 1941-1942"
by Kevin Carr
|| MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)
Bud Collyer as SUPERMAN/CLARK KENT
Joan Alexander as LOIS LANE
Available on DVD April 7
Official Kids WB site
Studio: Warner Bros.
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Back in the early 1940s, the Max Fleischer cartoon studios were commissioned by Paramount to develop a series of animated shorts about the Man of Steel. With Superman being a relative newcomer to the pop culture scene of the day (he was only introduced four years before in Action Comics), these theatrical cartoons were highly influential in developing the characters – and the animation style of superheroes – for years to come.
WHAT I LIKED
Over the years, I had seen bits and pieces of these original cartoons from the 1940s. As a kid, I did not fully appreciated, leaning more towards the child-centric cartoons of the “SuperFriends” and other Saturday morning fare. However, as an adult, I found something magical about these animated shorts.
What was so impressive about these films is their innovative look. Even put up against today’s animation, the Max Fleischer “Superman” cartoons hold up with incredible integrity. The animation is fresh and crisp. The action is powerful, especially for its day. And the subject matter of the films – usually involving some old-school adventure threat that Superman must stop before Lois Lane and/or Metropolis perish – gives a flair of nostalgia to these shorts.
Because these films were made for all audiences, rather than just for kids, they had an edge you don’t see in later cartoons. There is real peril to people, and while the shorts aren’t bloody or overtly violent, there’s plenty of destruction involving large-scale disasters like bridges collapsing and building toppling over.
In short, I loved these cartoons. They strike at the heart of what Superman was and will continue to be. The 17 shorts included in this collection got me recharged about the nature of Superman and reawakened my understanding of his heroism that spans decades.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
Like any cartoons from the 1940s, you’re going to see some things that might make you cringe in this politically correct climate. Because these were made at the height of World War II, the treatment of the Japanese and German people are understandably harsh. However, even then the shorts doing dive fully into the yellow-face caricatures that you’ll see in other cartoons of the day.
And while I loved the serial adventure aspects to the stories, I will admit that the cartoons’ plots are pretty simplistic. Lois Lane is the stereotype we now make fun of, and there’s almost no character development – just Superman coming in to save the day.
I wouldn’t advise watching the full two and a half hours of cartoons in one sitting, but taken in bite-sized chunks, these theatrical shorts can be a lot of fun.
In addition to the 17 animated shorts, there’s a sneak peek at the upcoming DC Universe “Green Lantern” feature (which we have seen on previous WB releases). New special features include “First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series,” which give a history of these cartoons’ development, including aspects that were first introduced to the character (like his ability to fly). Also included is “The Man, the Myth, Superman,” a featurette about the traditional hero and how he has been presented and preserved over the years of human history.
WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
Fans of the Golden Age of Superman and animation aficionados.