COUNTDOWN TO MAN OF STEEL: Max Fleischer’s SUPERMAN (1941-1942)

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It’s on its way… Maybe not faster than a speeding bullet, but Warner Brothers, DC Comics, and Hollywood in general, are giving Zack Snyder‘s soon-to-release Supes reboot epic more power than a locomotive in ensuring it is a big hit. And Comic Book Therapy will be there, bringing the scoops as release time draws near. This feature is but part of a series of nostalgic look-backs of the some of most noted, legendary, and most popular movie and TV incarnations of the Superman franchise from its early days in the 1940s to today. We will be featuring bits from the first animated series to the classic George Reeves TV serials, Christopher Reeve films, onto endng with Smallville. All in preparation to receive the latest installment of the MAN OF STEEL movie this summer. Join us as we COUNTDOWN to MAN OF STEEL.

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We being first off with a look-back at a little remembered animated movie mini-serial of Superman, created originally from the highly renown(to industry fans) and ingenious crafting animation studio of Max Fleischer.

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Just who is Max Fleischer? Max was one part of the prestigious and brilliantly talented animation team the Fleischer Brothers, whom along with his brother Dave, formed the famous Fleischer Studios beginning in the 1920s(orignally named as Inkwell Studios). The group had already developed an incredible following with their masterful classic works on such characters as Popeye, Betty Boop, and with the classic adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels as a feature film. Onto 1941, with the raving success of Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster‘s Superman comic books(debuting in 1938) making a household name for the character, Max took on the production of the Superman animated shorts on which a pilot and the first eight animated shorts were produced under release from Paramount Pictures. Although in April 1942, when the Fleischer Studio franchise was under forced resignation with Paramount, these masterful pieces were continued to be produced by Famous Studios for another eight shorts (from 1942 to 1943). However, acknowledgment of these classics still lay with the genius of Max and his brother Dave.

Clip of Superman (1941): “The Mechanical Monsters”

One edge that can honestly be said to be the major element of talent and quality to their work was the inception of one of the most valuable devices in the field of animation…the Rotoscope.

Basically put, the Rotoscope, invented by Max Fleischer himself, is what allowed animators to create more lifelike effect into the process of animation to produce more realistic forms and movements in the work. It was key invention ace up Max’s sleeve that helped him produce the most endearing and realistic styled animated work around. This was definitely seen in the work for Popeye, Betty Boop, and most notably again in the animated feature film adaptation of the Johnathan Swift 1726 Literary Classic, Gulliver’s Travels.

Trailer for “Gulliver’s Travels” (1939)

A technology used like never before, animation was taken to revolutionary heights and seriously pitted The Fleischers’s comparison or even superiority to the lot of fellow animation pioneer Walt Disney and several of his works. The Fleischer’s influence and legacy of its work carried on as a major influence for many other animators including the legendary Japanese anime filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki went on to creating an homage of sorts to a famous scene in one of the Superman animated episodes, “The Mechanical Monsters” featuring robot engaged in a robbery heist. Miyazaki would go on to use this in the second Lupin III TV series and in his 1986 classic: Laputa: Castle in the Sky (a movie with an intended motif of Gulliver’s Travels elements as well — which indicated a noted Fleischer Brothers impression overall). Altogether, and not widely known by many anime fans, this impression of the Fleischer Brother’s work gave Miyazaki a stronger influence in his field of animation work, even over the likes of Disney’s historical classics.

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Miyazaki’s Robot “homages” of the Fleischer Brother’s Superman “The Mechanical Monsters” cartoon in Lupin III (left) and Laputa: Castle in the Sky (right).

And again, even though the Fleischers’s eventual ousting from its Superman project by parent studio Paramount came to pass, its one year journey in bringing “The Man of Tomorrow”(as he was coined back by industry and fans alike back then) to animated life on the big screen was not without some merit. Recognition for it remains in the wake of Max Fleischer and the studio receiving an Oscar nod for Best Short Subject: Cartoons in 1942. Famous studios kept Superman running from 1942 until 1943. But when looking back, Max’s name remains synonymous with its long awaited release of Superman classic cartoon fans on DVD, owned and released today by Warner Brothers Animation.

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Catch us again when we continue our road down Superman memory lane on with our look-back at The Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves. Next time on Comic Book Therapy!

 

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