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Up in the sky!
November 25, 2008 10:59 PM   Subscribe

The entirety of the Fleischer/Famous Studios Superman Film Series. In the early 1940s, this series raised the bar for theatrical shorts with its fluid animation and action-packed storylines. It remains a classic series thanks to its high production values and historical significance not only as the first comic-to-film adaptation, but also as an occasional vehicle for American propaganda during the war.
posted by cthuljew (21 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
It really is a classic series. But gad, is the theme music an earbug!
posted by Class Goat at 11:19 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, I have some of these on a DVD that I show my kids. They love them. Now I can download lots more for them.

I love the way Superman didn't really fly in the early films. He jumped. To go long distances he had to do a bunch of long hops. I guess that goes with the "able to leap tall buildings" phrase.

Of course it made the plots work better when his jumping kinda-sorta looked like flying, so it was only a matter of time before they stopped futzing around and gave him his wings. I wonder if this happens in one of these films? I guess I'll have to watch to find out.
posted by eye of newt at 11:33 PM on November 25, 2008


He was able to fly in the whole cartoon series. This was from the 1940's, and by then the basic Superman character was pretty much fully established.
posted by Class Goat at 11:44 PM on November 25, 2008


Many of these were directed my Isadore Sparber, who shares my last name. I have never been able to establish a connection, but it was the only place I ever saw my own last name when I was a boy (as well as on Casper cartoons, which he also directed), and always gave me a thrill.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:52 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


The art deco design in these toons is eye candy.
posted by PenDevil at 11:53 PM on November 25, 2008


Look at the first of these films (which is all I've seen so far), and you'll see lots of jumping and hopping. And have the book of the original comics 1939-1943 right here in front of me and there's not much that you could definitely call flying until toward the end of the book. Pretty much everywhere where he's up in the sky (which is not often), can be explained by a jump, and he has one leg in front and one in back.
posted by eye of newt at 11:54 PM on November 25, 2008


I so want this as a huge piece of art on my wall.
posted by davejay at 11:59 PM on November 25, 2008


These are really amazing cartoons. I have a collection of them on DVD; they're favorites for budget compilations since they seem to have fallen into the public domain.

One of the best things about 'em is that they come from a time when Superman was still new enough that they didn't complicate the formula with name super villains or bizarre weaknesses or ways to get around his basic invulnerability. (He wasn't quite so invulnerable either, the mad scientist's laser gun gets in some pretty good licks.)

These cartoons are about Superman kicking ass, without reservation, something you don't see him do much of anymore.
posted by JHarris at 1:33 AM on November 26, 2008


I've been trying for some time now to write a coherent paragraph about how much I love Fleischer Studios generally, and the Superman cartoons specifically. I failed. So I'll just keep it simple.

I love Fleischer Studios cartoons. I love the old Super man cartoons. And I love you, cthuljew, for this post.
posted by lekvar at 1:36 AM on November 26, 2008


JHarris, since the 60's or thereabouts, Superman kicking ass without reservation would pretty much be the end of the world. :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:27 AM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have almost this entire series on DVD. LOVE IT!
posted by autodidact at 6:29 AM on November 26, 2008


Wow. It's got 'Japoteurs'.

I have a DVD of the Fleischer Supermans, and it has 'Japoteurs'. It is the most obviously and monstrously racist (from the perpsective of someone in the year 2008) cartoon I have ever seen. I've seen the same DVD in stores, and now they don't have it on there.

Historically speaking, it's important to see what 1940s propoganda was like. But in a lot of ways it still made my skin crawl.

That said, even with 'Japoteurs', these are some of the most magnificently animated pieces in the history of American animation pre-1990. Bruce Timm and Paul Radomski have said it was a great deal of the visual inspiration for Batman: The Animated Series, and that 'look' moved all through the whole DC Animated Universe until it closed up shop.
posted by mephron at 6:29 AM on November 26, 2008


I have a collection of them on DVD; they're favorites for budget compilations since they seem to have fallen into the public domain.

Yes, you see these DVDs all the time in the bargain bins for a couple of bucks apiece, but often in really crappy transfers, and not usually the entire series like this. Good find!
posted by briank at 6:31 AM on November 26, 2008


That said, even with 'Japoteurs', these are some of the most magnificently animated pieces in the history of American animation pre-1990.

Yup. The transition wipe early in the film where the cigarette burns through the newspaper to reveal the next scene is fabulous.
posted by EarBucket at 6:49 AM on November 26, 2008


I'd love to see the live action movies go back to the thirty's Superman. Both for his more limited powers and for the art-deco look.
posted by octothorpe at 8:31 AM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Awesome. I used to have a VHS tape of restored copies of half of the series, but that was lost along with most of my other material stuff in Katrina. It had annoying "enhanced" audio anyway.

Thanks!
posted by egypturnash at 8:59 AM on November 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's odd watching Superman take his pants off, even in silhouette. On TV and in the comics, this aspect of the Clark-to-Superman transformation never appears. Usually, you just see the iconic "opening his shirt to display the big red S" image.
posted by SPrintF at 12:30 PM on November 26, 2008


I love Fleischer Studios cartoons. I love the old Super man cartoons. And I love you, cthuljew, for this post.

He has an excellent handle too.
posted by JHarris at 12:55 PM on November 26, 2008


There is nothing like rotoscoping animation. Oh, and I don't think "The Japoteurs" is the most racist cartoon I've ever seen by far. Here's a bunch that are just as bad.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 5:05 PM on November 26, 2008


The art deco design in these toons is eye candy.

And the camera angles and awesome use of shadows - don't forget those. The lighting and shadow to create depth in the Fleischer Supermans is wonderful, a major difference compared to other cartoons of the time and easy to spot. More here:

The cartoons also used a more cinematic style to complement the increased realistic look of the animation. Characters moved through layers of shadow and light. Scenes were shot using multiple camera angles that required new backgrounds for each shot. Whereas traditional cartoons featured characters interacting on the same plane, the Superman cartoons had a greater sense of depth. The shorts are paced so that the edits accelerate the action towards the climax. Even the title cards, normally a static element in other cartoons’ opening segments, were dynamic and contained either extra animation or audio cues.

The Internet Archive has the cartoons, too.

Pretty much everywhere where he's up in the sky (which is not often), can be explained by a jump

Huh. I don't think his flight against the raygun around 8:20 in the first cartoon is being portrayed as just a jump, or his flight from the Daily Planet building at 6:44, or the way he turns around in mid-flight at 7:38. And when he first shows up about 5 minutes into the 2nd film, The Mechanical Monsters, I think he's clearly flying. Besides, pretty much every superhero flight starts with something that "can be explained by a jump." I think Supes is clearly doing both jumping and flying through most of these.
posted by mediareport at 7:19 PM on November 26, 2008


My husband and I love old cartoons and we're big superhero fans, so this is a giant win for us. We downloaded them and will be watching them later. I've seen crappy DVDs of all of them, but the quality of these is very nice even on our widescreen TV. Thanks, cthuljew!

And mediareport is right, for all the jumping and hopping Superman is definitely flying, too, even in the first one (which we watched to make sure we'd gotten the format right).
posted by immlass at 9:45 PM on November 26, 2008


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