Friday, May 24, 2019

"Superman" (1941) AKA "The Mad Scientist"

Among my all time favourite animated theatrical shorts is "Superman" (1941), also known as "The Mad Scientist." The cartoon would be historic as the first time Superman (or any other comic book superhero) appeared on the big screen. It was also one of the most lavish animated shorts ever made. It looks like a Golden Age comic book on film.

It was in early 1941 that Paramount Pictures bought the film rights to Superman. The studio then turned to Fleischer Studios to produce the actual cartoons. Dave and Max Fleischer weren't particularly enthusiastic about producing the Superman cartoons, and quoted Paramount an extraordinary price for doing so. As it turned out, Paramount negotiated a lower price, but one that was still well in excess of the average animated theatrical short of time.

Ultimately, the first Superman cartoon was made for a cost of $50,000, which was about 3 times the cost of the average Popeye cartoon that Fleischer Studios produced at the time. Further cartoons in the series would still carry huge budgets for theatrical cartoons at the time, costing around $35,000 to produce. Dave Fleischer himself served as the director on "Superman", while Steve Muffatti was animation director on the film. Fleischer Studios gave "Superman" the same care that they had their feature film Gulliver's Travel (1931). Both rotoscoping and sketches from live models were utilised in the making of the animated short. Special care was made to insure that the characters had realistic proportions. "Superman" featured realistic use of shadows, as well as detailed backgrounds. Some of the most sophisticated special effects animation was utilised on the cartoon.

The voices for the cartoon were drawn from the radio show The Adventures of Superman, with Bud Collyer reprising his role as Superman, Joan Alexander reprising her role as Lois Lane, and Julian Noa reprising his role as Perry White. Jackson Beck, who served as the announcer on the radio show, served as the narrator on the cartoon.

Paramount Pictures provided "Superman" with a promotional campaign worthy of a feature film. Upon its released on October 26 1941 it was very well received by critics. It should come as no surprise that "Superman" would be very successful. It would be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons). It lost to Disney's "Lend a Paw," starring Pluto. The success of "Superman" would lead to 16 more "Superman" animated shorts.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is "Superman" (1941).

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