Saturday, February 16, 2008


You know a series I come back to again and again are the Color Classics. With the two volumes of the Silly Symphonies cartoons now available  I was finally able to compare the two series and you know what I discovered - the Color Classics were, overall, a better series! Fun characters, catchy songs and those beautiful set-backs not too mention the residual weirdness of the early Betty Boop and Popeyes keep a lot of the Color Classics fresh over and over again. A lot has been written about the superiority of the Symphonies to the Classics but you tell me which do you think would lift your spirits? 

'The Flying Mouse" (Disney, 1934)

"An Elephant Never Forgets" (Fleischer, 1934)
Just look at that beautiful Disney backround and acting! I'm genuinely depressed!  All Fleischer has is a  cool 3D jungle setback and a fun character - that may be a cartoon but it certainly isn't animation! I know. I read 'Of Mice and Magic'!
The funny thing is that even when the Fleischer artists thought they were doing Disney they couldn't help the wonderfully creepy design that made the Betty Boop cartoons so interesting. It's as though the ancillary animal characters from that series broke off and formed their own series. Honestly, would you really want to cuddle with this?

'Time For Love' (Fleischer, 1935)
And then there was the good ol' New York filthy mindedness. It didn't show up often in the Color Classics but when it did is was pretty obvious. For example: what's this 'banana' doing? 

'Tears of an Onion' (Fleischer, 1938)

Trust me, when it animates you get the gist. I wonder though what the potato (wearing glasses) is doing in there with him? There were other connections to Betty Boop too. The Miser from 'Little Dutch Mill' had more than a passing resemblance to The Old Man of the Mountain.

'Little Dutch Mill' (Fleischer, 1934)

'Old Man of the Mountain' (Fleischer, 1933)
And in 'Play Safe' we return to the Mystery Cave of 'Minnie the Moocher', 'Snow White' and 'Old Man of the Mountain'

'Play Safe' (Fleischer, 1936)

 'Minnie the Moocher' (Fleischer, 1932)
To me, it's the bizarre elements that keep me returning. It's hard to imagine a cartoon like 'Tears of an Onion' or 'Fresh Vegetable Mystery' being produced at Disney. You can imagine the story outline: "In search of kidnapped baby carrots, psychotic potato cops torture fruit'! 

'Fresh Vegetable Mystery' (Fleischer, 1939)

And then there were the catchy tunes: Play Safe, All's Fair at the Fair, An Elephant Never Forgets, Hold It - the list goes on. Frankly I find it difficult to remember any specific songs from the Silly Symphonies. A lot of it seems shoe-horned to the action: forgettable, clunky and kind of stiff. The Fleischers had good songs to begin with and the cartoons are built around them. Sammy Timberg was matchless. 

 If the Silly Symphonies were intended as a chain of experiments in preparation for the feature 'Snow White', then were they even supposed to stand on their own as short subjects? Is watching how Walt got 'better and better' entertainment? There were a few wonderful Symphonies but most have me squirming in my seat after a minute of viewing! Mind you, not every Color Classic was good. Some lay on the sugar pretty thick. However, for me, the charge of insincerity so often leveled against the Color Classics rings just as true (if not more so) for the Disney cartoons. Fleischer always had an extra treat: in layout, 3D setback, color styling  or funky character design.  At Disney these things, I think like the music, became intended as only functional and subordinate to the story rather than individual elements each attempting to entertain the eye.  So if I want trite for my treat, I'd rather watch this:

'Somewhere in Dreamland' (Fleischer, 1936)

than this:

'Elmer Elephant' (Disney, 1936)


Thad said...

Great post, man!
Though quite frankly, I'd rather do laundry than watch just about ANY Silly Symphony OR Color Classic.

J.V. said...

Thanks Thad!