Bud Collyer (Talent Jackpot)
Joan Alexander (Superman/Aquaman)
Jackson Beck (Popeye)
Jack Mercer (The Mighty Hercules)
Julian Noa (Suspence)
True classics. Those two words immediately come to mind when I look back at these amazing animated shorts, shorts which are over 70 years old now. The animation is so fluid and so stunning to behold and, sure, the plots are basically the exact same thing repeated over and over, but these shorts are just so hypnotic. Fans of animation and comic books often cite the Fleischer brothers’ Superman animated shorts as the gold standard for others to follow, and rightly so. These cartoons have influenced some of the biggest animated series, including an impact that’s still felt on most DC Comics-themed cartoons today. So, let’s dig a little deeper into this latest collection of some of the best animated shorts to hit the big (and small) screen.
Make them exciting and visually bold, make them in brilliantly saturated Technicolor: This is a job for Superman! Superman’s adventures in comic books were scarcely three years old when the Academy Award-nominated debut cartoon, Superman burst onto the screen with its breakthrough look and vitality. From their signature bullet-paced prologues to their muscular style to their stories steeped in heroics and wartime topicality, these 17 animated theatrical shorts produced by Max Fleischer (with the first nine directed by his brother Dave) set the tone for future screen versions of the Man of Steel’s exploits, inspired animators for decades to come and, best of all, continue to pack a thrilling punch for fans. The excitement still soars! To anyone who hasn’t seen these shorts before, you’re in for a big surprise. Visually brilliant and flat-out stunning, all 17 shorts included on the DVD is something that every fan should truly have in their collection. These Superman shorts were straightforward, fast-paced, and heavy on the action. The plot set-up was as basic as can be, but the pay-off was always worth it. Even if every episode followed the exact same basic structure, with a handful of exceptions, it didn’t matter. Watching Superman save Lois over and over again from whatever predicament she found herself in was just glorious and, hey, you have to give the writers credit for managing to jam Lois in danger in nearly every short with out it getting too unbelievable. Too see Superman grapple with a runaway train or a giant robot made it all worthwhile because, boy, do these cartoons ever look gorgeous.
The use of shadows, the staging, the great design work, all of it. I could seriously gush endlessly about how beautiful these cartoons look, but I’m sure no one wants to read a review that rambles on and on for page after page. These cartoons were staged as if everything happening was real, and it shows. The little flourishes the animators add, like using black lines for some characters and dropping it for others, makes everyone look unique. Couple that with the great art deco design and some really inspired set pieces and you have a cartoon that can’t miss. These shorts are definitely a product of their time, with Superman fighting a mess of mad scientists and thugs, all armed to the teeth with futuristic technology. Whether it’s robbery, holding the city at ransom, etc., the technology definitely puts up a hefty obstacle for Superman to overcome. And, for the majority, it’s mere fisticuffs to save Metropolis, but some of the latter shorts in this collection the scale is bigger. As one can expect, when the series goes global, especially during the wartime era most of these were produced in, the portrayals of other races and nationalities dive deep into physical and vocal stereotypes.
Now, not every short is top-notch. Some of the shorts from the second batch of Superman shorts, are weaker compared to the first ones. One can rightfully assume that the reported behind-the-scenes problems and budget cuts on the second wave of shorts played a big part in why the eight latter shorts in this collection aren’t held in such high esteem as the initial nine. The inclusion of a boy intern, named Louis, is also rightfully the target of dismay toward these latter episodes. Despite all that, the final short “Secret Agent,” featuring Superman helping a secret agent outrun the Nazis, ends the series on a definite high-note.
These cartoons remain a critical part in Superman’s history. Besides, they’re also absolutely amazing to look at and are just incredibly fun adventures. While these cartoons may not be the most complex cartoons ever written, they still manage to catch the audience’s attention with their brilliant design work, sophisticated filming techniques, and visually stunning animation. Whether you’re a Superman fan, a fan of animation, a historian, a casual viewer, whatever, these cartoons definitely need to be part of one’s collection.