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Silent Era Home Page  >  Books  >  Out of the Inkwell: Max Fleischer and the Animation Revolution
 
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Out of the Inkwell
Max Fleischer and the Animation Revolution

By Richard Fleischer

 

cover
Betty Boop artwork
Copyright © 2005 by
King Features Syndicate Inc./
Fleischer Studios Inc.

BOOK REVIEW

Out of the Inkwell: Max Fleischer and the Animation Revolution
By Richard Fleischer

The University Press of Kentucky : Lexington, Kentucky : 24 June 2005
ISBN 0-8131-2355-0 : 185 pages : hardcover : $27.50

Reviewed by Carl Bennett
Max Fleischer is well-known to animation fans who grew up, as I did, with the Fleischer Popeye cartoons and Song Car-Tunes that were shown on weekday afternoon kids’ television programs — perhaps not by name but by animation style. Later came the familiarity with the Fleischer Superman cartoons, Betty Boop and Ko-Ko the Clown. Now, Fleischer is recognized as an animation innovator who raised the quality of cartoons with each successive series he produced.

Well-established as cartoon producers in the twenties, a time when Walt Disney was successful with his own Alice and Oswald series but still searching for his breakout cartoon character, Max Fleischer and his brother Dave were wowing silent era audiences with their creative and technically dazzling Ko-Ko the Clown series of cartoons that combined live action cinematography of Max the boss interacting with Ko-Ko the fluidly-animated cartoon character. Differing in approach from Disney’s own hybrid Alice cartoons, the Fleischers often ran Ko-Ko around ‘the real world’ of static photographs, causing havoc and headaches for Max until the inevitable return of Ko-Ko to the inkwell. During the silent era, the Fleischer studio pioneered the sound cartoon — utilizing the sound system developed by Lee de Forest — years before the appearance of Steamboat Willie (1928).

Come the sound era, come a new character — Betty Boop — and renewed success for the Fleischer studio. More so than any other character that Max Fleischer created, Betty Boop became a worldwide cultural icon — a character known to millions today who have never even seen a Fleischer cartoon. Soon Max, who produced, and Dave, who directed, launched another wildly-successful series starring a then little-known comic strip character who became Popeye the Sailor. Popeye eventually became the star of a few fantastically-produced color cartoons that further showcased Fleischer innovation. Later came the ambitious and expensive-to-produce Superman cartoons, which set new standards for cartoon realism.

Then, after years of neck-and-neck competition with Disney as the animation industry leaders, the Fleischer studio hit unexpected and inexplicable hard times as greedy Paramount Pictures sought to ruin Max and Dave Fleischer — all in the name of money.

Max Fleischer’s son, Richard, has written a personal memento celebrating his father’s accomplishments, painting an intimate portrait of his creative, moral and regretably too-trusting father, and lamenting Max’s reduction by Paramount’s immoral legal manuevering to a second-rate producer of training films and would-be victor of a long overdue legal action against his former distributor.

The book is far too sketchy to give the reader more than a passing understanding of the man Max Fleischer was, and only an introduction to the fascinating work of brothers Max and Dave. Chapters covering the silent era are completed on page 48. But the book is also a quick and pleasant read — pausing for the occasional slowburn at the recounting of Paramount’s heinous and shameless treatment of one of their top producers — that will have to serve as an adjunct to some future and far more detailed account of the life and work of Max Fleischer.

 
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