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With: (voices) Mae Questel, Bonnie Poe, Ann Little, Margie Hines
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Dave Fleischer
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 83
Date: 09/24/2013

Betty Boop: The Essential Collection Volume 2 (2013)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Prize Show

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In August, Olive Films released Betty Boop: The Essential Collection Volume 1, which was a major leap in correcting cartoon history and reclaiming the genius of these amazing cartoons, some of which are now in the public domain. Here comes Volume 2, with an equally excellent collection of twelve shorts, made between 1930 and 1934. This set also includes what many critics consider one of the essentials, Bimbo's Initiation (1931), a crazy item in which Bimbo the dog is shanghaied and pressured to join a certain kind of weird club.

I can't emphasize enough that the Fleischer brothers, Max and Dave, were once serious forces in the field of animation, and arguably the equal -- and perhaps even the superiors -- of Disney. In the early 1930s, Disney's high points were The Three Little Pigs and The Band Concert. But over at Fleischer Studios, they were ahead of the game with Betty Boop.

I'm not sure if anyone ever decided whether or not Betty Boop is for kids, but she's not. She's sexy and outgoing, but also lives in a truly bizarre, surreal world where things just aren't expected, and where plots -- and conclusions -- are not as important as an experience.

She's very often an object of desire, with male characters leering over her curves. She likes the attention, but fortunately, she's savvy enough that she's never a victim. We see an early version of Betty in a couple of these shorts, with dog-like ears hanging down where her earrings would eventually be; this explains her more-than-platonic relationship with the dog Bimbo.

In general, the Fleischers concentrated on smooth, realistic movements in backgrounds of dimensional depth, and their work here is superb, although it would continue to improve in their later Popeye and Superman cartoons. What's most striking is the way these cartoons move. After some kind of seemingly normal setup, things are allowed to proceed to their most primal conclusion. It's almost dreamlike, following something until it simply changes into something else or ends.

The cartoons in this second edition include Dizzy Dishes (1930), Bimbo's Initiation (1931), Boo-Oop-A-Doop (1932), Betty Boop Limited (1932), Betty Boop's Bizzy Bee (1932), Betty Boop's Ups and Downs (1932), Betty Boop's Museum (1932), Betty Boop's Big Boss (1933), Morning, Noon and Night (1933), Betty Boop's Little Pal (1934), Betty Boop's Prize Show (1934) and Keep in Style (1934). Olive claims on their website that the shorts are "newly re-mastered in HD from 4K scans of the original negatives and finegrains," and indeed they look amazing.

It's funny that, for nearly a century, our view of cartoons is that they're supposed to be funny and supposed to be for kids, and this view has rarely budged. With Betty Boop, the Fleischers embraced the idea that cartoons can be totally unrealistic, and reflecting the most animalistic and bizarre behaviors of the id. How wonderful to have her back.

See also Betty Boop: The Essential Collection Volume 1 and Betty Boop: The Essential Collection Volume 3.

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