Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Betty Boop

When I was a bumbling little kid I always saw images of her on the front of small accessories and trucks, and I wondered, who is Betty Boop? Why was she always red and surrounded by hearts? I never saw her on the saturday morning cartoons, so was she really a legitimate cartoon character in the first place?

During my usual youtube surfing, I stumbled upon Betty Boop cartoons, and realized that the reason why I didn't see any of her shows was because they all played in the 1930s. Apparently she is one of the first sex symbols in animation history and appealed more to the adult audience...well that explains why I was confused about her role as a kid! It's interesting how cartoons are typically associated with children, but with Betty Boop this was not the case, at least in the beginning of her animated career.

Grim Natwick, an animator at Fleischer Studios, created Betty Boop for the Talkartoon series that played in the early 1930s. Originally the main character in Talkartoon was Bimbo the Dog, and he had a poodle girlfriend who was, in fact, the original Betty Boop. She made her first debut in the 1930 short Dizzy Dishes, in which Bimbo is the waiter and Betty is the singer at a restaurant. The studio head Max Fleischer later changed Betty into a human girl, replacing the poodle ears with hoop earings and a dog nose with a button nose. She is accompanied by her friend Koko the Clown, and Bimbo was eventually taken out of the series entirely.

The original Betty Boop in Dizzy Dishes
Fleischer Studios is accredited for the creation of Betty Boop, Koko the Clown, Popeye the Sailor Man, and Superman. Max Fleischer, the head of the studio, is highly respected for his technological innovations, including his frequent use of the rotoscope technique. Rotoscoping is when an animator traces over live action footage to make production a faster and easier process. This causes the characters to move in a very realistic way. This technique is used depending on what the studio wants on the show---it is usually used when a cartoon character has to perform like a professional entertainer or live actor. For instance, in the episode Minnie the Moocher, jazz singer Cab Calloway was rotoscoped and was replaced by an animated walrus. Today, motion capture is the "rotoscope on computer". In movies like Happy Feet, the dancing penguins are a result of motion capturing Savion Glover, the famous tap dancer.

The content in Betty Boop should I put it...extremely liberal for its time. I don't know, cartoons back then are pretty strange, in my opinion, especially Fleischer cartoons. The 1932 short Boop-Oop-A-Doop ahem, certainly makes that clear, as the question of sexual harassment and virginity are brought up in the short...pretty dark subjects, and the fact that its a cartoon makes it even more...odd... Also the humor back then is so different than what is considered funny today. What is today deemed cruel and freakish was entertaining in those days. There are, however, many inventive and clever little tricks that gives Fleischer cartoons a style much different than the Disney's Silly Smyphonies. In Minnie the Moocher, Betty depicts the modern teenager rebelling against her old fashioned parents. Betty portrayed this new playful Flapper Girl character to reflect the halcyon days of the Roaring Twenties. This was the reason for her ascension to fame. Her role was later changed into a more maternal figure, which turned off some of the audiences.

The most notable voice actress for Betty was Mae Questel. Betty was based on Helen Kane and Clara Bow, celebrities of the decade. Helen Kane charged Fleischer Studios for unfairly caricaturizing her through Betty, but this charge was later disproved.
Today, Betty Boop remains a popular figure, and despite her peculiar origins, is still a lovable character to many.

Helen Kane

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