They just don’t make ’em like they used to. Literally. The age-old technique of using hundreds of hand-drawn cels of animation to produce cartoons has long been replaced with more robust digital techniques. But like photographs shot on film and vinyl recordings, traditional animation retains that warm and rustic feel where even the imperfections are celebrated for their almost organic nature.
Somewhere around half of the cartoons included in the Archive’s classic cartoons collection are Betty Boop cartoons. Betty was a character created by celebrated animation pioneer Max Fleischer. She first appeared in a 1930 cartoon called Dizzy Dishes before becoming one of the most recognisable characters of the era.
Betty’s formative years were a lot more risqué than her appearance post-1934 thanks to the National Legion of Decency‘s Production Code designed to raise standards of what could and could not be produced (yes, produced not broadcast). For this reason, Betty’s appearance and behaviour changed somewhat between her initial run and the character she ended up as.
Believe it or not, there had been no official home releases of the cartoon series until the 1990s when VHS and LaserDisc (yes, really) copies were made available. These remained the only means of home ownership outside of these public domain efforts until this year, and now you can pick them up on BluRay and DVD from Olive Films.
Check out more Betty Boop cartoons in the collection.
Initially created as part of a printed comic strip that appeared in January 1929, Popeye was soon snapped up by Fleischer studios and turned into a series of theatrical cartoons in 1933 for Paramount Pictures as “Popeye the Sailor”.
Unfortunately there are none of the original cartoons in this public domain collection, instead we’re treated to a handful from the 1950s. These were produced after Paramount had taken over Fleischer studios, fired Max and his brother, and renamed it to Famous Studios.
At least we get to enjoy a more vivid slice of animated history thanks to glorious Technicolor. It’s unclear whether spinach was chosen as Popeye’s source of strength for its Vitamin A content or a mistake relating to perceived iron contents, but it surely made convincing children to eat their greens that little bit easier.
Check out more Popeye cartoons in the collection.
“It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman!” – the iconic introduction to a number of films and this, Max Fleischer’s original run of animated Superman cartoons. There are a total of three films in the collection, with “Superman: The Mechanical Monsters” (above) being the earliest, produced in 1941.
These are wartime films, and as such reflect many of the concerns of the time – notably in “Superman: Eleventh Hour” (above) our hero is seen participating in several acts of sabotage in Japan, which isn’t surprising in a cartoon produced in 1942.
Last but not least is Superman: Electric Earthquake, which involves evil scientists and a plan to blow up Manhattan – standard action-hero stuff, beautifully hand drawn and painstakingly animated.
It might not be Christmas yet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t download and keep these heart-warming classics ready for the festive season. The earliest cartoon (above) is Jack Frost, produced in 1934 in “Comi-Color” is a silky smooth feast for the eyes despite its age.
Far more festive is the 1947 animated short Santa’s Surprise (above) which strikes me as the quintessential Christmas Eve cartoon. Complete with a sleigh packed full of presents, impatient children and a trip around the world, this is compulsory Christmas viewing for the young and young at heart alike.
Last but not least is the classic all-singing tale of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, produced in 1948 complete with original soundtrack and glorious Technicolor presentation.
Other Picks From the Collection
Woody Woodpecker makes his only appearance in the collection in the series’ only public domain cartoon of its kind, Pantry Panic (above). This episode was originally released theatrically in November 1941 and remains the most distributed Woody Woodpecker cartoon on account of its public domain status.
Created by the Terrytoons studio for 20th Century Fox, Mighty Mouse is probably one of the lesser celebrated cartoon characters. In this episode called “Wolf! Wolf!” from 1941, Mighty Mouse must spring into action when Little Bo Peep’s sheep are captured by the wolves.
Felix the Cat first appeared in a 1919 silent film called “Feline Follies” which you can actually watch on Wikipedia, and proved to be one of the most successful animated cats ever. In this, “The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg” produced in 1936, Felix must defend his prize goose from an evil (equally feline) pirate.
Casper the Friendly Ghost started out as a children’s book before being adapted into animated shorts and eventually getting a theatrical series. The popularity peaked in 1995 with a feature-length film, but it’s the original 1948 Noveltoon version that you can see above.
Even More Cartoons
You can browse the rest of the collection for even more vintage animation goodness, though most of the films included are Betty Boop films, there are a good number of Popeye cartoons and other one-off productions too.
Do you enjoy these classic cartoons? Do you know of any more that are available for free download? Let us know!