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The Unessential Essential Betty Boop

The contents of the fourth and final volume of Betty Boop cartoons from Olive Films have been announced for September release.  To say this collection has been a fiasco is succinct and apt. You can read about why on my site here.

Along with the criminal issue of aspect ratio distortion, the selection in what amounts to a “best of” collection, or rather, ESSENTIAL collection, is baffling.

Paramount provided Olive Films with an incomplete and inaccurate list of Betty films still under copyright, and we have such a misguided selection of Betty Boop shorts as a result. Knowledgeable folk tried to get involved, but for a small outfit, Olive is notorious for ignoring free advice and coming off as completely incompetent. (See the Jerry Lewis releases sourced from faded material, or the wrong aspect ratio on Nick Ray’s JOHNNY GUITAR.)

The sad part is that it left several dozen Bettys, copyrighted or not, in limbo. There is some killer news on the horizon with regards to the Fleischer library, but that can’t be revealed for quite some time. (Be assured Olive Films will have nothing to do with it.)

In the meantime, have a look at the evolution of Betty in five cartoons that weren’t deemed “essential” enough, despite showing the evolution of the character.

Grim Natwick was Betty Boop’s creator and was her principal animator on the first four cartoons highlighted here (though very little, if any, animation of Betty in SILLY SCANDALS, the first cartoon in which she’s identified by name, is by Natwick). His work was highly advanced for the period, in that it gave solidity and elasticity to an identifiable character, all wrapped in convincing femininity. Not an easy feat.

Starting with MASK-A-RAID, Betty lost her initial canine appearance and became a human. Natwick had left the studio earlier that year, and by this point most of the Fleischer animators (here done by the Shamus Culhane-Bernie Wolf crew) were able to handle the character. It’s also one of the jewels of the Fleischers output in the early ’30s, a period where a lot of things came together—mostly by accident rather than design.

But it’s hard to be concerned about that when the results are so endlessly likable.

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