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by  Ben Burgraff

 Buy Max Fleischer's Superman: 1941-1942

The Superman animated cartoons, commonly known as the "Fleischer Superman cartoons" were a series of seventeen animated Technicolor short films, produced by Fleischer Studios from 1941 to 1942 and Famous Studios from 1942 to 1943 and released by Paramount Pictures between 1941 and 1943, based upon the comic book character Superman.

Superman was Fleischer Studios' final animated series before Famous Studios took over production on September 20, 1942.


* Superman (a.k.a. The Mad Scientist) (September 26)
* The Mechanical Monsters (November 28)


* Billion Dollar Limited (January 9)
* The Arctic Giant (February 27)
* The Bulleteers (March 27)
* The Magnetic Telescope (April 24)
* Electric Earthquake (May 15)
* Volcano (July 10)[16]
* Terror on the Midway (August 28)

Famous Studios

* Japoteurs (no studio is credited on the original opening titles, September 18)
* Showdown (October 16)
* Eleventh Hour (November 20)
* Destruction, Inc. (December 25)


* The Mummy Strikes (February 19)
* Jungle Drums (March 26)
* The Underground World (June 18)
* Secret Agent (July 30)

The first nine cartoons were produced by Fleischer Studios (the name by which the cartoons are commonly known). In 1942, Fleischer Studios was dissolved and reorganized as Famous Studios, which produced the final eight shorts. These cartoons are seen as some of the finest, and certainly the most lavishly budgeted, animated cartoons produced during The Golden Age of American animation. In 1994, the series was voted #33 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field.

By mid-1941, brothers Max and Dave Fleischer had recently finished their first animated feature film, Gulliver's Travels, and were deep into production on their second, Mister Bug Goes to Town. They were reluctant to commit themselves to another major project at the time when they were approached by their distributor, and owner since May 1941, Paramount Pictures. Paramount was interested in cashing in on the phenomenal popularity of the new Superman comic books by producing a series of theatrical cartoons based upon the character. The Fleischers hoped to discourage Paramount from committing to the series, so they informed the studio that the cost of producing such a series of cartoons would be about $100,000 per short -- an amazingly high figure, about six times the typical budget of a six-minute Fleischer Popeye the Sailor cartoon during the 1940s. To their surprise, Paramount agreed to a budget of $50,000 - half the requested sum, but still three times the cost of the average Fleischer short - , and the Fleischers were committed to the project.

The first cartoon in the series, simply titled Superman, was released on September 26, 1941, and was nominated for the 1942 Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons. It lost to Lend a Paw, a Pluto cartoon from Walt Disney Productions and RKO Pictures.

The Fleischers produced nine cartoons in the Superman series before Paramount took over the Fleischer Studios facility in Miami and ousted Max and Dave Fleischer, due to the fact that the brothers were no longer able to cooperate with each other, and the studio's co-owner Dave Fleischer had left Florida to produce Screen Gems cartoons for Columbia Pictures in California as well. The sleek look of the series continued, but there was a noticeable change in the storylines of the later shorts of the series. The first nine cartoons had more of a science fiction aspect to them, as they involved the Man of Steel fighting robots, giant dinosaurs, meteors from outer space, and other perils. The later eight cartoons in the series dealt more with World War II propaganda stories, such as in Eleventh Hour, which finds Superman going to Japan to commit acts of espionage in order to reduce the morale of the enemy.

Rotoscoping, the process of tracing animation drawings from live-action footage, was used extensively to lend realism to the human characters and Superman. Many of Superman's actions, however, could not be rotoscoped (flying, lifting very large objects, and so on). In these cases, the Fleischer lead animators, many of whom were not trained in figure drawing, animated roughly and depended upon their assistants, many of whom were inexperienced with animation but were trained in figure drawing, to keep Superman "on model" during his action sequences.

The first seven cartoons originated the classic opening line which was later adopted by the Superman radio series and in the live-action television series a decade later: "Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!" However, for the final two of the first nine Fleischer-produced cartoons and first of the eight Famous Studios-produced cartoons, the opening was changed to "Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to soar higher than any plane!". With the changeover to Famous Studios and the loss of the Fleischers, the opening line of the cartoon series was changed to "Faster than a streak of lightning! More powerful than the pounding surf! Mightier than a roaring hurricane!" This series also continued (from the radio series) the use of the now-classic exclamation: "Up in the sky, look! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!"

Famous Studios ended the series after a total of seventeen shorts had been produced, replacing it with a series of shorts based upon Marge's Little Lulu. The high cost of the series kept it from continuing in the face of budgetary restrictions that were imposed after removing the Fleischers from the studio. The first cartoon had a budget of $50,000 (equivalent to $1,316,000 today), and the other sixteen each had a budget of $30,000 (equivalent to $789,600 for each of the eight other Fleischer cartoons and $731,111.10 for each of the eight Famous Studios cartoons), bringing the total cost of the series to $530,000 (equivalent to $13,481,688.80 today). In addition, Paramount cited waning interest in the Superman shorts among theater exhibitors as another justification for the series' cancellation.

All seventeen cartoons were sold to Motion Pictures for Television (producers of the TV series The Adventures of Superman) in 1955, and all eventually fell into the public domain (their copyrights having not been renewed by either Paramount, NTA/Republic, EMKA, Ltd./Universal Studios, or even Motion Pictures for Television and DC Comics), and have been widely distributed on VHS, laserdisc, and DVD. Nonetheless, Warner Bros., via parent Time Warner's ownership of DC Comics, now owns the original film elements to the cartoons.

The voice of Superman for the series was initially provided by Bud Collyer, who also performed the lead character's voice during the Superman radio series. Joan Alexander was the voice of Lois Lane, a role she also portrayed on radio alongside Collyer. Music for the series was composed by Sammy Timberg, the Fleischers' long-time musical collaborator.

A 1944 Famous Studios Popeye the Sailor cartoon entitled She-Sick Sailors parodied the Superman cartoons, two years after production on the cartoons had ceased. In this cartoon, Popeye's enemy Bluto dresses up as Superman to fool Olive Oyl, and he challenges Popeye to feats of super-strength that "only Superman" can do. The musical score for She-Sick Sailors includes echoes of Sammy Timberg's Fleischer/Famous Superman score.

In a rare move for a competing studio, Leon Schlesinger Productions, producers of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies (which were distributed by WB), featured Timberg's Superman theme in Snafuperman, a 1944 Private Snafu cartoon Schlesinger produced for the U.S. Army.


Writer/artist Frank Miller cited the influence of Max and Dave Fleischer, including them among a list of prominent Golden Age comics creators whose work he acknowledged at the end of his 1986 comics series, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. The series strongly influenced the creation of the acclaimed animated television series Batman: The Animated Series, as well as the similar-looking Superman: The Animated Series. Award-winning comic book artist Alex Ross has also listed the shorts among the inspiration for his take on Superman's look.

The robot robbery scene from "The Mechanical Monsters" short has been echoed by several later works. In 1980, Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki, created an identical robbery with a similarly functioning robot in the last episode of the second Lupin III TV series, a robot design he used again in his feature film, Castle in the Sky. The elements of the scene were borrowed again in 1994 for The Tick (animated TV series), specifically, The Tick vs. Brainchild (season one, episode 9), this time with the robbery committed by Skippy, a cyborg dog.The 2004 feature length movie Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow kept the setting in the 1940s, but scaled up the scene from a single robot robbing a jewelery exhibition to an army of gigantic robots stealing city infrastructure. The movie gave a nod to its source following the robbery with the newspaper headline, "Mechanical Monsters Unearth Generators."

A 1988 music video for the song "Spy In The House of Love" by Chrysalis Records recording artists Was (Not Was) borrowed footage extensively from the Fleischers' Secret Agent episode.

Superman (the Fleischer version) was supposed to have a cameo appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but the rights to the character were not available to the filmmakers at the time (although Warner also owned the Looney Tunes characters - many of which did appear in the film - they did not offer the rights to the Superman character with them)


The Paramount Superman cartoons are widely available on VHS and DVD, usually in budget-line releases of varying quality due to their public domain status.

The first "official" home video releases of the series were by Warner Home Video in 1987 and 1988, in a series of VHS and LaserDisc packages called TV's Best Adventures Of Superman. Four volumes were released, where each volume contained 2 selected episodes of the classic 1950s TV series Adventures of Superman (one black & white episode and one color episode), plus a selected Max Fleischer Superman short (marking the first "official" release of such as Warner holds the original film elements).

Among the best reviewed of these various releases was a 1991 VHS set produced by Bosko Video, titled The Complete Superman Collection: Golden Anniversary Edition - The Paramount Cartoon Classics of Max & Dave Fleischer released as two VHS volumes which featured high-quality transfers from 35mm prints. The Bosko Video set was later issued on DVD by Image Entertainment as The Complete Superman Collection: Diamond Anniversary Edition in 2000. The Bosko Video release was not associated with DC Comics or their parent company Warner Bros.

Another DVD was Superman - The Ultimate Max Fleischer Cartoon Collection from VCI Entertainment released on May 30, 2006, a month prior to the release of the film Superman Returns. DVD features included: all 17 animated shorts digitally restored in Dolby Digital 2.0 audio; a bonus cartoon: Snafuperman (a 1944 Warner Bros. wartime parody of the Fleischer cartoons, featuring Private Snafu and produced for the U.S. Army); "Behind the Cape" synopses and fun facts with each cartoon; a DVD fold-out booklet with notes on the series; bios of the voice actors, producer Max Fleischer, and Superman; a bonus trailer for the 1948 Superman serial with Kirk Alyn; and a recorded audio phone interview with Joan Alexander (the voice of Lois Lane). This release, like the Bosko Video release, was not associated with DC Comics or their parent company Warner Brothers.

A more "official" release from restored and remastered superior vault elements was released on DVD on November 28, 2006 as part of Warner Home Video's Superman film re-releases. The nine Fleischer Studios cartoons were released as part of the four-disc special edition Superman: The Movie set, and the eight Famous Studios cartoons were included on the two-disc special edition Superman II set. The entire collected Fleischer / Famous cartoons were included in the box sets The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection and Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition, where both sets also included a 13 minute short documentary on the history of these cartoons, entitled First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series. This documentary (which was included on the Superman II (Two-Disc Special Edition) ) features interviews with surviving members, relatives and biographers of the animation and production team, also contemporary animators such as Bruce Timm (Batman: The Animated Series), Paul Dini and Dan Riba (Superman: The Animated Series) who detail the influence these cartoons have had on their own works. Upon this release though, there was the controversy by some consumers over why Warner's chose to release these animated shorts amongst the Superman films DVD releases instead of packaging them as their own complete individual DVD release.

Another came on July 1, 2008, when Warner Bros. released the shorts on iTunes, via their DC Comics sections. Fourteen of the shorts are available for $1.99 for every two, while the other three are all in one video for the same price.

On April 7th, 2009, yet another release was made, this time a collection of all the cartoons released by Warner Home Video as the first authorized collection from the original masters, titled Max Fleischer's Superman: 1941-1942 with a suggested price at $26.99; the set will include one new special feature in the form of "The Man, The Myth, Superman" featurette, along with an old special feature seen in the Superman II 2006 DVD release entitled "First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series".

 Buy Max Fleischer's Superman: 1941-1942

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Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.and is copyrighted by D.C. comics