"Superman" or “The Mad...
"Superman" or “The Mad Scientist”
Superman by Paramount/Fleischer Studios – September 1941
The legend behind the genesis of the Superman cartoons produced by Fleischer Studios for Paramount was that brothers Max and Dave were originally uninterested in following up their similar comics-to-cartoon success story, Popeye, with the animated adventures of the Man of Steel. In an attempt to dissuade Paramount from approaching them for the job, they pitched a budget that was almost four times what they needed for Popeye - $100,000, an amount which translates to more than a million and a half when adjusted for modern inflation.
Paramount weren’t so desperate that they capitulated to the proposed budget, but they were eventually content to merely double the Fleischers’ usual operating cash. At a lavish fifty grand for the initial episode, Superman’s adventures were finally shown in glorious full-color motion.
The impact of the cartoons can’t be understated; there are people who have never read a Superman comic from as far back as 1991 (never mind 1941) or seen either a Superman movie or television show from the 20th century, but who nonetheless are familiar with the lush colors and dense, theatrical mood of the highly ambitious Fleischer Studio shorts.
Superman, naturally, follows no law physics except necessity, but it was the Superman of the Fleischer Studios who first officially broke the surly bonds of gravity (although he’d been flying in everything but name for almost a year at this point). The memorable scene of Superman battered back against the force of the “Electro-thanasia Ray” and then, marshaling his newfound power of flight, forcing himself forward against the current while punching the beam away in wet, blubbering hunks of incandescent energy remains among his most iconic moments in film.
Although the Fleischer films were relatively few and brief – seventeen cartoons released in the years of 1941 and 1942 – they were a major step in Superman’s infiltration into the American collective unconscious (underlined in no small way by the Academy Award nomination the short received)