Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

Max Fleischer's Superman: 1941 - 1942

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
8 out of 10
Extras Rating:
7.5 out of 10
Movie Details:
View here

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Rating: Not Rated

Starring:
Joan Alexander as Lois Lane (voice) (uncredited)
Jackson Beck as Perry White / Narrator (voice) (uncredited)
Bud Collyer as Clark Kent / Superman (voice) (uncredited)
Jack Mercer as The Mad Scientist (voice) (uncredited)
Julian Noa as Perry White (voice) (uncredited)

Special Features:
First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series - The Origins and Influence of This Groundbreaking Cartoon Series
The Man, the Myth, Superman - Exploring the Tradition of "Superhuman" Heroes on the Page and Screen
Exclusive Sneak Peek at DC Universe's Upcoming Animated Feature Green Lantern

Other Info:
Fullscreen (1.33:1)
Dolby Digital Mono Sound
French Subtitles
Running Time: 145 Minutes

The Movie:
The following is the official description of the film:

"Make them exciting and visually bold, make them in brilliantly saturated Technicolor: This is a job for Superman! From their signature bullet-paced prologues to their muscular style to their stories steeped in heroics and wartime topicality, these 17 animated theatrical shorts produced by Max Fleischer (with the first nine directed by his brother Dave) set the tone for future screen versions of the Man of Steel's exploits, inspired animators for decades to come and, best of all, continue to pack a thrilling punch for fans. Superman's adventures in comic books were scarcely three years old when the Academy Award-nominated debut cartoon, 'Superman,' burst onto the screen with its breakthrough look and vitality. The excitement still soars."

"Max Fleischer's Superman: 1941-1942" is not rated.

Mini-Review:
I had seen some of Fleischer's "Superman" shorts on DVD before, but they were usually on the crappy versions you'd see in the discount bin at Wal-Mart. To have some new remastered versions collecting them all in one set is quite a treat.

These shorts are entertaining on several levels. For Superman fans, these cartoons are an influential yet often overlooked part of the Man of Steel's history. It was this cartoon that prompted the comics to start making Superman fly rather than simply leap over tall buildings in a single bound. A leaping man just looked silly, so they asked DC if they could make him fly. They agreed and reflected the change in the comics. On the animation front, their realistic style and adventure storytelling were unprecedented. This series set the tone for many cartoons to come, including the Batman Animated Series from the 90's. Then there's the historical angle. Superman is fighting Nazis, man! The cartoon is a fantastic snapshot into the time period and it shows how it was not only entertainment but war propaganda as well.

Then there's the other entertaining aspect of these cartoons - the blatant racial stereotypes. Yes, it's ignorant, racist, and stupid, but when you put it in context of the time period, you can't help but watch it and say, "Wow! I can't believe they did that!" It's like getting a little look back in time to see what racial relationships were like back then. You can't appreciate where we are without seeing where we've been. In one episode called "Japoteurs," we see a buck toothed, slanted-eyed, heavily accented Japanese spy try to steal a bomber. In an episode entitled, "Jungle Drums," we're treated to big-lipped African tribesmen led by a Nazi (in a white sheet no less!) burning Lois Lane at the stake. It's all just so horrifically stereotypical that I think even Asians and African-Americans will get some degree of amusement out of it. Things are topped off as we see Hitler get pissed off that Superman thwarted him as the radio plays "Praise God and Pass the Ammunition" in the background. (That's the NRA's theme song, right?) That alone is worth checking out. Stereotypes aside, this only happens in a few episodes and the vast majority of it doesn't have objectionable content. It's more like Rocketeer or Sky Captain than anything else.

While this is advertised as being remastered, the picture isn't cleaned up like on many remastered DVDs. It's still in mono sound, there are still a lot of dust specks, and on some frames there's literally a snowstorm of rainbow colored specks that are quite obvious. There's still room for improvement here.

As for the bonus features, there's a preview of the upcoming "Green Lantern" animated film as well as a featurette on the mythology of Superman. The highlight of the bonus features is a special on the Max Fleischer cartoon. Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and others talk about its history, its influence, and more. The only thing they don't talk about is the elephant in the room - the stereotypes. They should have addressed it like Disney does on some of their WWII related animated shorts.

"Max Fleischer's Superman: 1941-1942" is a required addition to the DVD collection of any Superman fan. I would recommend you screen it first before letting kids watch it though.

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