Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: The Complete Superman Collection

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, August 6, 2000

Faster than a streak of lightning, more powerful than the pounding surf, mightier than a roaring hurricane.

Special features

Production Notes3

The Fleischer studios released seventeen “Superman” animated shorts during the forties. While the storylines are lacking, the animation is very interesting: shadowy, with art-deco backgrounds and ‘props’.

RecommendationSpecial Interests Only
DirectorDave Fleischer
WritersSeymour Kneitel, Izzy Sparber
Movie Rating5
Transfer Quality5
Overall Rating5
Formats
  • Academy Ratio

This is the “Diamond Anniversary Edition” of the Max and Dave Fleischer Superman shorts. I don’t know what makes this a “diamond” anniversary. I thought “diamond” meant 75 years, and 75 years ago there was no Superman, let alone Superman cartoons.

One of the blurbs on the back is a quote from “Video Watchdog”, “Thanks to animation specialists Bosko Video, all of these shorts can be seen as they should be.” While the “animation specialists” at Bosko may have put a lot of care into making this disk, the “marketing specialists” were less concerned. The inside front cover has a single text phrase repeated numerous times as the only design: “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. This phrase never appears in any of these cartoons. It was, as I understand it, created for the television show. These cartoons use the same phrase as the radio show, “Fighting a never-ending battle for truth and justice.”

There are no extras, only a short introduction which is tacked onto the beginning of the first chapter, the “Superman” pilot short. It describes some tiny bit of the history of the production of these shorts.

These are nice transfers. There are occasionally some major bugs, like white verticle streaks, but mostly there is only minor degradation. Each short has the release date stamped into the first few seconds in the lower part of the screen immediately following the credits.

These cartoons were created in Academy Ratio, which is slightly larger than the 4:3 television ratio (1.37:1 instead of 1.33:1 of television). This is annoyingly apparent in the credits, as some of the credits run off the edges of the screen slightly. I understand that most people think that the 3% of the screen lost from Academy Ratio transfers is unimportant, but some films really do use the whole area available to them. It would be nice if Academy Format movies were released in true Academy Ratio, allowing us to see the entire film.

These shorts were all created between late 1941 and the middle of 1943. There are surprisingly few war-related shorts. “Japoteurs”, “Eleventh Hour”, “Jungle Drums”, and perhaps “Destruction Inc.” The latter involves a munitions plant but doesn’t give the motivation of the criminals. These are all very short pieces, ranging from seven minutes thirty-eight seconds to ten minutes twenty-two seconds. And they are all self-contained stories. There isn’t a whole lot of time for plot or character development. There is a problem, Lois Lane gets involved, and Clark Kent has to find a way to change into Superman.

Superman’s ability to fly seems to come and go depending on what the writer wanted to happen. His X-Ray vision is used all of once, I think, in all seventeen shorts. But it isn’t the writing and continuity that draws viewers to these shorts, it’s the animation itself. The scenes are full of shadows, the backgrounds and items in the scenes very art deco, lots of curved surfaces and streamlined lines. As is usual in animations, the backgrounds get the most care. The people are more “cartoony”. Supposedly these are “highly influential” (according to the production notes on the disk) in the history of animation. They certainly look better than any other animation I’ve seen from that time period.

The menu selection process is nicely presented, but there are only three selections per screen, requiring flipping through a lot of small sets if you want one towards the end. The default selection is always the first of the three, so if you want to flip to the next set of three, hit the “back” button on your player’s menu. This cycles you around to the “next” link.

Image Entertainment has another Superman short collection available with apparently the same material, plus a Warner Brothers parody of the Fleischer shorts. The intro to the “Diamond Anniversary” edition which I have claims that these shorts are “This series was transferred from original 35 mm prints and negatives. Never before have prints of this quality been available from ANY source” which would indicate that they re-transferred for this disk, but then goes on to say “even on laserdisk”. I have not seen the earlier Image DVD release, but I have a strong suspicion that this disk is just a slightly less expensive version of the earlier release, without the Warner Brothers parody. If anyone has seen both versions, let me know.

All in all, these shorts are very nice to look at. I would not want to watch them all in one sitting, however, even if they are only 140 minutes total. Watch them two at a time or three, perhaps before the “main feature” at a movie party.

If you’re an animation fan or a nostalgia buff, I recommend this collection. If you’re a Superman fan, you should at least rent it. Others may find it less interesting.

Recommendation: Special Interests Only

DirectorDave Fleischer
WritersSeymour Kneitel, Izzy Sparber
Spoken languageEnglish
SubtitleSilent
Special FeatureProduction Notes
More links

If you enjoyed The Complete Superman Collection…

If you enjoy animation, you might also be interested in Heavy Metal, The Hobbit, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Scooby Doo’s Original Mysteries, Underdog, Wallace & Gromit, and Yellow Submarine.

If you enjoy superhero, you might also be interested in Superman II and Superman: The Movie.

If you enjoy Superman, you might also be interested in Superman II, Superman: The Movie, Superman vs. the X-Men, Superman Returns is a great movie, and Superman: Last Son of Krypton.