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Dave Fleischer, Seymour Kneitel
Bud Collyer, Joan Alexander, Julian Noa
Writing Credits:

17 Superman cartoons from the early 1940s.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 146 min.
Price: $33.99
Release Date: 5/16/2023

• “Speeding Toward Tomorrow” Featurette
• “First Flight” Featurette
• “The Man, The Myth, Superman” Featurette


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Max Fleischer's Superman [Blu-Ray] (1941-1943)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 18, 2023)

Superman debuted in 1938 and became an immediate smash. It only took three years for the character to leap to the movie screen.

Fans would need to wait until 1948 to see a live-action version of Superman, but 1941 launched a series of animated shorts from Fleischer Studios. They produced nine cartoons across 1941-42, and then Fleischer’s “successor” Famous Studios created another eight reels over 1942-43.

With this compilation Blu-ray called Max Fleischer’s Superman, we get all 17 of these shorts in one place.

From the Fleischer Studios run, rhe following shorts appear: “Superman” (10:28), “The Mechanical Monsters” (10:15), “Billion Dollar Limited” (8:36), “The Arctic Giant” (8:36), “The Bulleteers” (8:04), “The Magnetic Telescope” (7:47), “Electric Earthquake” (8:44), “Volcano” (7:57), and “Terror on the Midway” (8:29).

I worried that these shorts would be relentlessly corny and cheesy. Happily, they actually become pretty entertaining.

Yeah, they show their age, and they can seem a bit formulaic. Nonetheless, they offer some good action and thrills.

The animation is better than expected, and the stories use Supes well. This isn’t the dull slog of Superman and the Mole-Men, an entry from the early live-action period.

Indeed, these cartoons are practically all thrills. They don’t spend much time with characters or exposition.

That’s fine given their brevity, as I wouldn’t expect much more from them. Animation is a great format for a character like Superman, as it allows him into many dramatic situations that would’ve been exceedingly impractical to film in a live-action format.

My only real complaint is that none of them feature any of Superman’s notable villains. We get anonymous baddies and monsters instead of folks like Lex Luthor. Nonetheless, the shorts are a lot of fun and worth a look.

In 1942, founder Max Fleischer and his director brother Dave left Fleischer Studios. Paramount took control, renamed the place and continued the Superman shorts.

Under the banner of Famous Studios, we got another eight cartoons. These include “Japoteurs” (9:14), “Showdown” (8:21), “Eleventh Hour” (9:06), “Destruction Inc.” (8:34), “The Mummy Strikes” (7:48), “Jungle Drums” (9:07), “The Underground World” (8:13) and “Secret Agent” (7:40).

While these are fun to see, don’t expect them to live up to the high quality of the Fleischer shorts. These come across as a bit shoddier and cartoonier.

They lack the same drama and fine-tuning found on the Fleischer efforts. They’re still entertaining, though, and they make a nice collection of shorts.

By the way, it’s good to see that the folks behind this release didn’t worry about political correctness and included World War II cartoons that portray the Japanese in a stereotypical light. This may seem crass today, but history shouldn’t be censored to match subsequent concepts.

“Eleventh Hour” does prompt this question, though: if Supes got involved in the war effort against Japan, why did he restrict himself to basic sabotage? He could’ve ended the war in short time.

Of course, Supes never did this because it couldn’t match the real world, but it creates a lack of internal logic nonetheless.

Footnote: all these shorts previously appeared as bonus features for the releases of Superman II and Superman II: The Donner Cut. Note that “Mechanical Monsters” runs 48 seconds longer on the Superman II disc.

That one includes a reminder of Superman’s origins that shows the destruction of Krypton and his arrival on Earth. The cut featured here skips that and opens with “faster than a speeding bullet”.

The Disc Grades: Picture C/ Audio B-/ Bonus C

Max Fleischer’s Superman appears in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. With great clean-up comes great responsibility – and this set dropped the ball.

Though not to a horrible extreme, I admit. Aspects of the image worked well.

However, Superman underwent a lot of grain reduction, and that impacted the entire package. Of course, it meant the shorts lost their “film-like” quality, as the essential lack of grain left them with a sterile quality.

In addition, these techniques impacted sharpness. While not truly soft, the cartoons tended to feel a bit tentative, and they lacked the fine detail that the source should impart.

All that said, the shorts still managed reasonable definition. Again, they failed to impart the clarity they should, but they remained fairly concise, albeit a little mushier than expected.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, and I saw no edge haloes. Print flaws failed to mar the proceedings.

Colors usually worked fairly well, even if they didn’t excel. The hues lacked the range and impact I’d expect but they nonetheless felt largely positive.

Blacks appeared pretty deep, while shadows showed appealing smoothness. Ultimately, the shorts seemed more than watchable, but they nonetheless disappointed due to their overuse of grain reduction.

As for the shorts’ DTS-HD MA monaural audio, it seemed perfectly acceptable given the vintage of the material. Speech tended to seem a bit brittle, but the lines remained intelligible and without obvious edginess.

Music came across as somewhat shrill, and effects lacked real heft. However, these seemed typical for audio from the 1940s. While the soundtracks didn’t excel, they became more than adequate.

A few extras appear, and we open with a featurette called First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series. The 12-minute, 55-second piece features notes from filmmaker’s son Richard Fleischer, author Leslie Cabarga, cartoon historian Jerry Beck, animator/director Myron Waldman, Superman: The Animated Series director Dan Riba, animator’s son Leonard Grossman, S:TAS writers/producers Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, DC Comics librarian Allen Asherman, and writer Roger Stern.

The piece looks at the history of the Fleischer Studios, their various innovations and the tone of their work, their involvement with the Superman series, cast and audio, and reflections on Fleischer’s nine Superman shorts.

“Flight” provides a solid examination of its subject. We learn a lot about the Fleischer Studios and their impact on the Superman series. The show gets a little fluffy and praise-heavy at times, but it offers enough nice detail to work.

Speeding Toward Tomorrow spans 13 minutes, 20 seconds. It involves various personnel behind modern-day DC animated direct-to-video tales: director Matt Peters, producer Jim Krieg, supervising producer Rick Morales, and screenwriter Jeremy Adams.

“Speeding” discusses the Fleischer shorts, with an emphasis on appreciation. Though we get some insights about how the cartoons influenced overall Superman lore, praise dominates this lackluster program.

Finally, The Man, The Myth, Superman goes for 13 minutes, 37 seconds. It provides info from Once and Future Myths author Phil Cousineau, comic book historian Michael Uslan, Our Gods Wear Spandex author Christopher Knowles, DC Comics Senior Group Editor Michael Carlin, The Writer’s Journey story consultant/author Christopher Vogler, Superman on the Couch author Danny Fingeroth, and professor/author Thomas Andrae.

With “Man”, we take a look at mythological elements and themes in the Superman comics. This becomes a moderately insightful piece.

As our introduction to the character on the big screen Max Fleischer’s Superman presents a fairly entertaining series of animated shorts. While not winners across the board, they usually work pretty well. The Blu-ray comes with over-scrubbed visuals, adequate audio and a few minor bonus materials. I like the cartoons but picture quality disappoints.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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