The best case study in animation to illustrate the powerful influence society has over the types of films that are produced is the story of Betty Boop. She was a major cartoon character before the Production Code of 1934 was put into place, and her dramatic and fatal transformation illustrates how a product created under one set of standards often withers when placed in a new set. At the same time, the Code alone cannot explain why this dizzy little flapper degenerated so quickly.
Betty Boop exists today solely as a merchandising item. Betty’s face and figure can be found on T-shirts, posters, and all sorts of things. Her current popularity in merchandise is somewhat puzzling, as the Fleischers released all of her short cartoons before 1940, save for a halfhearted TV special in the early 1980s and a brief cameo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. While colorized versions of her cartoons exist, they were never given the same degree of exposure as the colorized versions of Max Fleischer’s Popeye cartoons.
Seen today, it is easy to see why these cartoons were often revived in the trippy 1960s. While not psychedelic by any means, they are'off beat’ with other animation. Seeing them for thefirst time, one can hardly believe one’s eyes. These are cartoons that are definitely not from the Disney mode nor are they strictly of the Looney Tunes variety. They are odd. And Betty was their princess.
Betty Boop’s cartoons were all directed by Max Fleischer’s brother Dave, and Dave Fleischer created a world of dark surrealism. The fluid natures of these cartoons make them difficult to describe in a coherent fashion. Dave Fleischer almost certainly did not use story boards or even a script in some of these films and Boop’s adventures were free form as a result. Ad-libbing by the voice actors (including Mae Questel, who provided Betty’s voice in many films) was the norm, resulting in a very spontaneous-sounding soundtrack. The anim…