Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hi De Hi De Hi De Hi

I read an interesting article about Pre-code movies over at Bright Lights Film Journal the other day and was surprised to learn that films which are considered Pre-code were actually made after the Production Code was officially accepted by the motion picture industry in 1930. Even though the code was in effect the crack down on what was considered inappropriate subject material and behavior did not start until 1934. That got me thinking, were there any Pre-code cartoons? Of course, just look at the Betty Boop cartoons from that time period showing men lusting after her.

As a child I watched many a Betty Boop cartoon on Denver's independent channel, KWGN. I loved Betty Boop cartoons because they were nothing like any of the other cartoons that I watched. My cartoon tastes may have been influenced by the fact that we had a black and white television set and so I wasn't distracted by color as I would have been with a newer set. I could concentrate more on style and content.

I was also a big fan of Koko The Clown ("Out of the inkwell comes Koko the clown") and Popeye ("I'm strong to the finich, Cause I eats me spinach") All of them had a surreal quality that was missing in the other cartoons. It wasn't until years later that I found out that all three were produced by the same company, Max Fleischer Studios.

Max Fleischer invented a process called Rotoscoping in which film footage of live people was traced frame by frame onto pieces of paper. This created cartoon characters with very fluid movements. This process was used to great effect in the three Betty Boop cartoons that stared the late, great band leader Cab Calloway. In the first cartoon, Minnie The Moocher (1932), Calloway sings his hit song, Minnie The Moocher, as a ghostly walrus, prison warden, cat, and witch. This is one of my most favorite cartoons but when I first saw it I found the almost supernatural movements of the walrus very creepy. At the time I did not know that Calloway's dance movements had been rotoscoped for the cartoon.

And now, for you viewing pleasure, Minnie The Moocher, with a guest walk-on by Koko the Clown:

Folks, now here's the story 'bout Minnie the Moocher,
She was a red-hot hootchie-cootcher,
She was the roughest, toughest frail,
But Minnie had a heart as big as a whale.





She messed around with a bloke named Smoky,
She loved him though he was cokie,
He took her down to Chinatown,
He showed her how to kick the gong around. Showed her how to kick the gong around!





Now, she had a dream about the king of Sweden,
He gave her things that she was needin',
He gave her a home built of gold and steel,
A diamond car with a platinum wheel.

Oh, skip-bop-doop-bop-lay-de-doo!
(Oh, skip-bop-doop-bop-lay-de-doo!)




Now, he gave her his townhouse and his racing horses,
Each meal she ate was a dozen courses;
She had a million dollars worth of nickels and dimes,
And she sat around and counted them all a billion times.




Is this cartoon cool, or what? I must admit that I still find it a little creepy, though.

(I will be blogging about the other Cab Calloway-Betty Boop cartoons in future posts. Stay tuned.)

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