Fleischer Studios was an American New York animation company headed by the brothers, Max Fleischer and Dave Fleischer who ran the company from 1921-1942. In its prime, it was the most significant competitor to The Walt Disney Company.
The company had its start when Max Fleischer invented the rotoscope which allowed for animation in an extremely lifelike fashion. Using this device, the Fleischer brothers got a contract with Bray Studio in 1919 to produce their own series called Out of the Inkwell which featured their first character, Koko the Clown. This became a very successful series which gave them the confidence to start their own studio in 1921.
Throughout the 1920s, the studio proved to be one of the top producers of animation with clever humour and numerous innovations. These included sing along shorts which were the precursor to music videos, extended length educational films on subjects like relativity.
The studio even produced some experimental sound films years before The Jazz Singer, although these attracted little interest, in part because only a small number of theaters were equipt with electronic speakers at the time.
The studio used Lee De Forest's methods to produce over a dozen early cartoons with synchronized sound tracks, including:
- Come Take a Trip in My Airship , first released in June, 1924.
- Goodbye My Lady Love , first released in June, 1924.
- Mother, Mother, Mother Pin a Rose on Me, first released in June, 1924.
- I Love a Lassie , first released in 1925.
- Darling Nelly Gray , first released on February 16, 1926.
- Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly? , first released on February 21, 1926.
- My Old Kentucky Home, first released on April 13, 1926.
- Tramp, Tramp, Tramp the Boys Are Marching , first released on May 8, 1926.
- Sweet Adeline , first released in June, 1927.
- Old Black Joe , first released in July, 1927.
- By the Light of the Silvery Moon , first released in August, 1927.
- Oh, You Beautiful Doll , first released in 1927.
- In the Good Old Summer Time , first released in 1927.
Sound and Color
With the full adoption of sound films in the late 1920s, the studio was one of the few animation companies to successfully make the transition with a new series called Talkartoons with a new character called Bimbo. That character was quickly upstaged by a supporting character called Betty Boop who quickly became the star of the studio. Betty was the first female feature character in American animation and she reflected the distinctive adult urban orientation of the studio which made the studio stand out from their competitors. Their success was further solidified when they licensed Popeye for a film property and it became the most popular series which resulted in not only a long series of shorts but three extended length colour films.
Unfortunately, events turned against the studio and the brothers. In the mid 1930s the Hays Code was put in place in Hollywood which meant severe censorhip for films. As a result, Betty was desexualized and a major part of her charm was lost. What's worse, the Fleischer's eventually caved into pressure from their distributor, Paramount Pictures, to begin emulating Walt Disney in their film content, which robbed the studio of their distinctive flavour. This showed in the film series Color Classics, essentially a copy of Disney's Silly Symphonies. This culminated in their attempt to compete with Disney in the feature film market with two films, Gulliver's Travels and Mr. Bug Goes To Town both of which failed due to a combination of inferior quality by a studio with a newly expanded and green production staff and poor marketing by Paramount. The Fleischer's best work of this later period was the animated adaptation of the Superman comic character which boasted both the biggest budget ever for a theatrical short series and a return to the original urban tone of the studio which guided its excellent animation and writing which won it an Oscar for the premiere film.
However, this late success did not help the studio lift its financial trouble and in 1942, Paramount called in their loan, ousted the Fleischers and took over the studio under the new name, Famous Studio. The Fleischers were never a major force in the industry again, but their films and characters have remained popular and by the 1980s, they were recognized as the pioneers in the artform they were.
When the Famous Studios cartoon library was sold to Harvey Comics in the 1960s, this did not include the original Fleischer Studios catalog of animated films. The copyright for the Fleischers' cartoons was not renewed by Famous or Paramount, and as a result the majority of the Fleischers' cartoons entered the public domain. This included the Color Classics series, the Superman series, and the two full-length feature films. The Popeye series did not become public domain as Popeye's trademark was enforced by King Features Syndicate; however, the three two-reel Popeye feature cartoons ("Sindbad," "Aladdin," "Ali Baba and his Forty Thieves") were not included in the Popeye series and also became public domain.
The Flesichers' color films have been widely available on video since the 1980s, often on inexpensive (and poor quality) videotapes sold in supermarkets and department stores as parts of collections of other public-domain cartoons. Animation fans have worked to give the classic Fleischer cartoons the credit they deserve, and high-quality restored editions of the Flesicher cartoons have also been made available on home video and DVD.
The Betty Boop and Koko the Clown series have also entered the public domain, though they are not as widely available because of the popular belief among video producers that black and white and silent cartoons in general do not appeal to young children.)