Sunday, January 08, 2012

A Fleischer re-make

Today's movie industry is dominated by remakes, reboots and "re-imganings" – films that rely on previously filmed properties.

While this is too common an occurance today, it is by no means somethign that is just typical with today's cinema.

If a studio had developed a story it was not out of the realm of possibility to film several versions of it over time. One of the best examples is "The Maltese Falcon," which Warner Brothers brought to the screen three times, the last time in the form of the story we remember best.

Mark Newgarden, one of the Facebook friends, posted a link to a Koko the Clown cartoon I hadn't seen before and it's a gem. I wish there could be a comprehensive DVD set put on featuring these cartoons.

If you've not seen any of the Kokos, then you should know Max Fleischer took of the convention of the cartoonist interacting with his drawn creation – first developed in vaudeville lightening sketch acts and first seen in animation in Winsor McCay's "Gertie the Dinosaur" – and made it his own.

There were other silent cartoon series that mixed animation and live action – Walter Lantz did it and Walt Disney followed Max's lead – but it is my contention that Max's cartoons did it the best.

Max and his team set up a fun dynamic: Max was the paternalistic cartoonist and Koko was a very disobedient son. Max was not above putting Koko into some challenging situations and Koko wasn't afraid of taking his revenge.

The Fleischer staff used stop motion animation in a number of these shorts and Max, who by all accounts I've gathered was a low-key person, made an effective co-star for his animated lead. Max was also a pretty good sport as you will see in this cartoon, especially being dragged throught the set.

So watch the first one, made in 1924.


There are some notable things about this cartoon, one of which is the absence of Koko's dog Fitz, who is replaced by a rabbit! I particularily liked the moment when Koko rips out part of the background to form a parachute and then glides over the Max. A nice piece of animation that had a throwaway gag in it with Koko wearing horseshoes.

So now here the partial remake. Max is referenced here but does not make an on-camera appearance. His only sound cartoon was "Betty Boop's Rise to Fame" made in 1934.

The Fleischers eliminated the Out of the Inkwell series with the coming of sound and in a large way, the concept of interaction between the cartoonist and the creation as a standard part of the narrative. Although Koko appeared in a number of Betty Boop cartoons, the character was never the star. "Ha Ha Ha" is almost nostalgic in its use of the characters coming out of the inkwell. It's a favorite of mine.

© 2012 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

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