Superman - Cartoon Vol. 1

Directed by: Max Fleischer, et al.

Region: 2 (Europe, Middle East & Japan only)
Format: PAL

Special Features: None

Movie: * * ½

Sometimes one can judge a DVD by its cover because I’m afraid this disc is as crummy as it looks . . .

This cheapo collection (retailing in South Africa for less than US$4) comes courtesy of a German outfit, and consists of old Superman cartoons which have lapsed into the public domain. That means no copyright and thus no royalties to be paid – hence the low price.

The same outfit also distributes other public domain cartoon titles on DVD such as Popeye, Chilly Willy (not what you’d think it is), Mighty Mouse and even old Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny cartoons. All these cartoons are incredibly old and probably wouldn’t appeal to older kids who are accustomed to more recent and advanced animated techniques. However, my nineteen-month-old daughter likes them (although to be honest, she looses interest in them quicker than the recent Looney Tunes DVD reissues I bought for her).

Anyway, the cartoons included on this disc date from the early to mid-1940s and were made by the legendary Max Fleischer. Max who? Well, contrary to what you may believe, it was Fleischer, not Disney, that produced the first sound cartoon. Fate and history has unfortunately been unkind to Fleisher’s legacy. (You can read more about him here and here.)

Anyway, when the Superman character was created in 1938, it proved to be an enormous hit. Paramount studios contracted Max and Dave Fleischer to produce as series of cartoons based on the comic strip.

Excuse the old fart-ism bit here: back then going to the movies meant more than being endlessly bombarded by cell phone and other ads beforehand. Back then there’d usually be a newsreel (which is exactly what it says it is) and a cartoon. I remember as a kid we were often more excited about what cartoon would be shown than the movie itself! Just how old am I?

Well, I remember that when Star Wars was originally released back in the summer of 1977 a Daffy Duck cartoon (the excellent Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century) was shown beforehand. (This was the case both here in South Africa and in the States.) These Superman cartoons run for about seven minutes at the most and were meant to be shown as a prelude to the main feature in cinemas. Unlike the so-called “serials” of the time, they were self-contained episodes telling short stories by themselves. No “To be continued . . .” business.

The pilot Superman episode was quite expensive for its time: a whopping $50,000, about three times what Popeye cartoons of that time cost! Subsequent cartoons in the series had a budget of $30,000. All 17 of the Superman cartoons came in at $530,000.

Snooty kids of today may not be particularly impressed by these cartoons; after all, they are quite dated. Anal Superman completists and animation fans with an academic interest in them should however check them out. Personally I enjoyed them both for their time capsule look back at the 1940s (dig that episode with the Japanese saboteurs!) and the art deco animation no doubt inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and in turn no doubt inspiring Tim Burton’s Batman.

THE DISC: The disc contains only five Superman episodes - what a rip-off! The last three episodes are cutesy animal toons by Fleischer and have nothing whatsoever to do with Superman! Why this should be the case is a mystery since the same outfit that distributes this DVD, also distributes two VHS tapes with a lot more Superman episodes on them!

The episodes included on the disc are:

Superman: The Magnetic Telescope (Fleischer, 1942)
Superman: The Underground World (Famous, 1943)
Superman: Superman (Fleischer, 1941)
Superman: Japoteurs (Famous, 1942)
Superman: The Mummy Strikes (Famous, 1943)
Hunky & Spunky: A Kick in Time (Fleischer, 1940)
Hunky & Spunky: Vitamin Hay (Fleischer, 1941)
Hunky & Spunky: Always Kickin (Fleischer, 1939)

To makes things worse the picture and sound quality are terrible. No doubt transferred from ancient 16mm- and 8mm prints, the sound is tinny and image is not sharp, dirty and washed out. Are these cartoons several decades or several centuries old? You will be forgiven for believing the latter.

While not a particular fan of huge corporations, one must admit that outfits such as Disney and Warner Bros. go to quite some trouble preserving and restoring their old material for the DVD market. If you have seen the recent re-issued Looney Tunes and the 1940 Pinocchio on DVD then you’ll know what I’m talking about. The German outfit responsible for this disc probably doesn’t have the budgets of these huge multinationals, but still!

WORTH IT? No. The cartoons themselves are retro fun, but even at this price this disc isn’t worth your while.

RECOMMENDATION: If you’re really interested in these old Superman cartoons then it would seem that your best would be checking out the DVD set released by Bosko. It boasts the original sound mix and the image quality is apparently the best of the various sets available. (I’ve supplied a link at the bottom of this page to purchase it from if you’re interested.)


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