Last fall, I had the chance to teach a course in “Animation and Video Games History.” It was an amazing experience, I learned a lot about two of my favorite hobbies: games and animation. Among others, I re-discovered one my favorite cartoon characters of all time: Betty Boop. I’m sure you know her, but.. have you actually seen any of her cartoons? (besides her awesome cameo in Who framed Roger Rabbit?)
Some background about her. During the late 20s and 30s, the animated world was ruled by Walt Disney. Mickey Mouse’s “Steamboat Willy” was released in 1928; the first “Silly Symphonies” in 1929 and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. The role of female characters in most of these cartoons was quite clichée. For example, Minnie Mouse represents the typical female and fragile character. Her main role is to be mostly an companion of Mickey Mouse. Most of the animation at this time was following this same recipe.
Max Fleischer, creator of Betty Boop, decided to break the standards proposing animations more experimental and innovative. For instance, we have Koko the Clown and a series of cartoons called Talkartoons. From the last ones, in Dizzy Dishes, a different character was born: Betty Boop.
Originally, she was a dog. The main reason was because, as a dog, she would be more appealing to the main character, Bimbo. Eventually, Betty Boop had some transformations until she became as we know her. For instant, her dog-ears became her earrings. From the start, Betty Boop was an icon of sensuality; this was quite controversial. However, behind her sensuality, there is a very kind, caring and innocent personality.
Through her episodes, we can see a lot of variety. Some of them, such as Snow White, are more experimental. This short is heavily influenced by innovative animation techniques, for instance, some characters transform from one thing to another (metamorphosis). Others shorts had pretty cool 3D effects, an example of this is House Cleaning Blues. Max Fleischer used the multiplane camera technique to reach this effect. Other episodes were more family oriented. Examples of this are Baby be Good and Betty and Grampy.
There is a lot of history behind this character. If you haven’t had the chance, I really encourage you to check out some of her episodes.