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DVD SAVANT

Betty Boop:
The Essential Collection
Volume 2
Savant Blu-ray Review


Betty Boop The Essential Collection Vol 2
Blu-ray
Olive Films
1930 / B&W / 1:37 flat Academy (although the earliest cartoons are narrower) / 83 min. / Street Date September 24, 2013 / available through the Olive Films website / 29.98
Starring Betty Boop
Produced and Directed by Dave Fleischer

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


Made of pen and ink! She can win you with a wink!
(yoo hoo!)
Ain't she cute
(Boop-boop-a-doop!)
Swee-eet Betty!

When we last left the naughty adventures of Betty Boop, with August's Betty Boop The Essential Collection Vol 1, we knew that Olive Films was planning four collections. But the first selection had begun in 1932, raising the question of whether earlier cartoons would be excluded. The new Betty Boop The Essential Collection Vol 2 backs up to near the beginning with 1930's Dizzy Dishes, a cartoon in which she's designed as a half-woman, half-dog character. Instead of earrings, Betty has long floppy ears. It looks almost disturbing. The gags are just as crazy, if not crazier than in the later cartoons. Adding to the overall impression of an LSD attack in the animation studio, some of the work looks as if drawing talent were not required. Characters seem to change shape as they move, and even Betty (especially her insect-like mouth) is very crudely animated. By the next cartoon this has been all cleared up, and we're safely in the Fleischer world of bizarre animal creatures bopping to the beat of the music, Toon-town style.

Here's a rundown of the twelve titles, with a brief note as to contents:

1930
Dizzy Dishes. Betty sings in a restaurant, where an impatient customer can't wait for the roast duck he ordered. Animated by Grim Natwick and Ted Sears; this is the first collection cartoon we've seen with Betty in her first incarnation, with those strange hound-dog ears (see image just below). "Paging Doctor Moreau!"

1931
Bimbo's Initiation Look carefully at the shot where Bimbo is pushed down a manhole -- the fleeting character responsible appears to be none other than Mickey Mouse! Captured by a hooded mob of maniacs that keep asking him if he wants to join, Bimbo must navigate a surreal subterranean maze. Is this a Masonic conspiracy? Betty, or actually a lot of Bettys, show up at the finale. "Wanna be a member?"

1932
Boop-Oop-A-Doop. Bimbo and Koko show up for a succession of circus gags -- Betty is a lion tamer & aerialist, and must be rescued from rape by a fat ringmaster. She sings, "Don't take my Boop-Oop-A-Doop Away".
Betty Boop Limited. Gags during rehearsals on Betty Boop's Show Train. She sings, Koko dances (roto-scoped) while we hear instrumentals like "Beyond the Blue Horizon." For the finale they dance atop the train. Not particularly inspired.
Betty Boop's Bizzy Bee. With Bimbo and Koko. She runs a lunch wagon that serves only wheat cakes.
Betty Boop's Ups and Downs Betty loses her house, and then entire planet goes on auction in outer space. Jewish caricature Saturn wins the bidding. He pulls the magnet out of the world and everything starts floating off the ground. Betty ends up in a stack of buildings.
Betty Boop's Museum. Koko runs a sightseeing bus. The bus becomes a car, which rolls on roller skates. Museum gags involve living skeleton animals, etc. A Mummy talks in Yiddish accent. Betty is locked in for the night; the exhibits come to life for a song: "Is That the Human Thing to Do?"

1933
Betty Boop's Big Boss. Several takeoffs on Maurice Chevalier songs. She gets a job in a skyscraper because the big boss thinks she's sexy. As son as they begin work, he attacks her.
Morning, Noon and Night. Live action violinist Rubinoff and his Orchestra play a classical piece for a satire of Disney pastoral cartoon musicals. The peaceful barnyard is invaded by car full of rowdy villains -- the Tom Cat Social Club.

1934
Betty Boop's Little Pal. The little pal is a puppy. Now acting more as a maternal figure, Betty sings a song to him at a picnic. The dog is nabbed by the dogcatcher and more puppy jeopardy follows. That's when we realize that this is a conventionally plotted cartoon, with sentimentality replacing surrealism.
Betty Boop's Prize Show. At the Slumbertown Theater, Betty performs in a barnstorming play called "Virtue Triumphs". People are now people, not weird animals. Betty is the schoolmarm. Now she's the helpless female character - and no more peek-a-boo costume, either.
Keep in Style. At Betty Boop's Exposition, Betty sings in a bellboy costume about inventions and progress. This cues a lot of car joke, household invention jokes, as in a Tex Avery cartoon of later vintage. Betty's clothing transforms into different styles. Her lacy leggings become a new fashion rage.

All but the final three cartoons are clearly Pre-code, with the expected voyeuristic frills, such as Betty's skirt being raised for various reasons and occasional cute gags with her little breasts; I have a feeling that in the early '30s Betty probably did represent an easily accessed sex object. The cartoons from 1934 are an alarming change. She's costumed differently and behaves in a different manner -- in the carton with the puppy, sex attraction is replaced with motherly affection. Under the Production Code, Betty is finally acting like a 'proper' woman - she's helpless and she does a lot of crying. The other two '34 examples aren't that memorable at all. The winner in this Volume 2 is Bimbo's Initiation, hands down -- it's solid surreal weirdness from one end to the other.

What does disappoint is the absence of any of the cartoons that use jazz music, particularly the ones with the Cab Calloway soundtracks. Volume 1 only had one such cartoon, and it was a reprise of an unseen title called The Old Man of the Mountain. I hope that the music rights won't keep the musical Boops from showing up on Volumes 3 and 4.


Olive Films' Blu-ray of Betty Boop The Essential Collection Vol 2 continues the series with fine 4k transfers. All of the cartoons have undergone title sequence alterations over the years, with TV distributors' logos tacked on. Fine scratches show up in every cartoon as well, but the images have not been softened or the animation compromised by any digital cleanup.

One thing that has been pointed out to me about some of the cartoons on this disc, and Volume 1 as well: all the cartoons have been given the Academy Aspect Ratio of 1.37:1, even though many of the earliest were apparently produced in the narrower Movietone AR, before the Academy settled on its standard. This means that everything is squashed out a little bit -- Boop devotees noticed it right away. The thing to check is the oval code seal -- which should be fairly narrow. On the mis-formatted cartoons, it's a little fatter.

Frankly, until this was pointed out to me I didn't see it. But technically, it is a flaw. Here's hoping for more early Boop madness, and maybe some musical gems, on Volume 3.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Betty Boop The Essential Collection Vol 2 Blu-ray rates:
Cartoons: Very Good
Video: Very Good
Sound: Excellent
Audio: English
Supplements: none
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? No; Subtitles: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 7, 2013




DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2013 Glenn Erickson

See more exclusive reviews on the Savant Main Page.
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are often updated and annotated with footnotes, reader input and graphics.

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