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The Other Cartoon Cinderella: Betty Boop

Max Fleischer-Poor CinderellaYears before Walt Disney made his classic Cinderella…in fact, three years before
he unveiled Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs,
his competitor Max Fleischer produced an elaborate musical cartoon
short called Poor Cinderella starring
the great Betty Boop. Encouraged, no doubt, by his distributor (Paramount
Pictures), Fleischer embarked on a series of “Color Classics” that were
intended to rival Disney’s award-winning Silly Symphonies. Because Disney
secured exclusive use of the new three-strip Technicolor process for three
years, in return for taking a chance on it, Fleischer had to make do with the
older two-color process, but Poor
Cinderella
is still pretty lavish by Max’s standards.

It’s an odd, hybrid cartoon: on the one hand, it tells the
classic fairy tale, with all the expected ingredients (in just ten minutes’
time), and spotlights an original song that was even published in sheet-music
form. Oddly, the powers-that-were decided not to use Betty’s normal voice (Mae
Questel) but replace it with a mellower singer. And while the skills of the
studio animators weren’t up to Disney’s, they tried their best to dress up this
short. Yet director Dave Fleischer wasn’t willing to abandon his off-the-wall
sense of comedy, as you’ll see in a variety of throwaway gags. (I actually
prefer the 1932 Betty Boop Snow White,
which is one of the most bizarre cartoons ever made.)

Where Poor Cinderella
does stand out is its use of Fleischer’s revolutionary use of live-action
three-dimensional sets, a technique that predated Disney’s celebrated multiplane
camera. Clear cels featuring cartoon characters were suspended in the midst of
cardboard and paper-mache
backdrops, placing them in a multi-plane environment. Lest this go unnoticed, Paramount
added these words at the very start of the piece under its mountain logo: “Patent
pending for Special Processes used in this production.” The unusual technique
was later revealed in an issue of Popular Mechanics. Click Link 1 and Link 2 to see original article. The process was also featured in an episode of Paramount’s Popular Science short-subject series in 1939, which you can see HERE .

When I was a kid and first saw Poor Cinderella on television, I was annoyed that it was
essentially serious; I wanted the usual funny Fleischer fare I’d come to
expect. Today, I appreciate what the studio was trying to do…even if it isn’t a
complete success.

You can enjoy all the Color Classics on a DVD set from VCI
Entertainment called Somewhere in
Dreamland
. Or you can watch Poor
Cinderella
in its entirety on YouTube.

8 comments

  1. Frederick Wiegand says:

    The singing pumpkin sounds remarkably like Nelson Eddy. I have often wondered if MGM loaned him to Paramount for this. He wasn’t that big of a star at that point, so I’m guessing it’s possible. Is there any voice credit given for the singing pumpkin?

  2. Koriander Bullard says:

    While this cartoon is stunning, it should be noted that prior to the 1950 Cinderella Walt Disney is best known for, Disney also released another Cinderella in 1922, featuring Julius from the Alice comedies, though this one pales in comparison to the Betty Boop rendition.

  3. Justin Knox says:

    "Poor Cinderella" is also available on the fourth Betty Boop DVD from Olive Films. It looks awesome on that set.

  4. Jeff Heise says:

    I saw this film at UCLA some years ago in a restoration they had done. Have always loved the 2-tone process with color and this was just gorgeous-the animation of the galloping horses is incredible and the use of the tabletop for backgrounds is eye-popping (if there were ever a good candidate for a 3-D conversion this would be one). The version on the DVD is gorgeous, too, but if you ever have the chance to see this on the big screen it is worth the price of admission alone.

  5. Norm says:

    Brilliant!!! Who else but LM would flesh out this story. So much lost or scant info pn this nascent industry, the grittyness and savy of Disney agaonsy thr creative

  6. Robert Tieman says:

    There must have been "Cinderella" in the air in animation studios back then. Back in 1933, Walt Disney did some substantial story work on a Silly Symphony version of "Cinderella." The Archives has an early typed treatment that includes character concept art done in colored pencil. There’s no record of why this project was put on the back burner for more than a decade, but one fun thing in the treatment: the names of the Stepsisters. Flora and Fauna. Sound familiar?

  7. DBenson says:

    Another oddity: The crooner at the ball is a caricature of Rudy Valee; whoever’s doing the voice (assume it’s not Valee) does a few Bing Crosby "bu-bu-boos"

  8. Terry Bigham says:

    "Poor Cinderella" was Betty’s only color outing and instead of her usual black hair, she was made a redhead for this cartoon!

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