They said it couldn’t be done. In fact, after three decades of personal effort, I was convinced it would never happen.
But Monday December 13th, in prime time, the first salvo of a new initiative to restore and preserve the classic Max Fleischer cartoons – locked for decades in the vaults at Paramount – will be available for the world to see. On that Monday’s special nighttime telecast of MeTV’s Super Colossal Cartoon Christmas (8pm EST/PST), a newly restored version of Fleischer’s Somewhere In Dreamland will make it’s debut.
The cartoon, the ninth of the “Color Classics” series, the first one photographed in 3-strip Technicolor, is a showcase for Fleischer’s incredible “Stereo-Optical” 3-Dimensional setbacks. The process, which involved building miniatures sets, filmed frame-by-frame on a revolving platform, with a special camera rig that shot the animation cels hung in front of a window, is still inspiring animators today (Cuphead, anyone?).
Because it was the first Fleischer short ever to be filmed in full (3-strip) Technicolor, the sets in the Dreamland sequence are especially colorful – an effort to somewhat blow the minds of Depression-era audiences, and perhaps their rivals at Disney. The cartoon has heart, visual splendor and a classic sense of wonder.
Credit for getting this film on the air, on MeTV, should go completely to MaxFleischerCartoons.com. They accomplished something I certainly couldn’t do – and I’m grateful to see some movement in restoring classic cartoons in the Paramount Vault.
It’s not like we (me and small band of historian/archivists) haven’t tried over the years. I’ve spent much time myself throughout the years trying to convince various studio execs to revive and restore their Fleischer library – first at NTA/Republic back in the 1998 (the result, the heavily DVNR-laced Betty Boop: The Definitive Collection); then I worked with distributor Kit Parker on a Color Classic collection (on VHS and DVD, from an assortment of fuzzy 16mm prints culled from rental libraries and private collectors) named after Somewhere In Dreamland for VCI Entertainment in 2002.
As a consultant to Warner Bros. Home Video, I contributed to the efforts to get the Fleischer Popeye cartoons restored and released on DVD in 2007 and the public domain Fleischer Superman shorts restored from their negs and compiled in 2009.
But cracking the code at Paramount Pictures has been superhumanly impossible. For the last several years I’d been content to work around the system to restore a handful of Fleischer cartoons via the preservation fund at Asifa-Hollywood (we’ve saved Raggedy Ann & Andy, The Raven, Dinah, Buzzy Boop at The Concert, Always Kicking’, Koko’s Earth Control and half-a-dozen more). DVD and/or blu ray releases from Ray Pointer’s Inkwell Images, Tommy Stathes’ Cartoons on Film (Cartoon Roots) and Steve Stanchfield’s Thunderbean Animation (Fleischer Rareties) ignited fandom interest in Fleischer and kept the flame alive in recent years.
In 2020, Fleischer Studios Inc. itself – spearheaded by Max’s granddaughter Jane Reid – began a concerted effort to get the cartoons back on the public radar. Fleischer licensee Rockin’ Pins, backed by a new family-sponsored entity – Max Fleischer Cartoons LLC – made inroads at Paramount that simply weren’t possible before. With new financial incentives for licensing and broadcasting, and with the Fleischer family’s input and support, Paramount has permitted the scanning of an original camera negative as a first step – and reception to its first telecast (its debut on MeTV Dec. 13th) is key to this initiative.
Max Fleischer Cartoons LLC is actively working to locate, scan and restore the entire Fleischer filmography. Images accompanying this post are from the new restoration. This (we hope) is only the beginning!
For this broadcast, we have to thank Jane Reid at Max Fleischer Cartoons LLC, Andrea Kalas at Paramount Pictures Archives, the UCLA Film and Television Archives, Mauricio Alvarado at Rockin Pins, and a digital restoration team that includes Jack Theakston and Thad Komorowski.
For me, the Color Classics and the Screen Songs (and another half-dozen early Bimbo Talkartoons) are the gems of the Paramount library. It’s almost criminal they’ve been neglected all these years and lay waiting to be rediscovered in those nitrate vaults. Could a proper set of Color Classics come to physical media, MeTV or Paramount+ someday? Let’s encourage those possibilities. Spread the word. Share this post. Tune in with me watching MeTV’s Super Colossal Cartoon Christmas on Monday December 13th (8pm EST/PST) – and let’s all work together to make that happen.