The Superman animated short films listed above are truly spectacular classics. Commonly known as the "Fleischer Superman cartoons" are part of a series of seventeen (17) animated Technicolor short films, released by Paramount Pictures between 1941 and 1943. They are based upon the comic book character Superman and are seen as some of the finest animated cartoons produced during The Golden Age of American animation (1930s-40s).


These 8 animated films feature new music composed and recorded by John Pritchard with keyboardist Adam Holzman adding highly creative tracks to 5 of the films. Each soundtrack has been selected to provide an alternative cinematic experience and avoid rehashing the characteristic adventure theme music of the original cartoons. The new soundtracks provide minimal dialogue and musical motifs to advance the storyline. Instead the music aims to provide more presence to the engaging film noir style of the Fleischer Brothers' imagination and celebrate the sheer visual beauty of their unique work. These are some of the greatest animated films ever made. While the Superman cartoons were originally made for Saturday matinees during World War II, they can be appreciated today as high forms of art, like any Picasso or Van Gogh.



Catch the original animated adventures on DVD with the complete 1941-1943 Paramount Superman cartoon classics! Legendary animation innovators Max & Dave Fleischer were the first to bring Superman to theater screens, only four years after the comic book hero's debut. Capturing the comic book spirit better than any live action film with the stunning early art-deco look of the original Superman/Action Comics era, these stylish adventures proved so powerful that they influenced every Superman production afterward. Now restored to their best possible quality, these 17 animation masterpieces are presented in superbly clear quality! FEATURING: Superman (Pilot), Mechanical Monsters, Billion Dollar Limited, The Arctic Giant, The Bulleteers, The Magnetic Telescope, Electric Earthquake, Volcano, Terror on the Midway, Japoteurs, Showdown, Eleventh Hour, Destruction Inc., Mummy Strikes, Jungle Drums, The Underground World, & Secret Agent.
  The Super Guide to the
Fleischer Superman Cartoons

by Ross May

Fleischer Studios, later called Famous Studios after being acquired by Paramount, produced seventeen Superman cartoons and were shown to audiences between 1941 and 1943. For those not acquainted with the history of entertainment, it was typical for movie theatres to show at least one short cartoon before the feature film, which has since been replaced with straight advertising. This was the original venue for the Superman cartoons, though they have appeared on television since then.

Superman's original medium was, of course, comic books, and his second venue was a radio program that began in 1940. Superman's first moving picture appearance, animated or live action, was in this series of cartoons. Their importance in making Superman publicly renown can not be understated. With only the comic books Superman would have been popular with children in America, but the radio and cartoon serials made the character so well known that he was soon recognized by all of North America, and then the entire world. Thanks in part to these cartoons his fame would snowball to create his lasting success and international stardom.

The cartoons are available today on VHS and DVD. The following text is what Bosko Video, a company specializing in the release of classic cartoons, has to say of the collection from its DVD release of the serials:

The character "Superman" was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. He first appeared in the 1938 June issue of "Action Comics," and was an immediate success with the public. Paramount Studios obtained permission to make a series of cartoons based on the comic strip. They contracted with Max and Dave Fleischer to produce them as the Fleischers were making the other cartoons Paramount distributed. The pilot cost $50,000. This is three times what "Popeye" cartoons of that time cost. Subsequent cartoons in the series had a budget of $30,000. Cost for all 17 of the "Superman" cartoons was $530,000. The familiar phrases, "Look, up in the sky!" and, "Faster than a speeding bullet," were created by the Fleischer Studio for these cartoons. These cartoons had the luxury of using pencil tests, and a special effects department that had been created for "Gulliver's Travels." The elaborate shading on the characters, the expert cutting of the action scenes, and the stylized designs of the backgrounds makes this one of the most elaborate and sophisticated fantasy cartoon series ever produced by any studio. They remain a landmark in animation history, and a legacy for generations. This series was transferred from original 35mm prints and negatives. Never before have prints of this quality been available from ANY source, including laser disk. We hope that you enjoy adding them to your collection. BOSKO VIDEO

The Voices and Characters

Superman/Clark Kent: Clayton 'Bud' Collyer
Lois Lane: Joan Alexander
Narrator & Perry White: Jackson Beck
Nowhere in the credits (within the cartoons) are the voice actors listed, but they were likely never upset over that fact, especially Bud Collyer.

Bud Collyer had been the voice for Superman and Clark Kent on the radio program since its beginning, and he actually insisted on not being credited there, feeling that he would not be able to get any other roles. Not only was Collyer's concern very real, he correctly realized that any and every Superman actor would be typecast, something that has since been a component of the fabled "Superman Actors' Curse." Fans have loved Collyer's work for the way he was able to make Clark have a slightly higher pitch than his own voice, while his Superman possessed a deep, rich sound. Typically, the voice of Clark switches mid-sentence to Superman when he speaks, "This looks like a job for Superman!" Collyer would voice Superman for years on the radio series and return to the character for television cartoons, voicing him for the last time in the late 1960's. Starting in the 1940's, a mandate was passed from the comic book publisher stating that every attempt was to be made to create a fa?ade that Superman was a real person. This ensured that Collyer would not be credited anytime in the foreseeable future. This mandate would continue for years and cause actor George Reeves much strife when he made public appearances as the man of steel, because he was never permitted to tell children that he was merely an actor playing Superman, and not Superman himself. Bud Collyer, however, relished his anonymity, which was easy to maintain since he only provided the voice of Superman.

The Superman radio program had run through two women who voiced Lois Lane already when Joan Alexander took the role. In fact she lost it after three months, and it was Bud Collyer who insisted that she be allowed to win it back by blind audition, which she did. Alexander was recruited along with Collyer from the radio program to voice her character for the cartoons. She succeeded her previous voice actors in being the longest running voice for Lois, continuing in the radio program and brought back with Collyer for future Saturday morning cartoons starring Superman. Though Lois has few lines in the cartoons, Alexander takes those sparse quips to make the character truly sound like a smart and witty female reporter.

Jackson Beck was the only recurring voice actor not brought over from the radio program. Instead, he started out working with Superman in the cartoons before crossing over to the radio adventures. Beck used his grand, booming voice to its full extent when providing the introductions as the narrator, not unlike Collyer's own method and tone when speaking as Superman. Most listeners require a trained ear and instantaneous comparisons to be able to tell that the narrator's terrific voice comes from the same man providing for the Daily Planet's editor Perry White, who, though solid and clear, is probably unmemorable to most listeners and is just an extra character, albeit a recurring one. That was probably the intention of Beck and the studio. In 1942 Beck was taken on at the radio program as a recurring character, and in 1943 a new narrator was required there, to which he was well acquainted with doing. Also of note, Jackson Beck served for a time as the vice president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Actors. Like Collyer and Alexander, Beck was invited to reprise his character's role for television cartoons until the late 1960's.

There are, of course, other characters who speak in the cartoons. Most, if not all, additional male voices were provided by Collyer and Beck. Besides Lois there were only three other female characters ever heard - the woman's voice calling out, "It's a bird," Jane Hogan in 'The Mummy Strikes,' and the title character in the final cartoon 'Secret Agent,' who seems to have usurped Lois's regular position as strong willed woman and damsel in distress. It is likely that Alexander voiced all of these.

The Introductions and Famous Phrases

Each cartoon opens first with the Paramount mountain and insignia, then changes to a picture of a darkened sky where Superman, as a blur, flies by several times before leaving the letters 'Superman' on the last pass. It is when he is flying that the audience hears the "It's a bird! It's a plane!..." quotations. Interestingly, this phrase has been constantly misquoted, even in the information provided by Bosko Video. Most people start the phrase by saying, "Look, up in the sky!" What is actually said between two men and a woman is:
"Up in the sky, look! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!"

The voices are provided by each member of the cast. The more familiar, "Look, up in the sky!" was used later on the radio program.

Here are the original credits for the first Superman cartoon as they appeared in theatres. A space represents a change in shots.

A Max Fleischer Cartoon
By Arrangement with
Action Comics
Superman Magazines
comic strip created by
Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster

Steve Muffati
Frank Endres
Seymore Kneitel
I. Sparber
Musical Arrangement:
Sammy Timberg

Dave Fleischer

Dave Fleischer directed the first nine cartoons, all of which were produced before the studio was bought by Paramount and turned into Famous Studios. In the four earliest of these, his name is displayed alone on the final panel. There, a small, ringed planet can be seen underneath his name. In fact, the symbol looks exactly like the structure atop the Daily Planet building! Why this addition is present remains unknown. From the fifth cartoon on the director's name appears on the animators' and writers' shot in the credits, permitting no room for the symbol.

Not mentioned in these credits is scriptwriter and artist Jay Morton, who created the famous Superman introductions, descriptions, and taglines for these cartoons. It was he who wrote the, "It's a bird! It's a plane!..." line, as well as the following:

"Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!"

"Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to soar higher than any plane!"

"Faster than a streak of lightening! More powerful than the pounding surf! Mightier than a roaring hurricane!"

The numbers represent which episodes each quote appears in. As you might expect of the visual/audio medium, each sentence is represented with the object being described. The 'speeding bullet' sentence uses the same sky background as the one Superman zooms across. Indeed, there is no picture of a gun, and the small object hurtling in this instance is similarly coloured to those Superman flying shots, so the audience must decide for themselves whether the object being seen is actually a bullet or Superman speeding faster than one.

Some people say that the radio series is where Superman's famous phrases come from, but this is not the case, though it is understandable why there is confusion. Even in the comic books Superman was given various descriptions and exclamations of being "faster than X," or "greater than Y." The radio series took the concept of those descriptions and incorporated them into the narrator's introductions. Some of the descriptions come extremely close to being the same as the now famous lines, such as, "Faster than an airplane, more powerful than a locomotive, impervious to bullets." Jay Morton likely read the comic taglines and listened to the radio introductions as a basis for his own lines. It just happens that his phrases became the most popular, and were then adopted by the radio program and eventually by the comics as well.

The following is what the narrator tells us of Superman's origin, spoken only in the first cartoon (watch the YouTube video below):

"In the endless reaches of the universe there once existed a planet known as Krypton, a planet that burned like a green star in the distant heavens. There, civilization was far advanced and it brought forth a race of supermen, whose mental and physical powers were developed to the absolute peak of human perfection. But, there came a day when giant quakes threatened to destroy Krypton forever. One of the planet's leading scientists, sensing the approach of doom, placed his infant son in a small rocket ship and sent it hurtling in the direction of the Earth just as Krypton exploded! The rocket ship sped through star studded space, landing safely on Earth with its precious burden, Krypton's sole survivor. A passing motorist found the uninjured child and took it to an orphanage. As the years went by and the child grew to maturity he found himself possessed of amazing physical powers."

Kneitel and Sparber (writers of the first cartoon) might have written this back-story, but it seems more likely that Morton wrote it, as it is technically part of the introduction and seems to possess his personal flare.

Notice that there is no reference to the Kent family. In the original comics' back-story, the Kents discovered the baby Superman and did give him to an orphanage, only to return and then adopt him. The cartoon back-story would have viewers assume that Superman was raised in the orphanage. This change is probably due to time constraint more than anything else, and since the Kents would never appear it did not matter whether they existed or not.

Fans might be inclined to believe that the comment that Krypton, "burned like a green star," is an allusion to Superman's weakness, kryptonite. This could very well be the case, or it could be taken that Krypton had much plant life. Superman historians will point out that kryptonite did not appear in a Superman story until a June 1943 production of the radio program, two years after this first cartoon. Yet it seems that as early as 1939-1940 Jerry Siegel had envisioned an element called "K-metal" that would render Superman powerless. So, it is quite possible that Krypton's green colour in this cartoon is a reference to the as-yet unused kryptonite. After all, the planet is seen radiating a mysterious green light, probably not a good sign for any planet.

This is the phrase spoken after the back-story is completed. The image on screen shows Superman with his hands at his waist and his cape flapping in the wind. At the mention of Clark Kent, Superman morphs into his secret identity.

"The infant of Krypton is now the man of steel, Superman! To best be in a position to use his amazing powers in a never ending battle for truth and justice, Superman has assumed the disguise of Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper."

In subsequent cartoons, all of which did not contain the back-story, this same shot comes right after the "Faster than! More powerful than!" lines. Here is the description for the second cartoon, 'The Mechanical Monsters.'

"This amazing stranger from the planet Krypton, the man of steel, Superman! Empowered with X-ray vision, possessing remarkable physical strength, Superman fights a never ending battle for truth and justice, disguised as a mild mannered newspaper reporter, Clark Kent."

This cartoon happens to be the only episode where Superman employs his X-ray vision power, so in the remaining fifteen cartoons that same introduction is used but "Empowered with X-ray vision," is omitted.

Written by Ross May from his "Super Guide to Fleischer Brothers Superman Cartoons" located at created by Steven Younis. Used by permission.


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