I posted Bimbo's Initiation and commented briefly on Facebook, but I had to expand on it and the work of producer and animator Max Fleischer. The ever Happy Mutants at BoingBoing posted the video earlier today, describing it as Fleischer's 'darkest short' or something to that effect. Go to BoingBoing to see exactly what they said. Anyway, it ended up inspiring tonight's Forgotten Gems post.
Fleischer was a contemporary of Walt Disney and released his own animated feature Gulliver's Travels in 1939, two years after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs proved an animated feature could be successful. To be perfectly honest, Fleischer's film is technically superior to Disney's, using rotoscoping techniques that wouldn't surface in quite the same way again until Richard Linklater's 2006 adaptation of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly (albeit in an entirely different artistic interpretation).
Fleischer and his team were certainly more experimental in their animated films than Disney, catering to a more adult (if not exactly more sophisticated) audience. Most famous for producing the original Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons, the writers and animators at Fleischer's studio were undoubtedly influential on any number of animators to come after, including Friz Freleng; Tex Avery; Ralph Bakshi and modern animators like John Krikfalusi and director Joe Dante for his segment of the notorious Twilight Zone: The Movie.
So here's the bizarre, surreal and rather nightmarish Bimbo's Initiation in all it's weird glory:
And here is Dante's take on the style:
"Run, Ethel! Run!" Indeed.
Of course, Fleischer's Popeye cartoons could be just as dark (Sea Hag, anyone?). He also produced a series of simply gorgeous Superman shorts:
Still, I think Fleischer's masterpiece and a true forgotten gem is Gulliver's Travels. If you've never seen it, you should seek it out. Gorgeously rendered with a message of tolerance and forgiveness and a very clever score, every animation fan (or film fan) owes it him or herself to see it. The full movie is available on YouTube. The trailer is below:
Animated films aren't just for children. I promise. And while Fleischer's movie is hardly a definitive version of Swift's satirical novel, it is a good start in introducing kids to a classic while enjoying the artistry of the piece, itself. Hell, I've even referenced Fleischer's work in my screenplay 'Comatose Joe.' And there's no doubt in my mind that his creative team was a bunch of stoners and trippers, long before it was cool.I'm just sayin'...