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February 5: The Sidewalks of New York -- and Betty Boop

February 5, 2016

photograph-of-mae-questel-and-max-fleischerThe animation studio of Dave and Max Fleischer released on this date in 1929 their second cartoon titled “The Sidewalks of New York” (an earlier version came out in 1925) as part of their new “Screen Songs” series with Paramount Pictures. The cartoon marked the studio’s permanent transition to sound cartoons, with seventeen released in the same year. “The Sidewalks of New York” featured the 1894 song of that title and the “Follow the Bouncing Ball” gimmick for which the Fleischer Brothers claimed credit. “Neither lyrics nor ball was animated,” writes Michael Barrier in Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age: “The lyrics were filmed as they came into view on a rotating drum, while the animator Art Davis moved the ‘ball,” a cut-out white circle on a black stick, from word to word.” The Motion Picture News called the cartoon “one of the cleverest... we have seen in a long time.” While the cartoon is not available on YouTube, you can see another Fleischer Brothers cartoon that features the song below - and below that, a Betty Boop cartoon from 1934 that displays the Fleischer studio’s risqué sensibility. (The photo at left shows Mae Questel, who provided the best-known voice of Betty Boop.)

“What had been added was metamorphosis animation of a kind that had become a Fleischer specialty and that Disney rarely if ever used; he noted that the Fleischer cartoon ‘is an entirely different sort of thing than ours.’ ” —Michael Barrier