Saturday, November 21, 2009

Betty Boop Is Queen of the Animated Screen

It is often said that in movies and television, sex sells. But never is this claim more true when tracing the history of Western animation which is supposedly for children. Let's turn back the clock a bit and do a retrospective on the Queen of the Animated Screen: Betty Boop.

Betty was a brainchild of the iconic animator Max Fleischer who also worked on the legendary animated series Superman. With her popularity, Betty became the star of many films including the Talkartoon series and the self-titled Betty Boop films. Paramount Pictures knew they had a gem in Betty; this is why it sustained such success that is still recognized up until today.

The crazy thing about the character design of Betty Boop is that it wasn't even a human to begin with. She was designed to be a walking and talking French poodle - similar to other animal anthropomorphic character such as Mickey Mouse. However in 1932, its creator Fleischer finalized it as a human, owing it to its sex appeal success. Its poodle ears were turned into hoop earrings while its black nose was turned into a sexy button-like nose.

Moreover, Betty would go on to play supporting roles in movies - more notably as a girlfriend to the popular character back then named Bimbo. Betty Boop was called Nancy Lee and Nan McGrew during these roles.

Betty's voicing was largely popularized by Mae Questel who took the role from 1931 to 1938. Other notable actresses who voiced the sultry character were Margie Hines (the first one), Kate Wright, Ann Rothschild, and Bonnie Poe. The name Betty was said to have been derived from the 1931 Screen Songs cartoon Betty Co-Ed - but animation historians are debating that it is not the actual Betty Boop but just a prototype of the real Betty.

Her only theatrical movie appearance in color was with the animated movie entitled Poor Cinderella in 1934. In 1988 she would have a cameo role in the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? But most of the stardom of Betty became apparent when she became the lead role in the Talkartoons series of 1932 as well as her own series starting with Stopping the Show.

Betty's importance as a sex appeal icon was stylized in glamourized fashion from short dresses to high heels and then make-up. However, this was more given prominence in two landmark movies in 1932; Chess-Nuts and Boop-Oop-A-Doop. In Chess-Nuts, Betty was shown tied in a bed by the White King who exclaimed that he will have her. But before anything happens, the bed runs away and she is eventually saved by Bimbo. In Boop-Oop-A-Doop, the title of the film came to refer to her virginity as it was threatened by the Ringmaster of a Circus. Inside a tent, the Ringmaster starts to harass her with Betty begging off "Don't take my Boop-Oop-A-Doop away!" Eventually she go rescued again by Koko the Clown who beat the Ringmaster with a mallet.

These instances were early portrayals of sexual harassment in the silver screen - taboo subjects during those times. This was a brilliant illustration of how animation can go well beyond entertainment. Betty Boop certainly deserves its place in the animation hall-of-fame. In fact, just this year, Betty Boop was still voted as the second most cartoon character through a poll run by a newspaper in the United Kingdom.

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