Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 26, 1941
Superman, of course, was based on the comic strip hero who made his debut in 1938. For his screen debut, the studio made a long introduction of the character, which lasts almost two minutes.
After this intro a very simple story develops, which contains many elements to be reused in later Superman cartoons, becoming a routine all too soon:
1) an evil scientist
2) something big to beat (in this cartoon a deadly ray, which Superman ridiculously punches away)
3) Lois getting intro trouble due to her curiosity, and
4) an ending with Lois and Clarke reading a newspaper article written by Lois Lane.
Despite elaborate shadows and special effects, this first realistic theatrical cartoon (not counting the works by Winsor McCay) hasn’t aged very well. The scientist is still half cartoony, and he has an animal sidekick, which mimics his moves.
The rest of the characters are drawn realistically, but also stiff and expressionless. They look forward to the wooden realistic cartoons of the TV era. The character was very popular, however, and inspired a couple of parodies, most notably the Bugs Bunny cartoon ‘Super Rabbit’ (1943). It’s ironic that after Popeye the Fleischer again had to rely on a character created elsewhere to achieve success. Unfortunately, this meant they couldn’t exploit Superman’s popularity as much as they could have with a character of their own.
Superman would star in seventeen cartoons, all from 1941-1943, nine by the Fleischer Studios, and eight by its successor, Famous studios. In 1943 the series was dropped because it was too costly to produce.
Watch ‘Superman’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Superman film No. 1
To the next Superman film: The Mechanical Monsters