Monday, June 29, 2009

Fleischer World, Part 1

This post is coming very late as I was attempting to finish this project in full before posting it. But frankly, it will be at least another week before I'm finished. So I've decided to post what I've done, and present you with the conclusion in a few days. And now, without further ado, the meat!

Oh, if only there were a Max Fleischer amusement park….

In 1936, Max Fleischer directed an animated short for the Chevrolet corporation. “A Coach for Cinderella,” while a piece of advertising, was also a pioneering piece of animation. By modern standards, though, it’s a pretty awful piece of story telling. Cinderella is aided by friendly gnomes/elves of some sort, who with the help of some little forest friends assemble a so-so dress for the attractive (and therefore good) young woman. They also throw together a car made of found, mostly vegetable items, which they put into a “modernizer.” The “Modernizer” transforms the car into a Chevrolet. I scoffed at this at first, but really this “modernizer” was a wise investment on the part of the gnomes. With the low cost of supplies, I’m sure the “Modernizer” paid for itself after pumping out only four or five Chevrolets. The gnomes could probably churn out, say, 30 or 40 little nature cars a day, making huge profits! They could even afford to provide housing and healthcare for all of their little forest friend employees.

Of course, what would likely happen is the executive and managerial gnomes would realize that it would be a greater benefit to them personally to pay their labor as little as possible, increasing profit margins and making room for multi-million dollar bonuses on the upper levels. Unions and labor laws would soon interfere with this process, so the executives look for other ways to keep profits growing even as sales levels remain more or less the same. The forest market is, after all, limited, with most families having perhaps two cars which they replace every 3-5 years, and not much population increase in areas where their cars sell best. Furthermore, the gnomes will have drained much of the supply of flowers, leaves, and fruits of sorts needed to construct the pre-modernized cars. And the danger of gathering these items (watch out for snakes!) has lead to high insurance and labor costs. So the executive gnomes/elves would likely find a forest nearby where labor laws were lax, and not only impoverished little forest creatures could be found, but also supplies unregulated by environmental protection laws. Meanwhile, rather than use their profits to fuel development, the executives continue to devote most of the profit to bonuses and advertising. Meanwhile, a group of Japanese gnomes in a forest not far away have developed a new, better modernizer that operates at half the cost and twice the speed, and produces a more fuel efficient car. These Japanese gnomes had been forbidden a military by international gnome laws, and had instead turned their attention toward developing commercial technologies. The Japanese gnomes even build modernizers in the other gnomes’ forest, since they have more space and will accept less money in the current economic climate than the Japanese executive gnomes’ native labor pool. This pleases the market gnomes/humans, and they start increasingly turning away from the cars they once so proudly produced, and buying the cars coming out of the Japanese modernizers. Cinderella’s gnomes ignore their shrinking market, and simply make production cheaper and cheaper, maintaining profits while decreasing quality. Eventually, the quality bottoms out and costs can simply not by cut any more. Sales are plummeting, and no profits were devoted to any kind of reserve funds. The first downturn in profits in decades sends investors running, and the gnomes creditors now have their hands out, looking for some return on what they’ve put in before it’s too late. But it’s already too late, and the gnomes are in too deep and have to be bought out by the labor unions and the gnome government. It’s all very sad.
Anywho, the cartoon (and it’s sequel, “A Ride for Cinderella,” are both now in the public domain and available on youtube.

Note, if you will, some of the similarities between this cartoon and the later Disney features Snow White and Cinderella. The plot similarities are obvious and unavoidable, of course. But check out the way the birds dress Cinderella, and even the song they sing while doing it. Seem a little familiar too you?

Max Fleischer was, after all, Walt Disney’s biggest rival, and most successful. Fleischer’s cartoons are as stylistically recognizable as Disney’s. While both animators (although Disney, particularly in the early years, really shouldn’t be credited without mentioning Ub Iwerks) created their share of anthropomorphic characters, Fleischer often took his creations in a weirder direction.

Fleischer is perhaps best known as the inventor of the rotoscope the creator of Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor Man. While he certainly did a lot of animation geared toward children, Fleischer catered a bit more directly to adult audiences than Disney did. Betty Boop was running around in little more than a slip in her first, pre-Hays code shorts. She even does a topless hula in Betty-Boop’s Bamboo Isle (she’s wearing a lei, so decency isn’t entirely abandoned). Fleischer was a natural fit for advertising to adults.

Disney’s ultimate triumph was his ability to produce a successful full length animated feature, namely “Snow White.” It would be years before Disney would have another major commercially successful feature length animated movie, but “Snow White” was profitable enough to hold him over during the lean years. Max Fleischer was a great artist, but “Snow White” scale success eluded him. But without Max Fleischer (and his brother Dave), there may have been no Disney corporation (more on that in my next post).

So, in a bit of a departure from the usual Hystoracle format, I’m going to imagine what I think would have happened if Fleischer the artist and Disney the visionary entertainer had somehow been a team, or perhaps one person…what might Fleischer Land have looked like? I’ve had two cups of coffee in the last hour, so we’ll see how long it takes for me to burn out.

The center of the park would be Metropolis. Fleischer produced the first superman cartoons.

Forgive my somewhat inferior artistic skills. An imagineer I'm not. And the scan quality.

Metropolis would feature an "Adventures of Superman" roller coaster/dark ride. The majority of the coaster would actually be underneath the park, where riders would be flying like Superman through a miniturized and therefore more expansive Metropolis, shooting between buildings and seemingly miles into the air. The coaster emerges only at one point, looping around the observatory. The coaster would be lit to match the exterior time of day. The loading/unloading area for the coast with be beneath the central Daily Planet offices. The building itself would multiple floors of gift shops, a tour of the offices of the Daily Planet and a restaurant on the upper floors boasting a view of the entire park.

A dark ride loading in the "Police Station" (with the spot lights on top) offers a different point of view. In "Jail Break," you are the villain, escaping prison in a stolen 1940s style police car. You race through the streets of metropolis, nearly missing pedestrians and causing general havok until you are apprehended by Superman and thrown (almost literally) back into the slammer.

Metropolis also boasts an arcade, a 1940's style diner, and a movie theater which shows Fleischer cartoons all day. Metropolis is also the first and last stop of trains traveling the Fleischer Railroad. The trainstation is taken up largely by a rest area and queue. Beside the train station, there is a large statue of Superman, marking the entrance to the stage show area, where Superman thwarts a train robbery every two hours.

Moving out of Metropolis and toward the entrance of the park is Sweethaven.

Home of Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, and Sweetpea, Sweethaven is built to resemble both a recreational boardwalk and working dock. The largest ride is a thrilling boat ride which plunges you beneath the docks (caution, you will get wet, etc.). Beneath the docks you are greated by splashing mermaids and frisky sea creatures.

Beside the boat ride is a giftshop and two floor seafood restaurant.

The second largest ride is a dark ride, "Olive Oyl's Escape." Olive Oyl and Sweet Pea evade Bluto in a small motor boat, traveling through the dark dock alleys beneath the cannery and Canned Spinach plant. In the end, Popeye comes to the rescue.

The only other ride is a classic carousel. The docks feature midway style games and food booths. The largest restaurant is Wimpy's, which of course serves hamburgers and cheese burgers. Performers dressed as Popeye, Olive Oyl, Wimpy and Bluto frequent all areas of Sweethaven. At the end of the docks (next to the carousel), parkgoers walk down a slope to the loading dock for the boat to Gulliver's Island.

Up soon, Gulliver's Island, a Toon Town area centered around Betty Boop, Bimbo, and Koko the clown, a forest divided between a pleasant Cinderella themed woodland and a dark haunted forest, and a seasonal, Rudolph centric North Pole.

Better images here.