Finally, Warner Home Video has issued an official stand-alone release of the theatrical Superman cartoons from the 1940's. While it is exciting to finally have this set, it is far from perfect, and therefore you really need to take some things into consideration before you purchase this set. The title alone shows just how much homework Warner Home Video had done. Max Fleischer only produced the first 9 Superman cartoons. The remaining 8 were produced by Famous Studios after Paramount had took control of the Fleischer studio and removed the Fleischer brothers Max and Dave. Also, Famous continued producing new Superman cartons into 1943 before they decided to quit production.
For starters, the project was started by the Max Fleischer studio, a cartoon studio that originated in New York (but later moved to Miami to produce feature films). The studio head was Max Fleischer, and his brother Dave was the lead director. The Fleischers were under contract to produce theatrical cartoons for Paramount Pictures. The Fleischers had success in the 1930's producing cartoons that starred characters like Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor, the latter of which was adapted from a newspaper comicstrip started by E.C. Segar. With the growing popularity of the Superman comicstrip, Paramount had interest in making theatrical cartoons based on the series. While cartoons of this era were typically musicals and/or comedies, the Superman comicstrip was action-based. Therefore, these Superman cartoons were the first action-based animated films ever produced. The Fleischer brothers were not interested in producing the Superman cartoons, and when they were approached by Paramount, they quoted a budget so high, they were certain that Paramount would reject it. However, Paramount accepted their proposed budget for the series, and so the Fleischer brothers began work on the Superman cartoons. The first Superman cartoon was produced in 1941 on a budget of $50,000. Just imagine how much money that is if you apply today's inflation rate. The remaining cartoons had a budget of $30,000. Also, the first Superman short, just simply titled "Superman" was nominated for an Academy Award in the category Best Short Subjects: Cartoons. The last cartoon produced at the Fleischer studio was "Terror on the Midway". Once production continued at Famous Studios, Superman was put in plots that related heavily on American involvement in World War II. Superman fought the Japanese in the shorts "Japoteurs" and "Eleventh Hour", and fought the Germans in "Jungle Drums" and "Secret Agent". The stereotypes in these cartoons, especially the Japanese, may be offensive by today's standards, but during the war years, they boosted the morale of American movie audiences. The last Superman cartoon, "Secret Agent" was released in 1943.
Now, based on my rating, here is what is good about this set. The colors are really bright and are really attractive to the human eye. In terms of picture quality, Warner has done an outstanding job and no one has reached this level of picture quality yet. Also, "Terror on the Midway" is a complete version. Most versions floating around on public domain releases are missing footage at the beginning, and utilize still pictures while the soundtrack plays. Also, the prologue for "The Mechanical Monsters" has been corrected from the previous versions released by Warner Bros. The version of "The Mechanical Monsters" previously released by Warner borrowed its prologue from the first Superman short. What is unique about the prologue for "The Mechanical Monsters" is that it is the only time it is mentioned in the prologue that Superman has x-ray vision.
Now for the bad. The source materials Warner Bros. used on this set are in really rough shape. There are scratches throughout these films. Also, Warner expressed a real lack of quality control as the intros to most of these films have been altered. During the prologue of the first Superman short, there is an audio glitch. The line "Superman fights a never ending battle for truth and justice" is heard as "Superman fights a never ending battle for truth-justice". There are two cartoons that have the wrong prologue placed at the beginning. The cartoons "Eleventh Hour" and "Jungle Drums" borrow their prologue from the first Superman cartoon. Strangely, the audio glitch is not present in the prologue used for "Eleventh Hour" while it is present in the prologue to "Jungle Drums". The rest of the cartoons on this set have their correct prologues, but there are other audio issues. Many of the cartoons on this set have the incorrect Superman theme music playing over the opening credits, most notably on all of the Famous Studios shorts. "Japoteurs" borrows its opening credits music from "Electric Earthquake", you just have to listen as the title of the cartoon appears, you can hear the same sound effects heard over the title screen for "Electric Earthquake". The cartoons "The Magnetic Telescope", "Showdown", "Destruction, Inc", "The Mummy Strikes", "The Underground World" and "Secret Agent" have truncated music playing over the opening credits; basically by cutting the theme music short as the credits end before the entire piece of music accompanying it. As a result, the sound effects originally heard during the title screens for "The Magnetic Telescope" (an electrifying sound) and "Destruction, Inc" (an explosion) are gone. Lastly, only 3 cartoons have their original Paramount end logo, being "Superman", "The Arctic Giant" and "Electric Earthquake". However, there is a cut in the audio at the end of "Superman" as it fades to the Paramount end logo. Also, the other 14 cartoons on this set seem to have the end logo from "Superman" tacked onto them.
Overall, I can't discourage anyone from buying this set, but personally, I am once again disappointed by Warner Bros. lack of quality control. In terms of presenting these films as close to original as possible, I actually prefer The Complete Superman Cartoons - Diamond Anniversary Edition as the only thing they did to alter these films was briefly super impose the original theatrical release date for a few brief seconds at the beginning of each cartoon. If anyone from Warner Home Video may be reading this review, please learn from the people who put together the Diamond Anniversary Edition. There is a lot of cleanup to do, and hopefully if enough people bring these issues to Warner Bros' attention, they will issue replacements.