Here's an interesting bit of trivia for you film history buff out there. Grim Natwick - the animation legend who many in the industry credit with making the title character in Disney's "Snow White" seem so lifelike ...
Snow White and Forest Animals Special Set-up from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories, Inc.
... also created another of the top toon stars of the 1930s, Betty Boop.
Copyright King Features Syndicate, Inc. / Fleischer Studios, Inc.Hearst Holdings, Inc. / Fleischer Studios, Inc.
Mind you, when Mr. Natwick first drew Ms. Boop, she was something of a dog.
Seriously. In her big screen debut - 1930's "Dizzy Dishes" -- Betty was supposed to be this stylized French poodle. Deliberately designed to be a suitable girlfriend for the nominal star of this Fleischer Studios' Talkertoon, Bimbo the Dog.
But Max Fleischer ... He saw that this cute canine had real screen presence. So he bopped Betty's floppy poodle ears and had this cartoon character reinvented as a flirty flapper. Just two short years later, Boop was the star of her own series of animated shorts for Fleischer.
And the folks at Walt Disney Studios ... Well, they couldn't help but notice the positive impact that a curvy female character could have on a cartoon's box office performance. Which is why a very Betty Boop-like moth popped up in Disney's 1938 Silly Symphony, "The Moth and the Flame."
Animation drawing from "The Moth and the Flame." Image courtesy ofS/R Laboratories, Inc.
Yeah, though the Walt Disney Company loves to cash in on its good, sweet and kind line of Princesses, the plain simple fact of the matter is - even back in Walt's days - the Mouse wasn't adverse to a bit of cheesecake.
Centaurette and Cupids from "Fantasia." Image courtesy ofS/R Laboratories, Inc.
That said, these moments in Disney's movies which celebrated the female form couldn't be gratuitous. They had to come about organically. In service of the story of that particular animated feature and/or short.
Animation drawing of Melinda from "Fantasia."Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories, Inc.
But that said ... Walt was always aware of what was going on in the marketplace. And when Tex Avery's 1943 animated short, "Red Hot Riding Hood" ...
Animation drawing of Red from "Red Hot Riding Hood." Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories, Inc.
... and its 1947 follow-up, "Uncle Tom's Cabana" ...
Animation drawing of Little Eva from "Uncle Tom's Cabana."Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories, Inc.
... were getting such an enthusiastic response for adult movie-going males ... Well, is it such a surprise to learn that - in the "Pecos Bill" segment of 1948's "Melody Time" - Disney introduced a curvy cartoon character that really gave Red a run for her money: Slue Foot Sue.
Slue Foot Sue from "Melody Time." Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories, Inc.
Of course, given Disney's family-friendly reputation, there were always debates about how much was too much when it came to animating the female form. The way I hear it, it wasn't Tinker Bell's tiny outfit that caused consternation among all of the artists who worked on the Studio's 1953 version of "Peter Pan" ...
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
... but - rather - all of those finny females who spent their days lolling around in Never Land's Mermaid Lagoon. Just figuring out how much of these characters were going to be covered up was the cause of countless story meetings. Or so I hear.
Mermaid from "Peter Pan." Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories, Inc.
Now what's kind of funny about this is ... Some 35 years later, the next generation of Disney animators had the exact same sorts of conversations about Ariel in Disney's "The Little Mermaid" (i.e. whether or not this animated character should have a navel or not? What size sea shells should Ariel's top be made out of?, etc.).
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
About this same time, Richard Williams and his "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" production team were trying to get a handle on Jessica Rabbit's look ...
Jessica color model from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories, Inc.
... which sort of redefined the issue of how much is too much. At least when it came to the female form as it could be done in animation.
Copyright Amblin Entertainment / Touchstone Pictures
Of course, there were those who tried to cash in on the public's fascination with Jessica Rabbit's exaggerated cartoon curves by creating their own toon bombshells. Witness Holly Wood in Ralph Bakshi's 1992 live-action / animated feature, "Cool World."
Holly Wood with master background from "Cool World."Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories, Inc.
Mind you, Disney wasn't exactly immune to the forces that were out there in the movie-going market back in the 1990s either. As part of a deliberate effort to make the Studio's animated features that much more appealing to adults (and thereby hopefully boosting these films' overall box office numbers), the designs of Disney's cartoon heroines got curvier while their outfits got tighter.
Don't believe me? Then compare Princess Jasmine from 1992's "Aladdin" ...
... to Pocahontas in Walt Disney Animation Studios' 1995 release ...
... and Esmeralda in 1996's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." If you just look at the design of these characters, it's obvious that Disney was making a deliberate attempt to amp up the sex appeal of its female toon stars during this period in the Studio's history.
Though if you were to quiz animation insiders about the female cartoon characters that was created during the late 1990s, especially in regards to which character they thought was really the curviest / sexiest, I'm betting that these artists & animators would award the booby / booty prize to Chel from DreamWorks Animation's 2000 release, "The Road to El Dorado."
Copyright DreamWorks Animation LLC. All rights reserved
For more than a decade now, work-in-progress versions of
“The Road to El Dorado” have been discreetly among between animation enthusiasts. If only
so that they can then marvel at the early animation that Rodolphe Guenoden did of Chel. Which got such a strong reaction at test screenings that Jeffrey
Katzenberg then reportedly ordered that Chel be chilled out. To be specific, that this
scantily clad character’s more bawdy scenes in this Eric "Bibo" Bergeron / Don Paul film be reanimated.
But as for me … I have to admit that I have a genuine fondness
for “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” If only because – for one brief moment in this
Robert Zemeckis movie – you get a scene where Betty Boop & Jessica Rabbit
are in the exact same shot as Roger Rabbit & Bug Bunny. And if you look beyond Bugs, you can sort of see Mickey & Minnie Mouse.
Anyway ... That's a brief look back at some of the curvier cartoon stars that Disney & its competitors have created over the year. Did we miss your favorite character? If so, let us know.
FYI: The majority of the images used in today’s JHM article
came from the catalog for S / R Laboratories’ Spring 2011 animation art
auction. For further information on the selection of cels, animation drawings,
background painting and storyboard sketches that will be coming up for bid on
May 23rd & 24th, be sure and check out the official S
/R Labs website.