Fleischer Cartoons Enter the Modern Age with Restored Superman Shorts

Gif: Paramount/Fleischer Studios
Gif: Paramount/Fleischer Studios
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Superman’s taken on many animated forms over the decades, but it all started with the 1940s shorts from Fleischer Studios. While they’ve been re-released (and remastered) a number of times, some of those efforts haven’t entirely been up to snuff, which is why Fleischer itself is trying its own hand at the process.

Earlier this week at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Fleischer showed off a restored version of the animated short, The Mechanical Monsters. The process began back in 2022, and wasn’t easy. One of the production members was open in calling it “frustrating” toward the end of the process, and previously noted it had to have individual frames cleaned up manually. In the side-by-side comparison below between the original animation and its 35mm restoration, you see the only thing that’s really changed is the lighting—the original is “so dark,” as noted by Flesicher in a Twitter reply, and everything’s been substantially brightened.

The Mechanical Monsters released in November 1941, just two months after Fleischer’s very first Superman short. Along with being the only Fleischer short to show Superman using his X-ray vision, this is the first instance of Clark Kent entering a phone booth to change into his heroic persona, which would become a fairly common trend of the character to this day. Fleischer’s cartoons were influential for other superhero cartoons that followed, but Mechanical Monsters specifically would either influence or be referenced in works such as Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow (and its tie-in short), Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky, and Lupin the Third.

When asked on Twitter about restoring other Superman shorts, Fleischer said it’d very much like to. It’s got at least one other it’s working on, while the rest may be more difficult to make happen: thus far, it’s been reaching out to archivists, as finding private collectors has been tricky when many don’t have a social presence or easy method of contact. The studio is similarly evasive about putting these out in any official manner: though it’d be open to a larger “greatest hits” of Fleischer cartoons with its Superman restorations included, nothing is definitive. Still, it’s pretty cool to see these restored by the studio that had a hand in them to begin with.

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