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Color Classics were a series of animated short subjects produced by Fleischer Studios for Paramount Pictures from 1934 to 1941 as a competitor to Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies. As the name implies, all of the shorts were made in color, with the first entry in the series, Poor Cinderella, being the first color cartoon produced by the Fleischer studio. There were 36 films produced in this series.
The first Color Classic was photographed in the two-color Cinecolor process. The rest of the 1934 and 1935 cartoons were shot in two-strip Technicolor, because the Disney studio had an exclusive agreement with Technicolor that prevented other studios from using the lucrative three-strip process. That exclusive contract expired at the end of 1935, and the 1936 Color Classic cartoon Somewhere in Dreamland became the first Fleischer cartoon produced in three-strip Technicolor.
While they are sometimes considered by film historians to be pale Silly Symphonies knock-offs, many of the Color Classics are still highly regarded today, including Somewhere in Dreamland (1936), the Academy Award nominated shorts, Educated Fish (1937) and Hunky and Spunky (1938, first in a subseries), and Small Fry (1939). The first film in the series, Poor Cinderella, featured Betty Boop (with red hair and turquoise eyes); future films were usually one-shot cartoons with no starring characters. Two color classics - Educated Fish (1937) and Hunky and Spunky - were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons); both lost to Disney shorts.
Many of the Color Classics entries make prominent use of Max Fleischer's Stereoptical process, a device which allowed animation cels to be photographed against actual 3D background sets instead of the traditional paintings. Poor Cinderella, Somewhere in Dreamland, and Christmas Comes But Once a Year (starring Betty Boop character Grampy) all make prominent use of the technique. Disney's competing apparatus, the multiplane camera, would not be completed until 1937, three years after the Stereoptical process's first use.
The Color Classics series ended in 1941 with Vitamin Hay, starring Hunky and Spunky. In its place, Fleischer began producing Technicolor cartoons starring Gabby, the town crier from the 1939 Fleischer/Paramount feature film Gulliver's Travels.
A similar series would be started by Fleischer's successor Famous Studios in 1943, under the name Noveltoons. Some of the one-shots in this series would be reminiscent of the Color Classics in terms of production value and story.
Later statuses of films
In 1955, Paramount sold all rights to the Color Classics cartoons to television distributor U.M.&M. T.V. Corp. U.M.&M. altered the original opening credits sequences for some of the films, to remove all references to the names "Paramount Pictures" and "Technicolor", and to add their own copyright notices. Before the retitling could be finished, U.M.&M. was bought out by National Telefilm Associates (NTA). Instead of refilming the openings, NTA obscured the references to the Paramount and Technicolor names by placing black bars over the original title cards and copyright notices. Only a few Color Classics, among them, had their title cards redone by U.M.&M., among them Play Safe, Christmas Comes But Once a Year, Bunny Mooning, Little Lambkins, and Vitamin Hay.
NTA distributed the Color Classics to television, yet allowed the copyrights to lapse on all of the films except The Tears of an Onion. Many public domain video distributors have released TV prints of Color Classics shorts on home video. The UCLA Film and Television Archive has, through the assistance of Republic Pictures (successor company to U.M.&M. and NTA), retained original theatrical copies of all of the films, which have periodically been shown in revival film houses and on cable television.
Ironically, original distributor Paramount has, through their 1999 acquisition of Republic, regained rights to the Color Classics, including owning what survives of the original elements. Olive Films (current licensee for Republic, and who currently holds home video rights) has announced no plans to release the Color Classics officially to DVD.
In 2003, animation archivist Jerry Beck conceived a definitive DVD box set of all the Color Classics, and tried to enlist Republic Pictures' help in releasing this set. After being turned down, Kit Parker Films (in association with VCI Entertainment) stepped in to provide the best available 35mm and 16mm prints of the Color Classics from Parker's archives to create the box set Somewhere in Dreamland: The Max Fleischer Color Cartoons. These "interim restored versions" contain digitally recreated Paramount titles; the U.M.&M.-modified prints had to have their title cards as well as their animator credits redone. The Tears of an Onion was not included in the set, as it remains under copyright.
All cartoons released in 1934 and 1935, except Poor Cinderella, were produced in two-strip Technicolor. All shorts from 1936 and onward were produced in three-strip Technicolor.
|Film||Characters||Original release date|
|Poor Cinderella||Betty Boop/Cinderella, Stepsisters, Prince, Fairy Godmother||August 3, 1934|
|Little Dutch Mill||Hans, Gretel, Duck, Miser, Townspeople||October 26, 1934|
|An Elephant Never Forgets||Animal Children, Duck Teacher||December 28, 1934|
|The Song of the Birds||Little Boy, Baby Bird, Robins||March 1, 1935|
|The Kids in the Shoe||The Woman in the Shoe, Kids||May 19, 1935|
|Dancing on the Moon||Animal Newlywed Couples||July 12, 1935|
|Time for Love||Swans||September 6, 1935|
|Musical Memories||Old Man, Old Woman||November 8, 1935|
|Somewhere in Dreamland||Boy, Girl, Mother, Three Merchants||January 17, 1936|
|The Little Stranger||Mother Duck and ducklings, baby chick||March 13, 1936|
|The Cobweb Hotel||Newlywed flies, spider hotel owner||May 15, 1936|
|Greedy Humpty Dumpty||Humpty Dumpty, Mother Goose||July 10, 1936|
|Hawaiian Birds||Hawaiian Birds, Big City Orioles||August 28, 1936|
|Play Safe||Boy, Dog||October 16, 1936|
|Christmas Comes But Once a Year||Grampy, Orphans||December 4, 1936|
|Bunny Mooning||Jack Rabbit, Jill Rabbit||February 12, 1937|
|Chicken a La King||Rooster, Chickens, Duckie Wuckie||April 16, 1937|
|A Car-Tune Portrait||Band Leader, Other Animals||June 26, 1937|
|Peeping Penguins||Penguins, Mother||August 26, 1937|
|Educated Fish||Tommy Cod||October 29, 1937|
|Little Lamby||Little Lamby, Fox, Sheep||December 31, 1937|
|The Tears of an Onion||Onion, Vegetable Children, Crow||February 26, 1938|
|Hold It!||Kittens, Dog||April 29, 1938|
|Hunky and Spunky||Hunky, Spunky, Miner||June 24, 1938|
|All's Fair at the Fair||Elmer, Mirandy, Dogbiscuit||August 26, 1938|
|The Playful Polar Bears||Mother Bear, Bear Cub, Other Polar Bears||October 28, 1938|
|Always Kickin'||Spunky, Baby Bird, Hawk||January 29, 1939|
|Small Fry||Tommy Cod||April 21, 1939|
|The Barnyard Brat||Hunky, Spunky, Other Farm Animals||June 30, 1939|
|The Fresh Vegetable Mystery||Carrots, Potato-Cops, Orange, Egg||September 29, 1939|
|Little Lambkins||Boy, Animals, Father, Mother||February 2, 1940|
|Ants in the Plants||Anteater, Ants||March 15, 1940|
|A Kick in Time||Hunky, Spunky||May 17, 1940|
|Snubbed by a Snob||Hunky, Spunky, Two Racehorses, Bull||July 19, 1940|
|You Can't Shoe a Horse Fly||Hunky, Spunky, Horsefly||August 23, 1940|
|Vitamin Hay||Hunky, Spunky||August 22, 1941|
- Maltin, Leonard. Of Mice and Magic, p. 114
- Treadway , Bill (2003). Review for Somewhere in Dreamland: The Max Fleischer Color Classics DVD. DVD Verdict. Retrieved from http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/somewhereindreamland.php on August 16, 2006.
- Treadway , Bill. Review for Somewhere in Dreamland DVD.
- Barrier, Michael (1999). Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516729-5.
- Maltin, Leonard (1980, rev. 1987). Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-452-25993-2.