new betty boop

Any character with longevity risks losing their identity. Just look to Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, who used to embark on wild, globetrotting adventures full of comedic mayhem and now spend their days acting as the literal mascots for the Walt Disney Company and little more. Time has turned them into symbols rather than characters, and those with the power to remind audiences of why they were beloved in the first place don’t want to risk tarnishing those symbols. After all, they move a lot of Mickey merchandise just by playing it safe.

Another victim of this phenomenon is Betty Boop, the most famous creation of the great animator Max Fleischer, whose Depression-era cartoon shorts are often still astonishing today. The years have transformed Ms. Boop, an adventure and disaster-prone flapper girl who starred in dozens of shorts throughout the 1930s and beyond, into a cartoon figurehead who exists just to appear on T-shirts and keychains. But now, that may change, as a new Betty Boop animated series is in the works.

According to Deadline, Normaal Animation (best known for their Peanuts series) is behind the new show, which is being produced with the cooperation of Fleischer Studios and King Features. It will be Betty Boop’s first series in decades. The series description sounds barebones enough to allow for any kind of interpretation:

…the series recounts the daily struggles, joys and victories of young Betty Boop, who has every intention of being on stage and becoming a superstar.

The existence of this series suggests that the Simon Cowell-produced Betty Boop movie we heard about a few years ago is probably dead, but that may be for the best.

But who is Betty Boop, anyway? In Fleischer’s original cartoons, she was the catalyst for whatever insane concepts he and his animators chose to explore. You never really know what you’re going to get with an early Boop cartoon, which were frequently surreal and grim and entirely unpredictable. Unlike Walt Disney, who was producing classy entertainment for the entire family, Fleischer was all about exploring the dark side, using animation to dig into the odd and the unpleasant. For a generation raised on Boop as a mascot, these early cartoons can often feel genuinely shocking.

Take “Bimbo’s Initiation,” which only features Betty Boop in a small role but perhaps sums up the untouchable, deranged insanity of early Fleischer work better than anything:

The Hays Code eventually stripped Betty of her freewheeling sexuality and the Fleischer cartoons lost much of their original bite. So we can only hope that the folks at Normaal Animation understand that Betty Boop was never built for standard stories or mundane adventures. If they want to stay true to the character, to honor her legacy as an animated icon and not a mascot, they’ll take their show in a deeply weird direction. We’ll find out when the show premieres in 2018.

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