Moving Violation

“I can’t open the door now, I’m in my nightie,” says Betty Boop.

“Okay, I’ll wait till you take it off,” says Bimbo.

It’s 1931 so Betty is still officially a dog — she has dangling poodle ears which would slowly mutate into earrings. Since boyfriend Bimbo never underwent a similar evolution, their relationship had to become largely platonic, which left Betty free to be pursued by lots of horrible anthropoid toons.

It’s all very weird, which is why we love Fleischer cartoons. Betty is introduced cutting her toenails with a massive pair of shears. When her big toe is trimmed raggedly, it grows a FACE which draws her attention to the error, and when she more neatly prunes the nail, the toe-face submerges back into the surrounding flesh. In terms of Betty’s sex appeal. this SOCIETY-style moment is far more off-putting than the mere fact of her being a dog.

When Bimbo begins serenading Betty in an improbable tenor voice, the radiator can’t help but joining in, the kind of thing you don’t see outside Fleischer film or a fever dream.

8 Responses to “Moving Violation”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Speaking as an African-American I find “Bimbo” one of the most disturbing figures in the American cinema. He’s jet-black, a humanoid type but also a dog. White racists almost invariably treated black people like dogs. See also the dogs in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

  2. In my view, Mickey Mouse is also a sort of cartoon minstrel figure. Neither he or Bimbo is quite as bad as Bosko, but the same process is at work.

  3. bensondonald Says:

    Many early cartoon characters were mostly solid black shapes that animated easily and read strongly against backgrounds. Felix, Mickey, proto-Mickey Oswald the Rabbit, the endless mice and farm animals in Terrytoons … even the original Koko the Clown was defined primarily by the silhouette of his solid black costume. Here you’ve got the horse, the little cat and the guy in the bathtub (a friend of Betty’s?) drawn in that default rubber-hose style along with Bimbo.

    While there were plenty of creepy African caricatures throughout animation history, the visual shorthand was rarely if ever limited to the use of solid black. In “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead” and “Bamboo Isle” you see “natives” (gray, not solid black) contrasted to Bimbo. In the latter he attempts to pass by sticking a bone in his hair and smearing dirt on the white part of his face. Bosko, of course, was a genuine caricature — but easy to miss in the crowd of black-colored mice, dogs, cats, etc.

    As animation progressed, the dependance on simple animal faces and black blob designs receded. Characters who retained solid black coloring — Mickey, Daffy Duck, Mighty Mouse — were strongly implied to be default white. A rare exception was Buzzy Crow, voiced by a white actor impersonating Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. Stereotyped humans were drawn with other visual cues, like grotesque lips.

  4. David Ehrenstein Says:

  5. I guess I hadn’t thought about how white around the mouth was necessary to make the mouth read clearly on a black-inked character (the eyes took care of themselves). But maybe the proximity to a showbiz look was part of what made that “appealing”.

  6. David Ehrenstein Says:

    You’ll find the same thing operative in Fred Astaire’s “Bojangles of Harlem” number in “Swingtime” Putting the blackface aside what truly greats is that he’s dressed in a very loud suit of the sort that Bill Robinson NEVER wore. Like the Nicholas brothers, Bill Robinson was always dressed t the nines. But Astiare out a suit on that declared “I’m Playing a Negro.” it was just like those lips.

  7. bensondonald Says:

    Eddie Cantor did a lot of blackface numbers. What’s interesting is that he was often surrounded by genuine black performers, implied to be giving a stamp of approval.

    “Roman Scandals” is a weird and wild musical, with Busby Berkeley staging the big numbers. After a present-day story sets up Eddie’s corrupt small town, he daydreams himself into ancient Rome. At one point Eddie assumes blackface to hide in what seems to be a spa, populated by equal numbers of white patrician beauties and black, equally sexy serving girls. Mistaken for a famed beautician from Ethiopia, he sings “Stay Young and Beautiful If You Want to be Loved”. Then, while you’re digesting all this, there’s a bit that places white girls against black panels and black girls against white panels — race as set design.

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