You may have recently read that Betty
Boop is returning
for a new animated series being produced by Normaal Animation in France.
Bringing her back might be one thing, but making her popular again may be
impossible without eliminating her classic characteristics. Which, if that’s
the case, then why bring her back at all?
For the record, reboots tend to be
plagued by the same kinds of problems. Namely how can you take a classic
character or TV show that is laden with nostalgic appeal (and perhaps a few
prejudices), and make it appealing and appropriate for contemporary audiences?
For all too many an executive who have risen to this challenge, the answer has
been to simply teleport the bodies of the characters to a modern setting, and
pretending they were there all along.
Of course that would be fine, if
such transmogrifications were actually done well. The truth is that reboots
suffer from keeping the wrong aspects of a show, and discarding what actually
made them popular in the first place. Exhibit A: popular BBC stop-motion
preschool show Postman Pat, whose simple premise and plots proved to be
extremely popular. Years later, it was decided that the old formula was a bit
too simple, and they decided to up the ante with movie featuring aliens and a
singing competition that erased any trace of charm left in the property.
Another fine example is Inspector Gadget, whose latest series sees him take on
not only his old nemesis CLAW, but his nephew as well!
Despite Normaal Animation’s good track
record with Peanuts, it’s highly unlikely that Betty will be brought up to date
completely intact. The remarkable raciness of her early shorts seems rather
tame by today’s standards, and to embody the same impact of those shorts in the
reboot would be to push limits into unprofitable territory. Can you imagine Betty
Boop pushing the cultural limits of today? It would be like seeing your grandma
with sleeve tattoos, plug earings, and listening to dubstep.
Betty’s cartoons were also heavily imbued
with Fleischer weirdness. Aside from Betty herself, more than a few of her
shorts featured downright scary and haunting situations that make for an awkward
viewing experience. Would a modern series be unafraid to produce episodes with
Perhaps the biggest question surrounding
these new shorts is Betty herself. Her popularity is far below the height it
once was, and while she is somewhat familiar with the general population, it is
in more of a static role adorning merchandise instead of a living character. In
other words, consumers buy the merchandise because of what they perceive Betty
to be, rather than having an intimate appreciation for who she really is.
The assumption behind this new series is
to change such a scenario, but how can you take a character who is
simultaneously known and unknown, and turn it into a successful show without
decimating Betty herself? It’s a choice between a rock and a hard place for the
producers, who will have to decide if they stay true to Betty’s outdated characteristics, or embrace her
original intent and push the boundaries of contemporary culture. The true
answer is to do one or the other, but neither will be chosen because they are
not economically viable. Instead, Betty Boop will likely be inserted into a
modern setting and will act much like any other contemporary cartoon character.
The new Powerpuff Girls series illustrates what can happen to a show that was
barely off the air for ten years, just imagine the fate that awaits Betty after
For this reason alone, Betty deserves to
enjoy her retirement. She continues to exist within the public’s consciousness,
and retains an even greater degree of that than another cartoon icon, Felix the
Cat. Contemporary audiences have too many animated choices as it is, and to see
Betty get hauled out for another go at the limelight is akin to the annual Academy
Awards ceremony where someone from Hollywood royalty is brought out more to
prove they’re still alive than for any other reason. Could more be done to
increase Betty Boop’s popularity? Sure, but new animation isn’t the answer.