Betty Boop Is Too Out of Touch With Contemporary Audiences to be Brought Back

Betty Boop Is Too Out of Touch With Contemporary Audiences to be Brought Back

 

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
similar themes?

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
many decades.

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.

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Comments

Jonathan Wilson

It depends on which country though. Countries around the world eat up American characters on a daily basis (Woody Woodpecker is popular in South America and Top Cat is HUGE in Mexico to the point where they financed and produced their own film). I recall seeing a ad starring Betty from France, so the people still love her….

ÖH

I am reminded of your Erin Esurance article. I think the reason why Betty doesn’t stand a chance today is political correctness. No matter what the official reboot would look like, in fandom there will be many who would turn her into an unrecognizable butched out feminist icon and many more who would turn her into an animated cyber porn starlet. The internet response to a Betty Boop reboot would ultimately define her identity and her marketability, and I think the inevitable, bland political correctness of her initial presentation would ultimately squander any chance for Boop 2.0’s viability.

Tony Ginorio

If you’re going to revive Betty Boop, I think it’s best they keep her in the thirties and not contemporize her at all. Her identity is so tied to that decade that it’s unimaginable for her to exist in any other era. Furthermore, much of the comedy came from the supporting players, characters like Bimbo, Grampy and Pudgy. Anyone doing a revival would be wise to include them.

On our way to Grumpy's House

The real teller of the quality of this series is it’s number: twenty six twenty two minute episodes for a total of 572 minutes total. In 1932 Fleischers produced 38 cartoons at roughly 7 minutes a piece (Screen Songs played longer because of their non-animated live action content) for a total of 266 minutes. Of course start dates are different than release dates and cartoons released early in 32 would have been started in 31 etc. but basically you’re looking at double the work to be done by certainly less people in about the same amount of time.

Jen Taylor

It is best to bring the character into the new generation. Leaving her in her old environment will not do the character any favours. It’s aimed towards the new generation and the old series is not what people wanna see. We are in 2016 everything should move with the times! Betty staying in the 30s is a terrible idea and should not be done period! If they do that the series is bound to flop! The character was supposed to have been modernised in 2000 but ideas for that were scrapped. If the character is not going to get a full feature film she deserves a comeback! Popeye did it? Why can’t betty? Is it because she’s a woman?

Art Binninger

Unfortunately, for many, if not all popular franchises, there comes a time when they need to step down off the stage. For example, Star Trek is having a harder and harder time trying to keep ahead of contemporary technology and still be faithful to its past (think the communicator vs. today’s cell phones/iPads) and should probably call it quits at 50. Betty Boop never really started out as a fully delineated character but evolved from film to film. So there’s the question of which film presented the REAL Betty? As the 1930’s wore on, even the Fleischers had a hard time keeping her interesting, bringing in various co-stars to help. It might be possible to do something contemporary with her but that all starts in the script. Her appearance in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT worked because the writers understood her and made her short scenes appealing and a little bit poignant. Of course, if it’s all about selling more merchandise (which is what today’s films seem to focus on) then this will be another disk in WalMart’s bargain bin about a month or so after the film’s release.

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