(1883-1972) Viennese-born US animator, the inventor of rotoscoping (whereby animated movies could seem more realistic because drawings could be based on the movements of live actors) and in his heyday regarded as Walt Disney's primary rival; he collaborated closely with various other family members, notably his brother Dave Fleischer (1894-1979) – who was the original live-action model for Koko the Clown, the character featured in MF's first successful series, the Out of the Inkwell shorts (1915-1927), which mixed animation with live action, MF himself being part of the live action. Either MF or Dave also invented the "bouncing ball" to accompany the lyrics of movies to which the audience is expected to sing along. MF created, with Lee De Forest (1873-1961), what was probably the first animated movie to have a soundtrack – My Old Kentucky Home (1924) – predating Disney's Steamboat Willie (1928) by several years. Not until 1929, though, did MF enter the field of the talkies seriously, with his Talkartoon series. His greatest moment should have come in 1939 when, prompted by the success of Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), he released his riposte, Gulliver's Travels (1939) (see Gulliver Movies). Making considerable use of the rotoscope, this possesses much fine material yet fails, ultimately, to cohere. It did, however, earn some money; the same was not true of MF's second and last animated feature, Mr Bug Goes to Town (1941; vt Hoppity Goes to Town), an ecologically oriented tale of a community of insects threatened by humans. Its failure signalled the end of MF's and Dave's running of the studio: Paramount, the Fleischer distributors, were no longer willing to pour money into it under its current management. The brothers – by now on very bad terms – worked for other studios thereafter, but without much distinction.
Long before this, however, the Fleischer Studio had launched two of animation's most significant characters. Betty Boop initially appeared in Dizzy Dishes (1930), portrayed as half-girl, half-dog; she soon became all-girl as MF realized the potential of the character. Betty Boop shorts were produced prolifically until 1939, and she became and still is an Icon; Betty has a bit part in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). Even more prolific was Popeye, devised in 1919 for the Comics by Elzie Segar and bought for the screen by MF in 1932: the Popeye series continued until 1957, and a live-action feature movie appeared much later as Popeye (1980). Also of note was the Superman series of shorts (see Superman Movies). [JG]