It's hard to imagine now with the CGI effects in big budget Super Hero movies like The Dark Knight, X-men and Watchmen coming into our theaters every spring and summer, but there was a time when audiences were more than happy to settle for animated versions of their comic book heroes. In fact, one of the first super hero movie was produced in a studio right here in Miami.
Fleischer Studios, famous for characters like Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor, facing money troubles moved their studios to Miami Beach in 1937 (for tax cuts and to avoid union trouble, no less). Their best known output from this time was the Superman cartoons, the first of which was nominated for an Academy Award.
Greenbriar Pictures Show has a nice blog post up detailing the production history of the groundbreaking shorts.
Fans yap over cartoon favorites being ahead of their time, but I'd submit we still haven't caught up with Fleischer's Superman group. Nearly seventy years out, they are like seventeen Fabergé eggs still awaiting proper rediscovery and appreciation. Warners released the group on DVD. I watched and was entranced. Others schooled in animation arts could tell you better what makes these such treasures. My layman eyes can only report back of a cartoon experience unique and infinitely pleasurable.
Many of the full color shorts are available on YouTube. We've embedded the first behind the cut. You can certainly the influence of the show on modern animation (like the exceptional "dark deco"-stlye Batman: The Animated Series of the '90s). Greenbriar isn't kidding, these really are striking.
As for Fleischer Studios, the Superman shorts didn't ease their financial troubles any. They were bought out by Paramount Pictures in 1942 and rechristened Famous Studios. They eventually moved their studio facilities back to New York. Famous only continued working on the Superman series for another year, before dropping the man of steel for Little Lulu.