This is the first Superman cartoon.
The Superman animated cartoons were a series of seventeen animated Technicolor short films, produced by Fleischer Studios from 1941 to 1942 and Famous Studios from 1942 to 1943 and released by Paramount Pictures between 1941 and 1943, based upon the comic book character Superman.
The first nine cartoons were produced by Fleischer Studios (the name by which the cartoons are commonly known). In 1942, Fleischer Studios was dissolved and reorganized as Famous Studios, which produced the final eight shorts. These cartoons are seen as some of the finest, and certainly the most lavishly budgeted, animated cartoons produced during The Golden Age of American animation. In 1994, the series was voted #33 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field.
The first cartoon in the series, simply titled Superman, was released on September 26, 1941, and was nominated for the 1942 Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons. It lost to Lend a Paw, a Pluto cartoon from Walt Disney Productions and RKO Pictures.
Rotoscoping, the process of tracing animation drawings from live-action footage, was used extensively to lend realism to the human characters and Superman. Many of Superman's actions, however, could not be rotoscoped (flying, lifting very large objects, and so on). In these cases, the Fleischer lead animators, many of whom were not trained in figure drawing, animated roughly and depended upon their assistants, many of whom were inexperienced with animation but were trained in figure drawing, to keep Superman "on model" during his action sequences.
The first seven cartoons originated the classic opening line which was later adopted by the Superman radio series and in the live-action television series a decade later: "Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!" However, for the final two of the first nine Fleischer-produced cartoons and first of the eight Famous Studios-produced cartoons, the opening was changed to "Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to soar higher than any plane!". With the changeover to Famous Studios and the loss of the Fleischers, the opening line of the cartoon series was changed to "Faster than a streak of lightning! More powerful than the pounding surf! Mightier than a roaring hurricane!" This series also featured a slight variation of the now-classic exclamation (also from the radio series): "Up in the sky, look! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!"
All seventeen cartoons were sold to Motion Pictures for Television (producers of the TV series The Adventures of Superman) in 1955, and all eventually fell into the public domain (their copyrights having not been renewed by either Paramount, NTA/Republic, EMKA, Ltd./Universal Studios, or even Motion Pictures for Television and DC Comics), and have been widely distributed on VHS, laserdisc, and DVD. Nonetheless, Warner Bros., via parent Time Warner's ownership of DC Comics, now owns the original film elements to the cartoons.
The voice of Superman for the series was initially provided by Bud Collyer, who also performed the lead character's voice during the Superman radio series. Joan Alexander was the voice of Lois Lane, a role she also portrayed on radio alongside Collyer. Music for the series was composed by Sammy Timberg, the Fleischers' long-time musical collaborator.