Heptune presents...

Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle

by Brenna and Megaera Lorenz
    Betty Boop's 33rd cartoon begins with live footage of the Royal Samoans performing a lively song, while up in front, Meri (name supplied by Leslie Cabarga in his book, The Fleischer Story) dances wearing a grass skirt and several strategically placed leis. Meri is also wearing some kind of flowery bra, or at least a lei tied around that part of her body.
    When the animation begins, we see Bimbo at sea in a little motorboat, playing "Twelfth Street Rag" on a ukulele. He is accompanied by his motor, and by a fish who separates itself from its skeleton and plays the skeleton like a washboard. After a lot of running around, Bimbo finally comes ashore on Bamboo Isle. His boat breaks up and forms itself into a doghouse, and the motor runs inside like a dog -- a favorite Fleischer gag. Bimbo himself lands in Betty Boop's canoe. Betty Boop in this cartoon is a dark-skinned Pacific Islander. Her anchor, when she pulls it up, shakes itself like a dog -- another favorite Fleischer gag.
    Bimbo sings Betty a song in a voice startlingly different from his speaking voice. The words appear to be a mixture of Samoan and English, and we were not able to transcribe them.
    Bimbo and Betty end up in a little round clearing surrounded by trees, who greet them by singing a beautiful, slow, deep, harmonized Samoan song. Bimbo is terrified. Then the "natives" arrive. Bimbo hits himself over the head with a bone to raise a knot, sticks the bone through the knot, pulls little circles out of the air to use as earrings (these were the circles flying around his head from the blow), and rubs dirt on his white cheeks to disguise himself. He sings to his hosts in Samoan, and they treat him as an honored guest. Next we hear a bit of a piece called "Chimes."
    Next we see a Samoan clapping dance, performed by five rotoscoped men. Then Betty performs Meri's dance, rotoscoped over Meri's figure. It is a striking effect. Betty is more scantily clad than Meri was; Betty has no bra and only one lei that barely covers her breasts.
    Rain starts falling, washing the dirt off Bimbo's face. The Samoans are angry to discover that Bimbo is a white dog. Bimbo and Betty run off together, escaping in Bimbo's motorboat. The cartoon ends with Bimbo and Betty kissing behind an umbrella that has a big hole in it, so our view is not obstructed.

    The beautiful Samoan music and the remarkable rotoscoped dances make this an interesting cartoon. The Fleischers were particularly fond of the rotoscoped footage of Betty Boop, and later used it in two other cartoons.

This cartoon is available in the following collection:

Sol Ho'opi'i, Master of Hawaiian Guitar  Do you love the music in this cartoon? You can find a virtually identical version of Twelfth Street Rag and Chimes on this Sol Ho'opi'i collection, Master of the Hawaiian Guitar.  Sol Ho'opi'i set the standards for steel guitar and Hawaiian-American music in the 1920s and 1930s.

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Published 5/28/99.
Updated 11/7/99.