|When it comes to Popeye cartoons, I like em old. Not just a little old, either, but real old 1940 is pushing it. The character seemed to get a new TV series every decade, right up until that awful 1980 Robin Williams movie killed the franchise, but Ive always considered half-hour cartoons to be the wrong format for the one-eyed sailor. Give me a seven-minute black-and-white short any day.
Thats why Ive ignored any previous Popeye DVD collections, and also why I pounced on Popeye Original Classics from the Fleischer Studio (2005). The Fleischer brothers made the wildest, most interesting cartoons of the 1930s, and their Popeye cartoons are terrific. Fans of the one-eyed sailor, as well as fans of the demented antics of Fleischer creations Betty Boop, Koko the clown, et al, should check out this DVD immediately.
What weve got here are seven rare shorts made between 1936 and 1942, plus three double-length extravaganzas; Popeye meets Sindbad (1936), Popeye meets Ali Baba (1937) and Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp (1939) the latter three based on "Arabian Nights" stories and filmed in colour. The colour cartoons have been available for years on cheap public-domain VHS tapes in fact, I own three of them but theyve never looked so good. Previous tape versions shortened the Ali Baba cartoon (a personal favourite) quite a bit, but here we get the whole thing, looking brighter and cleaner than ever before. Check em out you havent lived until youve seen Popeye attempt to ride to the rescue on a sleepy camel, desperately trying to get some speed out of the lazy beast.
The black-and-white shorts are outstanding, even though two of them, Im In the Army Now (1936) and Customers Wanted (1939) are "cheaters" that rely on old clips to pad out the running time, as Popeye and Bluto use footage of their adventures to impress an army recruiter and a nickelodeon customer, respectively. Still, its hard to be grouchy when theres so much great stuff in here.
Theres a formula at work in these toons, and we all know that Popeye is at his most entertaining when fighting with Bluto over the affections of Olive Oyl, while muttering hilarious asides to the audience "I think I need a little mucilage on my fusilage" he observes, while his tiny airplane disintegrates around him in I Never Changes My Altitude (1937). Once that can of spinach pops open, the music kicks into high gear, and Bluto receives a humiliating defeat hell never forget at least until the next cartoon, when hell immediately start behaving like a jerk again. I wonder if multiple blows to the head have given this guy memory problems?
Bluto, the villain, manages to be such a despicable creep that we look forward to his ritual undoing every single time. The fact that Olive even occasionally flirts with this blowhard must drive Popeye up the wall. Still, why are these two brutes competing so strenuously over the stringiest, shrillest female character of all time? Not only is she as unsexy as a damp noodle, but shes also extremely fickle, often playing the boys off one another just to get some attention.
Perhaps the fact that we never see any other female characters at all gives us a clue to this conundrum. Could Olive Oyl be the last woman on Earth? That must be it. The cartoons all take place in some post-apocalyptic dystopia in which the two most testosterone-laden suitors on the planet battle it out over who gets to produce the next generation of humanity on a blasted and radioactive wasteland. Hey, that even explains Blutos hulking girth, Popeyes wine-bottle forearms and Olives spaghetti limbs theyre all atomic mutants!
Glad we sorted that out.