Popeye The Sailor: 1933-1938: The Complete First Volume
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Popeye The Sailor: 1933-1938 Volume One (DVD)
Spinach--YUCK! But not to the most famous, fearless comic strip sailor in the world--Popeye. Whether romancing his longtime sweetheart, Olive Oyl, rescuing defenseless infant Swee'pea, or wrestling his nasty nemesis, Bluto, Popeye summons his spinach-induced strength to save the day. With one gulp of the vitamin-rich vegetable, Popeye transforms his scrawny body into a human dynamo! For high seas hijinks or landlocked levity, turn to the hilarious animated antics of that two-fisted tar--Popeye.]]>
In 1933, a squint-eyed sailor with outsized forearms danced a hula with Betty Boop--and began one of the great series in American cartoon history. Popeye had made his debut in Elzie Segar's comic strip "Thimble Theater" four years earlier, and the jump to animation only increased his popularity: by 1938, he rivaled Mickey Mouse. During the '30s, when Disney was creating lushly colored, realistic animation, the Fleischer Studio presented a gritty black-and-white world that was ideally suited to the bizarre misadventures of Popeye, Olive, and Bluto. The animators ignored anatomy, with hilarious results: Olive Oyl's rubbery arms wrap around her body like twin anacondas, and her legs often end up in knots. Exactly what Popeye and Bluto saw in this scrawny, capricious inamorata was never clear, but they fought over her endlessly. As the series progressed, the artists grew more sophisticated: in "Blow Me Down" (1933), Olive does some clumsy steps to "The Mexican Hat Dance;" one year later, in "The Dance Contest," she and Popeye perform deft spoofs of tango, tap, and apache steps. The stories are little more than strings of gags linked by a theme: Popeye and Bluto as rival artists; Popeye and Olive as nightclub dancers or café owners. But the minimal stories allow the artists to fill the screen with jokes, over-the-top fights, and muttered asides from the characters. Cartoon fans have waited for years for the "Popeye" shorts to appear on disc, and the Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938 was worth waiting for. The transfers were made from beautifully clear prints with only minimal dust and scratches. The set is loaded with extras, including eight "Popumentaries," numerous commentaries, and 16 silent cartoons. It's a set to treasure. (Unrated, suitable for ages 10 and older: violence, tobacco use, ethnic stereotypes) --Charles Solomon
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These just got better. All the good stuff I remembered was still there: the magnificent background art, Popeye's quiet running commentary (BTW, Robin Williams's Popeye movie got that just right). But there's so much more. The extras tracks point out that Popeye's world was in the working underclass - make of that what you will. And then there's Sweeepea, the baby. Even as a kid, I kind of figured that Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Sweepea approximated a nuclear family. But now, with more years behind me, I wonder - was Sweepea fostered because of off-screen family woes? Or was Popeye taking a gentlemanly interest in a single mother's child (sired by whoever)? The happy superficial innocence lies as a thin veneer over social ills that we live with today. But, whatever the backstory, it looks genuinely happy. Whatever the challenges, I think the happy home and caring adults are what matter most to any child. I find it worth noting, too, that Olive isn't just the damsel in distress and game token of the male characters. As often as not, this princess takes active role in saving herself and getting her own needs met.
I saw these cartoons in the 1960s, perhaps 30 years after they were made. It's been at least 40 years (at this writing) since I first saw them. Somehow, more than twice as old, they haven't aged. They look as antiquated today as when I was a kid, way long ago - and that fact itself surprises me.
I liked these cartoons then. I like them as much,or more, now. All that was good then is still good (except for the overt racism), but so much has just gotten better - or maybe I just grew up to see what was good all along.
Essentially Popeye turned out to be a deathtrap for the Fleischer's Paramount was eager to commercially exploit to the extent that the were less focused on artistically expanding in the same sense that west-coast producers were. As a result the quality deteriorates which might be part of the reason why by the early forties we see Warner Bros. taking favor for its more slick and elaborate product. The other reason was that it was so lucrative that Paramount wanted to capitalize on the product all to themselves eliminating the Fleischer's out of the picture. The interviews and the commentaries in the special features don't seem to be conscious of the fact that the very series they were lauding which despite its many merits also happened to be the very thing that reformed the studio in Famous. The 1938 loan where he used his properties as collateral was the excuse for Paramount to attempt this. The special features don't go into intricate detail about the deterioration of the studio maybe because much of it might be above audiences heads.
Again the shorts are wonderfully restored and for a product that has such a niche market its great Warner's took the time and willpower to preserve and restore many of the classics. Commentaries vary people such as Micheal Barrier know what there talking about, some of them such as both John K and Kali seem to have no historical knowledge and just express enthusiasm which really isn't a reason for them to be there. Again the best features are in the restoration not the special features were credibility might vary. It is just about getting all these famous personalities of animation onto one set which some of these individuals might have little to no actual knowledge.
Again the cartoons are the reason for buying this hearing un-sourced talking points isn't an enjoyable endeavor.