Review by KC Carlson
Well, blow me down! This is great stuff!
Although I’ve loved animation all of my life, somehow I let Popeye slip to the background in my frantic desire to learn all that I could about about the Warner Bros. characters (Daffy Duck is an important role model for me) and the people who brought them to life. Of course, I watched Popeye as a youngster. How could I not? He was everywhere in the kid-friendly TV world of the 1960s. But somewhere along the line I forgot about him…
… or so I thought. Darned if I didn’t remember every single moment of most of the cartoons on this new DVD collection! Okay, maybe I missed a bit of Popeye’s famous mutterings. Or maybe I just understood more of it as an (alleged) adult…. But every single storyline, every one of Olive Oyl’s bizarre poses, every bit of music, every cliffhanger, and every can of spinach all came back to me in a flood of happy childhood memories. Thanks for the gumball, Popeye!
Popeye the Sailor 1938-1940 Volume 2 is exactly what it says it is — a chronological collection of all the Popeye cartoons produced by the Fleischer Studios from 1938 (beginning with “I Yam Love Sick” — the previous 1938 cartoons were on Volume 1) through 1940. All of the cartoons have been completely remastered and are in glorious black and white, with the exception of “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp,” the acclaimed two-reel Technicolor spectacular, which completes the Popeye Technicolor Trilogy.
Volume 2 comes in a sleek, stripped-down 2-DVD set, with 31 complete Popeye cartoons and a wealth of special features. The Volume 1 set was issued last year as a massive 4-DVD box set, which I originally passed up due to a mini-flood of great animation projects all released within a relatively short time, overwhelming my budget for DVDs. I like this new 2-DVD format over the big box for two reasons: monetarily, it’s easier on the wallet, and aesthetically, the smaller number of cartoons — especially with this single-character, many variations on a limited theme series — is much easier to mentally digest. It also doesn’t hurt that the smaller sets are on a fairly quick-release pattern — Volume 3 is scheduled for late September!
There’s a really high percentage of great cartoons on this set, beginning with the aforementioned “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp,” a 16-minute tour-de-force of Disney-quality animation. It also features one of my favorite bits of Popeye mutterings: “I’ve never made love in Technicolor before!” Also included is the under-appreciated “Shakespearian Spinach,” where Popeye replaces ham actor Bluto in an operatic version of Romeo and Juliet (Olive Oyl), where the three characters sing the entire cartoon. Oh, and Popeye ends up in drag in an attempt to fool Bluto, predating Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in “What’s Opera, Doc?” by almost 20 years. Bluto in this cartoon was voiced by Pinto Colvig, better known as the voice of Goofy in the Disney cartoons, which just adds to the general strangeness.
There are also first appearances of some of the regular supporting characters. Poopdeck Pappy, Popeye’s 99-year old father (“I hates relatives!”) is introduced in the bizarre and surreal “Goonland,” which you’ve probably guessed, also stars the Goons. Pappy also appears in two other cartoons in this set. Pipeye, Pupeye, Poopeye, and Peepeye pop up in a dream sequence as the children of Popeye and Olive in “Wimmen is a Myskery.” In later cartoons, the foursome are presented as Popeye’s four identical nephews (And how does that happen?). And Eugene the magical Jeep is introduced in “The Jeep,” one of my favorite Popeye cartoons. The scene where The Jeep serenely levitates up several flights of stairs while Popeye frantically scrambles up the stairs trying to catch up to him, is almost zen-like. The Jeep’s musical theme has been gently playing in my head for the last several days.
There are special features a’plenty on this set. There are over a dozen commentaries for individual cartoons, all by noted animation historians and filmmakers such as Jerry Beck, Greg Ford, Paul Dini, and Michael Barrier. There’s an informative documentary about the animation studio entitled, “Out of the Inkwell: The Fleischer Story,” as well as “Popumentaries” on Poopdeck Pappy, The Jeep, Mae Questel and the voices of Olive Oyl. “Men of Spinach and Steel” is a great examination of who was the first super-powered character: Popeye or Superman? (Both were animated by the Fleischers.) Plus there’s a vintage short on the making of “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp,” a complete Superman cartoon, rare pencil tests and storyboards, and a couple of audio-only features, one an interview with Jack Mercer, the voice of Popeye.
Popeye the Sailor 1938-1940 Volume 2 is a lovingly assembled tribute to one of the classic American icons, a character so beloved that he even eclipsed Mickey Mouse’s popularity for part of the 1930s. And you can see why in the cartoons in this collection. I am so out the door looking for Volume 1, just as soon as I stop kicking myself for missing it!
(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)