I come to you following a busy week/weekend, during which my son Miles and I have been digesting – three shorts at a time – the newly released boxed set of classic Fleischer-era Popeye cartoons.
As I am often reminded, there’s a large portion of the adult population that spends little or no time watching cartoons, and this – like many similar ying/yang-ish situations makes me both happy and sad.
I am of course always happy to know that I operate outside of the cultural status quo, but I am saddened that so many folks either consider themselves to old to enjoy cartoons, or (God forbid) consider them to be somehow “beneath” them and unworthy of their attention.
These people remind me of that nasty Eva Braun-ish principal in Uncle Buck who rails at Buck’s niece because she considers her actions to be frivolous, after which the mighty (and mightily missed) John Candy gets up and reads her the riot act about how she’s out of her mind and kids ought to be allowed to be kids (i.e. frivolous in all things).
I couldn’t agree more, and would like to add that I consider myself basically little more (at least spiritually) than a rather large kid (wasn’t it George Carlin who once said that old people are just bent kids?) and despite the shackles of adulthood (working for a living, bills and the like) I can still take time to enjoy some of the things that I liked when I was a kid, as well as watching my own kids dig these things as well.
Part of this is based in my own dislike for a lot of what passes for juvenile entertainment these days (though there are some cool things, like the ‘Upside Down Show’, ‘Jacks Big Music Show’ and the upcoming ‘Yo Gabba Gabba’ which looks insane).
Some of it is also the need to recharge via laughter, derived from things almost entirely free of irony or subtext, and I don’t think you need to be reminded that such things are in short supply these days.
Such a thing is the original Popeye cartoons.
Back in the day, when the Fleischer brothers (Max and Dave) pulled Popeye from EC Segar’s pages and whipped him up onto the screen, the character grew in popularity to a point where he rivaled even Disney’s Mickey Mouse (oh, that it were so today….).
The best thing about the 1930’s Popeye cartoons is that they aren’t just funny on a gag level, but like the best cartoons, animated and otherwise, they look funny as well.
All of my favorite cartoonists (a profession to which I once aspired) have always been able to tickle the funny bone with images as well as words. Sure there are cartoons out there that lean more on the verbal side of humor (which kind of defeats the purpose of having illustrations, n’est ce pas??), but the best – at least in my eyes – are those that are able to get laughs via the drawings as well.
The Popeye cartoons mixed memorable stock characters/situations (is there a single short that doesn’t cumulate in a fight between Popeye and Bluto?) with a really unusual drawing style (which was reflected in the 1960’s underground, especially R. Crumb). The animation of the characters is brilliant, especially Olive Oyl who’s wild, rubbery movements are a marvel.
The good folks at Warner Brothers have gone back and taken these cartoons (many of which languished in the public domain, and sub-sub-standard video issues), and reissued them with an eye toward quality (the prints are immaculate). There are also tons of extras including documentaries and early silent animation.
We’re about halfway through the set, and I look forward to a planned second volume (post-1938) coming in the Fall.
I’ll be back later in the week with some more music.