The Return of Popeye the Sailor

Example

Greetings.
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.
Peace
Larry

Example

Buy  – Popeye the Sailor 1930-1938 – at Amazon.com

About these ads

8 Comments

  1. When I think of fool-mouth arriviste types that say stuff like ‘Comics/animation are for kids’ (& then go and read some sh*te like Harry Potter like everybody else) it puts me in mind of an incident with Stieglitz, the photographer and general art guy, who was at the opening of a new exhibition he’d organised. A lady asked him to ‘explain’ the paintings of one the guys on show:
    ‘Mr Stieglitz, I keep looking at these pictures but I can’t see why they’re supposed to be beautiful. I don’t understand.’.
    He replied: ‘I don’t know. I guess it’s for the same reason when I look at you I don’t get an erection.’
    Nuff said.

    It has always messed my mind trying to work out whether there’s any connection at all between something as specific & abstract as the style of animation (or drawing or whatever) like here in the 30’s and the way of life or way of thought of the times. Whether the one represents the other in any way. Probably not, but it’s so distinctive and different from what followed. It’s like nowadays you just wouldn’t do something with the exact same sort of concave gangliness of Olive Oyl, or if you did it would seem consciously disconnected from the zeitgeist. Which I guess was part of why Crumb & etc were influenced by things from that time, like some kind of aesthetic flipping the bird to their own time.

    But what I don’t get at all is the idea that irony is somehow inherently bad – uh?
    And that stuff about ‘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??)’.
    It does…? Both the above would kinda kill half The Simpsons off in one blow if true. In fact one the many things that make The Simpsons so great (I’m talking about the good stuff, natch) is the very fact that it is a soap that happens to be done as a cartoon & plays against teh expectations of cartoons.

    Almost like Homer said in that episode where he goes into a 3D parallel universe, and stands around and burps and says ‘Gee it fells expensive just *standing* here’!

    John Kricfalusi’s mentions the same as you in his blog – http://johnkstuff.blogspot.com/ – which is generally v interesting & informative btw – despite me not being a fan at all of Ren & Stimpy. I recall he kvetched some time back about not quite seeing point of The Simpsons since it isn’t a cartoony cartoon. Again, totally bizarre point in my book.
    (as serendipity would have it, he’s got some funny shots of Popeye on it at the mo)

    It’s like when Tarantino acted out, with Steve Buscemi, a Mr White & Mr Orange scene from Reservoir Dogs at the Sundance Festival before he made it. One of the director’s assessing him said it was okay but needed improving and rescripting because it was ‘too stagey’…
    Dude, that’s the exact core f-ing quality of both the script & the film. IT IS *THE* POINT!’

    Anyway, I love that, in yon golden age of ye blog, we get to read about any mix of stuff we happen to like, so here we’ve got lashings of 60’s music & cartoons. I look forward to articles on best practice in extreme zen topiary and gangsta throat-singing :)

  2. Pete
    #1 – Irony is not in and of itself a bad thing, but it has become so prevalent a force in modern “humor” that I find it refreshing to be able to laugh at things that are relatively irony-free.
    #2 – I love the Simpsons (really, REALLY LOVE) and I would never class them with the kinds of things I was describing. What I was referring to is more along the lines of a lot of the poorly animated stuff that was all over Saturday morning TV when I was a kid, as well as some of the stuff that shows up on Comedy Central and Cartoon Network in the guise of “alternative” animation. ‘South Park’ manages to be primitive but also funny. ‘Squidbillies’ is crap. The kind of crap created by people who think the lesson of ‘South Park’ is that cartoons don’t have to look like anything at all. The Simpsons may not be a “traditional” (i.e. classic WB era) cartoon, but it has a brilliant style and I love to watch it as much as listen to it.
    #3 – John K has some great ideas (and I like Ren & Stimpy, at least the early stuff before he got fired). However he has taken some truly strange stands on animation (railing against the UPA style for instance).
    #4. I’m keeping my Zen topiary secrets to myself for the time being. There’s free-form, and then there’s far-out…
    Larry

  3. Great to see these types of archival releases coming out on DVD. It’s even better to see them done up right, with extras, commentaries, etc.

  4. I have this set, too, and it’s definitely been the DVD set of the year as far as I’m concerned. I’ve waited years for these to come out. I never thought I’d see the day. It took 25 years for King Features (who owns the character) to make an agreement with the current owner of the films (in this case, Warner Brothers) to finally get these fantastic cartoons out there. And after years of suffering with bad PD dupes of the color specials (“Sinbad,” “Ali Baba”), we now get them in glorious Technicolor! This set has been getting a lot of play around these parts and I cannot wait for Volume 2. I believe they’re talking about a November release date, but I haven’t heard the official word. But when it does come out, I’ll be among the first in line to get one. The Fleischer Popeyes are really that great, people, so don’t hesitate and PICK THIS UP NOW!!!!!

    For the record, the Public Domain Max Fleischer Popeyes are:

    Popeye The Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor
    Popeye The Sailor Meeds Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves
    Lil’ Swee Pea
    I Never Changes Me Altitude
    The Paneless Window Washer
    I’m In The Army Now
    Customers Wanted
    Popeye The Sailor Meets Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp
    A Date To Skate

    The other Public Domain Popeyes come from the Famous Studios period.

    The fact that these cartoons are finally coming out after long, long, LONG tie-ups is definitely a cause for celebration.

    As for anyone who says you’re too old to watch these cartoons, I say a big “UP YOURS!” These cartoons can be enjoyed by anyone at any age! And I definitely find them a lot more entertaining and funny than the crap that comes out today.

    Besides, I did my Master’s Thesis on the Fleischer Betty Boop cartoons and if you’ve never seen those, you’re in for a real treat!

  5. Oh and one more thing: Looney Tunes Golden Collection #5 comes out on October 30. I’ve seen the list and it promises to be as amazing as the previous four. Just thought I’d give you the heads-up.

  6. Roger that, Larry. I just allow myself to get unreasonably minty every time someone mentions irony – even in legit shortcuts to make another point like you did – subtext & other so-called post-modern stuff as if they are an illness. Mediocrity is the only pain in the butt, and it’s always there pain-in-the-butting most of what gets done, whatever the style of the times.

    Or as Homer once put it:
    ‘Two hours? Why’d they build this ghost town so far away?’
    (Lisa)’Because they discovered gold right over there!’
    ‘No – It’s because they’re stupid, that’s why. That’s why everybody does everything.’

  7. Hi Larry, Another great post, thanks.

    I well remember as an infant in the early Sixties sitting in the armchair with my late Father watching, mesmerised at the old black and white Popeye cartoons, hoping upon hope that he managed to reach that can of spinach before the inevitable happened!

    In later life, too, I enjoyed watching Popeye with my children, although always had a penchant for the original B&W versions. Somehow the colour versions never had the authenticity and charm of their forerunners. You do realise, though, how well observed and witty these kids cartoons really are – clearly the makers had their eyes on the senior generation too (as with the Simpsons).

    Hopefully, these DVD’s will be available over here in GB, so I’ll seek them out – particularly if they’ve been remastered as well as you say.

    Pete.

    Good call re: the late and much missed John Candy, and his masterwork ‘Uncle Buck’ – always brings a tear to my eye in the closing chapter!

  8. Popeye the Sailor’s creator, Elzie Crisler Segar, is the direct descendant of the American Revolution!


Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,537 other followers