What I Learned Watching The Popeye Two-Reelers


My love wondered something when I wrote up thoughts about Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor. That was the first of the two-reelers and, by popular acclaim, the best. I opened the question of whether popular acclaim was right. My love wanted to know if I thought one of the others was actually best. I hadn’t meant anything that certain. I wanted to look at the three two-reelers and see what I thought now.

And, having watched the alternatives recently, and with some time to reflect on each … yeah. I agree with what everybody says about the two-reelers. Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor is the best of the set.

That’s not to say any of them are bad. They’re all good-to-great cartoons. And they each have particular strengths. Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves particularly has the virtue of being a really good, really representative Popeye cartoon. That is, all the things that are good about your general one-reel Popeye cartoon are present in Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. It’s got a nice casual plot. It’s got some amusing weird nonsense. (Why would Popeye have a boat that turns into a plane? Why not, if it gets him into the story sooner?) It’s got great little mutterings by Jack Mercer, Popeye’s voice actor.

And Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp has both a tightly-crafted plot and demonstrates that Popeye can play a part while still being himself. It’s great to see Popeye playing a role; peculiarly, he doesn’t do more of that. Even in the one-reelers they might have Popeye meet William Tell or Rip Van Winkle or something. But he wouldn’t play these parts. He would play a part, in some of the incredibly many shorts King Features churned out for television in the early 60s. There’s some of those that have fair enough premises. (Popeye as the starring role in The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere? All right. In a gender-swapped Snow White? Eh, why not?) But the 60s shorts, when they succeed, do so by … being all weird and crazy rather than good.

But Sindbad the Sailor has something more. If I have to say precisely what I would have to credit mood. It doesn’t have much business, and it’s slow about that business. But it’s not boring, and the result is that the cartoon feels epic. There is an argument that Popeye is a superhero. I’m not sure I agree. But he does have many superheroic traits, like extraordinary abilities used for the protection of the needy. A superheroic figure, though, needs an epic setting to match. Sindbad claims his island is on the back of a whale. We see that massive island, if not the whale. It’s presented convincingly. Maybe it is worthwhile starting the short with twenty minutes of introductory songs.

I’d also like to compare the four clip cartoons made of these. But two of them were basically inaccessible. Popeye’s Premiere was certainly the better of the two I could review. It’s got more of the original cartoon, the most important thing. And the framing device for the clips even logically fits the original short. Aladdin was originally presented as the movie whose script Olive Oyl was writing. To see it actually made? Good sense. In comparison Big Bad Sindbad is a merely competent clip cartoon. It’s got an acceptable reason for the clips to be shown, and has maybe more original footage than Popeye’s Premiere did. But it’s a very short cartoon, with barely any of the original. Without the time to set a mood of big, epic things happening the clips are just — nothing.

If I find the other two clip cartoons — Popeye Makes A Movie and Spinach Packin’ Popeye — online I may come back for a proper review. Shall let you know.


And for the sake of convenience here’s my posts on this subject.

The two-reelers:

The clip cartoons made from the two-reelers:

Next week: Not a Popeye two-reeler cartoon.

Popeye: Hits And Missiles


I mentioned last week the first of the 1960s run of King Features-commissioned Popeye cartoons, “Hits and Missiles”, which was produced by Paramount Pictures Cartoon Studios, which had been Famous Cartoon Studios and before that Fleischer Studios, who made all the great Popeye cartoons that animation fans speak of in reverential whispers. I thought, why not discuss this one, which I had characterized as “not too bad”.

The obvious thing to say about this is: it’s cheap. You can really see the budget in the editing, both in its sluggishness and how many inset shots are of a character standing by himself or herself on a featureless background, or when the walk cycle shows no evidence of getting out of the cycle. Or how there’s almost as many as three people doing all the voices (and you can really hear the different recording sessions they were using). Or how dialogue (especially between Popeye and the Big Cheese once Popeye breaks out of jail) doesn’t actually quite flow. Besides the things obviously being laid in for reuse (isolated characters on featureless backgrounds) there’s stuff that was recycled from earlier, better cartoons; even the premise of Popeye accidentally blasted into space was done before, in Popeye’s “Rocket To Mars”. I could swear a Popeye cartoon had done the gag about a rocket punching a hole in the Big Dipper, but can’t think which one (it’s not “Popeye, The Ace Of Space”), and even if they didn’t, someone had.

And yet there’s some good stuff in it. First, throwing Popeye into space is a sensible modernization of the “send Popeye on a fantastic voyage” motif that generates so many of his best stories. The mountain of Swiss cheese that Popeye and Olive fall through is a good sequence, and would make a great amusement park ride. And the cartoon throws in little bits of business that are amusing even when they serve no role in the plot, like Wimpy’s under-the-hat frying pan, or Olive Oyl’s little makeup table. Remove them and, yeah, you’d have to get the rocket accidentally launched slightly differently, but Olive’s makeup table is there just as an amusing throwaway gag. Considering they’d have been justified just showing the Big Cheese and Popeye talking instead, it’s good they showed a gag. It’s an attempt to fill the cartoon with funny pictures.

The overall cartoon is not great, no; but compared to the lethargic efforts Famous Studios was putting out a couple years before such as “Popeye For President” or “Parlez Voo Woo”? The cartoon suggests that the TV run of Popeye might be decent.