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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 17, 1933
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Seasin's Greetinks! © Max Fleischer‘Seasin’s Greetinks!’ is Popeye’s first Christmas cartoon. It must be one of the least typical Christmas cartoons around: we watch Bluto and Popeye clobbering each other, while wishing each other ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘A Happy New Year’, respectively.

Most of the time we watch the trio skating. When Olive gives him the cold shoulder, Bluto cuts off the ice on which she sits, and she immediately drifts towards a waterfall. Luckily, Popeye saves her in a rather bizarre way. The cartoon ends with Olive and Popeye watching a Christmas tree, decorated by the stars from the blow Popeye gave Bluto.

‘Seasin’s Greetinks’ is the first mediocre Popeye cartoon. Compared to earlier entries this cartoon is rather low on gags, and the love triangle already becomes predictable. Luckily, the Fleischers came up with enough variations to keep the series fresh, even if not in all its entries.

‘Seasin’s Greetinks!’ is noteworthy for introducing the skating-near-a-waterfall plot, which Disney would copy in ‘On Ice‘ (1935) and the ‘Once upon a Wintertime’ sequence of ‘Melody Time’ (1948).

Watch ‘Seasin’s Greetinks!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Seasin’s Greetinks!’ is available on the DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 17, 1933
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, Wimpy
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

I Eats My Spinach © Max Fleischer‘I Eats My Spinach’ is the first cartoon in which an instrumental version of Popeye’s theme music accompanies the opening titles.

The short opens with the very walking cycle with which Popeye appeared for the first time on the screen in ‘Popeye the Sailor‘. He walks towards Olive’s house, and together they go to a rodeo to watch the “Great Bluto” perform. Immediately, Popeye challenges and outperforms the bearded brute. He wrestles a badly drawn bull, and fights another one. The cartoon ends with Popeye knocking a bull into a meat market in a rather shocking metamorphosis gag.

The designs in this short are more primitive than in other Popeye cartoons, making it look rather old-fashioned, even when compared with contemporary Popeye cartoons like ‘Blow Me Down!‘ or ‘Season’s Greetinks!‘. Surprisingly, this cartoon marks a return to the animal world of Betty Boop’s earliest cartoons, being the last short to do so.

Popeye would fight a bull again in ‘Bulldozing the Bull’ (1938), but now most unwillingly and without harming the animal. By then Popeye had become on example to youngsters, both in comics and on film, and his aggression was toned down, luckily without losing its spunk.

Watch ‘I Eats My Spinach’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘I Eats My Spinach’ is available on the DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: October 27, 1933
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Blow Me Down! © Max FleischerLike the previous two cartoons, ‘Blow Me Down!’ (another of Popeye’s oneliners from E.C. Segar’s comic strip) opens with Popeye singing his own theme song, now while riding a shark to Mexico.

In Mexico Popeye visits a canteen, where Olive is a dancer, performing a dance, that’s taken straight from Segar’s strip from March 1932, including the gag in which she lands with her feet into two spittoons. Then Bluto enters, shooting everything in sight, and within seconds, Popeye is the only other person in the canteen. The two engage into a strange duel, then Bluto tries to harass Olive, but like in ‘I Yam What I Yam’ she appears pretty much in control when Popeye comes to rescue her. In a spectacular finale, Popeye knocks Bluto around the world.

‘Blow Me Down’ covers no new story grounds, its premise harking all the way back to ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho‘ (1928). Yet, it’s by all means a delightful cartoon, and it’s over before you know it. It contains a very original bird-eye shot of Popeye ascending the stairs. Olive’s voice is by Bonnie Poe, and very different from Mae Questel’s later version.

Watch ‘Blow Me Down!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Blow Me Down!’ is available on the DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

 

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 14, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Popeye the Sailor © Max Fleischer1933/1934 marked a watershed for American animated cartoons: not only had the sex and horror rich cartoons of 1933 have to make way for the much more prudish content  of the Hays code era – during the same period many studios traded their old stars in for new ones.

In this period Iwerks dropped Flip the Frog in favor of Willy Whopper, Warner Bros. saw the departure of Bosko, and introduced Buddy, Van Beuren said farewell to Tom & Jerry and welcomed Cubby the Bear and The Little King. Even at the Walt Disney studio Mickey Mouse, the biggest star of all, would steadily lose popularity to the 1934 newcomer Donald Duck. The relay race was most visible at the Fleischer studio. In their 1933 cartoon ‘Popeye the Sailor’ Betty Boop literally gave way to Popeye.

True, like Mickey, Betty would keep on starring cartoons after 1933, but due to the Hays code, her sexuality, her biggest feat, was toned down, and by 1934 her heydays were clearly over. Popeye, on the other hand, would grow into arguably the most successful cartoon star of all, starring more than 200 cartoons, and lasting well into the 1950s, before embarking on a career in television.

Of course, Popeye already had been a star before he was introduced to the animated screen, having quickly grown into the leading character of Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theater comics since his introduction in 1929. But when the Fleischers started their films, he quickly became one of the most familiar cartoon stars of all time, still recognizable to present day audiences, where Buddy, Willy Whopper and Cubby Bear rapidly fell into oblivion.

In their pilot Popeye cartoon, officially part of the Betty Boop series, the Fleischers appear very well aware of the potentials of their new hero. It opens with a newspaper announcing that Popeye now is a movie star. The accompanying illustration immediately comes to life, and then we watch an iconic scene: Popeye singing his own new theme song, while socking things into tiny little things, in a string of metamorphosis gags. Popeye’s theme song is irresistably catchy, but who would have thought at the time that it would be still a familiar tune in the 21st century?

During the main section of the film it’s shore leave, and Popeye, Bluto and Olive visit a carnival. Because it’s de facto a Betty Boop cartoon, the human trio is oddly staged in Betty’s animal world, which she, too, would abandon within a few months. Betty’s role is minimized to that of a sexy hula dancer, in reused footage from ‘Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle‘ (1932). Popeye joins in, sharing Betty’s rotoscoped movements.

The cartoon introduces the basic story arc that would be varied upon in many years to come: Popeye and Olive are sweethearts, but Bluto craves for Olive, too, creating friction between the two strong men. There’s a lot of clobbering, and at one point Popeye grabs for a can of spinach to give him extra strength. This premise is very different from Segar’s Comic Strip, with its melodramatic stories which could easily last for month.

Both Bluto and spinach were taken from Segar’s strip, but there they had played minor roles. Bluto, in fact, only appeared a couple of weeks in September/October 1932, never to return to Segar’s comic strip. In the Fleischer cartoons, however, he was promoted to one of the three starring roles, easily eclipsing Wimpy. During his first cartoon, Bluto’s theme music is ‘Barnacle Bill’, extensively used in the cartoon of the same name from 1930. Unlike Popeye’s tune, this theme music would not return in later Popeye cartoons. The love triangle, of course, was far from new, and had been employed in e.g. several Oswald and Mickey Mouse cartoons. But the Fleischers managed to keep this premise surprisingly fresh, delivering several of the funniest cartoons of the 1930s.

The importance of Popeye’s move to the movie screen for cartoon history cannot be overestimated: for the first time in the sound era a comic strip star was successfully put to the screen, for the first time a strong idiosyncratic character appeared on the animated screen, for the first time cartoon violence was not incidental, but a vital part of the series. Strong characters and cartoon violence would recur more often and often when the 1930s progressed, and would become essential to cartooning during the 1940s. Indeed, other characters, most notably Donald Duck and Daffy Duck, contributed to the evolution of a brassier style, but it was Popeye who had shown the way.

Watch ‘Popeye the Sailor’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 18
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Mother Goose Land
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: The Old Man of the Mountain

‘Popeye the Sailor’ is available on the DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: Isadore Sparber
Release Date: September 4, 1942
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
Rating:
Review:

Alona on the Sarong Seas © ParamountPopeye and Bluto are on a battle cruiser stationed somewhere in the South Seas.

There they meet a ‘princess Alona’ (Olive Oyl in a sarong). Her parrot warns the two suitors that if the princess get’s harmed, the volcano will erupt. In the end all turns out to be just a dream.

In this cartoon the comedy is mostly silent, and princess Alona doesn’t speak at all. Unfortunately, Jack Mercer’s jabbers are absent, too, and they are certainly missed. The result is the weakest Popeye cartoon in years.

Watch ‘Alona on the Sarong Seas’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 15, 1942
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Many Tanks © ParamountIn this World War II cartoon Bluto is a soldier who tries to sneak away to date Olive Oyl.

When Popeye passes by Bluto tricks him into his army uniform. Popeye unwillingly has to join a tank squad, which leads to hilarious antics. Only when he has eaten some spinach Popeye directs his tank out of the camp straight to Bluto, who is wooing Olive.

Jack Mercer’s ad libbing during Popeye’s tank ride is fantastic and a highlight of the cartoon, as is the extremely flexible animation on Popeye’s tank. Popeye’s design changes back and forth from the old Fleischer design to the later, more streamlined Famous design, which makes its debut in this cartoon.

Watch ‘Many Tanks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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