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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 8, 1940
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Females is Fickle © Max FleischerIn ‘Females is Fickle’ we watch Popeye being actually on a ship, doing some chores in his own, unusual way.

Then Olive comes along to show him her trained pet goldfish. Unfortunately, the goldfish falls into the sea, and Popeye has to dive after it to rescue Olive’s precious pet. This leads to a long chase scene under water, which also features a very strange amorphous animal, which has Goofy’s guffaw (so likely voiced by Pinto Colvig, who was at Fleischer at the time). This ghost-like creature apparently is supposed to be a jellyfish.

‘Females is Fickle’ is a pure gag cartoon and great fun. Popeye’s and Olive’s designs are more extreme than usual, and the animation on them is wilder than before. There are some extreme perspectives and takes on both characters, which give these characters a more modern look. Yet, these new designs would not become a new standard.

Watch ‘Females Is Fickle’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Females Is Fickle’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 3, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Swee’Pea
Rating:  ★★★★½
Review:

Never Sock a Baby © Max FleischerThis cartoon opens with Popeye softly spanking Swee’Pea, and sending him to bed without supper.

While Popeye struggles with his conscience (which materializes into his angelic and devilish side), Lil’ Swee’Pea leaves home, and almost immediately enters a hazardous, mountainous terrain. When Popeye’s angelic side has won, Popeye enters Swee’Pea’s room, only to find him gone. It’s now up to our hero to rescue Swee’Pea from grave dangers…

‘Never Sock a Baby’ is a morality tale, all too typical for the late 1930s, in which Popeye teaches us that it’s not right to spank a child. However, what a delightful morality cartoon this is! Despite the trite dream ending, the cartoon is full of wild and zany animation, plenty of gags and suiting music. Priceless is the scene in which Popeye reaches for his spinach only to find the can empty. The music score follows with a hilariously deflated version of the spinach theme. ‘Never Sock a Baby’ shows that by the end of the decade the goody-goody cartoon style of the mid-1930’s was at its end.

Watch ‘Never Sock a Baby’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Never Sock a Baby’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 22, 1939
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Gulliver's Travels © Max Fleischer

Following the huge success of Walt Disney’s ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ other Hollywood animation studios considered the making of an animated feature themselves. In the end, only the Fleischer studio really attempted it, persuaded by their distributor, Paramount.

In fact, the Fleischers’ plans for a feature film dated back to as early as 1934, and the three Popeye two-reelers (‘Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor’, ‘Popeye the Sailor meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves’ and ‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp‘) can be regarded as exercises in the longer format. Nevertheless, it was the enormous success of Disney’s first feature that prompted Paramount to demand a Christmas feature from the Fleischer animation studio.

To achieve this, the Fleischers moved to a completely new studio in Miami, Florida, and hired a lot of new personnel, including Snow White veterans like animators Grim Natwick, Al Eugster and Shamus Culhane. This huge undertaking resulted in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, becoming America’s second animated feature, beating Disney’s second feature, ‘Pinocchio‘, by more than a month.

As often, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ only depicts the first part from Swift’s famous book: Gulliver’s visit to the island of Lilliput. Indeed, the film seems to take considerable inspiration from the Soviet adaptation ‘The New Gulliver’ (1934), which looks surprisingly similar. Nevertheless, the story deviates mostly from Swift’s book, focusing on two kings who quarrel over a song to be played at their children’s wedding, instead. This quarrel and the discovery of Gulliver by a night watchman called Gabby completely take up the first part of the film. In fact, Gulliver only awakes halfway the feature!

Only after Gulliver’s rise the film gains some momentum, being otherwise surprisingly slow. For example, the scene in which the civilians find Gulliver and tie him up lasts no less than a quarter of an hour, one-fifth of the complete film. Luckily, in the second half there’s some suspense, when three spies conspire to kill Gulliver with his own gun, and Gulliver tries to reconcile the two estranged kingdoms.

Unfortunately, Gulliver and the wedding couple, Princess Glory and Prince David, never become real characters. Glory and David are clearly based on Snow White and Prince Charming, and they are even blander than the originals. Their semi-realistic designs are devoid of character, and only after 70 minutes they utter a little dialogue. One just doesn’t care about them. Gulliver, on the other hand, looks good – especially the coloring and shading on him is very well done, with the night banquet scene as a particular highlight. Yet, his realistic design and hi slow, rotoscoped movements don’t blend well with the cartoony inhabitants of Lilliput. And he, too, is surprisingly devoid of character.

In fact, only three protagonists have clear characters: king Little, king Bombo, and the omnipresent Gabby, who must be regarded as the film’s star, even though he fails as a comic relief, and lacks a story of his own. Indeed, the film’s best comical scene doesn’t feature Gabby, but goes to the three spies trying to think of a plan to kill Gulliver. This is great silent comedy, unmatched by the rest of the film.

Together with ‘Pinocchio’ ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ can be regarded as the epitome of 1930s aesthetics. The feature is very well made, with beautiful background art, very much influenced by that of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, beautiful coloring and shading, and spectacular effect animation, especially in the storm scene with which the film opens. The animation belongs to the best ever produced at the Fleischer studio, and certainly is the most Disney-like. Yet, at the same time the animation fails to reach the heights of the Walt Disney studio, and at times is over-excessive, for example in the scene in which King Bombo remembers his friendship with King Little. The songs, too, are pleasant, but nothing more than that. Most catchy is ‘It’s a Hap-Hap-Happy Day’, a clear attempt to give the film its own ‘Whistle While You Work’. More impressive than the songs, however, is the lush score by Victor Young.

In all, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ is a beautiful film, but a slow one, and with a story that fails to catch the audience. Indeed, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ doesn’t stand the comparison to its model, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, and it was only a small success upon release. What certainly didn’t help was that World War II had broken out in Europe, depleting the film of a huge foreign market. These problems of course also troubled Disney’s own ‘Pinocchio’, released in February 1940.

Despite the film’s modest profits, the Fleischers decided to make another feature to keep their enormous organisation at work (resulting in the 1941 release ‘Mr. Bug goes to Town’). This economically unhealthy path would eventually lead to their downfall.

Watch ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Gulliver’s Travels’ is available on the Thunderbean Blu-Ray/DVD set ‘Fleischer Classics featuring Gulliver’s Travels’. All other copies are considerably inferior to this one and should be avoided.

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 15, 1940
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Ants in the Plants © Max Fleischer‘With ‘Ants in the Plants’ the Fleischers more or less made their own version of Disney’s ‘Bugs in Love‘ (1932), now featuring ants.

After a rather spectacular forest intro we watch ant society, with a school, a restaurant etc. Then the queen ant sings a song telling her soldiers that their main enemy is the ant eater. The villain then immediately enters the scene, and despite his rather funny appearance, he proves to be a considerable foe.

Like ‘Bugs in Love’ (and several other Silly Symphonies) war breaks out to stop the intruder. ‘Ants in the Pants’ may be no classic, the short still belongs to the more enjoyable Color Classics. The cloying morale of contemporary Color Classics is lacking, and the classic war story, if far from original, works once again. During this scene there are some clever sight gags, with the ants combining a corncob and a magnifying glass to use those as a machine gun as a particular highlight.

Watch ‘Ants in the Plants’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ants in the Plants’ is available on the DVD set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 2, 1940
Rating:  ★
Review:

Little Lambkins © Max FleischerIn 1939 the Fleischers seemed obsessed with spoiled children. ‘Small Fry‘ saw a disobedient little fish, in ‘Barnyard Brat‘ the little donkey Spunky showed his worst side, and in ‘Little Lambkins’ a red-haired baby tortures his parents.

The film opens with his mother putting Little Lambkins down in a garden to play. Soon, the baby calls out to his friends, a squirrel and a raccoon, and together they steal and eat a complete melon. But then it turns out to be moving day, and the unwilling baby is taken to a modern flat in the city, with more than modern equipment. The baby immediately starts sabotaging this high technology, so the fridge sets fire, the stove produces water fountains, etc. Convinced the house has gone crazy, his parents then immediately move back to their old house, where the brat can rejoin his forest friends again.

Considering how much Max Fleischer loved technology, this ridiculously conservative cartoon is completely out of tune. The fear of technology going haywire is the opposite of the joyful Grampy cartoons (1935-1937), in which technology formed the solution to all problems.

There’s very little to enjoy in ‘Little Lambkins’, although the kitchen scene is played out well, with strange images following each other in fast succession. Unfortunately, the makers forgot to make the short funny, and in the end ‘Little Lambkins’ is but another annoying entry in the ill-conceived ‘Color Classics’ series.

Watch ‘Little Lambkins’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

‘Little Lambkins’ is available on the DVD set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 30, 1939
Stars: Hunky & Spunky
Rating:  ★
Review:

Barnyard Brat © Max Fleischer‘Barnyard Brat’ is the third of seven cartoons featuring Hunky and Spunky, arguably the worst comic duo ever put to the animated screen.

In ‘Barnyard Brat’ little burro Spunky is no less than a spoiled brat, who goes into tantrums and who bullies the other barnyard animals. These animals take revenge, however, and give the little brat a severe punishment. At that point Spunky’s mother comes to the rescue, but as Spunky remains as ungovernable as ever, she gives him a spanking. In the end it seems that Spunky has learned his lesson, but he has one final trick on his sleeve…

It may be clear that like ‘Small Fry‘ and the other Hunky and Spunky cartoons ‘Barnyard Brat’ belongs to the childish and cloying cartoons that had swamped the second half of the 1930s. By 1939 these were more and more replaced by gag cartoons. None of that, in ‘Barnyard Brat’, although there’s one mildly amusing gag of two ducks running away while stuck together in a pipe.

Besides the cloying story, the animation is rather poor. Spunky looks as if he’s seriously misshapen, and there’s some thinking animation on Hunky that’s anything but convincing, and cannot match that of Pluto in ‘Playful Pluto‘ (1934). Since that cartoon was already five years old by 1939, this only shows the Fleischers’ incompetence to catch up with the Disney style, and one wishes they never even tried this, for the Disney style would never become their strength. Besides, Warner Bros. and Walter Lantz were already showing that this copycat behavior wasn’t necessary for success.

Watch ‘Barnyard Brat’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Barnyard Brat’ is available on the DVD set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 21, 1939
Rating:  ★
Review:

Small Fry © Max FleischerIn ‘Small Fry’ we meet again Tommy, the little fish who likes to play hooky from ‘Educated Fish‘ (1937).

In the one-and-a-half years separating these two cartoons Tommy hasn’t learned a thing, and he can be found in the pool hall, where he wants to join the ‘Big Fry Club’. The big guys send him into a scary cave, however, and scare the shit out of the little fish. The cave scene is the most interesting part of the film, with its nice, rather nightmarish visuals.

‘Small Fry’ is based on the swing tune of the same name, penned by Frank Loesser and Hoagy Camichael, which in 1938 had been recorded by e.g. Adrian Rollini, Hot Lips Page and Al Bowlly. In the cartoon the song is sung twice: by Tommy’s mother and by a voice over during the cave scene.

Unfortunately, the Fleischers add nothing interesting to the song, making ‘Small Fry’ another tiresome entry in the all too often cloying Color Classics series.

Watch ‘Small Fry’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Small Fry’ is available on the DVD set ‘Somewhere in Dreamland – Max Fleischer’s Color Classics: The Definitive Collection’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 30, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

It's the Natural Thing to Do © Max Fleischer‘It’s the Natural Thing to Do’ is the last of four 1939 Popeye cartoons that has alternate opening titles.

In the short’s opening scene we watch Popeye and Bluto clobbering each other in the garden, while Olive does the dishes. However, then the trio receives a telegram from the Popeye fan club, asking them to “cut out the rough stuff and act more refined. Be ladies and gentlemen. That’s the natural thing to do.”.

After reading, Olive immediately sends the boys off to return as gentlemen, and indeed, they come back in top hat and tails. Olive, too, has become more refined, and the scene in which the trio move to the living room as refined as possible is a highlight of ridiculous animation. However, our heroes cannot cope with the numerous cakes and coffee being served without a table, and are at loss in polite conversation. Soon, they laugh at their own situation, and start clobbering each other again with gusto, as for them that’s “the natural thing to do”.

‘It’s the Natural Thing to Do’ is a very enjoyable cartoon, and a great take on the trio’s familiar relationship. However, it’s clearly made by lesser animators, for Popeye’s and Bluto’s designs look very awkward most of the time, at times evoking the looks of a 1934 Buddy cartoon. The animation certainly is sub-par when compared to the 1938 output, even though it’s done with clear fun. The drain of Fleischer’s top animators to their first feature ‘Gulliver’ only shows too well.

Watch ‘It’s the Natural Thing to Do’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘It’s the Natural Thing to Do’ is available on the DVD Set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 14, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Wimpy, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★½
Review:

Hello, How Am I © Max FleischerIn ‘Hello, How Am I’ Popeye and Wimpy somehow have become room mates.

The short opens with them sleeping in the same room, while the phone rings. It appears to be Olive who invites Popeye over for a hamburger dinner. This, of course, attracts Wimpy’s attention.

Popeye soon is on his way, but around the corner he meets a doppelgänger, claiming to be Popeye, too. This puzzles the poor sailor, who immediately falls into an identity crisis. However, when he challenges the impostor with the help of spinach, it’s quickly revealed he’s actually Wimpy, something we viewers knew all the way long, as Wimpy’s mask keeps falling off during the picture.

‘Hello, How Am I’ is a rather slow and at times poorly timed cartoon, but Popeye’s existential crisis is marvelously done, and the cartoon is certainly one of the most original Popeye shorts of the late 1930s. It’s also the third of four 1939 Popeye cartoons that feature alternate opening titles.

Watch ‘Hello, How Am I’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hello, How Am I’ is available on the DVD Set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 14, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Ghosks is the Bunk © Max Fleischer‘Ghosks is the Bunk’ is the second of four 1939 Popeye cartoon with alternate titles.

The cartoon starts with Olive reading a ghost story to Bluto and Popeye. When a storm wind makes Popeye hide beneath the couch, Bluto fakes tiredness, only to rush out to an abandoned hotel to play some ghost tricks on the sailor. However, he’s discovered all too soon, and with the help of invisible paint Popeye returns the trick on him.

‘Ghosks is the Bunk’ is the first cartoon to show the major weakness of invisibility gags: when invisible one becomes practically invincible, and the viewer’s sympathy soon goes to the poor ex-bully who gets clobbered. This problem would return in the invisibility cartoons ‘The Vanishing Private‘ (1942) featuring Donald Duck, and ‘The Invisible Mouse‘ (1947) starring Tom & Jerry.

Watch ‘Ghosks is the Bunk’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ghosks is the Bunk’ is available on the DVD Set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 19, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★
Review:

Wotta Nitemare © Max Fleischer‘Wotta Nitemare’ features new titles, abandoning the boat titles the series featured from its very start in 1933.

However, these new titles only lasted four cartoons, apart from ‘Wotta Nightmare’, ‘Ghosks is the Bunk‘, ‘Hello How Am I‘ and ‘It’s the Natural Thing To Do‘. With ‘Never Sock a Baby‘ the boat was back again.

‘Wotta Nightmare’ essentially stars Popeye only, as we watch him dreaming, having a nightmare in which a devil-like Bluto courts an angel-like Olive Oyl. Popeye is having a hard time in his own dream, while we watch him tossing and turning in his bed, and even sleepwalking across the room. In the end spinach comes to the rescue, but then Popeye awakes before he can take his revenge, so he rushes out of his house to clobber a bewildered Bluto in real life.

‘Wotta Nitemare’ is the first Popeye cartoon to show the familiar love triangle of Popeye, Bluto and Olive Oyl since ‘Learn Polikeness’ (1938), being absent for more than a year. More striking is the welcome return to Fleischer’s surreal world of the early 1930s during dream sequence , with its metamorphosis gags, floating faces, and extreme body deformations when the dream-Bluto clobbers Popeye.

Watch ‘Wotta Nitemare’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Wotta Nitemare’ is available on the DVD Set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 7, 1939
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★
Review:

Rhythm on the Reservation © Max Fleischer

In ‘Rhythm on the Reservation’ Betty Boop visits and Indian reservation, trying to buy a tom-tom drum.

Meanwhile, her car full of musical instruments, is emptied by the native Americans, who are too dumb to use them properly, and use them for various purposes. But when Betty starts a swinging tune, they join in, sort of.

These scenes make ‘Rhythm on the Reservation’ a late variation on ‘Trader Mickey‘ (1932), which had featured cannibals. Of course, such scenes make the short an offensive and hopelessly dated cartoon. Unfortunately, it was to be Betty Boop’s last. It’s a sad ending for a once so promising career. But Betty Boop had lost most of her charm already in 1934, and by 1939 she felt like a leftover from another era. With her series, and that of the Silly Symphonies ending (the latter series ended in April 1939), one can say more or less goodbye to the 1930s.

Nevertheless, Betty was surely missed, as the Fleischers never came with another successful star of their own to replace her: Gabby (1940-1941) or the donkey duo of Hunky and Spunky (1938-1941) hardly count, and Popeye and Superman were owned by King Features and DC Comics, respectively. Meanwhile at Warner Bros. people were defining a new cartoon style that would dominate the 1940s…

Watch ‘Rhythm on the Reservation’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop’s 83rd and last cartoon
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: The Scared Crows

‘Rhythm on the Reservation’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 12, 1939
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating:  ★★
Review:

Musical Mountaineers © Max FleischerIn the opening scene of ‘Musical Mountaineers’ Betty Boop’s car stops in the middle of nowhere, and she gets stranded in ‘feud county’.

Betty seeks for help in a poor barn, where she encounters a fully armed hillbilly family. The hostile hillbillies make Betty Boop dance by shooting at her feet, but Betty’s inspired dancing brings out their musical element, and soon we watch them all singing and dancing together.

It’s hard to enjoy ‘Musical Mountaineers’, as the short features cliche caricatures of mountain people, even if the Appalachians are treated better than in the extremely backward ‘Be Up To Date’ from one year earlier. Nevertheless, the musical routine feels trite, and seems to belong to the early 1930’s, when song-and-dance routines were all too common. The best gag is Margie Hines’s, who, as Betty Boop’s voice, adlibs “it looks like the people who moved out, don’t live here anymore”.

Watch ‘Musical Mountaineers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 81
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: So Does an Automobile
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: The Scared Crows

‘Musical Mountaineers’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 31, 1939
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

So Does an Automobile © Max FleischerIn ‘So Does an Automobile’ Betty Boop owns a car hospital for ill anthropomorphized cars.

Although this cartoon features a musical number, it mainly consists of inspired spot gags, making this short the only Betty Boop entry in the spot gag genre. And, in true gag cartoon fashion, this cartoon saves its best gag for last.

For a Betty Boop cartoon from the second half of the 1930s, ‘So Does an Automobile’ has a surprisingly silly atmosphere, which harks partly back to the early 1930’s, Betty Boop’s heydays. The number of gags and the silly atmosphere arguably make the short one of the best Betty Boop cartoons of the second half of the 1930’s, right behind ‘Betty Boop and Grampy’ (1935) and ‘Pudgy Picks A Fight‘ (1937). Unfortunately, ‘So Does an Automobile’ was to be Betty Boop’s last great cartoon, as her series stopped four months later.

Watch ‘So Does an Automobile’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 80
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: My Friend the Monkey
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Musical Mountaineers

‘So Does an Automobile’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 2, 1938
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating:  ★★
Review:

On with the New © Max FleischerIn the opening scene of ‘On with the New’ we watch Betty Boop working at the ‘Ye olde quainte coffee house’.

Betty has to work hard: she must cook and wash the dishes at the same time. She clearly hates her job, but luckily she gets a job as a nurse in ‘Bundle from Heaven Nursery’. At the nursery we watch the babies being cleaned at an assembly line. However, as soon as Betty has them in their beds and said goodnight to them, the babies cause havoc. The uncontrollable babies behave so badly that Betty quits her job on the spot and rushes back to her old job, which she does with renewed enthusiasm.

There’s little to enjoy in ‘On With The New’, although the assembly line sequence is rather nice. The uncontrollable baby material go all the way back to ‘Mickey’s Orphans‘ (1931) and ‘Mickey’s Nightmare‘ (1932), and by 1939 such antics, with its multitude of animation cycles, had become old fashioned and trite. The assembly line sequence, on the other hand, looks forward to a similar sequence in the Warner Bros. classic ‘Baby Bottleneck’ (1946).

Watch ‘On with the New’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 77
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Sally Swing
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Pudgy in Thrills and Chills

‘On with the New’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 28, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★
Review:

Leave Well Enough Alone © Max Fleischer‘Leave Well Enough Alone’ opens with Popeye visiting Olive Oyl’s pet shop, buying all her animals (dogs) for $500, only to set them free immediately.

Only a parrot stays behind. He sings the cartoon’s title tune, in which he tells us that it’s better to be safe inside, being cared for than free in the outer world. Indeed, in no time all the dogs have been caught by a dog catcher. Popeye buys them all from the dog catcher and restores them to the shop.

‘Leave Well Enough Alone’ is low on gags, its title song is trite, but most importantly, its message is highly questionable. It’s very strange to watch such a free spirit as Popeye finally obeying to this extremely conservative motto. Was it a hidden message from Max to his employees?

Watch ‘Leave Well Enough Alone’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Leave Well Enough Alone’ is available on the DVD Set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 7, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Olive Oyl
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp © Max Fleischer‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’ is the last of three Popeye two-reelers in Technicolor.

Like ‘Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor’ (1936) and ‘Popeye the Sailor meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves’ (1937) the short has a clear 1001 Arabian Nights setting. In fact, it’s a rather faithful retelling of the classic fairy tale, until Spinach comes along. Unlike the earlier two-reelers ‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’ doesn’t either feature Fleischer’s table-top technique, Wimpy or Bluto, with an anonymous villain taking Bluto’s place.

The film is introduced as being a script Olive is writing for ‘Surprise Pictures’, and, of course, she herself stars as the princess. It’s the first scene in which we can hear Margie Hines as Olive Oyl’s voice. Hines had replaced Mae Questel, who didn’t make the move to Miami together with the rest of the Fleischer studio. Margie Hines would remain Olive’s voice until the end of 1943, after which Mae Questel picked it up again.

‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’ is wonderfully made. Its background art is no less than gorgeous, and some of the animation is outstanding, for example that on Popeye’s horse. The final battle is a delight, when Popeye uses cans of spinach as his own magic against the magic of the lamp, now in the villain’s hands.

The film contains a novelty: in the cave scene and in the scene in which Popeye parades the streets as a prince, he suddenly has eyes with pupils, foreshadowing his design of the Paramount studio years.

Watch ‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’ is available on the DVD Set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 27, 1939
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Wimpy
Rating:  ★★★★
Review:

Customers Wanted © Max FleischerIn 1937 the Fleischer Studio suffered a severe strike. In 1938 they moved their studios to Miami, Florida to break up union activity, and because of the state’s more favorable financial climate.

The new studio opened in October 1938, and devoted a lot of its resources to the Fleischer’s first feature film, ‘Gulliver’, which was released at the end of 1939.

The move to Florida had several consequences for the Popeye series: as the studio’s top animators now worked on ‘Gulliver’, the series was laid in hands of some lesser men, and this shows in many 1939 Popeye cartoons. More importantly, there were some voice changes: Mae Questel and Gus Wickie (Bluto’s voice) had stayed behind in New York, so Olive’s voice was taken over by Margie Hines, who would do her voice until the end of 1943. Bluto’s voice was now done by Pinto Colvig, whom the Fleischers had hired away from Disney. Jack Mercer, Popeye’s voice, got along very well with Margie Hines – in fact the two were married on March 8, 1939.

The move may have had a particular impact on ‘Customers Wanted’, for this cartoon is a ‘cheater’: it only partially features new material, some scenes are reused from two earlier Popeye cartoons, albeit in the most natural way.

‘In ‘Customers Wanted’ Popeye and Bluto as competing arcade owners at a Coney Island-like amusement park. They’re both out of customers, and dive on Wimpy, when he seems interested.

The competing entrepreneurs are so eager to show Wimpy their films on their mutoscopes, they don’t even charge him money. The mutoscope films are excerpts from ‘Let’s Get Movin” (1936) and ‘The Twisker Pitcher’ (1937). Soon, however, Bluto’s and Popeye’s competition turns into a fight, and it’s Wimpy who cashes in by advertising their row as ‘the fight of the century”.

‘Customers Wanted’ is an early compilation cartoon, but a very entertaining one. Bluto’s and Popeye’s tricks to lure Wimpy away from the competition are delightful, and so are the voices. The amusement park itself is beautifully designed, and is reminiscent of the futuristic fair of ‘All’s Fair at the Fair‘ (1938).

Watch ‘Customers Wanted’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Customers Wanted’ is available on the DVD Set ‘Popeye the Sailor Volume Two’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 9, 1939
Stars: Betty Boop, Pudgy
Rating:  ★
Review:

The Scared Crows © Max FleischerIn the opening scene of ‘The Scared Crows’ we watch Betty and Pudgy planting seeds, which are immediately eaten by crows.

Betty chases them away using a scarecrow, but one flies against a tree, and Betty takes the poor bird inside to nurse it. However, the crow soon invites all his friends inside, and the flock creates havoc in Betty’s kitchen. Using the scarecrow as a disguise Betty chases them all away, restoring peace.

‘The Scared Crows’ is a slow and tiresome cartoon, and it’s difficult to see anything noteworthy in it, apart from being Pudgy’s last theatrical cartoon. The little cute dog had hardly made an impression during its five year career, never reaching the stardom of its owner, let alone Popeye, Fleischer’s major star, and he wasn’t missed.

Watch ‘The Scared Crows’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 82
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Musical Mountaineers
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Rhythm on the Reservation

‘The Scared Crows’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 27, 1939
Stars: Betty Boop, Pudgy
Rating:  ★★
Review:

My Friend the Monkey © Max FleischerBelow Betty Boop’s window there’s an Italian organ grinder with a monkey.

Betty invites the monkey inside to play with Pudgy. But the mischievous little animal immediately aims for her food, and Pudgy has a hard time trying to chase the intruder out of the house. When Pudgy finally succeeds, the monkey returns in Betty’s arms, as she has just bought him from the organ grinder.

‘My Friend The Monkey’ is the closest the Betty Boop series ever came near becoming a chase cartoon, a new genre that was emerging at the time. However, the cartoon is far from a gag rich chase cartoon, being more tiresome than funny. Even the pay off scene is anything but a surprise, as we could watch Betty negotiating with the organ grinder throughout the picture.

The animation of the monkey dancing was reused from Pudgy swinging in ‘The Swing School‘, even using the same music, but now in barrel organ form.

Watch ‘My Friend the Monkey’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 79
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Pudgy in Thrills and Chills
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: So Does an Automobile

‘Pudgy in Thrills and Chills’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

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