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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 17, 1942
Stars: Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

kickin' the conga 'round © max fleischerIn the early 1940s America was taken by a conga craze, as is exemplified by cartoons like ‘Woody Woodpecker‘ (1941), ‘Mickey’s Birthday Party’ (1942) and ‘Juke Box Jamboree‘ (1942).Popeye’s contribution to this dance craze is ‘Kickin’ the Conga ‘Round’.

In this wartime cartoon both Popeye and Bluto are sailors ready to go the shore in some Latin American country. There Popeye has a sweetheart called ‘Olivra Oyla’ (Olive Oyl, of course, but tanned, and speaking with a fake Spanish accent). Bluto fancies her, too, and at the shore a feud ensures, with Bluto and Popeye performing magic tricks, outsmarting each other.

Popeye’s tricks are strikingly violent, but Bluto has his revenge: at the conga club it appears that Popeye can’t dance, while Bluto can, so he dances the conga with Olivra, leaving Popeye sulking at the table. Fortunately, spinach gives him the conga spirit, and soon Popeye takes over, and even clobbers Bluto to a conga beat. The animation on this short is strikingly zany, and perfectly matched to the typical conga beat.

‘Kickin’ the Conga ‘Round’ marks Bluto’s return after an eighteen months absence since ‘Fightin’ Pals‘ (1940). This short also marks his first portrayal as a navy sailor. Like Popeye, who first appeared in this uniform in ‘The Mighty Navy‘, navy white would remain his new uniform for the rest of his theatrical career. With Bluto’s return, the Popeye cartoons would more and more follow the triangular relationship between Popeye, Olive and Bluto, diverting less and less to other story ideas.

Watch ‘Kickin’ the Conga ‘Round’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 102
To the previous Popeye film: Nix on Hypnotricks
To the next Popeye film: Blunder Below

‘Kickin’ the Conga ‘Round’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1941-1943’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 14, 1941
Stars: Popeye
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

the mighty navy © max fleischerIn ‘The Mighty Navy’ Popeye follows Porky Pig (‘Meet John Doughboy‘) and Barney Bear (‘The Rookie Bear’) and joins the army.

As a sailor, he naturally chooses the navy. Thus, at the start of the cartoon, we find him on a training ship. However, being a navy sailor turns out to be quite different, and most of the humor comes from Popeye’s inapt ways of being a navy sailor. “Do I wants to be a sailor? I AM a sailor! I’m Popeye the sailor! I was born a sailor“, Popeye exclaims at one point. But despite his lifelong experience, Popeye’s ways of hoisting an anchor, aiming the guns and flying a dive bomber in no way convince his superior, so he’s sent to the kitchen to peel onions. Yet, when the training ship is under attack, Popeye saves the day.

‘The Mighty Navy’ was released only thirteen days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and thus the enemy is neither named nor seen in this cartoon. The enemy’s fleet flag bears ‘The Enemy (Name Your Own)’, and when Popeye disposes of its fleet, no victim can be seen. This in sharp contrast to the post-Pearl Harbor Popeye cartoons by the Famous studios: now the Japanese were clearly identified, and racial stereotypes roamed wildly. None of that in this cartoon, making it much more fun to watch.

‘The Mighty Navy’ seems to be a tribute cartoon to the navy. Apart from Popeye, all sailors look like Superman, and the navy itself isn’t ridiculed at all. Instead, the cartoon looks like a celebration of the navy’s choice to make Popeye the official insignia for its own bomber squad. In the insignia, which is presented to the character himself at the end of the cartoon, Popeye looks like his older self, but in ‘The Mighty Navy’ Popeye’s clothes have changed into navy white. I don’t think that this was meant to be a permanent change of dress. Indeed, in Popeye’s next cartoon, ‘Nix on Hypnotricks’ Popeye wears his old clothes again. Yet, in most of his following cartoons, he would be dressed in navy white, and it’s in this dress he would be seen the rest of his theatrical career.

Watch ‘The Mighty Navy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 100
To the previous Popeye film: I’ll Never Crow Again
To the next Popeye film: Nix on Hypnotricks

‘The Mighty Navy’ is available on the DVD set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1941-1943’

Directors: Yasuji Murata & Chuzo Aoji
Release Date:
 1932
Stars: Momotaro
Rating:
Review:

Momotaro's Underwater Adventure © Chuzo AojiAfter ‘Momotaro’s Sky Adventure‘ Aoji and Murata send Japan’s folk hero off in a military submarine to fight a large shark.

Like in his earlier film Momotaro is asked by others to do that, and the film vaguely seems to glorify the navy, even though it’s much less successful in doing so than Momotaro’s earlier nationalist film was for the air force: the film runs rather short, Murata’s 1920s style animation is not particularly exciting or convincing, and for today’s audiences it’s quite unsettling to watch the hero fighting a large fish with a surplus of warfare, including numerous torpedoes. The Japanese clearly had less difficulties with this slaughter. In any case, the hero, and his friends Monkey and Dog (Crane couldn’t join them as he can’t swim) are awarded as heroes at the end of the cartoon.

Watch ‘Momotaro’s Underwater Adventure’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Momotaro’s Underwater Adventure’ is available on the Japanese DVD Box Set ‘Japanese Anime Classic Collection’.

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 13, 1942
Stars: Popeye
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Fleets of Stren'th © Max Fleischer‘Fleets of Stren’th’ is the third in a series of cartoons in which Popeye has joined the American navy.

In this cartoon Popeye still is a lousy sailor, but when the battle cruiser is under attack, he once again shows what he’s able to do (see also ‘Blunder Below‘). This time the battle cruiser is attacked by a squad of Japanese dive bombers. It takes some time before Popeye is able to eat his spinach, but when he does, he turns into a plane himself, defeating the complete enemy fleet.

In this process we see only one pilot, the other planes are subtly dehumanized. In this way we’ll never think of the fate of the Japanese pilots, at all. This was a clever device used in many war propaganda films of the time.

Watch ‘Fleets of Stren’th’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 104
To the previous Popeye film: Blunder Below
To the next Popeye film: Pip-Eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 13, 1942
Stars: Popeye
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Blunder Below © Max FleischerPopeye had joined the navy before the United States entered the war, in ‘The Mighty Navy‘ (November 1941), so in ‘Blunder Below’ he’s ready to fight the enemy, the first major cartoon star to do so on the movie screen.

In the first part of this cartoon Popeye tries to be a normal sailor, among Superman-like sailors, trying to learn gunning. He is no talent, however, blundering away and almost shooting down the captain by accident.

But when a submarine approaches, Popeye shows his real worth: he beats the submarine single-handedly, saving the battle cruiser. It’s this great combination of clumsiness and superhuman powers which make Popeye such an appealing character.

The approaching submarine is accompanied by the music of Franz Schubert’s Erlkönig, indicating a German origin. However, it soon turns out to be Japanese. The submarine is anthropomorphic itself and completely dehumanized, as if it were not manned by people at all. When in August 1942 Popeye changed hands from the Fleischers to Paramount, this would radically change…

Watch ‘Blunder Below’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This Popeye film No. 103
To the previous Popeye film: Kickin’ the Conga ‘Round
To the next Popeye film: Fleets of Stren’th

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