Tuesday, March 27, 2018
I love Popeye cartoons. Like most of my generation, I grew up on these vintage theater short animations thanks to television which in the 1960's was hungry for content and found in these old cartoons from the Fleischer Studios a character and a fictional world which appealed to youngsters of the Summer of Love as much as they had long before for generations bred during the Great Depression.
These are the original Fleischer Studio cartoons, the ones which first brought the burly Sailor to the big screen. Popeye of course was the creation Elzie Segar in his Thimble Theater comic strip. From the moment he stepped onto the field Popeye, an older and ugly sea-faring grouch captured the imagination of the public. In the cartoons by the animators at Fleischer, Popeye's pugnaciousness became the centerpiece of many a weird and wild cartoon which always ended in the Sailor punching the daylights out of Bluto, or whatever human or creature had raised his ire during the course of the action.
In these cartoons Popeye and his best girl Olive Oyl are often joined by the hamburger-eating Wimpy, and from time to time other members of the Thimble Theater gang pop up. But always the main emphasis is on movement and on action, and by action I mean raw visceral potent cartoon violence, the kind I grew up on and which has left me a better man for it.
These cartoons are urban masterpieces, showing a world of the city by animators who lived in the city of New York. The world of Popeye in the early days is a somewhat seedy one, one recognizable to a whole swath of Americans who were on hard times themselves. In later years the settings and atmosphere would become more suburban and upscale, but in the beginning the world we see is rough and tumble and one which the audience could find out their window, almost.
The backgrounds of these earliest Popeye cartoons are masterpieces, actual photographed models which spun to accommodate the animation which bounced along in front of them. These weird images give the Popeye cartoons a depth of field unlike any ever in cartoons. And this look holds for the earliest color Popeye efforts, two-reel cartoons which take the Sailor Man and his cohorts into skewed lands from the pages of the Arabian Nights.
The sound performance on the earliest Popeye cartoons is as weird as the look. A gravelly voice is given to the Sailor from Segar's pages and oddball moan is adapted for Olive. These voices will be refined in the earliest cartoons as Jack Mercer and Mae Questel eventually become the voices which will define the character for multiple generations to come.
If you've never sampled these awesome animations, I heartily recommend this first volume filled with not only Popeye cartoons but loads of background information on animation history as well as samples of the earliest cartoons from Fleischer Studios and others. This is a trove for any cartoon fan.