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Critics complain about the near-anorexic actresses that parade their bones across the screen. Little do they know that the “grandmother” of the skinny-mini crowd was Olive Oyl. Grandpa Ebert will ramble for hours about how Marilyn Monroe would be considered fat if she had to compete with Lindsay, Keira and Kate. Truth is that Marilyn was a cow next to Olive. Even with her stick body and irritating voice, Olive had two hunks willing to kill each other for a chance to move her furniture. What girl wouldn’t want that action in her life? Popeye The Sailor: Volume Two, 1938 – 1940 takes us back to a time when a thin actress could work without having the tabloids question her dietary habits.
The 31 shorts featured on this collection are in black and white. You really haven’t seen them if you’ve watched these titles in color on Boomerang. Instead of using a computer to paint color over the original images, each frame of the cartoons was traced and then colored. This means you watched an artist’s impression of a Popeye cartoon. That’s not the same of watching it with added hues. All the amazing 3-D effects in the cartoons were tossed aside. They washed out the details of the backgrounds. If you like those inferior reproductions, you’ll love the original versions with the Fleischers’ animation in full effect.
The big new character found on this collection is Poopdeck Pappy. Who knew Popeye had a dad? But it isn’t a simple family reunion. “Goonland” has Popeye venture to a distant island controlled by the Goons. They are as goonish as a goon character can be drawn. They have taken Pappy prisoner. It’s not even close to a father and son bonding session when they reunite. Pappy doesn’t like relatives. But the son busts his old man out of the cell. Their escape is helped by truly a hand of God moment. This is the prize cartoon of the box set.
“The Jeep” introduces us to the magical dog that’s name was used for the military vehicle. The Jeep vanishes and reappears. He comes in handy when keeping Sweet Pea alive. The creature also appears in “Popeye Presents Eugene, The Jeep.” The sailor learns that this dog doesn’t like sleeping in the backyard. “Wiimin is a Myskery” introduces the kid characters of Pepeye Pipeye, Pupeye and Peepeye. Instead of being Popeye’s nephews, they are his children with Olive Oyl. Don’t worry too much, this part of a dream sequence as Olive imagines married life. They come up with an inventive way to crack walnuts with a Murphy bed.
“Plumbing Is A ‘Pipe'” has the sailor performing the water gags that it takes three Stooges to perform in live action. Olive Oyl’s house has a drip and she takes the cheap route. She has her boyfriend patch up the pipe. Big mistake. Luckily Popeye has his something besides Wimpy to act as his plumber’s helper. “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp” is a Technicolor two-reel marvel with Popeye as the poor lad who rubs out the genie.
In order to save a couple bucks and release a new title, the Fleischers resorted to clip show shorts. They’d come up with a fresh framing device to insure there was new animation. “Customers Wanted” has Popeye and Bluto running rival nickelodeons. They fight over Wimpy by showing him highlights from earlier cartoons inside the cranking box. “Doing Impossikible Stunts” lets Popeye roll a clip reel for a Hollywood producer. He wants to be a movie stuntman. He doesn’t get the job when the film is sabotaged by an unlikely suspect. The fresh footage keeps these shorts entertaining.
Popeye cartoons are pretty simple. Popeye and Bluto fight over Olive’s affections. Bluto knocks Popeye silly. Popeye eats his spinach and knocks Bluto into the moon. It ends with Popeye and Olive in love. Even with the senseless violence, they aren’t dumb. The artistry found in the animation on Popeye The Sailor: Volume Two, 1938 – 1940 rivals Disney. But they aren’t cute and silly like Uncle Walt’s creations. They do pack a punch in technique and style. The Fleischers Popeye shorts must be seen properly in their black and white glory.
“I Yam Love Sick,” “Plumbing Is A ‘Pipe’,” “The Jeep,” “Bulldozing The Bull,” “Mutiny Ain’t Nice,” “Goonland,” “A Date To Skate,” “Cops Is Always Right,” “Customers Wanted,” “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp,” “Leave Well Enough Alone,” “Wotta Nitemare,” “Ghosks Is The Bunk,” “Hello, How Am I?,” “It’s The Natural Thing To Do,” “Never Sock A Baby,” “Shakespearian Spinach,” “Females Is Fickle,” “Stealin Ain’t Honest,” “Me Feelins Is Hurt,” “Onion Pacific,” “Wimmin Is A Myskery,” “Nurse-Mates,” “Fightin Pals,” “Doing Impossikible Stunts,” “Wimmin Hadn’t Oughta Drive,” “Puttin On The Act,” “Popeye Meets William Tell,” “My Pop, My Pop,” “With Poopdeck Pappy” & “Popeye Presents Eugene The Jeep.”
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The Popeye shorts haven’t been restored to the level of Looney Tunes: Golden Collection standard. There’s minor futz and scratches on the source film, but nothing that destroys the viewing experience. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. Fourteen of the shorts have commentary tracks from various filmmakers and historicans. The most notable are “Bulldozing the Bull” with Paul Dini, “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp” with historian Greg Ford and Wotta Nitemare with Jerry Beck. “Stealin Aint Honest” with director Bob Jaques, “Puttin’ On the Act” with historian Daniel Goldmark. and “Popye Meets William Tell” with filmmaker Greg Ford and animator Shamus Culhane.
Out of the Inkwell: The Fleischer Story (47:20) details how the innovative brothers that rivaled Disney fell apart over a sibling rivalry. Their Betty Boop took cartoons from the barnyard to the adult world. Plenty of animation historians and older animators discuss the history of the studio that eventually put motion to Popeye and Superman.
Eugent the Jeep: A Breed of His Own (3:17) makes sense of creature that lent his name to the jeep.
Poopdeck Pappy: The Nasty Old Man and the Sea (5:09) explores the most neglectful dad in animation. He was no proud papa of Popeye.
O-Re-Mi: Mae Questel and the Voices of Olive Oyl (8:39) focuses on the original stringbean superstar actress. Turns out Questel was also the voice of Betty Boop before she also did Olive Oyl.
Men of Spinach and Steel (6:18) has various folks talk about who is the original American superhero: Popeye or Superman. The answer of course is Popeye since he’s an actual American citizen. His strength comes from spinach. Superman is an illegal alien who is only a normal person his own planet.
Paramount Presents Popular Science (6:32) gives us a tour of Fleischers’ Florida animation studio. They follow the animation process of “Aladdin and His Magic Lamp” with Popeye. This is a concise and accurate introduction to the hand painted animation process.
The Mechanical Monsters (11:02) is a Fleischer Superman short. Flying robots are stealing jewels. This is where the folks behind Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow stole their mechanical monsters.
Early Max Fleischer Art Gallery (3:05) are 19 sketches from his notebooks. It’s basic stuff you’d find amongst the drawings done by anyone taking an art class in high school.
Females Is Fickle Pencil Test (0:30) has Popeye grabbing for a goldfish.
Stealin Aint Honest Storyboard Reel (6:12) runs the cartoon in one corner while showing us the original sketch with the dialogue.
“I’m Popeye the Sailor Man” Vintage Audio Recording (2:22) lets us hear the theme song in an extended form. Sounds like it was taken off a 78 rpm single.
Michael Sporn Interviews Jack Mercer (6:11) is a chat with the second man to voice Popeye. Mercer’s normal voice sounds like a cartoon voice. He tells how he went from the art department to the star of the studio. Does sound like he’s reading off notes, but it helps him give a direct answer. He sings the theme song at the finish.
Popeye The Sailor: Volume Two, 1938 – 1940 takes us to that magical time when a skinny gal caused two muscle bound guys to beat each other to bloody pulps. It’s like The Jerry Springer Show without security to pull them apart. This collection is perfect for those that grew up watching Popeye cartoons on TV after school that still like to eat their spinach. This has only half the cartoons of last year’s Volume 1, but Volume 3 is slated for Sept. 30. Enjoy the vintage naval mayhem.
Warner Home Video presents Popeye The Sailor: Volume Two, 1938 – 1940. Boxset Contents: 31 Shorts on 2 DVDs minutes. Released on DVD: June 17, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.