When America was dragged into World War II, our leading cartoon character answered the battle cry. Popeye would not shirk his duty to combat the Axis powers. The major subject of the 32 cartoons on Popeye the Sailor: 1941-1943, Volume 3 is his wartime exploits. He tossed away his merchant marine wardrobe for the creased whites of a U.S. Navy sailor. Popeye recognized there was a bigger enemy than Bluto. His love of America was stronger than his passion for Olive Oyl. He put country before corny jokes.
“The Mighty Navy” is the first wartime cartoon. Popeye isn’t immediately recognized as a naval hero. The methods he’s perfected after years on tramp steamers aren’t the navy way. The brass sees little need for the pipesmoking seadog on their state of the art battleship. He’s reduced down to kitchen help. However when they are surrounded by an unidentified force, Popeye proves that spinach will always turn the tide when fighting on the waves. “Blunder Below” has Popeye screw up while training to operate the battleship’s gun. While the crew attacks a Japanese submarine, Popeye is stuck in the boiler room tossing coal into the furnace. But he won’t be a mere spectator to it all. When the periscope comes looking for him, he eats his spinach to drop a fist sized depth charge onto the attacking vessel.
“You’re a Sap Mr. Jap” is pure propaganda. Popeye’s PT boat comes across what appears to be decapitated ship with two friendly Japanese fishermen. Turns out it is the disguise for a massive battleship. It’s up to Popeye to destroy the monstrosity with only his wits and a can of spinach. There’s no holding back on the Japanese stereotypes in this cartoon. When you are at war with an enemy, who has time for manners? They weren’t polite at Pearl Harbor. You might not want to show this to children without giving context and guidance. Popeye takes the battle to the North Atlantic. “Spinach Fer Britain” has his cargo ship filled with spinach attacked by a Nazi U-boat. Who does something that stupid? They learn their lesson the hard way that Popeye near spinach equals a beatdown of epic proportions.
While Popeye wanted to serve the nation, Bluto wasn’t so patriotic. “Seein’ Red, White ‘N’ Blue” has him doing his worst to get 4F from the draft board which consists of Popeye. He’s faking injury and illness to blow the tests. But Popeye just can’t buy it. Finally Bluto sees the dangers of ducking the war when he uncovers an orphanage that’s a front for Japanese spies. He joins forces with his rival to defeat a greater enemy. The big ending has the iron fist of Popeye taking out Hitler.
All the shorts during this period weren’t exclusively attacks against Germans and Japanese. Unfortunately, these non-war cartoons would introduce an enemy worse than the Axis powers. “Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye” brought back the imaginary four boys that were supposed to be Popeye and Olive Oyl’s offspring. Now they were Popeye’s nephews. The short has Popeye trying to get them to eat their spinach. They abuse their uncle for dessert. “Me Musical Nephews” has him trying his hardest to tuck them into bed. But the nephews want to play their hot jazz. What’s upsetting is that there was already a cute kid in the series called Sweetpea. Why did they have to drag these four mutants onto the screen? Sweetpea puts Popeye through a nightmarish torture when he sneaks out of the buggy and onto the deck in “Baby Wants a Bottleship.” But the baby never acts out of complete malice like the nephews. He merely wants a big boat. These quadruplets are vicious. They want a pound of Popeye’s flesh. We never meet their parents. I’m guessing they killed them and hid the bodies.
The cartoons on this set mark the transition of Paramount taking control of Fleischer’s studio. Max Fleischer would be completely removed from the creative process after “Baby Wants a Bottleship.” His brother Dave stuck around to oversee a few cartoons. You’ll notice that the Fleischer animation tricks of 3-D backgrounds and reflective water ripples are eliminated. Paramount’s Famous Studios merely wanted straight forward animation. They saw no need to push the boundaries or the budget. Popeye the Sailor: 1941-1943, Volume 3 is the last hurrah of the Fleischer-era.
“Problem Pappy,” “Quiet! Pleeze,” “Olive’s Sweepstakes Ticket,” “Flies Ain’t Human,” “Popeye Meets Rip Van Winkle,” “Olive’s Boithday Presink,” “Child Psykolojiky,” “Pest Pilot,” “I’ll Never Crow Again,” “The Mighty Navy,” “Nix on Hypnotricks,” “Kickin’ the Conga ‘Round,” “Blunder Below,” “Fleets Of Stren’th,” “Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye and Peep-eye,” “Olive Oyl And Water Don’t Mix,” “Many Tanks,” “Baby Wants a Bottleship,” “You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap,” “Alona on the Sarong Seas,” “A Hull of a Mess,” “Scrap The Japs,” “Me Musical Nephews,” “Spinach Fer Britain,” “Seein’ Red, White ‘N’ Blue,” “Too Weak to Work,” “A Jolly Good Furlough,” “Ration Fer The Duration,” “The Hungry Goat,” “Happy Birthdaze,” “Wood-Peckin'” and “Cartoons Ain’t Human.”
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The black and white transfers aren’t as dazzlingly restored like the Looney Tunes on the Golden Collection series. There’s slight scratches and smutz. They are cleaner than anything I saw on cable over the years. The audio is Dolby digital mono. You can hear Popeye’s mouth swallowing the spinach. “Problem Pappy” and “Popeye Meets Rip Van Winkle” feature commentary tracks with Jerry Beck and Steven Waldman. “The Might Navy” enlists Jerry Beck and Bob Jaques to discuss Popeye’s World War II adventures. “The Hungry Goat” is a solo chat with Jerry Becky. “Too Weak to Work” has Bob Jaques. “Seein’ Red, White ‘n’ Blue” is colored by Mark Kausler. “Me Musical Nephews” combines John Kircfalusi (Ren and Stimpy), Eddie Fitzgerald and Kali Fontecchio. The subtitles are in English.
Directing the Sailor: The Art of Myron Waldman (7:21) pays respect to an unsung animator. Waldman talks about how Fleischer was the only studio that paid overtime. His early days dealt with drawing the crowd scenes.
Popeye: The Mighty Ensign (7:48) focuses on Popeye enlisting in the navy to fight the Axis powers. Historians discuss how they cleaned up the merchant marine sailor into a role model for the defense department. The impact of switching to the white uniform is explored.
Pip-eye, Pup-eye, Poop-eye an’ Peep-eye: Chips Off the Old Salt (3:41) demands to know how these four imaginary sons of Popeye and Olive became Popeye’s nephews. Where are the parents of the four kids? The historians think they were the studio’s reaction to Donald Duck’s nephews. Ultimately they stole Sweetpea’s heat.
From The Vault (18:34) contains “The Clown’s Little Brother,” “The Cartoon Factory” and “Koko Needles the Boss.” These three silent Koko the Clown shorts are amazing as Max Fleischer mixes animation with live action. There’s plenty of stop motion with the ink motion. Max interacts with his clown creation. You’ll want to have a radio nearby to keep the room from being too silent.
Forging the Frame: The Roots of Animation, 1921-1930 (27:42) explores the comedy and techniques of early shorts including Max Fleischer’s “Out of the Inkwell” films. The historians talk about the arrival of sound bringing a new element to the shorts. Many animated characters were driven out of the business because their voices didn’t match their bodies. Fleischer invented the bouncing ball so the audience could sing along with the cartoon.
Finding His Voice (10:47) is an early sound cartoon done by Max Fleischer for Western Electric in 1929. A roll of film becomes human and has noise come from his mouth. His rival is a gagged roll of film. Who will win in this comedic battle?
Popeye the Sailor: 1941-1943, Volume 3 is essential for fans of the spinach eating seadog. Many of the wartime cartoons were banned from TV so this will be your first time to witness Popeye’s destruction of the Axis powers. The battle action more than makes up for the depressing mess created by those pesky nephews.
Warner Home Video presents Popeye the Sailor: 1941-1943, Volume 3. Starring Popeye, Olive Oyl, Sweetpea and Bluto. Boxset Contents: 31 cartoons on 2 DVDs. Released on DVD: November 4, 2008. Available at Amazon.
Tags: animation, World War II