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Thursday, May 23, 2013

'Popeye The Sailor The 1960s Classics' V1: Humor Survives Transition From Film to TV Shorts


Popeye: The 1960’s Animated Classics Collection (1960)
The good folks at Warner Archive really helped with this review of the recently released DVD set "Popeye the Sailor The 1960s Classics" Volume One. Their observation on the back of the set that "the TV incarnation of Popeye made up for its scaled-back animation with a broadened narrative scope and scale while still staying true to the source" describes this great offering well.

"Staying true to the source" includes recruiting animators and voice actors who produced the theatrical shorts for the TV versions. Most importantly, Jack Mercer provides the titular character's voice in both the large and small screen versions.

The premise of Popeye, which succeeds as well as  a cat chasing a mouse or a diverse group of late-teens solving mysteries, is that this sea-faring man quickly finds that wham bam he's in a jam, chugs down spinach that temporarily bestows him extraordinary strength and super-speed, defeats his current nemesis, and then toots his pipe in the same manner that Porky Pig stutters "Thaaats All Folks" at the end of Looney Tunes cartoons from the same era.

There is no doubt that the theatrical  Popeye shorts, which Warner released in three truly awesome volumes, have much richer animation and are more historical significant than the latest collection. This is particularly true regarding the 1941-43 "war years" Volume 3.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed the gaggle of cartoons that I watched from the 72 shorts in the "60s Classics collection." The more modern elements and a less-dated feel than the theatrical classics add to their value.

The '60s sensibility begins with "Hits and Missiles," in which Popeye and his best gal Olive Oyl accidentally launch themselves into space. On landing on the moon, which is made of cheese, Popeye battles the tyrannical king of the moon. That leader is a literal cheese head.

I am not sharing any of the wonderfully corny puns in that episode and several other cartoons only to allow viewers to experience this timeless humor first-hand. I will provide the teaser that the moon king's castle is located on the rind.

Another '60s-themed cartoon has Popeye undergoing psychoanalysis to understand his compulsion to fight. A cartoon that depicts prize fights as popular mainstream entertainment also reflects the era.

More traditional plots, which reflect the "broadened narrative scope" of this incarnation of everyone's favorite cartoon sailor, have Popeye returning to school only to be busted down to kindergarten and have mischievous ghosts torment him when he and Olive seek refuge in a haunted house.

Good sight gags include Popeye's pipe blowing heart-shaped smoke when he is on his way to visit Olive, schtick involving Popeye's nemesis Brutus putting rubber cement in a bowling ball's hole, and hamburger addict Wimpy operating a small grill on top of his head to ensure a steady supply of beef.

Another early offering in this series introduces the character Eugene the Jeep from Thimble Theater, which is the comic strip that introduces Popeye to the world, into this series. Fellow Theater characters Sea Hag and King Blozo follow Eugene into the series.

Eugene is introduced in this Popeye incarnation in "A Jeep Is A Jeep." This comes in the form of a friend of Popeye from India mailing the sailor this magical creature who can turn invisible, make other objects disappear, and walk through walls. This is akin to the Doctor sending former companion Sarah-Jane K9 the robotic dog in the pilot for the never developed "K9 and Company" "Doctor Who" spin-off series.

Seeing Popeye slam into walls and otherwise face obstacles that Eugene's powers allow him to evade is laugh-out-loud funny.

The news that is even better than this TV version of Popeye being so worthwhile is that labeling this collection "Volume One" indicates that the sofa spud gods at Warner Archive will release a second volume of these animated shorts.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding any incarnation of Popeye is welcome to email me. Also, please feel free to follow me on Twitter @tvdvdguy.