Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Popeye Rules

What's great about Popeye?

I love Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Droopy and many other classic cartoon characters, but the series that is most consistently funny and inventive to me is the Fleischer Popeye cartoons. For a solid run of about 6 years, these cartoons are really fun, funny and inventive. And they glorify in their cartooniness.

I'm absolutely amazed at how long these cartoons have been off the air. When I was a kid, everyone loved Popeye-even our Dads!

How can you raise decent kids without Popeye cartoons?

Luckily for everyone now, Jerry Beck and his group have managed to release these great cartoons on DVD and I hope everyone snaps them up for themselves and for any kids you know too!

Popeye is a true American hero and a great example for our youth, unlike 50 Cent.

There are a ton of great things about Popeye, and here are just a few of the things that I like about them.



The first few cartoons throb to the music beats. This is a holdover from the Betty Boop cartoons.

Since all classic cartoons were timed to rhythms, this throbbing action was Fleischer's entertaining way to keep holds alive while someone else is doing the talking or action.

I think we should all throb constantly to the beat in real life.


A Song In Every Cartoon

Almost every classic Popeye has its own theme song. Many were especially written for the cartoons, and some were already well known hits.




These songs were woven into the storylines and add a lot of good feeling to the cartoons.

This is another practice, like throbbing that should come back to cartoons.

Although nobody today can write catchy melodies anymore. It's all that new age warbly broadway and animated feature stuff about spreading your wings and soaring like the eagle who devours the bunnies now.

Buy the Popeye collection and experience real songs! You won't stop humming them.

Gruesome Closeups

The Best Girl Cartoon Character Ever


Olive Oyl is the the most distinct and entertaining girl character in cartoon history.

Usually girls are pure stereotypes.

The beautiful girl.

The fat one.

And now, we have the girl who is smarter and stronger than the wimpy ass male leads.

Olive is specific and distinct in every facet of what makes a person unique.

Her design.

Her voice.

Her personality.

Her movement.

Her expressions.

She is also funny as Hell.

Individual and Funny Walks and Runs

In many cartoons characters merely walk. In the Fleischer Popeyes, it seems as though someone commanded the animators to make sure that every walk is unique and fun.
The characters hardly ever just walk from this story point to the next as cartoon characters today do.

Great Personalities and Chemistry

The characters of Popeye, Olive, Wimpy and Bluto are not only individually unique and fun, their chemistry is perfect.

E.C. Segar created the characters and imbued them with individual eccentricities, but the Fleischers added the voices and many mannerisms.

When you have such rich characters and great animators who understand them, you can drop them into infinite situations and the stories then write themselves.

Visual Metaphors Galore

Popeye shows his strength by having battleships in his biceps, hands that turn into vice grips and lots more fun stuff that can only happen in cartoons.

This kind of stuff didn't even happen in the comics. The Fleischers added these wonderful treats.

Popeye has some of the funniest and cleverest violence in the history of film. Beatings are an essential element of cartoon entertainment and these are the best ever.

Clever Technical Structure


The Fleischer artists and animators were real showmen. They purposely devised complex and impressive technical scenes with the purpose of entertaining the audience.

Long before computers, they relied merely on talent, showmanship and ingenuity to pull off some of the trickiest sequences in cartoons.

Unlike many modern show offy animated sequences, this show offy stuff was entertaining, like watching Fred Astaire dance. It's not merely technical, it's fun and artistic.

Many cartoons were written around the technical sequences, like "A Dream Walking".

Clever Situations
You would think with only 3 main characters you might run out of story ideas pretty soon, but the Fleischers kept devising new situations for years for these guys.

In fact, Popeye was hardly ever in ships! He beat up every animal and every race in every environment on earth.

Great Voices
Mae Questel
Jack Mercer
Gus Wickie

These were all very distinct voices - unlike today's bland star actor voices that do nothing to help give the characters individuality.

Perfect Translation From Comics To Animation
Usually when you try to translate characters from one medium to another, it's a creative disaster.

Executive types love to take something that is popular in one medium and remove what made them popular when they translate it to a new medium.

The Fleischers did the exact right thing with E.C. Segar's characters.

They left the personalities of the characters intact and found voices that perfectly suited their personalities.

The comic strip stories were continued every day and whole plots sometimes took months to complete. This type of story structure obviously wouldn't work in a 6 minute cartoon, so The Fleischers devised new story structures that took advantage of the personalities and atmosphere of the original, but added the things that only film and animation could do. Music, acting, motion gags, magic and more.

This is an element that is rare in many forms of popular entertainment.

Popeye and the gang, as crazy and preposterous as the cartoons can be, still reflect real human emotions, motivations and the uncontrived actual things that our species naturally find entertaining.

There are no new-age messages, no characters clamoring to prove that they can be the best me that can be, no artificial pathos, no lecturing the audience about the writers' beliefs, just pure real street-smart fun. The Fleischer animators were a lot more in touch with real people than the Disney animators.


It remains to be seen. Jerry has posted some clean frame grabs that look great to me.

The 2 color episodes are suspicious.

I was doing a commentary on Sindbad and I kept screaming about the print, because it was neon pink, purple and turquoise and they kept swearing to me that that was not going to be the final print. They even showed me another one which looked totally different and had assorted colors in it.

It seems that the My Little Pony version is the one on the dvd if these frame grabs are any indication.

Who knows, it's possible that those are the actual original colors, but it's very hard for me to believe that in 1936 there was a 12 year old girl who picked all the colors for such sophisticated cartoons.

Ali Baba looks a lot more like 30s colors, very rich and lots of subtleties.

It does look like the engineers pulled up all the purple they could find in the BGS though and pumped the saturation up, but look how different it is than Sindbad.
This looks like 80s little girl color palette to me. I really doubt anyone used colors like this 70 years ago.

BUT! Luckily there are only 3 color Popeyes anyway. The rest are black and white, so they can't mess with the colors-although one expert pointed out to me that the contrasts were pumped up, so that now the BGs have dark blacks in them rather than the original milky greyed BGS that stayed in the background.

Let's just hope they haven't done the line thinning jitters and the strobing pans.

If you like cartoony cartoons, buy this sucker now and laugh lots!


harpo said...

Those Fleischer Popeye cartoons do look so very rich and full of live. They just jump off the screen

couldn't resist drawing your sweet mug
John K

katzenjammer studios said...

Hell yeah. My Popeye tapes were ruined years ago. I will definitely support this effort.

flashcartoons said...

when i was in elementary, probably around 1st grade i went to the grociery store and BEGGED my mother to buy me spinach so i could be strong like popeye

sadly i spit it all out cause it was gross!! to this day i still dont like spinach but still love popeye! the popeye ride at univesal studios was awesome too!! great memories

dave said...

This is a great post! I was obsessed with Popeye as a kid. In fact, my earliest drawing ever was of Popeye, which my mom still has! I used to get my daily dose every morning on "Ramblin' Rod" which was one of shoddy local cartoon shows produced in the broom closet at the UHF news station in Portland. I loved all the characters on that show, including the creepy retarded Goon.

lastangelman said...

Both and Warner Bros alerted me in my e-mail a couple days ago about this release, so I knew you would be posting about this collection, toot-sweet, and why the first Popeye cartoons are so effing great. You hit the nail on the head ( or the baseball on the carnie in this case ) on every point. I wondered if the Warner team restoring the color films were going to mess it up like they have the Merrie Melody/Looney Tunes classics. It looks okay in the trailer on the WB website, still I may have to keep my bootleg s of the three color classics. I am truly excited about this collection, nonetheless. Did your Sinbad commentary make the final cut or was it excised and replaced?

Adele K Thomas said...

in regards to the colours looking like they were 'chosen by a little girl from the eighties' never know, you never know...they are so pretty and pastel like! hehehe. I was a little girl in the eighties, so I apologuise for any squeals of excitment when I saw the photo of the My Little Pony.

Jake Thomas said...

This is a bit off topic from this post but I feel you would be the best person to ask. I noticed when drawing Bugs Bunny from the model sheet, that when he bends his legs, his legs are longer then when he stands up straight. Is this so the poses and animation is more natural and fluid looking but so when he is standing up straight he has short legs as to keep his appeal and to avoid giving Bugs really long legs?

I are da cute one said...

Knocking My Little Pony again, John? :3 Lets hope that little kids who like it (aka the people that make up most of the cartoon audience today) dont find out. MAN! I feel bad for the little girl who steps foot on this blog post and decides since you knock their "sprikle pie" they decide that they will not want Popeye. Popeye is great though :3 It's just that little kids are like that. ;) I live with two of them.

Mr. Semaj said...

The Fleischer animators were a lot more in touch with real people than the Disney animators.

urbania vs. suburbia?

JohnK said...

Urbania VS baby butts in clouds

peldma3 said...

I've never seen the color popeye cartoon so cleary.. I'v e only seen them all washed out...hmmm. I wonder what the Spumco Popeyes would be like?

peldma3 said...

Maybe you could try more funny comics of well known as well as your own characters ...then use them to pitch to networks.

Kali Fontecchio said...

I was really excited before- but now even more! I can't wait to watch hours of beating, and skating, and spinach eating, and girl wiggling, and pillow-eating entertainment! Not to mention furniture-dancing fun!

Danne8a said...

Thanks for the great post!
I have personally been excited about this set ever since I first heard it was coming out.
One of the things that made the fleischers so fantastic was their ingenuity.
I loved their 3d sets ten million times more than disneys multiplane camera.
Beautiful, wonderful cartoons!

Sean Worsham said...

I'll be the first in line.

Dove said...

What a coincidence. Just the past few weeks we have been TIVO-ing Popeye (On Boomerang) and watching it religiously. It comes on like 4 times a day. I freakin LOVE it! I forgot how great it was, its so violent!! Now my 2 year old daughter demands to watch popeye all the time, its a NICE change from the lame crap she was watching (the doodlebops! talk about horrible colors!!) My friend Renee and I are raising our kids RIGHT, her 2 year old son watches old Merry Melodies dvds, my daughter LOVES popeye, and they both love the 3 stooges. Haha ok i kinda went off on a tangent there. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Dove said...

Oh yeah I forgot to say the Fleischer ones are the ones we love. We can tolerate the ones from a little later, but I dont really like the famous studios version. Olive's hair changed and her freakin feet shrank. I love the huge floppy feet and the comments they make under their breath all the time. I mean the famous studios popeyes are ok, better than the sh*t today, but you cant beat old school popeye!!!

Mad Taylor said...

This collection is great. Finally all the ones with the boat doors that open and close!

Did the Fleischers do the one about Goon Island?

OdysseusX said...

I just wanted to say that i recently discovered your blog, as posted in a Fark thread. If there is a better place to put my thoughts about what youve done than in a popeye post, i cant think of one:

First and foremost, i've never been a huge fan of ren and stimpy. I know this doesnt sound like i'm starting on the right foot, but hear me out. It came out at a time when my parents deemed it to lewd for my childhood. Not sure i disagree, but that might be the reason i never really enjoyed your animation style. Who knows. I apologize for not giving you credit all these years. While i cant say i enjoy any of that, i do appreciate your mentality behind the whole thing. I've been reading your past posts, and am only a quarter of the way through, but i must say you are a very intelligent and very passionate artist. I read about your insights on chuck jones, and bob clampett and tex avery and i cant help but smile. I am by no means an artist, but i love cartoons. as an aside, i feel daffy duck is underrated, and it will always be rabbit season in my mind ;)

but to see how you've broken down these art styles, and to see where your influences come from, and to get a better idea of how all these brilliant artists of past work, is a breath of fresh air. I'd mention chuck jones to my friends, and they'd never know who i was talking about. or maurice noble, or any of the people who created the cartoons. even singer and mel blanc were unknown to them. I feel that then they really didnt know bugs bunny or daffy duck. You sir, you know them. Thank you.

This post, by the way, just as good as the rest. I always wondered why they'd pulsate, but you make a pretty good point about it all. neat. also glad to see someone else appreciate one of the finer women in hollywood.

Shawn said...

Did you know that Olive Oyl's voice and mannerisms were inspired by Zazu Pitts, a popular actress from the 20's and 30's. Her movies co-starring with Thelma Todd, directed by Hal Roach, really show it. It's really funny.

Clinton said...

Hi John,

Popeye got me to eating my greens at every supper because I wanted to be like him as a kid, but Grits are my spinach. I always felt sorry for Popeye in every one of his cartoons because Olive would always dump him for Bluto and then Popeye will take her back in the end. The visual metaphors are great, especially when Bluto and Popeye compete in a test of strength everytime. Popeye will grab Bluto and his hand will turn into a brace, crushing Bluto's hand. AMC shows a lot of Popeye, and Boomerang has a whole show dedicated to him. Are you going to do a post on Droopy, or Spike anytime soon?

Craig D said...

Thanks, John. I've been waiting since the last century to read your opinions on these POPEYE cartoons!

(I had written a half-, no, quarter-assed POPEYE Filmography back in the 90s and sent it to you. I can only imagine how much milk was shot out of your nose while it was being read. I'm so embarrased by it, I packed it away in a box ten years ago. I taped the box shut, as well!)

Travis said...

Oh gross.

Ardy said...

I bought the Betty Boop Collectors DVD and the one color cartoon, "Poor Cinderella," was unbearable. I refuse to even watch the rest of it. I think that might be how they honestly colored them in the 30's. They might have thought that it would translate better to black & white like that.

Can't wait to buy this DVD though.

R said...

Another artist and I were just talking about generational preferences in cartoon entertainment. I'm in my 40's and he just turned 50. We appreciate so many qualities of the old cartoons but there are few new cartoons we like.

So many young people won't watch the old stuff but they love the new crap being churned out.

Are there any new cartoons that you can appreciate? Are there any qualities of new cartoons worth studying? What are your thoughts?

Lazarus Stone said...

Hey john!

I enjoyed reading this post of yours so much i went ahead and just bought the popeye the sailor man collection. I live in Amsterdam, so I'm curious if it has the same content as the us dvd. This one has 32 episodes spread on 3 discs and runs for 242 minutes.

But the good thing is i only had to pay 10 euros, which is something like 11 dollars i'd say. Great, huh?

Also, if you don't mind me asking, did you like the heavy metal comics from the 70s/80s? My dad used to draw sci fi stories for it. I think he was the only dutch comic artist there, french dominated the scene lol.

Take care amigo

Pete Emslie said...

Hey John,
This is a great analysis of the Fleischer "Popeye" cartoons. It got me thinking back to that glorious period in the 1960's when I too used to watch these cartoons all the time. I've just written up my reminiscences over on my blog and, since I know you were also an Ottawa kid like me, you might find it similar to your own recollections. Much thanks!


Whit said...

On "Poor Cinderella" Max Fleischer allegedly invented some top secret filter in an attempt to make 2 Strip Technicolor look exactly like 3 Strip Tech. That could be why its palette seems a little peculiar. But who can say how accurate prints existing today are?

PCUnfunny said...

The thing I loved about the Popeye voice acting is the constant mutterring. You always here the characters talking to themselves.

Roberto González said...

I'm a bigger fan of Popeye's comic books, but I agree it's a great adaptation. They sure kept the personalities. There is something more adventurous and absurd about the stories (not visually, but in content) in the comic books, though.

Popeye is a really funny and charismatic character. Olive is quite peculiar, the thing I don't quite get in the cartoons is that sometimes she's portrayed as desirable, but other times it looks like even Popeye finds her ugly and annoying. I guess it's all for good fun anyway.

I would order this dvds but I think I prefer Woody Woodpecker one first.

uncle wiggly said...

i'm so glad that i was a kid when popeye and merry melodies were still on tv... i feel bad for the kids today who have to watch awful kiddie crap... my earliest tv memory is wiley coyote getting show with a cannon, i think a strong dose of cartoon violence is important for a healthy childhood. the last tiem i checked, the only old cartoons on tv were (yech!) tom and jerry.

PS: what happened to speedy gonzales? that mouse disappeared a few years back and no one's seen him since. i guess people thought he was a bad racial stereotype, i always saw him as a folk hero fighting american imperialism (in the form of sylvester or daffy).

el_lang said...

about the colored popeye shorts,I had the chance to watch those cartoons recently ,(less than a year)the film was an original copy , but with a new horrible spanish dubbing, and I am almost sure that those werent the colors I saw,you could clearly realize that the backgrounds were made with real models , but as I said before,since the film was old ,I thought that it had lost color because of the pass of time...
I agree with the 90 percent of what I read here so far,and as others said I ate my espinach because of popeye ,.
I live in argentina where this cartoons were broadcasted in the public tv until the late 90´s,and I miss them now somehow.

Jim Rockford said...

I like how the animators moved the objects in the background and the foreground at different speeds to mimic reality in the scene with Popeye in the lair full of treasure

Jim Rockford said...

"last tiem i checked, the only old cartoons on tv were (yech!) tom and jerry"

I like some of the old Tom and Jerry mgm theatrical cartoons!

One of my favorites is "Blue Cat Blues" from 1956,it has some beautiful backgrounds by Robert Gentle and the story is hilarious and sadly realistic at the same time.

They'd never make a cartoon like that now....Tom and Jerry sitting on the railroad tracks to commit suicide!!! the sight gags such as tom being pulled by magnetism over the girl cats fence,and having his face molded into different shapes by her were hilarious!
Back then cartoons could be wild,cartoony and yet adult at the same time.
And Jerry speaks via voice over by Paul Frees! doesnt get much cooler than that!

gabriel said...

hey John look the Grillo blog he is a series of Popeye drawings

barbaraeberlyfan said...

I love the Vol. 1 DVD set. I've posted a review for every one of its cartoons at:

Stinson said...

to this day I still hum the theme song Sinbad sings to all his monsters. I used wear out my vhs copy rewinding and pausing to draw all the stuff that fell out of popeye's pockets when sinbad was wolloping him. I completely agree that you can't raise kids without popeye.