Review by Michael Jacobson

Creators:  Max & Dave Fleischer
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  218 Minutes
Release Date:  June 17, 2008

“I never made love in Technicolor before...”

Films ***1/2

Popeye and friends are back for another go around, and I for one am glad to see Warner continuing to release these classic, complete shorts on DVD!

It's a little shorter this time around...the 1938-1940 release only encompasses 31 cartoons and two discs, compared with six the first time around.  But this set also chronicles some major changes at the Fleischer Studios, some of which I'd never known about before perusing the extras on this disc.  The one-time only serious rival to Walt Disney was nearing an all-too abrupt end.

Max and Dave Fleischer would pack up their studio and move it from New York to Miami in these years, and toward the end, you can kind of see the results in their animation.  The gritty urban texture of the early Popeye shorts would vanish in favor of a brighter, more suburban style.  The great Mae Questel, Olive Oyl's most endearing voice, wouldn't make the trip and would have to be replaced for a time.  And the voice of Bluto became a revolving door of talent.

Bluto is one aspect I missed this go-around.  He's there, to be sure, but only sparsely, though this set contains one of his most endearing episodes, "Fighting Pals".  In it, the so-named "Dr. Bluto" leaves for Africa, and poor Popeye realizes how much he misses having the big lug to battle with.  It ends with a rip-roaring reconciliation that's pure fun.

In these years, Popeye's Poopdeck Pappy would appear (99 years old and still going strong), and show up in three shorts.  The first, "Goonland", has Popeye rescuing his dad from strange creatures.  And Pappy fights with the best of them; the climax is so raucous it actually rips the film strip, forcing the animator to repair it with a safety pin...classic Fleischer gag!

We also get to see Popeye's nephews for the first time in "Nurse-Mates", though they don't appear as his nephews.  They show up in Olive's dream of what married life with Popeye would be like...as their rambunctious sons!

There's one color short included, the merry "Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp", featuring you-know-who in the title role.  The Fleischers could do color as well as any animation studio, and this one, like the previous offerings, is eye-popping (no pun intended). 

One last character made his debut in these years, and that's the magical strange Eugene the Jeep.  He appears in two shorts, "The Jeep" and "Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep".  The unusual dog proves quite a match for our favorite spinach-eating sailor.

"It's the Natural Thing To Do" was always a favorite Popeye short of mine...in it, viewer complaints about the roughhousing in the cartoons leads Popeye, Bluto and Olive to try a more sophisticated approach to animated life.  Let's just say, it doesn't suit them well.  "Puttin' on the Act" is another classic, and great fun to see Popeye doing his impressions of Jimmy Durante, Groucho Marx and Stan Laurel!

Sadly, the Fleischer Studios were coming to an end.  During this time, they produced two features on the heels of Disney's success with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Gulliver's Travels made money, but paled in comparison, and Mr. Bug Goes to Town was doomed from the start...it was released on December 7, 1941.  Somehow, the country had other things on its mind that day.

There was also a feud that developed between brothers Max and Dave.  No one really knows for sure how it started, but it was strong and permanent...they would split apart and never speak to each other again for the rest of their lives.

It was a sad tale to an otherwise triumphant story of artistic and technical merriment.  Max and Dave Fleischer created a rich, beautiful, and hilarious landscape of cartoon zaniness, and their continued collaboration on Elsie Segar's beloved comic strip character was one of animation's most fruitful. 

Popeye would continue without the aid of the Fleischers and remain a successful movie star for decades, but those early years will always be remembered the most fondly by fans.

Video ***

Despite the age, I'm still impressed with the way Warner has presented these shorts on DVD.  Yes, you can see some nicks and spots here and there, but overall, the original black and white (and one color) prints have been cleaned up and presented beautifully in full digital glory.

Audio **

For films so old, the mono soundtracks have held up well.  A touch scratchy here and there, but probably better than you’d expect.  The music is bright and engaging throughout, and though dynamic range is minimal, there’s plenty of action in each of these shorts to keep the sound lively.

Features ****

Animation fans can rejoice...there is a plethora of goodies included on this double disc set, starting with the engaging and informative documentary "Out of the Inkwell".  Its 45 minute run time chronicles the rise and fall of one of cartoons' legendary studios, and told me much about the history of the Fleischers that I never knew before.  It's on the first disc, along with three new "Popumentaries"; one on Eugene the Jeep, one on Poopdeck Pappy, and one on the amazing Mae Questel.  You'll see interviews with the likes of Leonard Maltin, modern animators, historians, and the offspring of the Fleischers...even some Disney people chime in.

The second disc contains two classic Fleischer shorts, a pencil test for "Females is Fickle", a storyboard reel for "Stealin' Ain't Honest", a Max Fleischer art gallery, and two audio clips; a recording of the classic theme song from back in the day, and an interview with legendary Popeye voice Jack Mercer.


These collections of classic Popeye shorts continue to tickle my funny bone and brighten my day.  Kudos to Warner for making these cartoons available in great packages, complete and uncut.  I hope there's more to come...we still have Popeye's war years to look forward to!

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