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POPEYE THE SAILOR: VOLUME 3
1941-1943

Review by Michael Jacobson

Creators:  Max and Dave Fleischer
Audio:  Dolby Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  201 Minutes
Release Date:  November 11, 2008

“It should happen to Hitler.”

Shorts ***1/2

As America entered the 40s, she was also preparing for war, and that could mean only one place for our favorite spinach eating sailor…in the Navy (no Village People quips, please).

Yes, like many filmmakers, Max and Dave Fleischer were turning their attention to our nation’s involvement in the second world war, and Popeye, already an established nautical hero, was destined to join the ranks of our brave fighting forces.  And chances are, neither the Germans nor Japanese could envision what our rough and tumble sailor would unleash upon them!

Popeye the Sailor Volume 3: 1941-1943 marked a unique time in the history of the franchise, and perhaps some of the most troubling ones both on and off the screen.  Behind the ink and paint, Max and Dave had erupted into a feud that no one really understood, and it would take their toll on their studio and their creative efforts.  And the finished products, while topical for their day, are a little unsettling in how blatantly crude their Asian stereotypes could be.

I wasn’t sure if Warner was going to continue the series based on those concerns, but credit their courage and their loyalty to fans.  These are some funny misadventures for Popeye, Bluto, Olive and the gang.  And if their take on the Japanese was a little below the board, it’s still kind of nice to look back and remember a time when Hollywood was actually on our country’s side in war time.

This two disc set contains 32 complete and unedited shorts, and begins before the war.  The Fleischers had moved away from New York, and their cartoons were showing it.  Gone were the gritty, urbane, beautifully detailed landscapes of the early shorts, replaced by a more docile and suburban feel.  And early on, it was all about family.  In fact, the first two films “Problem Pappy” and “Quiet! Pleeze” feature Popeye trying to corral his uncontainable father Poopdeck Pappy, who is far from ready to act his age.

Popeye’s nephews are also prominent in this collection…he has to teach them a valuable lesson about either their spinach.  But they also look after the homefront while their uncle is at war…though it seems Popeye gets more the worse of it than the enemies do!

Popeye also has his share of animal troubles, too, whether it’s bothersome flies in “Flies Ain’t Human” or “The Hungry Goat” (one of my favorites), or the “Wood-Peckin’” woodpeckers or the crows in “I’ll Never Crow Again”, sometimes it takes more than a can of spinach to save the day!

But the highlight of those years were Popeye’s entry into the Navy, starting with “The Mighty Navy”.  Popeye’s ways weren’t always the military ways, but he managed to get the job done time and time again.  His rival Bluto was even there, even though he tries for a deferment.  But duty calls, and even a hopeless bully can answer the call to arms.

Bluto still isn’t seen as much in these years as I would like, and his ever changing voice can be a bit distracting.  But whether fighting with Popeye or by his side, the old lug is still good with a punch or a scheme.  “Too Weak to Work” shows how far he’ll go to garner a little R&R, even in wartime.

But oh, those troublesome stereotypes.  What can you say about “You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap” or “Scrap the Japs”?  Those slanted-eyed bucktooth depictions may have done wonders for the fighting spirit of our nation, but probably didn’t do much for the peaceful rebuilding years.  Still, they are what they are, and as Warner’s disclaimers proclaim, they are indeed a product of their time.  So sorry.

In joining the Navy, Popeye’s uniform changed to all white, and would remain that way until the 80s.  It didn’t do much for his color years, but it always reminded fans that the sailor man did his job and served when his country called.  Always the hero, Popeye lifted spirits and kept funny bones tickled, even in dark uncertain times for America.  This collection has it all.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Jack Mercer, the eternal voice of Popeye, was earning himself more and more story credits during this stretch.

Video ***

There are no color shorts from this time period, but Warner continues to impress with their black and white remasters of these films.  Many of them I had seen before, but never this good.  There are spots and scratches here and there, but no more than reason, and for the most part, the presentations are clean and well contrasted.

Audio **

The mono soundtracks are serviceable…they sound their age from time to time, but the dialogue is always clear as can be, given Popeye’s propensity to mutter, and the music is always a nice plus.

Features ***

There are commentaries on select episodes from historians and fans like John K of Ren and Stimpy fame, plus guests like the son of legendary animator Myron Waldman, who is also featured in his own “Popumentary”, along with looks at Popeye in war and his loveable, scruffy nephews.  There are three “Out of the Inkwell” shorts, plus one from Western Electric, and a documentary on the roots of animation in its early years.

Summary:

I’m very glad to see these classic wartime shorts the way they were meant to be seen:  complete, uncensored, and in all their crude and rough glory.  I for one hope Warner continues dipping into their vault and bringing us more volumes of this indelible cartoon creation called Popeye.

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