Thursday, February 19, 2009

Oh My Garshk! I'm Gon'er Embed Me a Video in Honor o' Popeye's 80th Birthday!

To the best of my knowledge, the 80th birthday of Popeye -- the two-fisted sailor man debuted in E.C. Segar's THIMBLE THEATRE comic strip on January 17, 1929 -- passed with absolutely no media notice whatsoever. Until now... (Hopefully that didn't sound TOO pretentious!)

This spring semester, while working out on the treadmill, I've been wading through the three volumes of Warner Bros.' superb collection of the POPEYE theatrical shorts. These releases have received almost universal praise, which they certainly deserve. Remasterings of the classic Max Fleischer and early Famous Studios shorts (how well I remember the cruddy colorized versions on TBS that represented my first exposure to these gems!), insightful commentaries by a variety of animators and animation historians, well-made "Popumentaries" telling the stories of Popeye and the Fleischers, AND extra features "From the Vault" tracing the early history of animation... these sets are filled with treasures. They have also served, I think, to "rehabilikate" Popeye as an animated character that one can actually take seriously. Now that we can see the B&W shorts as they were meant to be seen, we better understand how well the Fleischers had mastered the medium. As Leonard Maltin stated in OF MICE AND MAGIC, these cartoons create "their own kind of magic," one different from Disney's but every bit as viable.

Though I liked a lot of the Fleischer shorts, my favorite cartoon in these collections is actually an early Famous production, Seein' Red White & Blue (1943). For in-joke references and belly laughs, this stands up to anything Warners was producing during this period. In honor of the sailor man's 80th, I'm posting it here as my first attempt to upload a Youtube video. (Spoiler Warning: This cartoon contains Japanese stereotypes, so these easily offended may want to steer clear.)

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