Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto: The ultimate love-hate relationship

BugsDaffyElmerFinalThe following is my entry in the My Favorite Movie Threesome Blogathon, being hosted at this blog from July 28-30, 2017. Click on the banner above to read bloggers’ tributes to real and fictional trios from throughout the history of cinema!

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(The following is based on viewings of the original series of Popeye cartoons produced and directed by Max and Dave Fleischer from 1933 to 1942. If you have not treated yourself to these delightful animated films, allow me to introduce you to them by way of my tribute-website. Click here to visit my site filled with reviews of these groundbreaking cartoons.)

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ABOVE: Bluto as Sigmund Freud??

Sometimes, a character’s psychological quirks are so conspicuous that you can’t help commenting on them, pretentious as it might sound. After multiple viewings of Popeye cartoons, I’d have to say that the psyches of Popeye & Co. are ripe for picking as well. And so…the doctor is in.
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Popeye

Popeye puts on a very elaborate facade to disguise a very damaged psyche. It is assumed that he got his nickname (and his condition) from a very violent brawl. Nevertheless, to have such a moniker as your only given name — he is never referred to in any other way, in the comic strips or the movies — is to have a major loss of identification and individuality.

Further, other than his belligerent father — who, at first, does not even want to be rescued from imprisonment on an island, much less reunited with his son — we know almost nothing about Popeye’s formative years. What of his mother? Was Popeye perhaps born illegitimately, and is that why he looks upon single mother Olive Oyl’s upbringing of baby Swee’Pea with nary a shrug? This man appears to have psychological scars he finds far too painful to be re-opened.

Popeye compensates for his multiple pains in the same way many men do — with his over-abundant machismo. He has built up his upper torso to the point that his muscles look abnormal. He also deludes himself into thinking that downing cans of raw spinach at pivotal moments make him stronger-than-average. While spinach does have well-known nutritional value, there is no evidence that instantly absorbing such spinach will provide abnormal musculature in just a matter of seconds. Therefore, we can conclude only that spinach serves as a placebo for Popeye — a way for him to swallow his internal pain when circumstances become too much for him.


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Olive Oyl

Though this is never specifically stated in the cartoons, one surmises that Olive Oyl gave her heart to a man who was the love of her life, only to be deserted by him and left with his baby (Swee’Pea). It was after this heartbreak that Olive decided she would never again leave herself so vulnerable to one man’s machinations. Thus, she has two rivals for her affections (Popeye and Bluto), and she constantly wavers between the two of them in a classic example of passive-aggressiveness.

She also has difficulty maintaining a home and a job. In the early cartoons, she is seen living in a large (if not lavish) house, but later she is reduced to residing in a shabby apartment. In each cartoon that shows Olive at work, she is always at a job different from the previous ones (child caretaker, stenographer, scriptwriter, etc.). This, too, indicates the instability into which she was thrown when her erstwhile lover left her.

Lastly, even the only two men with whom she will associate often physically abuse her — each one pulling her by a separate arm, sometimes knocking her unconscious, getting her head used as a door knocker when Popeye calls on her, etc. Olive’s sweetness and outward cheer belie a case of extremely low self-esteem.


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Bluto

Simply and obviously, Bluto is the classic bully. He feels he can get what he wants only through loudness and brusqueness, and he has accomplished so little in life that he derives satisfaction only from tearing down other’s achievements.

Bluto is especially annoyed by Popeye, the one person in the world who stands up to him. Nearly all of Bluto’s encounters with Popeye end in a violent fight, usually lost by Bluto once Popeye downs his spinach. One would think that Bluto would eventually admit defeat and deal with his sense of rage, but he continues to fight Popeye every chance he gets.

This battle — both between Bluto and Popeye, and Bluto and himself — has gone on for so long that, as with Wile E. Coyote and his single-minded pursuit of the Road Runner — it is the fight itself that has become Bluto’s reason to live. In the few instances where Bluto and Popeye try to remain civil, the old pattern emerges and they come to blows all over again.

Most troubling of all is Bluto’s documented abuse of animals — horses, parrots, monkeys, etc. — which is a blatant symptom of psychotic behavior. In a way, it’s almost a relief that Bluto has Popeye to beat up, so that he doesn’t inflict his hostilities on others around him (though Olive receives her share of Bluto’s abuse too, as noted above).

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Sadly, Bluto’s rage and lack of self-reflection briefly resulted in his having a split personality, his other persona going by the name of Brutus. Fortunately, this lasted for only a brief period in the 1960’s.

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In conclusion, my pseudo-psychological musings only prove how well-rounded and -thought-out these delightful characters are. I encourage you to seek them out, on YouTube and wherever you can find them.

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1996) – My all-time favorite Disney movie

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    I must be a movie-going anomaly, because I consider The Disney Studio’s version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame the best animated feature ever made. Victor Hugo purists have complained about the movie’s liberties (particularly with the comic relief of the three gargoyles, which I admit is a bit of a stretch for sidekicks). And the story, of course, is way too dark for anyone expecting a lighthearted Disney cartoon. But then, perhaps that’s part of the point.
    The movie was directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale. Those names are worth noting because they also directed Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which was the first-ever animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Obviously that gave the duo some clout to make pretty much what they wanted. They certainly chose one of the darker stories to animate, and it showed at the box office when it grossed only (only?) $96 million. But it is a story superbly told on all levels.
    The film’s opening scene tells, in song, how the hunchback was stolen from a gypsy by Claude Frollo, an evil judge (changed from a priest in the original story) who has a huge hang-up about gypsies. Frollo sees that the child is physically deformed and intends to drop him down a well, until a priest shames him into keeping the child as his own. He condescendingly names the child “Quasimodo” (meaning half-formed) and keeps him locked in a bell tower where he learns to ring the bells for the city of Paris. And in that first ten minutes, you’re thinking: These Disney guys are really serious.
    From there, the movie introduces Esmeralda (voiced by Demi Moore) and Frollo’s troubled officer Phoebus (Kevin Kline), both of whom come to befriend Quasimodo. Yet the movie doesn’t go for easy answers, and when the movie (controversially) ends happily, it feels quite earned. Because along the way, Quasimodo certainly needs a friend or two. Voiced by Amadeus’s Tom Hulce, he does a song called “Out There” in which Quasimodo expresses his longing to simply get out in the real world one day, and it beautifully lays the groundwork for everything that follows.
    That song is part of an unjustly overlooked score by Disney vets Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, and it’s only one element of the most underrated work you’ll find in animation. There’s an astounding scene where Frollo privately confesses his lust for Esmeralda, and as G-rated numbers go, it’s a pretty hard G.
    But I found it refreshing that the Disney group was willing to take some chances here, unlike their much safer audience-pleasers, such as the politically correct Pocahontas. For all of its happy ending, the movie doesn’t cop out, either. (SPOILER SENTENCE!) Quasimodo doesn’t get the girl, but he gets something much better — he acceptance he has always craved. Disney movies have offered a lot less palatable messages. And for those who think that a Disney cartoon shouldn’t rattle anyone, I say: Remember what happened to Bambi’s mom?[

 

WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT (2005) – Say cheese!

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I’m very late to the party where Wallace & Gromit are concerned. They’re the clay-animated subjects of three critically acclaimed British shorts, most of which I’ve watched in stupefied silence. But with their feature-length film, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, something clicked, and I now consider myself a W&G fan.

British humor is rife with eccentricities, and this pair has enough of them to fill a book. Wallace (lovingly voiced by Peter Sallis) is an inventor of outrageous gadgets, and he lusts over cheese, his favorite food. Gromit is Wallace’s sidekick-dog, who rolls his eyes at Wallace’s latest blunders but nevertheless helps him out of trouble.

The movie’s story is that Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) is preparing for the annual vegetable contest that her family has held for over five centuries. Everyone is concerned about rabbits destroying their prize veggies. Enter W&G with their Anti-Pesto service, which vacuums up the wayward rabbits and stores them in a humane manner.

For this, Wallace earns Lady Tottington’s respect but becomes an unwitting rival for her affections. Wallace’s nemesis is Lord Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), a hunter who longs to marry Lady T. solely for her fortune, and who wishes to shoot all pests, be they four-legged or human.

Then there’s the titular monster, who’s set on ruining the veggie contest, and who eventually causes Wallace a great deal of guilt.

The plot sounds far more complicated than it plays out. The movie breezes along at 85 minutes and offers a lot of laughs. It also has a surprising share of pathos, particularly as played out on the multi-expressive face of Gromit. He’s a clay-animated Chaplin who says more with a facial expression than many characters do with a page of dialogue. Can we nominate him for Best Animated Actor?

Another of this movie’s virtues is its handmade-ness. Clay animators struggle hard to hide their labors. But every once in a while, if you look closely, you can see a fingerprint on one of the clay “actors.” In these days of sanitized CGI cartoons, I find that kind of charming.

A SINGLE LIFE (2014) – Setting a new record for longevity

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The following is my second of two entries in The 2nd Annual ‘ONE’ of My All-Time Favorite Cartoons Blogathon, hosted at this blog from Nov. 11-13, 2016. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ entries on a variety of animated films!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The Oscar-nominated A Single Life is only two-and-a-half minutes long, but it’s probably the best one-joke cartoon since Bambi Meets Godzilla.

A lone woman is about to enjoy a pizza when a knock comes at her door. She opens the door and finds a small package containing a 45 RPM record of a song titled (guess what?) “A Single Life.” She starts to play the record while eating her pizza, but at one point the record skips. The woman returns the record needle to the correct point but discovers that, during the skip, a bite of her pizza went away.

The woman plays with the record needle and finds that she can make the pizza bite reappear and disappear. When she investigates further, the woman discovers that placing the needle at different points on the record can actually take her to different points in her life. If you had a favorite “trippy” song that you’d swear could take you through time and space, you haven’t heard anything yet.

About the only other thing I can say without giving away the surprises of the cartoon (embedded below) is that it, like life itself, is over much too quickly. So enjoy it while you can — life and the cartoon, that is.

(If you enjoyed this blog entry, click here to read my first entry in this blogathon, about the Mickey Mouse cartoon Mickey’s Garden.)

MICKEY’S GARDEN (1935) – Mickey Mouse’s bad trip

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The following is the first of my two entries in The 2nd Annual ‘ONE’ of My All-Time Favorite Cartoons Blogathon, hosted at this blog from Nov. 11-13, 2016. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ thoughts about some of their favorite animated films!

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A 1935 page from “Good Housekeeping” promoting the cartoon.

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Practically everyone has a stake in the “Who’s the bigger hero in pop culture” sweepstakes, whether it’s The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones, or Batman vs. Superman.

When it comes to cartoons, me, I’m a Bugs Bunny man. Mickey Mouse is just too domesticated for me, especially for a character that started out as an anti-social, country-tainted rodent.

But there’s one chapter in the Mickey Mouse chronicles that’s as hallucinogenic as anything I’ve ever seen: Mickey’s Garden.

The cartoon starts mildly enough, with Mickey and his dog Pluto going hunting — for bugs that are destroying Mickey’s home garden. They don’t have to go hunting for very long. Pluto soon ends up in an on-point position that’s probably the ugliest “pose” you’ll ever see for Pluto.

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How ugly? This ugly.

Mickey sees insects swarming all over his vegetables and quickly sprays them with poison from the extermination gun he’s holding, causing the bugs to exit in fear. Just the sight of these weird bugs, who look like escapees from a Max Fleischer cartoon, is enough to tip you off that this cartoon is going to be very trippy.

The bugs go into hiding (in holes that they “draw shut” as though they were sleeping-bag zippers). Mickey continues his rampage until he realizes he’s out of poison. He runs off to refill his gun, and the bugs, once again safe, return to pig out at the garden.

Mickey returns to his shoot-out with the bugs, but the gun quickly gets jammed, so Mickey uses a tree branch to try and unclog it (rather stupidly aiming the gun right at himself all the while). Meanwhile, Pluto’s attempt to subdue one of the bugs results only in his getting his head stuck in a pumpkin. Panicking, Pluto runs around wildly, eventually ramming the plunger of Mickey’s gun, unjamming it at just the wrong time. The poison sprays all over Mickey, causing him to fall backwards on the ground and wildly hallucinate (a great bit of animation, as the Earth around Mickey becomes gravity-free and wavy).

When Mickey regains consciousness, he finds that he and Pluto are now bug-sized, while the actual bugs tower over the duo. Guess who’s the hunter and who’s the prey now.

It doesn’t help matters that the bugs have been drawn to the vat containing Mickey’s poison mixture and, far from being done in by it, drink it up happily as though it’s bootleg liquor. Armed with their enormous size and drunken sense of power (and the cartoon is only halfway over at this point), they have a field day terrorizing Mickey and Pluto.

For an animated milieu that’s usually pretty subdued, the remainder of the cartoon has some of the wildest imagery that Disney would conjure up prior to Fantasia). One wonders if the makers of the Beatles cartoon Yellow Submarine didn’t have a look at this short before proceeding with their movie; some of this cartoon’s villains have similar character quirks and end up meeting very similar bad ends.)

I’ll leave it to you to discover the rest of this cartoon’s glories (the cartoon is embedded below). Suffice to say, for an unheralded Mickey Mouse cartoon, it’s rather visually astounding, particularly since it’s practically dialogue-free and the images have to carry the day (which they do, superbly).

(If you liked this blog entry, click here to read my second entry, about the recent Oscar-nominated cartoon A Single Life.)

A LIAR’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY (2012) – Graham Chapman tells a few stories

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The following is my entry in The Monty Python Movie Blogathon, being hosted at this blog from Oct. 1-3, 2016. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ reviews of group and solo efforts from the members of the British comedy group!

 

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If you’ve fantasized that the Monty Python troupe could get together one more time for one final, very special episode of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” A Liar’s Autobiography could be just about enough to fulfill your fantasy.

It certainly isn’t for the Pythons’ lack of trying. Based on the late Graham Chapman’s semi-autobiography of the same name, the movie uses Chapman to “narrate” his own story. (He recorded an oral version of his book shortly before he died of throat cancer in 1989.) And in best Python, multiple-casting style, most of the voices in this animated film are provided by nearly all of the remaining Python members, even Carol Cleveland. (The only holdout was Eric Idle, who was having a row with the other Pythons at the time of filming.)

The main difference between the movie and “Flying Circus” is that, other that a few clips from live interviews and the “Circus” TV series, the entire movie is animated — quite boldly and bawdily (by 14 different animation companies, no less). Otherwise, Chapman turns his life into a flight of fancy worthy of “Flying Circus,” starting out at actual points of fact in his life and then veering off into far more interesting and humorous flights of fancy.

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Chapman was quite frank about both his homosexuality and his battle with alcoholism, and those subjects get Pythonesque treatment here, with no holds barred. But it’s also fascinating to see how humor got him through more mundane aspects of his life — his formative years with parents who never quite “got him,” his collegiate years with self-satisfied professors, and his eventual boredom with the Hollywood lifestyle once he became famous.

As with most Python-based work, if you’re not tuned into their sense of ultra-dry humor, this movie is unlikely to make you a convert. As for myself, I enjoyed it the way I’ve enjoyed most of Python. It’s refreshingly honest about subjects from which more conservative folks simply shy away. It’s well-animated on all counts (think Monty Python meets Yellow Submarine). Plus, it’s damn funny.

 

TINY TOON ADVENTURES (1990-1995) – A cartoon work of art

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The following is my second of two entries in my ‘One’ of My-All Time Favorite Cartoons Blogathon, being held at this blog on Nov. 6-8, 2015. Click on the above banner, and read entries about terrific ‘toons that these bloggers just can’t resist!

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Steven Spielberg is already immortalized in Hollywood for far more noble ventures — but for me, if he’d never been responsible for anything but Tiny Toon Adventures, he’d have a huge place in my heart.

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When this TV cartoon was first publicized in 1990 (the 60th anniversary of Warner Bros. first talking cartoon, and the 50th anniversary of the “birth” of Bugs Bunny), I cringed. I felt a little comforted when veteran Warners cartoon director Friz Freleng said he saw a preview of the series and thought it looked as good as any theatrical cartoon. When the cartoon finally debuted, I thought I’d died and gone to animation heaven.

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The characterizations are obviously a nod to the “classic” Looney Tunes characters. Buster Bunny is obviously patterned after Bugs, Plucky Duck is a distant relative to daffy Daffy, and so on. The connection is even more obvious because the Tiny Toons attend Acme Looniversity, where the Looney Tunes veterans tutor them in the art of getting laughs. Well, the Toons have obviously earned their diplomas, because they do the job quite well on their own.

The gags and pacing are top-notch, and the pop-culture level is easily up to that of “The Simpsons.” (How many kids’ cartoons would even attempt a parody of Citizen Kane, let alone pull it off?) Production of the TV series has long ceased, but happily, most of the best of the series is available on home video.

A good intro to the style is the direct-to-video feature “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” worth the price of the rental just for its caricatures of Hollywood stars. But the acme (so to speak) is the tape “Tiny Toons Music Television,” with a number of MTV-style videos of classic and obscure hits performed by the Tiny Toons.

(I’ve posted a clip from that episode below. It’s probably my favorite “Tiny Toons” segment, their hilarious interpretation of They Might Be Giants’ song “Particle Man.” In another nod to Looney Tunes history, that boxer/wrestler who always came up a cropper in Chuck Jones’ Bugs Bunny cartoons such as Rabbit Punch finally holds his own with Plucky Duck here.)

As critic Manny Farber once said about the original Looney Tunes cartoons, the great ones are masterpieces and the bad ones aren’t a total loss.

(If you’ve enjoyed reading this blogathon entry, please click here to read my first entry on the 1935 Popeye cartoon The Spinach Overture.)