FOR BETTER OR WORSER (1935) – Joining in holy headlock

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The following is my first of two entries in The Popeye Blogathon, being hosted at this blog from Sept. 28-30, 2018. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ tributes to the fictional one-eyed sailor!

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

For Better or Worser is so eye-popping (so to speak) on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to begin.

The basic premise is simplicity: Popeye is an unhappy bachelor who decides to marry Olive Oyl (who else?), but Bluto almost beats him to it. But the final elaboration of this premise is anything but simple.

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First off is this cartoon’s idea of marriage as something to be done as quickly, and with as little thought, as picking up a couple of groceries on the way home. Popeye starts the cartoon in a grungy bachelor pad, burning every food he tries to cook. Hastily, he decides, “I gotta get me a wife!” So apparently, if he hadn’t burned his dinner, matrimony wouldn’t have even crossed his mind.

Brothel

Then there’s the matrimonial agency where Popeye goes to obtain his spouse. The agency’s desk clerk blithely tells him, “Take ya pick!” and points to a wall filled with framed pictures of potential brides. The cartoon does everything but come right out and say, “Popeye has just entered a brothel.” As cartoon historian Greg Ford screams on the DVD commentary soundtrack to this cartoon, “It’s all up there on the screen — it’s not the subtext, it’s the text!” (I highly recommend your listening to Ford’s commentary, which is nearly as funny as the cartoon he’s critiquing.)

Olive

Popeye sizes up the women’s images and picks Olive Oyl, who responds by adding a ton of make-up to a face that, as plain as it was to start with, would be far better off without it. But Bluto is another customer in the brothel, er, agency, and he also chooses Olive’s photo. Naturally he and Popeye butt heads (literally) over Olive, each man trying to drag Olive away from the other.

Street

The back-and-forth chase scene is a feast for the eyes, not the least because the trio are running against a 3D-looking background. Max and Dave Fleischer went to the trouble of making an actual, rotating model against which their drawings were placed, making the cartoony Popeye and his peers look as though they’re making their way through the “real” world. Every time I watch this scene, I think of how, as a kid, my sister and I would derisively point out the same stupid backgrounds popping up over and over in Hanna-Barbera cartoons. This is just one more example of how the Fleischers never cut corners with these remarkable shorts.

Justice

Bluto and Olive make it to the office of the justice of the peace (Wimpy, who barely looks up from his hamburger to officiate in the marriage), and Bluto bleats, “We wanna get married in a hurry!” When you stop to think that, in ’30s movies, quickie marriages = “I wanna get laid!”, you realize there’s more subtext, text, and hyper-text in this cartoon than one should be asked to digest.

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Of course, Popeye gets to the office in time to belt Bluto and claim Olive for himself. But when he gets a look at Olive’s transmogrified kisser, he almost pops out his other eye before declaring, “I do not [take this bride]!” and hightailing it back to his bachelor pad — because after all, a wizened, one-eyed sailor must have standards.

I’d love to know what any women think of this cartoon, because it obviously does them no favors; in terms of its regarding women as sides of meat to be haggled over by near-Neanderthals, it’s probably as offensive to women as some other Popeye cartoons are to minorities. The cartoon’s saving grace is in showing that these matrimonial “rules” were concocted by men who show that they’re not exactly prize packages themselves.

Stars

Though the Fleischers probably didn’t intend it as such, For Better or Worser is a nifty deconstruction of man’s most basic instincts. Plus, it’s an absolute hoot.

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon: CanCanCanCan

(If you enjoyed this blogathon entry, click here to read my second entry, a “psychological examination” of Popeye & Co. And click here to listen to my Fleischer Bros.-Popeye podcast!

Announcing THE POPEYE BLOGATHON!

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After serving for four years as the “breakout star” of E.C. Segar’s comic strip Thimble Theatre, Popeye the Sailor Man made his movie debut on July 14, 1933 and became as big of a hit in animated cartoons as he was in comics. To honor the 85th anniversary of his film career, we proudly announce…

THE POPEYE BLOGATHON!

The rules are simple. Write a blog about any aspect of Popeye you like. Here are some ideas:

  • E.C. Segar’s Thimble Theatre
  • Theatrical cartoons:  the Fleischer Bros. era (1933-1942), and/or the Famous Studios era (1942-1957)
  • TV cartoons: King Features (1960-1962), Hanna-Barbera (1978-1983, 1987-1988)
  • Robert Altman’s 1980 movie adaptation, starring Robin Williams

Again, any aspect of these subjects is fine. (For example, you could write about the entire Fleischer Bros. era, or you could write about just your favorite cartoon from that era.) Also, if you have an idea of your own, let me know, and if it relates to Popeye, I’ll gladly accept it.

My only request: No duplicate entries! At the bottom of this blog entry, I will keep an updated list of blogathon entrants. Be sure to check the list to ensure that your idea isn’t already taken.

How Do I Join the Blogathon?

In the “Comments” section at the bottom of this blog, please leave your name, the URL of your blog, and the movie trio you are choosing to blog about. At the end of this blog entry are banners for the ‘thon. Grab a banner, display it on your blog, and link it back to this blog.

The blogathon will take place from Friday, Sept. 28, through Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. When the opening date of the blogathon arrives, leave a comment here with a link to your post, and I will display it in the list of entries (which I will continually update up to the beginning of the ‘thon, so keep checking back!).

I will not be assigning particular dates to any blog posts. As long as you get your entry in by the end of the day on Sept. 30, I will be satisfied. (That said, the earlier the better!)

Again, be sure to leave me a comment and grab a banner, and have fun with your blog entry! Here’s the line-up so far:

Movie Movie Blog Blog – the 1935 theatrical cartoon For Better or Worser, and a “psychological examination” of Popeye, Olive Oyl, Wimpy, and Bluto

Caftan Woman – the 1936 theatrical cartoon Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor

Movierob – Fox TV’s 2004 CGI special “Popeye’s Voyage: The Quest for Pappy”

The Midnite Drive-In – Robert Altman’s Popeye movie

Talk About Cinema – Seasin’s Greetinks! (1933), Let’s Celebrake (1938), Mister and Mistletoe (1955), and Spinach Greetings (Popeye TV cartoon)

It Came from the Man Cave! – “There Goes the Neighborhood,” Episode 12 of Hanna-Barbera’s “Popeye and Son” (1987)

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A cold, hard analysis of SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937)

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FINAL

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Even though certain movies might have been made decades ago, usually I can enjoy them in the age I’m in, in the here and now. But for me to fully appreciate Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, I think I’d have to have been part of one of its original audiences in 1937. I first saw the movie during its 50th-anniversary re-release, and I’m afraid that the — forgive me — sexual politics of 1987 sort of laid the movie bare for me.

Yes, I can easily appreciate its technical aspects. The fluid, hand-drawn animation — an element that seems to drift further away in modern movies — is truly something to behold. And the rich and funny characterizations of the Seven Dwarfs — something that was thought impossible for a feature-length cartoon (of which, of course, this was the first) — remain distinct and enjoyable.

But then there’s the little matter of…Snow White.

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She is the movie’s heroine, the groundwork upon which Disney laid the foundation for the movie’s premise, its reason for being — and I’m afraid she comes off as too much of a simp for me. I can understand her being frightened in given situations. (Who couldn’t get chills from the scene where Snow White scampers nervously through the dark forest and is seemingly menaced by every tree?)

But at some point through all of these adventures which Snow White proves worthy to survive, couldn’t she have developed just a bit of a spine? At no point in the movie is she not entirely dependent on someone else for her well-being — the Wicked Queen, the woodsman who spares her life, and those damn dwarfs. And of course, the prince who awakens her with “love’s first kiss.”

And what about those dwarfs, and the shortchanging they get? After tending to her every need for Disney knows how long, she gets swept off her feet by that one-kiss prince, after which Snow White is perfectly content to abandon her wards, and they her. As the Wicked Queen would say, “Bah!”

We all have particular movies where we can appreciate the skill and talent that went into them, and yet we’re still left baffled as to their wide popularity. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it appears, is my cross to bear.

How the critics stole Christmas

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Like most people who love Chuck Jones‘ TV adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, I’ve been watching it since I was a kid, and I can never get enough of it. (The less said about Ron Howard’s ghastly movie version starring Jim Carrey, the better.)

I wish I could find a fresh way to describe how much this cartoon delights me, but I can’t. So instead, I refer you to a very enjoyable blog titled Tralfaz, which dives deeper into the creation of animated movies and TV shows than I would have ever thought possible.

Click here to read the blog’s surprising account of how some contemporary TV critics sniffed at what has long since become a holiday classic. If you ever get too full of yourself as a blogger or critic (and I can be as guilty as anyone), remember that the work you’ve critiqued will probably last long after you do.

 

Your Saturday morning cartoon

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Did you know that the Looney Tunes troupe did a parody of Casablanca? It came out in 1995 and is titled Carrotblanca (starring guess-who). It was originally released as a curtain-raiser for a forgettable Warner Bros. family filim, The Great Panda Adventure.

When I first heard about this release, I was dying to see the cartoon; the pandas, not so much. So one day on my lunch hour, I drove to my local bijou, dutifully paid full admission, sat through Carrotblanca, and left to go back to work. It was worth every dollar of my movie ticket.

Carrotblanca is 14 minutes long, an epic by Looney Tunes standards. It was produced by Warner Bros. during their brief “cartoon renaissance” period of the 1990’s, when someone in the front office got talked into actually making decent theatrical cartoons again for a while. (Chuck Jones did his final theatrical work during this time.) And in the grand style of Jones’ mock-epic The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1949), this cartoon features practically every member of the famous Looney Tunes ensemble, from famous to peripheral. Enjoy!

LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION (2003) – Mighty sporting of the little black duck (and friends)

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At last, those tired spy-movie spoofs are right where they belong — right in the middle of a Looney Tunes cartoon.

I wouldn’t have thought that the sensibilities of a seven-minute cartoon could be stretched to feature length as well as in Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Not even Space Jam (1996) went for broke as much.

If you tried to diagram the plot for this movie, it would probably look something like several Looney Tunes strung together. It starts out with a harried movie executive (Jenna Elfman) firing and then trying to re-hire Daffy Duck. Then it turns into the story of a security guard (Brendan Fraser) who finds out that his father (two-time James Bonder Timothy Dalton) is, guess what, a secret agent. Then there’s the whole subplot about the Acme Corporation’s evil leader (Steve Martin) trying to turn the world’s human population into monkeys. And the mind still reels at Bugs Bunny and Daffy finding out that the Roswell UFO incident wasn’t a fake.

There’s probably only one man in Hollywood who could meld these shards of plot into a cartoon/live-action movie, and happily, the Warner Brothers hired him. His name is Joe Dante, who made his name in the ’80s directing cartoon-like feature films (GremlinsInnerspace). Dante has probably been licking his chops at the thought of doing a Bugs/Daffy feature ever since he had them do a cameo in Gremlins 2, and he has done himself proud. Even though the original Looney Tunes directors have long since gone to comedy heaven, Dante’s lead “actors” don’t seem to have aged a bit. It’s like finding a newly uncovered Marx Brothers movie.

As for the flesh-and-blood performers, Fraser, Elfman and the rest of the movie’s live actors, they’re admirably good sports, cheerily getting walloped around by hand-drawings. The only sour note is struck by Steve Martin, who overdoes trying to be even more cartoony than the cartoon characters.

In a year filled with typical Hollywood blockbusters, who could have guessed that Finding Nemo and this gem would be the year’s highlights? Some days, a movie viewer feels like Porky in Wackyland.

TOY STORY 3 (2010) – A toy valedictory

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Toy Story 3 was released in June of 2010, just in time to garner Father’s Day box-office, but it would have been more appropriate for high-school graduation day. The movie has an elegiac tone to it – with plenty of the expected laughs, but also with the throat-catching idea that we’re seeing the end of an era for a group of old friends.

And did I just write all teary-eyed about a movie with a “3” in its title? For that, thank the wizards at Pixar, who continue to maintain their standards of high quality and never forget to include a storyline with pulse-pounding heart. In a movie world where every successful trend gets copied to death, why can’t Hollywood pick up on this one?

The story here is that toy-owner Andy is heading off for college, dooming his childhood toys to a drab life in the attic. Most of the toys, including Buzz Lightyear (voiced again by Tim Allen) and cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), brighten up considerably when they hear they might be donated to a day-care center. Loyal cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) advises the toys to stick with Andy’s choice, but the others relish the thought of being endlessly played with. The remainder of the movie dramatically demonstrates the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Along the way, the veterans compete for screen time with new toy characters. These include Lotso (Ned Beatty), a seemingly huggy bear with a dark side that Darth Vader would be proud of; and Ken (of Ken-and-Barbie fame), who has a retro side we’d never imagined, and is voiced by Michael Keaton with all the gusto of a career comeback.

Happily, the old characters get some hilarious new quirks of their own. By itself, the results of switching Buzz Lightyear to Spanish-language mode might have won this movie its Best Cartoon Feature Film Oscar.

Funny thing is, just when you think the movie’s over, it finishes with a valedictorian scene that will have many moviegoers – including your faithful correspondent and his son – blubbering in the aisles. Again, that’s Pixar standing head and shoulders above the mass of indistinguishable CGI stuff. Just try and copy this formula, Hollywood – moviegoers everywhere are begging you.