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.

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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?[

 

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.)

Postscript to the ‘ONE’ OF MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE MOVIES BLOGATHON

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Just wanted to acknowledge that the final entry in the ‘One’ of My All-Time Favorite Movies Blogathon managed to come through, despite her ill health. Phyllis Loves Classic Movies posted her entry for Mickey’s Gala Premiere late last night. Please click here to read it! And thanks again to her and all of the other entrants for all of their wonderful blog entries for making the blogathon such a success!

Wrapping up the ‘ONE’ OF MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE CARTOONS BLOGATHON

It looks as though we had a no-show for the blogathon…but that’s all right, because we also had a may-I-show-at-the-last-minute, and that more than made up for it. So let’s take a final bow with

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We were happy to see Tom & Jerry represented in the blogathon by Dell on Movies, who gave us his angle on the cartoon Jerry’s Cousin. (If you missed this entry, click on the blog’s name, above, to link to it.)

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And 365 Days 365 Classics took a look at Chuck Jones’ fantasy about some drunken musical notes, High Note.

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We want to thank all of the talented and enthusiastic bloggers who gave their time and energy to this blogathon, as well as those who stopped by to read the entertaining entries. You all made the ‘thon a smashing success, and we might just take up one blogger’s suggestion to make this subject an annual tradition. And now, to coin a phrase…

ThatsAllFolks

Daffy Duck in THE SCARLET PUMPERNICKEL (1950) – In like Flynn

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The following is my second of two entries in the Swashathon!, being hosted by the blog Movies Silently from Nov. 7-9, 2015. Click on the above banner, and read blog entries about a wide variety of swashbuckling adventures throughout the history of movies!

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(WARNING: Spoilers abound)

Legendary Warner Bros. cartoon director Chuck Jones said that Bugs Bunny is who he wished he could be, but Daffy Duck was more like he really was. The Scarlet Pumpernickel (an obvious play on the original hero-with-a-secret-identity, The Scarlet Pimpernel) is Daffy doing his heroic best — not quite making the grade, but soldiering on nevertheless. The schlump-in-a-hero-costume bit worked so well that Jones let Daffy similarly demolish other genres in the hysterical cartoons Drip-Along Daffy (Western, 1951) and Duck Dodgers in the 24th-1/2 Century (science fiction, 1953).

The story begins with a long tracking shot through a movie lot (presumably Warner Bros.). We hear both the strains of the song “Hooray for Hollywood” and the voice of someone shrieking about being murdered. The camera finally settles on Daffy, complaining to his studio boss “J.L.” (an obvious potshot at WB boss Jack L. Warner, whom Jones claims never realized he was being satirized in the cartoon).

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Daffy loudly gripes about being typecast in nutty comedies and begs J.L. for a dramatic role. Before J.L. can stammer out a refusal, Daffy hauls out a self-written script (nearly as tall as he is) and begins proudly reading “The Scarlet Pumpernickel, by Daffy Dumas Duck.” Daffy intones, “‘Chapter 1, Once upon a time’ – Great opening, huh?” (Yes, for a book!)

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From there, the cartoon segues into the story proper (if that’s the word for it) about the titular hero, a crafty British highwayman whose deftness defies any threat of capture by the gang of the Lord High Chamberlain (Porky Pig!). The Lord plots to marry off his daughter, the fair maiden Melissa, to the evil Grand Duke (Sylvester the Cat), in order to draw out The Scarlet Pumpernickel, and then…

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Well, you can pretty well figure out where the plot is going from here. What you’re probably asking yourself is, how did Porky Pig and Sylvester come to be threatening figures in a macho swashbuckler? The answer is that Chuck Jones decided that if he was going to make an all-out epic, he ought to use every character he could from the Looney Tunes repertory company. (The all-star cast, above, clockwise from left: Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Sylvester, Daffy, Henery Hawk, Mama Bear from Jones’ Three Bears “trilogy,” and the fair maiden Melissa.)

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I hate to even give away the rest of the delicious (parody-)plot. Suffice to say, Jones and his story writer Michael Maltese have great fun with the swashbuckling genre in general. The cartoon is filled with lovely, mock-dramatic high-angle and shadowy shots, outright references to Errol Flynn (although Flynn played Robin Hood, not the Pimpernel) and, in at least one case, a direct “quote” from one of the Zorro movies.

My only warning about this otherwise wonderful cartoon is that it has quite the unhappy ending. I mean, for crying out loud, it’s definitely the only swashbuckler movie that has the nerve to end with its village-setting suffering from a recession!

(Sadly, I cannot get the cartoon to post on my blog, but you can click here to view it for free online. Also, if you’ve enjoyed this entry, please click here to read my first Swashathon! entry about Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in The Mark of Zorro.)