Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, and Wimpy in KING OF THE MARDI GRAS (1935) – All hail Jack Mercer!

King

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

“Oh, I’m king of the Mardi Gras, What’s more, I’m the whole bloomin’ show…” (Sung by Bluto and Popeye at various times in this cartoon)

After years of listening to that “one-eyed freak” warble his theme song, Bluto finally gets a theme of his own (in retrospect, a warm-up for his braggadocio number in Sindbad the Sailor) — only to have Popeye appropriate Bluto’s song, too.

This bit of filching comes about when Bluto and Popeye have neighboring sideshow acts at Coney Island. Bluto has a huge crowd awaiting his exploits; all Popeye has is Wimpy daydreaming and eating a burger.

Popeye, who usually respects others until they get in his personal space, loses a few points here for maliciously sabotaging Bluto in mid-act. In a desperate bid for attention, Bluto is reduced to wrapping a live snake around his neck and muttering, “Don’t anyone wanna see a guy choke to death for free?”

Bluto, of course, tries to take revenge by taking Olive. Olive clambers on to a roller-coaster ride, followed by Bluto and then Popeye, and the Fleischers’ as-usual-astounding animation and perspectives handily prove that the ride wouldn’t pass the most cursory state inspection. Popeye and Bluto soon end up in the same roller-coaster car and are so intent on beating the bejesus out of each other that they don’t even notice they’re a few miles above Earth while they do it.

After getting his usual spinach fix, Popeye’s punches ultimately land Bluto at the wrong end of a carny’s strong-man contest, where his head causes him to hit the bull’s-eye thrice (perhaps as punishment for Bluto’s stealing a box of cigars from a similar carny in Popeye the Sailor [1933]). Olive ends up safely in the arms of Popeye, who temporarily forgets his theme music and melodically declares himself King of the Mardi Gras.

(Trivia: As most Popeye-philes know, this was the first cartoon in which Popeye’s voice was contributed by Jack Mercer. Mercer was a Fleischer animator who imitated Popeye’s previous voice-man, Bill Costello, for his own amusement and was hired to do the real thing when Costello went on an unplanned vacation and was then dismissed. As generations of Popeye fans agree, Mercer definitively passed the audition.)

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

ADVENTURES OF POPEYE (1935) – A “cheater” that doesn’t cheat

AdventuresOfPopeye

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Adventures of Popeye is an example of what came to be known in movie parlance as a “cheater”: a “new” cartoon that nevertheless re-uses footage from older cartoons to cut corners on the budget. As cheaters go, though, this is one of the best. Leave it to the Fleischers not to stint even on a cost-conscious cartoon.

Kid

The movie begins in live action, with a little boy in short pants — labeling himself, at least for 1920’s and ’30s bullies, as a “sissy” — purchasing an “Adventures of Popeye” comic book. As he walks along reading, an older and bigger boy starts picking on him and fighting with him. The bully exits, laughing derisively and leaving his victim in tears.

Even a comic-book Popeye has had all he can stand. He comes to life on the magazine cover and shows the boy how to fight back, via footage from four earlier Popeye cartoons. But again, the Fleischers don’t cop out; they unite the footage seamlessly, even going to the trouble of blending old and new backgrounds and re-recording some of the excerpts’ soundtracks. (The most astounding example is the footage from the debut cartoon Popeye the Sailor [1933], which excerpt includes the mutterings of Jack Mercer, who did not provide Popeye’s cartoon voice until 1935.)

The kid gets the message; he opens up a can of spinach and wolfs it down whole. Ten points to anyone who can guess what happens to the bully.

If all cheaters were this skillfully done, they probably wouldn’t be called cheaters.

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