Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in KICKIN’ THE CONGA AROUND (1942) – Dance, fools, dance!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

On shore leave in South America, sailors Popeye and Bluto compete for the affections of one Olivia Oyla. Ay carumba!

Something about sassy music seemed to inspire the Fleischers. This one’s a gem from the start, with Popeye and Bluto shaking their thangs with as much liberty as great animation will allow. The cartoon is peppered throughout with superb throwaway gags, from Bluto’s photographic memory, to the “CENSORED” sign that briefly covers a Latin dancer’s suggestive region.

When they get to the local cafe, Popeye claims he “can’t dance no conjure.” But when Bluto rudely steps in, Popeye downs the requisite can of spinach, and it’s Morning, Noon and Nightclub all over again. The ending is novel, too — instead of Olive getting her men, the local military police nab them instead, for trying to start a riot — which they do, at least for the happy cartoon-viewer. An absolute hoot.

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

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

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in BLOW ME DOWN! (1933) – Popeye unchained

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

You gotta love any Popeye cartoon that starts with our hero commandeering a small whale as though it was a ship. (When Popeye reaches port, the whale even helpfully extends its back from himself to shore, staircase style.)

We soon find that Popeye has come to a small Mexican town, full of bandits who’d love to intimidate Popeye, except he’s more ornery than they are. (One of them flashes a toothy, smug smile at Popeye, who promptly turns it into Chiclets.)

Popeye has bought a “bouquet” (apparently a Mexican word meaning “a single flower”) for his “petunia” Olive Oyl, who’s a saloon dancer here. What she lacks in talent, she makes up in improvisation; when two spittoons accidentally get stuck to her feet, she dances with them still stuck on.

Into the saloon walks Bluto the Bandit, whose chaotic gunfire scare everyone out of the saloon except Popeye. Just to let Popeye know who he’s dealing with, Bluto helpfully stares at a nearby “Wanted” poster of himself (which helpfully stares right back at him).

Bluto tries to intimidate Popeye with his fancy shooting, but then Popeye chews up Bluto’s gun and spits out makeshift bullets. Bluto calls in some reinforcements, but when Popeye pulls out the spinach even before the seventh-inning stretch, we figure Bluto ought to get out while he’s behind.

Bluto tries to steal Olive, and naturally he doesn’t get very far with that either. Her cries for help cause Popeye to come bashing through her door (which quickly reassembles itself, out of courtesy I guess), only to find Olive using a club to play a variation of “The Anvil Chorus” on Bluto’s skull. So what’s to save?

For a big finish, Popeye gives Bluto a punch that literally knocks him around the world. For some reason, this isn’t too surprising.

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

Popeye and Olive Oyl in A DATE TO SKATE (1938) – Squeals on wheels

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Popeye and Olive Oyl are out on a date when they come across a skating rink with another of those silly Fleischer come-on signs: “Good Skates, 50 Cents – Cheap Skates, 25 Cents.” Much to Olive’s reluctance, Popeye offers to teach her how to skate.

The first obstacle at the rink is when the clerk asks for Olive’s shoe size. The camera does a priceless pan across Olive’s elongated tootsies as she mutters, “I’ll take a three-and-a-half, but an eight feels so good.” (Do they come in sixteens?) Popeye demonstrates his courtly charm by pounding the skates onto Olive’s feet in the same way he did his work in Shoein’ Hosses.

Once they get on the rink, the animators have a field day. Watching surprisingly smooth Popeye and gawky Olive go through their motions — is this the same couple who danced so fluidly in Morning, Noon and Night Club? — is a cinematic pleasure right up there with Charlie Chaplin’s The Rink. And after seeing three people pass for a crowd in Let’s Celebrake, it’s a treat to see the lavish, fully realized skating rink in which Popeye and Olive contort.

The rink’s fun doesn’t last for long, though, because Popeye accidentally knocks Olive out of the rink, and she goes skating for her life through city streets. Popeye can’t find his day-saving can of spinach (never leave home without it!), so he asks the movie audience if there’s any to spare, and a moviegoer helpfully throws him a can. (Is that what it cost to get into a movie theater in 1938?)

Popeye and Olive spend about ten miles skating within a breath of each other before they finally crash. Popeye asks if she’s hurt, and with a kid’s enthusiasm, she replies: “Let’s do it again!”

Utterly charming, and with nary a Bluto in sight.

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

Popeye and Olive Oyl in STRONG TO THE FINICH (1934) – Popeye serves super-spinach

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Olive Oyl runs a “health farm for children.” Olive and Popeye try to serve spinach to the kids, but they’re sick of it, and Popeye can’t convince them it’s good for their health. So he turns into Johnny Spinach-Seed, spreading spinach everywhere and making plants and animals bulk up. (Hey, are their steroids in that stuff?)

When one of the kids feeds spinach to a couple of emaciated cows, they turn into huge bulls and terrorize the kids. Popeye gets his fix of the green stuff, knocks out the bulls, and inspires the kids to eat their spinach. Soon enough, they’re miniature Popeyes tearing apart the countryside (was that what Popeye hoped to achieve?).

Another entry that’s more funny/cute than funny/ha-ha. Lock those kids up before they form a gang.

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

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto in I WANNA BE A LIFEGUARD (1936) – When it comes to lifeguards, summer better than others

IWannaBeALifeGuard

(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The community pool needs a life guard. Two locals (ahem) look through the peephole in the pool’s fence, see Olive Oyl doing a belly-flop, and decide that this is the bathing beauty they have to impress. (Eye of the beholder and all that.)

So Popeye and Bluto are allowed to compete for the job. If the vote was strictly based on their rendition of the title tune, Popeye (complete with “Mammy!” finish) would win in an instant, but Olive jeers at Popeye because of his old-fashioned bathing suit (and she’s the looker, so she should know).

The typical Popeye-and-Bluto whizzing contest is enhanced by the Fleischers’ as-always-stunning back- and fore-grounds, and elaborate swim stunts, most of which would put your local lifeguard to shame. At cartoon’s end, Popeye is the lifeguard, having turned Bluto into a human fountain after duking it out with him underwater.

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

Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, and Wimpy in MORNING, NOON AND NIGHTCLUB (1937) – Feets of strength

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

“Popito” and “Olivita” are nightly dancers at Wimpy’s Café. Bluto gets his kicks by punching in Popeye’s face from ads posted all over town. (Bluto heartily confesses, “I never did like that guy!” We never would have guessed.)

Bluto waits at Olive’s stage door and tries to pick her up (“What a sweet momma!” he touchingly declares), but Olive snubs him, so Bluto decides…wait for it…to get revenge.

Olive’s opening number is “Why Am I So Beautiful?”, which convinces us that Olive can sabotage her own act quite well without Bluto’s help. Then comes the dance duet (far superior to Olive’s solo). When Bluto’s machinations fail to ruin the act, Bluto pushes Olive aside and dances with Popeye himself. (One gets the impression that these guys are beating on each other to cover up how much they really enjoy dancing together.) Once Popeye downs the spinach, he gets happy feet, which he promptly uses to kick Bluto’s butt (literally).

Something about music just revs these cartoons up. Beautifully animated and scored.

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