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With: (voices) Jack Mercer, Mae Questel, Gus Wickie
Written by: Jack Mercer, etc.
Directed by: Dave Flesicher
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 416
Date: 19/03/2013

Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938 Volume 1 (2007)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Spinach Salad

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938 Volume 1 on DVD

At last, after years in the public domain, these great cartoons from Max and Dave Fleischer have been given the masterpiece treatment they deserve. This new four-disc box set from Warner Home Video gets my vote as one of the greatest cartoon DVD sets ever.

During the silent era and in the 1930s, the Fleischers gave Walt Disney a run for his money with their innovative "Out of the Inkwell" series (with Koko the Clown) and their twisted, surreal Betty Boop cartoons. The Popeye cartoons, notably the double-length, full-color extravaganzas Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936) and Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves (1937) easily stack up against Disney's more celebrated efforts of the same period (The Old Mill, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, etc.). But that should not diminish the greatness of the shorter, more regular films, especially the brilliant A Dream Walking (1934) with its astonishing use of perspective and timing. It's surprising how few clunkers are here; each cartoon is as brilliant as the last.

Born in the comic strips ("Thimble Theater," by E.C. Segar) and making the leap to the big screen via a Betty Boop cartoon, Popeye the Sailor (1933), Popeye is arguably the most popular human (i.e. non-animal) cartoon character of all time. His exploits have somehow transcended time, even into a politically correct era in which violence and smoking (that corncob pipe) are frowned upon. (Although most mothers probably still use Popeye to coax little ones to eat their spinach.) It's difficult to measure exactly why it works; perhaps it has to do with Popeye's gruff sense of goodness and his ability to stand up to the ever-present bully Bluto. Or perhaps it's because all of the characters are a little cockeyed: Popeye (voiced by Jack Mercer, who also co-wrote some of the stories) often mutters the funniest lines under his breath; Olive Oyl (voiced by Mae Questel) can be just as fickle and abrasive as she is sweet; and Bluto (voiced by Gus Wickie) is not above putting the heroine in mortal danger when she rebuffs his advances. Even the burger-eating Wimpy has his charms, despite his gluttony and laziness.

After the comic strip, Popeye went through three stages. These early Fleischer cartoons are the best, with their amazingly fluid movements and deep, detailed backgrounds. In 1942, Famous Studios cartoons (at Paramount) took over, using color and slightly different rhythms. Finally, King Features produced several chintzy cartoons for TV in the early 1960s that are not really worth looking at. Warner Home Video presents the first 60 cartoons here -- all Fleischers -- in chronological order (unlike their Looney Tunes sets, which more or less randomly slap together cartoons by theme). Each is a vast improvement over the previous public domain DVDs. Additionally, each disc comes with vast amounts of extras, from commentary tracks to featurettes to bonus cartoons. Here's the breakdown:

1. Popeye the Sailor (1933)
2. I Yam What I Yam (1933)
3. Blow Me Down! (1933)
4. I Eats My Spinach (1933)
5. Seasin's Greetinks! (1933)
6. Wild Elephinks (1933)
7. Sock-a-Bye, Baby (1934)
8. Let's You and Him Fight (1934)
9. The Man on the Flying Trapeze (1934)
10. Can You Take It (1934)
11. Shoein' Hosses (1934)
12. Strong to the Finich (1934)
13. Shiver Me Timbers! (1934)
14. Axe Me Another (1934)
15. A Dream Walking (1934)

Extras: commentaries on selected cartoons by various filmmakers and historians, a 43-minute documentary, I Yam What I Yam: The Story of Popeye the Sailor, various Popeye "Popumentaries" accessible via the episodes menu, and -- best of all -- three early silent cartoons based on other comic strips: Colonel Heeza Liar at the Bat (1915), Krazy Kat Goes A-Wooing (1916) and Domestic Difficulties (1916), with Mutt and Jeff. The main cartoons come with optional English subtitles.

16. The Two-Alarm Fire (1934)
17. The Dance Contest (1934)
18. We Aim to Please (1934)
19. Beware of Barnacle Bill (1935)
20. Be Kind to 'Aminals' (1935)
21. Pleased to Meet Cha! (1935)
22. The 'Hyp-Nut-Tist' (1935)
23. Choose Your 'Weppins' (1935)
24. For Better or Worser (1935)
25. Dizzy Divers (1935)
26. You Gotta Be a Football Hero (1935)
27. King of the Mardi Gras (1935)
28. Adventures of Popeye (1935)
29. The Spinach Overture (1935)
30. Vim, Vigor and Vitaliky (1936)

Extras: commentaries on selected cartoons by various filmmakers and historians, a 30-minute documentary, Forging the Frame: The Roots of Animation 1900-1920, with lots of clips from early Fleischer brothers, Winsor McKay and Felix the Cat cartoons, various Popeye "Popumentaries" accessible via the episodes menu, and three more early silent cartoons: Bobby Bumps Puts a Beanery on the Bum (1918), Feline Follies (1919) with Felix, and The Tantalizing Fly (1919), with Koko the Clown.

31. A Clean Shaven Man (1936)
32. Brotherly Love (1936)
33. I-Ski Love-Ski You-Ski (1936)
34. Bridge Ahoy! (1936)
35. What -- No Spinach? (1936)
36. I Wanna Be a Life Guard (1936)
37. Let's Get Movin' (1936)
38. Never Kick a Woman (1936)
39. Little Swee' Pea (1936)
40. Hold the Wire (1936)
41. The Spinach Roadster (1936)
42. Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936)
43. I'm in the Army Now (1936)
44. The Paneless Window Washer (1937)
45. Organ Grinder's Swing (1937)

Extras: commentaries on selected cartoons by various filmmakers and historians, various Popeye "Popumentaries" accessible via the episodes menu, and six early Fleischer brothers "Out of the Inkwell cartoons with Koko the Clown: Modeling (1921), Invisible Ink (1921), Bubbles (1922), Jumping Beans (1922), Bed Time (1923) and Trapped (1923).

46. My Artistical Temperature (1937)
47. Hospitaliky (1937)
48. The Twisker Pitcher (1937)
49. Morning, Noon and Night Club (1937)
50. Lost and Foundry (1937)
51. I Never Changes My Altitude (1937)
52. I Likes Babies and Infinks (1937)
53. The Football Toucher Downer (1937)
54. Protek the Weakerist (1937)
55. Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves (1937)
56. Fowl Play (1937)
57. Let's Celebrake (1938)
58. Learn Polikeness (1938)
59. The House Builder-Upper (1938)
60. Big Chief Ugh-Amugh-Ugh (1938)

Extras: commentaries on selected cartoons by various filmmakers and historians, various Popeye "Popumentaries" accessible via the episodes menu, and three more, increasingly gorgeous Fleischer "Out of the Inkwell cartoons with Koko the Clown: A Trip to Mars (1924), Koko Trains 'Em (1925) and Koko Back Tracks (1927), plus Let's Sing with Popeye (1934), a two-minute follow-the-bouncing-ball job. There are also trailers for other cartoon sets, including the new "Looney Tunes: The Golden Collection - Vol. 5," and Superman: Doomsday.{subid}&url=hitlist.asp?searchfield=marvel
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