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Category:    Home > Reviews > Animation > Comedy > Action > Shorts > Popeye The Sailor: 1933-1938, Volume One (2007/Warner Home Video)

Popeye The Sailor: 1933-1938, Volume One (2007/Warner Home Video)


Picture: B     Sound: C+     Extras: B+     Main Animated Content: B+



It's been a long time coming but it's worth the wait. Popeye The Sailor: 1933-1938, Volume One finally collects the first sixty Fleischer Studios classic black and white cartoons and the first two two-reel color classics of the one-eyed, spinach-eating sailor.  These cartoons have been heralded as some of the best to come out of the Golden Age of Hollywood.  (Even though The Fleischer Studios where originally located in New York City, which makes them even more special) The Fleischer Popeye's were so popular that in 1936, a poll of film goers and distributors voted Popeye better than Mickey Mouse!


This four disc set is the best package I've ever seen on so many levels.  Being a big fan of Popeye, I've seen these cartoons many times, but never like this!  The restoration of these shorts is unbelievable.  I've never seen these cartoons look so clean and pristine.  It is truly like seeing them for the first time.  The Fleischers, Max and Dave, were true innovators in the early days of animation and invented many of the devices and processes used in making cartoons.  By the time they got the rights to produce these cartoons from King Features Syndicate and Popeye's creator, Elzie Crisler Segar, the Fleischer's had their innovations perfected and showed them off using the popular comic strip character as they brought him to life.  The Fleischer's invented the 3-D process that made Popeye look like he was acting in a realistic setting and the restoration of these shorts show off this process better than ever. In Learn Polikness (Disc Four), the camera pan of Professor Bluteau's studio apartment is beautiful. In "I Never Changes My Altitude" (Disc Four), the airfield looks so real, you could fly a plane right out of there.  There are plenty of examples of this breathtaking effect in this set, but none more-so than the two Color Classics on Discs Three and Four.


In 1936, the Fleischers wanted to do something special with Popeye, so they decided to make a cartoon twice as long and produce it in color.  In what was the first animated feature, "Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor" (not Sinbad, as you may be used to) tells the story of Popeye meeting the legendary sailor, who is played by his old enemy/co-star, Bluto.  The cartoon shows off the Technicolor process (explained below) beautifully as the Fleischer's used a full palette of colors to present this wonderful cartoon.  And the restoration lets you see this as never before (unless you where around to see it when it premiered in 1936).  Sindbad's island is a canvas of pastel colors that reminded me of the way we used to color Easter Eggs.  Sindbad, the giant bird, Rokh, the two-headed Boola and the other creatures of the island never looked so good in their new (original) vibrant colors.  In the cave scene that uses the 3-D-like process of the Fleischer’s famous revolving model table where they mixed animating with live action items, I've never seen it look so clear.  After years of watching bad prints (on tape, DVD and television) and not being able to make out what was in the cave, I (and you) can finally see what Popeye is walking through.


"Popeye The Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves" (1937), the second two reel color special again shows the effects perfected by The Fleischer Studio.  This time Popeye takes on Abu Hassen (Bluto again) and the famous Forty Thieves.  In one of the great 3-D effects scene, Popeye, Olive and Wimpy trek across the desert after crash-landing Popeye's flying ship.  It is so realistic, you can almost feel the heat that they are suffering from.  The town's square where Popeye and crew get something to eat and first meet Abu Hassen is also photo realistic.  The best scene to show off the 3-D process is inside the Thieves' hideout.  Popeye tip-toes through mountains of jewels and treasure that look so real, their sparkles are blinding.


And one of the best features of this set is, for the first time in seventy years, you get to see the original opening and closing credits on these special features.  The music of these specials is equally memorable (as is the music of the black and white shorts). Sindbad's and Abu Hassen's theme songs will replay in your head for days.


Some of my favorite cartoons of the Fleischer/Popeye series are the musical themed shorts.  "The Man on the Flying Trapeze", "Beware of Barnacle Bill", "King of the Mardi Gras" and "The Spinach Overture" are just some of the musical miniatures included in this set.  And the set also features the following memorable tunes, "A Clean Shaven Man", "Brotherly Love", "I Wanna Be a Life Guard" and Wimpy's musical ode to the hamburger in "What - No Spinach?".  And let's not forget Popeye's classic theme song.


The 1.33 X 1 on all the animated shorts are a revelation for certain.  Many of the past copies have been so many generations down, they have missed information (sometimes severely) on all four side of the picture.  The improved headroom and extra information all around in all cases show just how seriously intricate these works are in detail and large shots meant for movie palaces of the past.  The three-strip Technicolor process on the two-reel shorts involved a dye-transfer process where three separate strips of black and white were shot with filters representing the three primary colors.  Then the strips would be synchronized together and create the full color you see here.  The black and white has stunning gray scale and deep blacks.  Both cases suggest these may just be HD transfers from the original camera materials, though better prints did show up on Warner’s Cartoon Network.  Now if only Warner could do the same for the Fleischer Superman animated shorts.  The Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono on each animated short is as clean and clear as monophonic productions of the time could be, though we wished it was 2.0 Mono.  Still, the sound is on the clean side for their age and when added to the amazing picture quality is the best these gems have been seen since the 1940s.


The set’s extras are some of the best I've ever seen produced for a DVD package.  "I Yam What I Yam: The Story of Popeye the Sailor" is a fantastic documentary of our one-eyed hero.  The producers cover every aspect of Popeye's career in comic strips (where he was born), animated cartoons, radio, TV, comic books and the live action feature film.  Animators, voice artists, actors, and historians tell the story of the sailor and why he was a big influence on them and also why Popeye is a true American Pop-culture Icon.  This documentary is thoroughly entertaining.


The documentary on Disc Two, "Forging the Frame: The Roots of Animation 1900 - 1920" is a wonderful history of animation in the silent era.  This special covers all the early days of animation, from the invention of the "zoetrope" to Winsor McKay's "Gertie the Dinosaur" (see our Windsor McCay Collection DVD review elsewhere on this site) to the start of the animation studio system, whether independent or from the major studios themselves.


Each disc includes a set of silent cartoons from all the studios of the era. They include: Colonel Heeza Liar, Krazy Kat, Mutt and Jeff, Bobby Bumps and Feline Follies, the first Felix the Cat cartoon.  There is also a set of the Fleischer's "Out of the Inkwell" series. Koko the Klown, the Fleischer's first cartoon star, is featured here. I loved these, but I wish they would have included some music and sound with them.


Another of the set's extra features are the "Popumentaries".  These documentaries tell the stories of the other cast members of the "Thimble Theatre" comic strip. Olive Oyl, J. Wellington Wimpy, Bluto and Swee'pea are covered here.


"Mining the Strip: Elzie Segar and Thimble Theatre" is the "popumentary" that tells the story of Popeye's creator Elzie Crisler Segar, and his creation and influences of the Thimble Theatre comic strip.  This documentary is every well done, covering Segar's upbringing in his home town of Chester Illinois and the townspeople who inspired the characters who would become Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy.


"Blow Me Down! The Music of Popeye" tells the story of the talented musicians who wrote and scored the music of the Fleischer cartoons.  The bios of Sammy Timberg, Sammy Lerner and Winston Sharples and the influence of the "New York Sound" are told here.


"Popeye in Living Color: A Look At The Color Two Reelers" is a special "popumentary" that covers the making of all three of two reel color specials.  "Popeye the Sailor Meets Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp", the third two reeler, will be included in the Volume Two set.


"Sailor's Hornpipes: The Voices of Popeye" tells the biographies of the men who have given Popeye his distinctive voice.  This wonderful "popumentary" tells the story of Billy Costello, the first voice artist of Popeye, and how he became so famous that he became impossible to work with.  Jack Mercer, the true voice of Popeye and the man who performed him the longest.  The story of how he became Popeye's voice is one of Hollywood legend.  (I've often said that Mercer was the heart and soul of Popeye in animation, because not only did he give the sailor his voice, but he wrote a lot of Popeye's cartoons and he could draw him as well.)  One of the most fascinating stories of this documentary is how Mae Questel, the voice of Olive Oyl, did the voice of Popeye for a few of the cartoons when Mercer was drafted into service in World War Two.


As I mentioned before, the picture quality of these restored cartoons is superb.  This is absolutely the best presentation of any animation DVD package I've ever seen.  It is astounding how beautifully these cartoons cleaned up after years of decay.  I can't wait to see the future volumes of this series when they do the Technicolor cartoons of the Famous Studios era.  (Famous Studios took over after the Fleischers lost their contract with Paramount Pictures, their distributor, while the brothers had a falling out when the studio relocated to Florida).  The sound is well done also, although the quality seems to vary from cartoon to cartoon.


Popeye The Sailor: 1933 - 1938, Volume One is a must have for any fan of classic theatrical cartoons or if you like well made, fun and funny cartoons.  The Fleischer Popeye's are some of the best cartoons ever made and this set shows these in the best way since they were originally played seventy years ago.  And if you are as big a fan of Popeye as I am, you won't be disappointed!



-   Marc Greisinger



For more on Popeye, try these links to our previous DVD coverage:


Popeye: 75th Anniversary Collector's Edition (1960 – 61/Koch)



Popeye The Sailor Man - 75th Anniversary Collector's Edition  (VCI/Fleischer animated set)




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