Saturday, February 18, 2006


You can take many of the Popeye-Bluto shorts that Famous produced in the 50's and break them down this way:
  1. Popeye and Bluto are rivals in some sort of industry or vocation.
  2. The rivalry intensifies with the involvement of a potential customer, usually Olive Oyl.
  3. Things grow increasingly out of hand and overly destructive and violent.
  4. Popeye is subdued in some fashion by Bluto.
  5. He eats spinach to gain a power edge over Bluto and defeats the villain.
  6. Popeye is victorious, and gets the spoils and/or the girl.
You can, quite correctly, point out that many of the original Fleischer cartoons were based somewhat around this same formula; after all, it had to start somewhere. All cartoon series have some form of successive formula from film to film, or at least, distinctive character traits that get used repeatedly from film to film. This is to be expected. But not all of the Fleischers' were based on this basic formula; and even in the more rote entries in the early series, there was far more imagination and wit at play than in the Famous productions.

For instance, I offer up the middling effort called Taxi-Turvy, released by Famous in 1954. Popeye and Bluto are rival taxi drivers; when Popeye idles at a taxi stand waiting for a fare, Bluto just has to knock his car out of the way and then threaten Popeye with bodily harm. An elderly fare arrives, and though Popeye gets him first, Bluto tears Popeye's cab in twain by tying its rear bumper to a hydrant, and then escorts the gentleman into his own cab. Popeye putts down the road on two wheels as Bluto passes him with Popeye's old fare. Popeye then welds his cab back together with his multi-purpose pipe.

Olive Oyl then appears looking for a cab to take her to "23 Skidoo Street". Popeye has first crack at her, but Bluto swiftly steals her away. Popeye's cab jacks up to three times its original height, drives over the top of Bluto's ride, and then Popeye climbs down and moves Olive back to his cab. The boys spar back and forth like this a couple of minutes, with Olive practically becoming nothing more than a ragdoll being torn, stretched and tossed from rival to rival. The girl takes an enormous amount of punishment due to their efforts, from crashing through (and becoming) a traffic turn signal to receiving enormous amounts of electricity from grabbing a train voltage line.

Eventually, it all comes down to Bluto jackhammering Popeye into the ground (as a convenient can of spinach pops out from Popeye's chest) and then making off with Olive. Popeye makes an effort to suck the spinach from the can through his pipe, but, in the only good line in the cartoon, Bluto returns to swipe the can, bellowing, "Oh, no! You ain't eatin' no spinach in this picture!" Bluto and Olive take off in the cab, but are instantly plowed into by the train, sending the pair flying high into the air, and allowing the spinach can to land on top of Popeye's noggin, open and ready for eating by the crash. The picture ends with Bluto being stuffed into the smokestack of a train, with his face reddening and expanding from the smoke (how it is entering his body I don't want to know), as Popeye rides off with Olive.

There is very little of consequence here, though as usual with the Famous product, the animation is fine, though I have always had a problem with the lazy design on the later Popeye films. What I miss mainly from the original series are the muttered asides that all of the characters, not just Popeye, would emit during their adventures. Because the soundtracks were synched to the films after the animation was completed in the Fleischer's product, Jack Mercer, Mae Questel and the rest were allowed tremendous latitude with their utterances; many of my favorite moments from those films come from things that Popeye says under his breath, whether reactionary statement or outright insulk, er, insult. It is just this sort of thing that is missing from the Famous films, and with this trait gone, so is much of the charm. Though, a Popeye film is still a Popeye film, so I understand why a certain portion of people enjoy these later films from Famous.

I understand it, but I won't accept it. It's like preferring the latest three Star Wars films over the original trilogy. Some of the people are like this because they have never been introduced properly to the originals. They are usually quite young, will eventually mature and see the films, and realize the error of their misinformed ways. The rest of the people who maintain that position, like the people who maintain that the Famous Popeyes are the Popeyes, well... they're idiots.

Taxi-Turvy (Famous Studios/Paramount, 1954) Dir: Seymour Kneitel
Cel Bloc Rating: 5

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