BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“POPEYE THE SAILOR: THE 1940s, VOLUME 1”
Blu-ray, 1943-45, not rated
Best extra: Nada, zero, zilch
A FEW THINGS about the spinach-packing sailor:
Popeye, who’s known as Iron Arm in Italy and Karl Alfred in Sweden, was introduced in 1929 in “Thimble Theatre,” the comic strip creator E.C. Segar launched a decade earlier in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal.
He first locked horns with “Bluto the Terrible” in 1932.
Starring opposite Betty Boop, he made his silver-screen debut in 1933’s “Popeye the Sailor,” which also introduced his theme song, “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.” That same year, Fleischer Studios kicked off his first cartoon series with “I Yam What I Yam.”
Famous Studios took over production in 1942.
In 1961, Andy Warhol introduced the world to “Pop Art” with a collection that included “Saturday’s Popeye” and Roy Lichtenstein unveiled “Popeye,” one of his first Pop paintings.
Why all the background? Because you don’t get a hint of Popeye’s history in this disappointing 14-cartoon set.
Oh, the picture looks fine (1.37:1 aspect ratio), though folks with really big TVs may question Warner Bros.’ claim that the cartoons were remastered in 4K. But no one will quibble with the color -- the first short, the table-setting “Her Honor the Mare” (1943), was the first that Famous made in Technicolor.
No, Popeye’s Blu-ray debut is a letdown because he deserves better.
In 2007, Warner released the first of an excellent three-set, DVD collection that gathered more than 120 cartoons, beginning with the Fleischer productions, which set a bar that’s never been raised, and included the groundbreaking “Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor” (1936) and the World War II cartoons that reflected the country’s fighting spirit a year after Pearl Harbor but, sadly, don’t pass PC muster today.
Why not remaster those? Presenting them chronologically would provide at least some context. Instead, there’s none, other than a lawyer-approved, cover-our-derriere disclaimer that they were a product of their time.
That’s not to knock “Mare” or “Pitchin’ Woo at the Zoo” or “She-Sick Sailors” or the other cartoons here. They’re funny, but as an introduction, they don’t cut it.
But Warner really dropped the ball by not picking up any of the extras that were included with the DVDs. It would hardly have broken the budget to add a commentary, profile, radio show (the program ran from 1935-38), or one of the retrospective documentaries – maybe “Out of the Inkwell: The Fleischer Story” or “Forging the Frame: The Roots of Animation 1921-1930.”
Popeye was always “strong to the finich.” This set barely makes it out of the gate.
– Craig Shapiro