Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936)

In my zeal to cover Popeye’s adventure with Ali Baba in the second Popeye Color Special, I accidentally overlooked Popeye’s adventure with Sindbad in the first one!

I must say that I feel very remiss for forgetting this short, as on several occasions, I’ve heard it called the best Popeye cartoon ever made. I’ve seen most of them, and I feel inclined to agree!

As with Ali Baba, Sinbad (spelled “Sindbad” in several sources, including this short) came from folklore rooted in Arab, Persian, and Indian oral traditions. As such, I had some trepidation regarding whether or not these Popeye shorts fell within Turban Decay’s purview. Ultimately, the Arabian Nights folklore has become an indelible part of Arab and Persian culture, so I think it belongs here. Besides, I love Popeye and your average American in 2013 would probably misidentify Iran as an Arab country anyway!

In truth, “Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor” really doesn’t give me a lot to work with on the subject of Arabs in cinema. The short plays out like a standard Popeye short—Popeye goes on some outing with Olive and sometimes Wimpy; Bluto kidnaps Olive; Popeye eats spinach, then beats the shit out of Bluto and rescues Olive. Bluto just happens to play an Arab folk hero this time. Unlike when he played Ali Baba, Bluto doesn’t look too different from his usual self. He just wears a slightly Arabian-looking sailor costume and employs Arabian Nights-inspired minions.

He does, unfortunately, still have those minstrel show-looking lips.
With that in mind, I can’t really describe the Arab images in this film in terms of “positive” or “negative.” I can say that this easily stands as one of the better Popeye shorts.

One can tell that Fleischer Studios intended this as a truly “special” short. It marks their first full effort with Technicolor and only their second with any color.1 It has a larger scope than most of the rest of the shorts. Look at these epic-looking shots!

If you watch this shot closely, you’ll see Bluto duck as Rokh smoothly runs right over his head. It almost feels like Fleischer knew someday 76 years later some animation-loving blogger would go through this frame by frame!
Look at the composition in this amazing shot, with animals “below” and “above,” bearing down on the adversaries.
The same animals/monsters somehow look even scarier when they voice their approbation for Sindbad!
With the more epic scope, we see a few elements we don’t usually see in these shorts: namely, Popeye gets other adversaries and Wimpy gets a subplot!

Wimpy interrupts the action to get his hands on some fresh duck.
This short probably ranks among Wimpy’s best appearances. Instead of wishing for a hamburger on the sidelines, we get to see him spend a decent portion of the short trying (and in true old-school cartoon fashion, failing) to catch a duck for dinner.

Olive does not consent to this particular kidnapping.
Olive has good characterization in this short too. She often plays a cookie-cutter damsel in distress, but every once in a while the feisty fulminations that make her such a great foil for Popeye shine right through!

I just love this shot, with Popeye intimidating the lions in the foreground and the live miniature background.
The Stereoptical process had its color debut in this short. It doesn’t look as pretty yet as it would in Fleischer’s other color specials, but I still love the blending of animation and “real” miniatures.

Bluto kicks a dragon into remembering who has the Alpha Male status on this island.
The giant Boola appears to have the upper hand here… if not the upper heads.
Popeye gets ready to settle his affairs with Bluto using the famous “twisker-punch.”
Even for a Popeye short, this one has an unusual amount of violence. Everybody seems to operate on prison rules!

Anyway, I love this short and I can see why Popeye fans routinely rank it among his best. Check it out for yourselves!

1 Fleischer used the two-strip Cinecolor process on the Betty Boop cartoon “Poor Cinderella,” which I recommend alongside all of Fleischer’s Betty Boop cartoons from the days before 1934’s stricter enforcement of the Hays Code.

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