|I literally could not find a better cover image. Ugh.
More than anything else about this short, I found its handling of race most noticeable. Relative to the other Popeye shorts, this short’s racism manifests somewhat differently. Unlike the other color specials, this one actually casts Popeye as an Arab…
|At least I think so from the fez and the slippers.
|Here, we can’t even identify his Arabian Nights inspiration aside from his turban.
|The Grand Vizier may have a broken hand.
This idea, in fact, recurs throughout the history of fiction set in the Middle East: the protagonists look whiter and more European; the antagonists have pointed facial hair, darker skin, sibilant voices, and what Jack Shaheen describes as “bulbous noses and sinister eyes.”1 Look at this shot of the Arab countrymen in this short…
|Popeye looks Nordic; the other Arabs have bulbous/hooked noses and several lack teeth.
None of the Arab caricatures sat well with me, but nevertheless, the Arabs don’t get the most invidious imagery in this film.
|Princess Olive and her silent, subservient racial caricature guard.
|The wacky blue genie spontaneously creates a servile, stereotypical blackface character.
In general, I really like this film, but it doesn’t work as well as its predecessors. The Stereoptical process that makes the other cartoons look so distinctive doesn’t seem to show up in this short at all (although the studio acknowledges the process in the title credits). We still see some pretty background paintings, though.
|These Arabian Nights films sure love to employ nighttime imagery… probably because of the title.
|However onerous the imagery, the gorgeous, painterly style of this shot reminds me of The Triplets of Belleville.
|And this gag would become funny for a whole different reason decades later.
|Olive and I have more in common than I thought.
At least the studio’s work survives to the present day, including this very cartoon, which you can and should watch here…
1 Shaheen, Jack G. Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. Northampton, MA: Olive Branch, 2009. Print. Page 57.