For successful transfer from funny papers to movie screen, Popeye certainly takes the cake… or spinach quiche if you prefer. In 1929 Elzie Segar introduced the squinty sailor in his pre-existing comic strip “Thimble Theatre.” and Bam! — an instant hit. Just four years later the character became a major movie star overnight, thanks to the wonderful cartoons produced by Max Fleischer and directed by his brother Dave.
The Fleischers never tried to imitate the long curlicue narratives of the Popeye’s newsprint existence, but the animators borrowed a lot from the original, including Segar’s flavorful cast of characters (Wimpy, Poopdeck Pappy, the Jeep, the Goons, et al. )
Today’s Comic Strip Week installment is a classic from 1936, “Popeye with Little Swee’ Pea”, the first onscreen appearance of the tough little baby, Swee’ Pea. In the funnies, Swee’ Pea was Popeye’s adopted son, but the animated versions were always a little vague about the kid’s exact relationship to everybody else. In the cartoons, his big claim to fame seems to be his indestructibility — Swee’ Pea is always crawling through factories, state fairs and such, miraculously escaping injury, while our man, Popeye takes a shellacking trying to ‘protect’ the tyke. Same deal here, only this time they’re at a zoo.
Man, I love the way Popeye moves in these old cartoons!. When they brought our nautical hero to life, those folks at Fleischers invented some of the goofiest walk and run cycles in animation history. He’s got a great strut early in the film (with an odd little quick-shuffle to accent the rhythm of the music he’s humming.) But when Popeye ‘runs’ in these early films, he employs an arm pumping, two feet at a time hop that’s the damnedest thing you’ve ever seen! (And, hey, don’t those 3-D backgrounds look great?)
Tomorrow ReFrederator goes to super heroic lengths to deliver a cartoon classic!