1942 and The End of the Fleischer Era

SPOTLIGHT: "Kickin' the Conga Round"

With Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl (Olivia Oyla)
Animators: Tom Johnson, George Germanetti

     STORY: Popeye's evening at a nightclub is almost spoiled because he cannot conga.  I think we've all had nights like that.

      Bluto makes a welcome return in Kickin' the Conga Round, a pun on the phrase "Kicking the Gong Around" made famous in the Cab Calloway hit song "Minnie the Moocher".  It's the first time he's been in a Popeye cartoon since the previous year's Fightin' Pals.  He is voiced, as best as I can tell, by impressionist Dave Barry and, with all due credit to Gus Wickie, Barry's take on Bluto's voice may be the best of all time.  Just about every line has some sort of fun inflection that brings scads of personality to Bluto that he never had before.  

     Now Bluto has joined his pal Popeye in the navy, and, while on shore leave, they both visit the dark-skinned Senorita Olivia Oyla. Olivia is Popeye's "goila", as seen by the picture he holds up of her and admires.  Except that it's not a picture, it's actually a mirror, and what he is looking at is a tattoo of Olivia on his chest, which obviously had to be tattooed backwards to be seen the right way in a mirror.  Anything for a gag, I guess.  Olivia Oyl's phone number, as shown by the tatoo, is CONGA 1-2-3.  Of course it is.

     At the Cafe La Conga, everybody congas, even while sitting in their seats. Everybody, that is, except Popeye ("Con-ja?  I can't dance no con-ja!").  Bluto is an expert conga dancer, although the animators' emphasis on his gigantic butt is not for the squeamish.  While Popeye sits and stews at his table, the waiter, while conga-ing, brings him over a fresh can of spinach.  Then Popeye "con-jas" like nobody's business and even beats up Bluto in conga-time. Not a lot of gags, but the expert timing and rhythmic conga music make it a classic anyway.

     In the early and mid 1930s, the song "Brother Love" found its way into many Popeye cartoon soundtracks.  In the 1940s, the animators fell in love with the conga rhythm version of "Popeye the Sailor Man" that is heard when Popeye eats his spinach in this short.  They worked it into several other later shorts, whether it was appropriate or not.  It usually wasn't, which made it funny.


Blunder Below/ Fleets of Strength/ Pip-Eye, Pup-Eye, Poop-Eye and Peep-Eye

     Blunder Below is almost a remake of the first "Popeye in the Navy" cartoon The Mighty Navy.  Once again, Popeye can't do anything right until the enemy shows up.  When this cartoon was released, in February of 1942, Amercia had already been at war with Japan and Germany for four months.  Hence, the enemy in this film is a gross caricature of a Japanese sailor, complete with thick glasses and oversized teeth.  There was more of this type of racial caricature to come in the Popeye cartoons, as well as cartoons (and films) from every other studio in Hollywood.

     Fleets of Strength is one of the best of the Navy comedies, being an almost purely visual feast, as Popeye battles a fleet of enemy planes.

     There aren't a lot of fans who care for Popeye's nephews, and I'm not really a big fan either.  But Pip-Eye, Pup-Eye, Poop-Eye and Peep-Eye (Lord, please don't make me type that again) is fun to watch because of the brilliant musical timing of the climax.  Fun, however, is not "funny".  The animation is a joy to behold, but seeing Pip-Eye, Pup-eye... aw, hell... seeing four miniature versions of Popeye beat the hell out of their uncle is simply not amusing.  So the short is like one of those songs by your favorite band where you can admire the musicianship but not like the melody and lyrics.

     Olive Oyl and Water Don't Mix is a standard generic Navy comedy combined with a standard Popeye Versus Bluto Over Olive Oyl comedy.  Many Tanks has Popeye in the Army, attempting to drive a tank.  It's fast paced and expertly timed, with plenty of bad puns from Popeye, but it's getting a little tiresome to see Popeye portrayed as an incompetent buffoon.

SPOTLIGHT: "Baby Wants a Bottleship"

With: Popeye, Olive Oyl, Swee'pea
Animators: Alfred Eugster, Joseph Oriolo

     STORY: Swee'pea wanders around Popeye's battleship.

      Baby Wants a Bottleship revisits the familiar territory of Little Swee'pea and Lost and Foundry, two previous Swee'pea-centric shorts in which Swee'pea wandered around dangerous areas (a zoo, a factory) blissfully unaware of how many times he was half a second away from a very premature demise.  With some very good visual gags (Olive Oyl's bag opens to reveal almost an entire vanity table instead of just a compact) and several classic Popeyeisms ("Children are more trouble than human beings!"), Baby Wants a Bottleship was one of the best Popeye cartoons of the past two years.

     But that is only one reason why it gets its own spotlight review.  The more important reason is that it represents the end of an era.  For the past several years, Max and Dave Fleischer had been running into financial difficulties, leading to Paramount assuming control of the Fleischer Studios in mid-1941.  The Fleischers remained in charge of the studio for a little while longer, but various troubles lead to the studio's eventual bankrupcy, at which time Paramount got rid of Max Fleischer (Dave had already left for Columbia Studios) and formed Famous Studios.  


"It should happen to Hitler."

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