If Max and Dave Fleischer only
had the budget,
they could have made a superb Popeye feature film. As it is,
Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor is pretty
Popeye Meets Sinbad, like the other color Popeye two-reelers, has been available for years in public domain releases of various quality, but now fully restored on DVD, it looks absolutely stunning. Needless to say, it being a Fleischer Popeye film, it also looks like nothing else from 1930s animation. The backgrounds, as superbly detailed in color as they always were in black and white, are rendered in soft pastels (just as the black and white backgrounds were often a little fuzzy), allowing the brightly colored characters, animals and monsters to stand out against them. The Fleischer also make excellent use of their Rotograph, a mechanical turntable device where models were placed in front and behind the animation cells and lighted to create foregrounds and backgrounds that actually move in perspective as characters walk through the scene. The Rotograph is reserved only for a small handful of scenes, while the rest of the film is in traditional two-dimensions. But the way the Fleischers were not hesitant about placing animated elements and action on any axis of space in a film frame, the jumps from "3D" to 2D are not especially jarring.
While these two-reelers would seem to demand a longer story than the usual Popeye cartoon, what we get is merely a variation of the standard Popeye story - Bluto, or in this case Sinbad as played by Bluto, abducts Olive Oyl, and Popeye rescues her and kicks Bluto's butt in the process, with the help of spinach. To stretch things out, Sinbad/Bluto gets an opening scene on his island in which he sings his own theme song. Gus Wickie, the baritone who was most often the voice of Bluto up to his death in 1938, makes the most out of this five minute sequence, and even as various elaborately animated creatures pop in and out of the frame, Wickie's commanding voice, coupled with one or two grotesque closeups, keep us focused on the film's heavy. Two main monsters are introduced in this scene before we even meet Popeye. First is Boola, the two-headed giant, whose heavy accent makes him (they?) seem like he came to Sinbad's island thinking it was Ellis Island. The second monster is Rokh, a giant bird who does Sindbad's bidding, such as sinking Popeye's ship and stealing away Olive Oyl. While the animation throughout this two-reeler is always magnificent, the scenes with the gigantic Rokh are something extra-special.
As always, it is fun to listen to the cast ad-lib their way through scenes in which their characters mouths never move - only the Fleischers would invest so much money in a Technicolor cartoon and then let their voice artists have a stream of consciousness field day. Then again, throughout most of 1936, in shorts like What - No Spinach and Let's Get Movin', Jack Mercer, Mae Questel, Gis Wickie and even the unknown voice artist behind Wimpie proved themselves to be inspired dialogue creators.
Popeye Meets Sinbad is what it is: a Popeye special, beautiful to watch and study, and thoroughly entertaining even without being stuffed to the sprockets with gags.