Popeye Holiday Cartoons

For The Popeye Blogathon, I’ve decided to review four holiday cartoons. Why did I choose the holidays as a theme? Because it gives me a unifying theme that allows me to talk about Popeye cartoons from different eras.

Popeye originally started out as a character in E.C. Segar’s comic strip, Thimble Theatre. He became popular enough that he was adapted into his own theatrical cartoon series that also proved to be popular, putting him in the same league with Disney’s Mickey Mouse. Since then, Popeye has had multiple incarnations, but in order to keep things simple, I’ve decided to limit it to productions during the Golden Age of Animation.

The Golden Age of Animation basically refers to the era where theatrical cartoons remained a regular feature in theaters. There’s some debate as to when it truly ended, though usually the 1960s and early 1970s are cited as approximate end dates. The Popeye theatrical cartoon series lasted until 1957, though a series of television cartoons were also made in the early 1960s, so I decided to include that as well, even though it wasn’t released theatrically. So, without further ado, let’s look at various stages in Popeye’s animation career.

Seasin’s Greetinks! (1933)

This is among the earliest of the Fleischer Brothers Popeye cartoons. It opens with Popeye coming to Olive Oyl’s to bring her a Christmas gift: a pair of blades to wear on her feet as ice skates. From then on, the action takes place entirely on the ice. Like most first-time skaters, Olive Oyl constantly falls down and has to be helped by Popeye. It is around this time that we’re first introduced to Bluto, and they make certain that you hate him from the beginning. When we’re first introduced to him, he’s on a sleigh moving through the snow. When the snow clears, it’s revealed that rather than having several large dogs pull him, he’s only having one small dog pulling him! It gets to a point where the dog briefly turns into a series of hot dogs!


Bluto, of course, causes trouble with Olive Oyl and Popeye gives him an appropriate beating. Then, Olive suddenly falls over and breaks the ice. Popeye laughs at her and Olive Oyl gets so mad that she leaves him. She once again rejects Bluto’s advances and he decides to cut the ice that she’s on. We next see Popeye, who is making a broken heart in the snow, which I don’t entirely understand. When he was laughing at her, he didn’t seem to notice at all that she was leaving, yet suddenly he’s upset about this breakup, despite not knowing about the split?


Popeye jumps over broken ice in what amounts to a pretty thrilling chase. One gag I love is when Popeye saves Olive Oyl. She’s all excited to be saved while he’s grabbing her, and as soon as he gets her off the ice, she faints, almost as though she’s on cue. It wouldn’t be a Popeye cartoon, though, if he didn’t eat his famous can of spinach. Unfortunately, it’s kind of forced here. Bluto tries to drop a snowball on them, but ends up falling himself. Popeye eats his spinach and beats up Bluto, but considering how idiotic Bluto was in his fall, it’s clear that he didn’t even really need the spinach for this situation. Regardless, though, the ending is happy and we’re even treated to a nice Christmas variation on the ending theme.

This situation didn’t call for spinach!

Even this early on, the basic Popeye-Olive Oyl-Bluto formula was pretty well established, though it still comes off as a bit primitive. Even though there are some nice visual gags, the voice work needed improvement. While William Costello does have the actual Popeye voice itself down, he lacks the wit that Jack Mercer would later have. As a matter of fact, the famous mutterings of the characters are at a minimum here, and it doesn’t help that Bluto and especially Olive Oyl’s voices are rather generic. Overall, this is a pretty fun cartoon with some good gags, though it’s not quite as good as the Popeye cartoons that would follow shortly afterwards.

8 out of 10

Let’s Celebrake (1938)

Now we’ve got a Popeye cartoon during the golden period, when the cartoons were more fun and featured the famous trio of Jack Mercer, Mae Questel, and Gus Wickie as Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto respectively. This one takes place during New Year’s Eve, and believe it or not, it actually starts with both Popeye and Bluto riding together to Olive Oyl’s house, both apparently agreeing to take out Olive Oyl on the same night and with no qualms about it. We’re first introduced to Olive Oyl and the first thing we see is her tripping over the rug. Thankfully, this is the only gag based on Olive Oyl’s clumsiness, unlike in Seasin’s Greetinks! where several gags are based off of this and it gets kind of repetitive.

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. They’re actually friends in this cartoon.

The situation this time revolves around Olive Oyl’s seemingly senile grandmother. Not wanting to leave her alone on Christmas, Popeye decides that he will take her out with them to the New Year’s Eve party they’re attending, making him a lot more likable than he was in Seasin’s Greetinks!. This also leads to a slight competition between the two pairs of Bluto and Olive Oyl and Popeye and the grandmother. Wimpy sets up a dancing competition and Bluto sets out to upstage Popeye. The spinach angle is used much better here. Popeye feeds the spinach both to himself and Olive’s grandmother, which gives the grandmother a lot more energy, and they close off with an outlandish dance number. While this isn’t exactly thrilling like some of the other Popeye finales, including Seasin’s Greetinks!, the fun that the animators seemed to be having with this animated sequence really shines through, and the song playing in the background is pretty good too.

The closest we’ll get to seeing Santa in this cartoon.

This cartoon feels more polished, thanks in part to the improved voice talents. Jack Mercer, in particular, had a great way of livening up a slightly less visually interesting scene by making funny comments on the movements, such as when he is helping the grandmother get out of her chair and complains that her chair is the problem. He even does a nice little musical number during one of these utterances (although it’s really more like humming). Much like in most of these cartoons, the other funny moments come from exaggerated body movements, and the party setting with a full crowd and band gives the cartoon a nice atmosphere that contributes to the New Year’s theme. This is definitely the best of these Popeye holiday cartoons.


10 out of 10

Mister and Misletoe (1955)

Next up we have a cartoon from the (not) Famous era of Popeye cartoons. To their credit, Famous Studios did actually start off pretty well with their versions of the Popeye cartoons, especially since they retained much of the same staff. However, this was made towards the end of the Popeye theatrical run and the changes are sadly obvious. Long gone are the exaggerated body movements and ad-libbing on the voice actors’ parts, though the cartoon still manages to throw in some fun slapstick gags, even if it pales in comparison to the original cartoons.


The cartoon takes place at Olive Oyl’s house. It opens up with Olive Oyl and Popeye talking to his triplet nephews (because that hasn’t been done before, right?). Actually, their roles are pretty small in this cartoon. The plot in this one involves Bluto pretending to be Santa in an attempt to get rid of Popeye and spend Christmas with Olive Oyl himself. A lot of the gags here rely on Popeye’s ignorance. It takes him a while to get the hint that “Santa” is actually trying to hit on Olive Oyl. Even in a blatantly obvious scene where Bluto puts up Christmas lights with Olive Oyl, Popeye is more concerned about decorating the tree. When the ruse is revealed, Popeye eats his spinach and takes out Bluto with one punch.

Popeye finally seems to notice something about “Santa.”

Popeye is very cheerful throughout this cartoon, even when his nephews reveal that they know he’s dressed as Santa at the very end, and this does fit in with the Christmas theme of this cartoon. However, Popeye does feel a bit too domesticated at this point. Most of the action takes place in a small setting and there isn’t much room for particularly good visuals. Still, the timing on some of the gags is alright, like when Popeye gets knocked into the lake or when he gets hurt by the electric train. For the serious Popeye fans, this probably is not one that would hold too much of your attention, though casual fans and little kids will probably like it just fine.


6 out of 10

Spinach Greetings (1960)

Oh, boy. This is from the 1960s Popeye TV series. I must emphasize that this is from a TV series, because most early animated television cartoons had to rely on an animation technique called limited animation, in which the number of drawings in a cartoon were limited. Some cartoons made up for this with clever writing, notably Rocky and Bullwinkle. Unfortunately, the Popeye TV cartoons did not have this and what we end up with are cartoons that are not funny and not fluid in their animation.

The cartoon begins with Popeye reciting the story of The Night Before Christmas to Swee’ Pea. Almost immediately the problems with the animation are obvious. As Popeye is telling his story, the only things you see moving are his mouth and pipe, so what you essentially get is a still drawing that happens to have some mouth movement. Even Olive Oyl and Wimpy are completely static during this scene.

Not a creature was stirring. Not even Olive Oyl or Wimpy.

We’re then introduced to the Sea Hag, a character who appeared in the Popeye comic strips but not in the theatrical cartoons. She has a pretty good voice and I think it’s nice that they finally decided to put her in animation. I just wish it had been in a better cartoon adaptation. The Sea Hag decides to kidnap Santa because she hates how Christmas brings happiness.


Popeye assumes the Sea Hag is behind this and goes to free Santa. The Sea Hag sends her bird after Popeye which leads to a thrilling fight...that we never see. Another technique used in early television cartoons was for anything even remotely violent, such as a character falling or getting into a fight, to not be shown on screen. Instead, we would simply hear sound effects while focusing visually on something else, usually a reaction shot, and it would cut to the results of what we just heard. This method both saved money and alleviated parental group concerns about violence. Unfortunately, it’s a real letdown visually, especially for an already-established franchise like Popeye. All we get is a brief shot of the bird knocking into Popeye. Popeye then turns the bird into a roasted turkey and a bunch of alligators into suitcases offscreen. Popeye saves a very generic Santa who barely speaks in the cartoon and that’s the end of it.

This might be funny if we could actually see him attack the bird!

Is there anything good about this cartoon? I kind of like the gag of Wimpy grabbing the turkey, and the drawings aren’t the worst things I’ve ever seen. This is pretty bad. On the one hand, this is the most holiday-themed of the cartoons, especially since there is an actual Santa in this cartoon, but it’s also the most generic. The other cartoons use the setting mostly for atmosphere, while still managing to show some creative gags to varying success. This one just feels like it’s using the Christmas theme as an excuse, solely to get away with bad writing and lazy animation. Ugh...don’t even bother wasting your time with the 1960s series.

2 out of 10

Special thanks to Steve Bailey for allowing me to take part in The Popeye Blogathon. If you want to see the other entries in the blogathon, click on the banner below and it will lead you to a list of the participants and their entries.

https://moviemovieblogblog.wordpress.com/2018/09/28/the-popeye-blogathon-is-here/

Comments

  1. Thank you so much for contributing this to the blogathon! The holiday theme is a good connector, and you perfectly covered the era of each cartoon. (I quite agree that the '60s TV cartoons are not worth the bother.)

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  2. Awesome post, I really love old cartoons about the holidays and all tho its still september after reading about Let’s Celebrake I just might have to look into that one this weekend. Thanks to this Blog-hop I'm in full Popeye mode! Have a good day.

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  3. I really enjoyed this article about the sublime and the ridiculous as Popeye dealt with the holidays. Such longevity of a character is to be applauded. I wonder what the future holds for the sailor man.

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    Replies
    1. Sony was planning an animated feature a few years ago, though to my knowledge it's been scrapped. Thanks for commenting!

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