The third volume in the series contains the remaining 32 black-and-white Popeye cartoons, 18 by Fleischer Studios and 14 by Famous Studios after Paramount took over and fired the Fleischer brothers. The change of creative heads is very apparent, and not always for the better. There are also less special features in this collection, so while this two-disc set still has enjoyable moments, it would be better left to completists as the previous two volumes offered more laughs.
The adventures and style of the Popeye cartoons change over the course of the shorts collected here. From “The Mighty Navy” onward, Popeye is most-often seen wearing Navy whites. Understandably as WWII raged and the United States became involved, Popeye fought less frequently with Bluto over the fair hand of Olive Oyl and tackled the Axis powers.
In fact, in “Seein’ Red, White ‘N’ Blue,” Popeye and Bluto share a can of spinach and fight together against Japanese agents. Rather than sanitize the prejudices of the past and ignore their existence, Warner Brothers presents the cartoons as they were created, so whenever the Japanese appear, they are depicted as buck-toothed and slant-eyed, wearing thick glasses and speaking broken “Engrish.”
The change of style is discussed on two commentary tracks.
On “Me Musical Nephews” director John Kricfalusi points out how the look of Popeye has changed. From this short forward, he is not as ugly. He has softer, rounder features, possibly affected by Disney characters. An obvious change is his eyes have whites and aren’t just black pupils. Kricfalusi points out other Disney comparisons, such as some of the gags of the nephews playing instruments in this cartoon are reminiscent of the Seven Dwarves playing in Snow White, and that Pip-Eye, Pup-Eye, Poop-Eye, and Peep-Eye were likely modeled after Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. It is odd for both Donald and Popeye to have nephews when we don’t mean the siblings who sired them.
Animation historian Jerry Beck discusses “The Hungry Goat,” an extremely unusual Popeye short because the gags are much more outlandish a la Tex Avery and Popeye is not the star, instead playing a foil to the goat, as if he were Elmer Fudd. It’s likely this cartoon was made to introduce the goat and spin him off, but I don’t know if he ever appeared again.
There are plenty of other special features for the Popeye and/or animation enthusiast. Aside from five additional commentary tracks, there are three Popeye Popumentaries that focus on director/animator Myron Walden, who it is great to see interviewed and receiving well deserved recognition; wartime cartoons; and Popeye’s nephews. There are three Out of the Inkwell shorts from the 1920s. They are very amusing, and even after having already seen other Inkwell shorts, I am still astounded at the interaction between animation and real life. “Forging The Frame: The Roots of Animation, 1921-1930” is a great 28-minute documentary that is very insightful about animation pioneers like the Flesischers, Walter Lantz, Walt Disney, etc and the transition into sound. A ’29 Western Electric short called “Finding His Voice” explains how sound in film works.
While some fans will need to complete the set, Popeye The Sailor, Volume 3 is not a must-have. There are funny moments, but not as many as the previous volumes. For those on a budget, a rental would be a better option since there are some that don’t need to be rewatched and even a few that don’t require an initial viewing. Popeye The Sailor, Volume 3 marks the end of an era as Popeye transitioned into color and never reached the same heights of hilarity.