Sunday, January 7, 2018

Cuphead


Hi again, gang. I'm back from the outer reaches to gather together a few thoughts on an item in the 30's vein that got quite a bit of attention last year: the Cuphead video game. But first I should preface this post with two disclaimers. One: I’m basing my comments  on the numerous Youtube videos that have been posted of Cuphead’s gameplay.  I haven’t actually played the game. Secondly: this post may only be here for a short while since I like to confine the subject of this blog to cartoons made in the 30's and not modern recreations. So, enjoy (or detest) while you can.

This is probably the thing I like best from what I've seen of Cuphead. Nice hand-made looking titles are a rarity these days and ain't no shame in showing your love for Iwerks! Still, I can't help but be annoyed by that Acme reference: a tired cliche.


 Never mind that bendy straws did not exist in the early 30's but have you ever seen anyone drink tea or coffee with one?

With a years-long production schedule elapsing those of most animated feature films (and certainly those of any animated television show) Cuphead wears it's love for Ub Iwerks and Van Bueren cartoons on it's sleeve. At the same time it shares an undeniable link with side-scroller video games of the 80’s and 90's like Sonic The Hedgehog (Sega) or Mario Brothers (Nintendo). In fact, it’s the first game to draw a  direct line between side scrolling animation of the 30’s and ‘platformers’ of the Mario genus. Intellectually it seems like all the pieces should fit. There have been more than a few iconic video game characters that have reflected the influence of 1930’s cartoon design. Think Pac-Man’s pie-cut eyes (in the advertising anyway) or Donkey Kong’s grill teeth.  And yet the results of Cuphead are an amalgam of pieces that don't seem to quite fit.

Not a particularly attractive drawing but the pie-cut eyes demonstrate the link some early video game designers (and merchandisers) saw between video game characters and animated cartoon characters of Yore.

Part of this is what I see as a fundamental misunderstanding of the differences between the 'house styles' of the various studios of the 30's. Take for instance the painted backgrounds of Cuphead. While they draw upon a number of sources of inspiration it seems to me their primary 'guiding light' stylistically is Disney of the 30's. Those had a specific approach that favoured a naturalism and desaturated colors over the sort of eccentric, and sometimes daring, flourishes that studios like Fleischers and Iwerks tended towards. It was a conservative approach.



A comparison between a scene from Disney's 'Music Land' (1935) and a level of Cuphead shows at least a similarity of color palette choices and 'wash' approach (favouring realism).

You may notice the flower character above gesturing in the manner of this character from 'Swing You Sinners': an ominous Fleischer Talkartoon from 1930. Out of context the gesture in Cuphead comes off as random. Not so in the original where the character (a ghost) is intended to be a manifestation of a guilty conscience. 

An 'enchanted forest' level of Cuphead.

Scene from 'Snow White' (1937)

Disney backgrounds were created specifically for a certain type of ‘soft’ story and characters. It's widely reported that, excepting the odd special or dream sequence, Walt didn't care for the type of surrealism Cuphead revels in. The cartoons generally bear out the theory as well.  Instead the studio was pushing towards a more realistic style of animation and storytelling through most of the 30’s. Even cartoons like ‘Music Land’ (1935) are amazingly reticent to show anything really strange such as the Fleischers (and others) were producing a few years earlier (and even afterwords). In my opinion part of the problem with Cuphead is that so many elements appear 'sampled' and stuffed in without much thought as to how well they will work with the other parts. That's something that wouldn't have happened in the 30's where departments worked together closely to create a product that appeared produced seemingly by one hand.




This particular effect, known as a 'smear', is generally accepted to have entered animation with Chuck Jones 'Dover Boys at Pimento University' (1942): a clash of styles with the earlier 30's aesthetic the game is pushing. Note also how superfluous detail and poor color choices in the painted background fight the foreground for attention: hard to keep the eye from drifting to those red areas! 

One of the famous smear frames from 'Dover Boys at Pimento University' (1942)

That last bit is important. It's why we so often hear of work "done in that 30's style" rather than specifically done in that Iwerks, Van Bueren or Fleischer style. So cohesive was the work that, at a glance, it almost appears that one person did all of it! However, the fact is that all the studios of the 30's were on their own distinct paths. Fleischer was moving to the shake-up that would ultimately result in Famous Studios and their unique conception of Warner slapstick and Disney sentiment.  Terrytoons threadbare 30's cartoons moved on to their own blend of colourful fantasy and cynical humour in the 40's. 

Famous Studios represented a blossoming of sorts for Dave Tendlar. His style made a number transformations from the 30's through the 50's

The mechanical fantasyland of 'Post War Inventions': a 1945 Terrytoon.

Iwerks' studio didn't survive the 30's but went on to influence, in ways both subtle and overt, the cartoons of both Chuck Jones and UPA.  Van Bueren and Charles Mintz' studios were fellow victims but worked as training grounds for a 'murderer's row' of animators that would influence the business for decades. Warners and Disney were, of course, ascendant in the 30's but would not achieve their lasting fame until the 40's. Whatever the case there wasn't a clear single direction for all. The problem is that Cuphead is trying to be all these things at the same time. 

An example of how different the approach to background can be seen in this frame from Iwerks' 'Alladin'. Disney of the 30's wouldn't have allowed stairs to be drawn this way (unless the character were having a nightmare or something). 

What strikes me is that on some level Cuphead appears more of an intellectual exercise than a piece aching to be created.   It's elements-some lifted directly from the original cartoons (testing the fine line between 'homage' and plagiarism)-seem forced into service of standard platformer gameplay. The gags, ostensibly intended to mimic the surreality of the originals, seem indulgent in a way the original cartoons never were. For instance, a cartoon like ‘Bimbo’s Initiation’ had a logic to it in which conflict is introduced and time given to Bimbo’s predicament before commencing with the final chase and denouement. Pretty well all the Fleischer cartoons of the early period were fashioned this way.Gags tended to start slowly and then escalate to a final ‘blackout gag’.   It wasn't haphazard. In an interview given at the time of the game's release one of it's creators stated: "when you go back to the late 20's and early 30's...it's almost as if they wanted to make surreal animation just to make it".


This is really confusing. Not only staging and color value but a curious weightlessness that permeates the animation in the game. The best 30's cartoons had no such impediments. It also opens issues of research. Did the makers only base their material on old cartoons or did they research the period? When the Fleischer artists drew night clubs or restaurants it was from personal experience. It wasn't an affectation. Even the music is wrong! And that crowd anim... okay ... take a breath, John...


Surreal and crazy but clear and laid out with purpose: Bimbo's Initiation (1931)

Still, with all these criticisms I don’t want overshadow Cuphead’s good points. In many ways I think it achieves what so many neo-30’s animation undertakings have missed. Compare for example the over wrought feeling ’Belleville Rendevous’ section of Triplettes of Belleville (2003). So, these things are definately improving. Further, Cuphead's fully traditional animation (on paper over tablet) gives it a certain kind of life not seen in animation for a long time. I agree that a little line wobble is a good thing.  And I fully support surrealism in animation. As far as I’m concerned if you are working in a medium in which you can show the laws of physics being defied, at least some of the time, why wouldn’t you do it? If you want reality look out the window. A helluva lot of good old fashioned elbow grease went into this and it shows. It's warm reception is encouraging to see. 

A nice drawing from the 'Belleville Rendezvous' section of 'Triplets of Belleville' (2003). Unfortunately the animation in the sequence comes off stilted and rushed. By contrast, Cuphead's characters have the nice flowing (and hypnotic) action and sensitivity to volume that the 'Rendevous' number could have benefited from.

I know there will be people who disagree but I think doing animation with pencil and brush gives an added quality that the fully digital process can't quite match. It's great to see and to see people responding to it.

Too often I encounter a snide attitude with regards to 30’s cartoons.  As if they were the 1950’s rubber monster or flying hubcap movies of animation. The tendency to think of every one as a ‘bouncing ball’ exercise (the first thing they teach in animation school) misses the point that many of these artists were creating the bedrock on which all those animation courses, and indeed the entirety of the animation business, is based. If one looks carefully at those early cartoons all the finer animation achievements of later years can be seen in their early stages.  It’s deceptive though and a lot of people have been fooled by it over the years. In spite of the simple designs these were not artists content with standing still. 

Deal with it.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Animated Antiques

Can we talk for a second? Here, pull up a chair.  It's about Fleischer Studios' Animated Antics. I should probably tell you that I've already boarded the windows and bolted the doors so escape is impossible.  .... But back to the Antics. This obscure cartoon series that ran from 1940-1941 has been regarded as one of the weakest the studio ever produced. There's something to the criticism. When one views a cartoon like "The Dandy Lion" (the first Antic produced) and compares it to other cartoons of 1940, particularly those of Warners, it's clear these cartoons are not going to break ground for anyone.  Still, they aren't that bad. In fact, a few of 'em are pretty good.

This trade ad contains possibly the least enthusiastic ad copy ever. Plus nothing says excitement like mauve.


Fleischer's Miami studio building is now evidently used as a police station. So, perps are getting roughed up where Gabby cartoons were once made. Not sure what to think about that one.

One way to better understand the Animated Antics is to understand the situation which prevailed at Fleischers at the time. While Warners had found strong creative footing based on anarchistic comedy and Disney on sentimental stories with ever more realistic animation, the Fleischers trudged on  in search of a hit. Popeye, their most successful series, remained as popular as ever but that character was owned by somebody else: King Features Syndicate.  The surreal style that had defined the best (and funniest) Fleischer cartoons of the early 30's was considered 'old hat'  by 1940 . So that was out. Betty Boop, the Fleischers' next most successful character after Popeye, had been retired in 1939. So,there was a clear need for a strong new character to fill the void. But was there a will?

Fleischer writing staff hard at work on the script for "Twinkletoes in Hat Stuff"

One difference was that at Fleischers there was no powerful consensus shaping the overall creative direction of the studio. No Walt or Tex Avery here. Animators instead contented themselves with producing high quality cartoon animation  at the behest of whatever story content had been decided first: good, bad or indifferent. Fleischers did have a staff of writers but there doesn't seem to have been a  strong impetus to corral them in any particular direction. Another problem was a seeming inability to decide exactly what kind of cartoons the studio produced: sweet sentimental films like the Color Classics or rough and tumble slapstick like Popeye.  It was a piece meal system that sometimes made for a schizophrenic selection of cartoons. 


Another factor may have been over extension. Fleischers was a studio that prided itself on hitting deadlines on or below budget. In this way they felt they could needle Disney whom they viewed as financially irresponsible. When one considers the number of Fleischer series in production in 1940 (Popeye, Stone Age Cartoons, Animated Antics, Color Classics, Gabby Cartoons as well as the full length feature Mr. Bug Goes To Town) it is something short of amazing that any of them turned out as good as they did. The predicament of keeping a full crew working on a feature while trying to meet a normal year's worth of  short subjects (something Disney knew to avoid) meant the studio was short staffed. So, big salaries were offered to lure talent from  New York and the west coast in order to handle the extra workload. Financially Max was digging himself in.


So, it's amidst this chaos that The Animated Antics were created. And yet, even a lowest ebb and thinnest resources, the quality of the animation rarely wavered below a certain level. Whatever you may feel about the stories of the Fleischer cartoons they always managed to feature skillful  animation. Besides, The Animated Antics offer more hits than misses in my opinion. F'instance....

Nice animation but a very Disney-like cartoon. Ad for 'The Dandy Lion' (1940)


Lilliputian Warden and The Three Spies in 'Triple Trouble' (1940) 

'The Dandy Lion' was the first Animated Antic to be released and was directed by Shamus Culhane and lead animated by Al Eugster.  It lifted elements from Disney's Hiawatha and stylistically it was a little too Disney-like for a Fleischer cartoon. All the same it does contain some nice animation from Eugster and crew and is worth more than a passing look. The second Culhane directed Antic 'Triple Trouble' was a cartoon starring The Three Spies (villain characters from 'Gulliver's Travels') with a jail break as it's central story line. This one was  lead animated by Nick Tafuri and is my personal pick for best Gulliver stand-alone cartoon. 

Cute parrots sure weren't anything new to animated cartoons by the early 40's. Still, a capably done cartoon: ad for 'Twinkletoes Gets The Bird' (1940)

Mad Bomber character from 'Twinkletoes: Where He Goes Nobody Knows" (1941)

Twinkletoes model sheet from 'Gulliver's Travels'

Meanwhile Dave Tendlar's crew took to expanding Twinkletoes, a minor character from  Gulliver's Travels, into a series of his own. A 'pinch hitter' among Fleischer directors, his cartoons often contained some of the strongest Fleischer animation of the late 30's.  The first of his Antics, 'Twinkletoes Gets The Bird'  benefits thusly (with help from Lead Animator Tom Golden) but suffers from a somewhat purile story about a cute parrot. Tendlar's unit was a perfect example of a crew that could handle cute as well as rougher slapstick cartoons. Such was the liquid stylistic approach of the Fleischers and the journeyman attitude of it's animators. Tendlar's second Antic 'Twinkletoes: Where He Goes Nobody Knows' is more successful (and funnier) than the first cartoon and represents one of the stronger entries in the series. It was lead animated by former Van Bueren-ite Steve Muffati.

 "Greetings gate! Would you like to Investigate?" Cult fave 'Wizard of Arts' (1941)

'Zero the Hound' (1941)

Tom Johnson's Animated Antics eschewed Gulliver spinoffs to instead concentrate on original one-off cartoons in the manner of what the Noveltoons would later be. His three swings at The Animated Antics: 'Bring Himself Back Alive',  'Zero the Hound' and 'Wizard of Arts' constitute two hits and a miss in this viewer's opinion. Like Tendlar, Johnson was a highly reliable and excellent director of many of the best Fleischer cartoons of the late 30's. Even his Wiffle Piffle Screen Songs looked great! However, 'Bring Himself Back Alive' feels rushed to me and the resulting queasiness is a feeling I've never detected in any other Johnson cartoon. As I said, just my opinion. "Zero the Hound", a standard duck hunter scenario worthy of 'Wacky Quacky' (don't ask), puts things on an even keel again with solid lead  animation by Frank Endres and crew. Everything hits pretty well in this cartoon which ends up being a strong entry to the series. 'Wizard of Arts' represented a career move for it's lead animator Jack Ozark who received his only Fleischer screen credit for this film.  A series of pun based gags based on an artist's sculptures it's one of the Antics' funniest.


 Nicely animated though somewhat interminable. I'm none the less happy it is being preserved. 'Copy Cat' (1940)


Drawings like this crack me up. The entertainingly weird "Twinkletoes in Hat Stuff' (1941)

Myron Waldman's two contributions, 'Copy Cat' and 'Twinkletoes in Hat Stuff' are not what I would call among his best cartoons. Where Waldman shone, as I see it, was in Color Classic cartoons such as the superb  'All's Fair at the Fair' and 'Hawaiian Birds'. While well animated (lead animation credited to William Henning)"Copy Cat" suffers a saccharine plot about a kitten's attempt to catch the most annoying cutesy mouse since Chuck Jones' Sniffles. It was recently  revealed that the negative for this cartoon has been discovered and is in line for a major restoration. Any professional restoration of a Fleischer cartoon should be met with bended knee IMO, and this is no exception, but I only wish it were another example. Waldman's other entry into the series, 'Twinkletoes in Hat Stuff' was the funnier cartoon of the two featuring a really weird looking Twinkletoes. Lead animation here provided by Sam Stimson.

Not a Fleischer cartoon.

'Pop and Mom in Wild Oysters' wasn't a Fleischer cartoon at all but was instead a stop motion film purchased from the Charlie Bowers Studio.  Such was the desperation of Fleischers to fill their quota. For comparison Disney released 14 short cartoons in 1940  with a feature in production while Fleischers released 37 shorts while working on their own feature: Mr. Bug. Whew.

'Mommy Loves Puppy' (1940)

Evocative scene of the spies making off through a forest with King Little's chest. "Sneak, Snoop and Snitch' (1940)

Lastly, Willard Bowsky's 'Mommy Loves Puppy' was a pretty crass attempt to mimic a Waldman style cartoon. The story, in which a drunken Walrus befriends a puppy, registers as mostly desperate*.  Bowsky's other entry, 'Sneak, Snoop and Snitch' fares a little better by showing Bowsky's ability to lay out scenes evocatively: a skill he was well regarded for within the studio. The story, which revolves around a robbery of King Little, is nothing special though the animation is somewhat better than 'Mommy Loves Puppy' and, as I mentioned, better layed out.


So, are  The Animated Antics under rated gems for which animation aficionados should debate for decades to come? Nah. Top tiers of Fleischer still belong to Betty, Popeye, Screen Songs and Color Classics as far as I'm concerned. Why anyone would think of Twinkletoes as a break-out character deserving of his own cartoons is as much a mystery to me as it is to you. In truth, these cartoons probably rank somewhere below the Pudgy but above the Gabby cartoons if you can imagine such a thing.  However, I still think the plusses outweigh the minuses.  And for a studio with a batting average like Fleischers I think they can afford a few clinkers.  That certainly isn't the worst thing ever.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Popeye Don't Get No Respeck


Promotional ad for the Popeye comic strip (1929-1938) drawn by his creator E.C. Segar. (Image: Mouse Heaven)

Ahoy. Though I've effectively left this blog to moulder (with the exception of the odd DVD review) I thought I might as well commit to it some random thoughts on the subject of a Popeye animated feature. I didn't even know one was in the works until the fall of 2014 when Genndy Tartakovsky (of 'Samurai Jack' and 'Hotel Transylvania' fame) posted a test reel of how his version of (a CG) Popeye would look. There was a lot wrong with it * (and the self serving 'biography' at the start bode of potentially worse to come) but I figured it was a done deal and  I braced myself for the inevitable 'Ice Age' starring Popeye to railroad into production. For some reason though it was pulled back into development where, I read, it still lives.



Part of the problem with adapting Popeye is where to go. Since the death in 1938 of Popeye's creator E.C. Segar the character has had many authors and has evolved multiple times over the decades. During the 1950's, for instance, the animated Popeye was reimagined as a suburban dweller wandering  landlocked pre-fab homes in a sailor suit. In the comic books of the 50's Bud Sagendorf brought in elements of juvenile fantasy such as aliens and space ships (as did the animated cartoons) and generally moved Popeye in a more 'kid-friendly' direction. Both are worthy of praise, and discovery, for their  exceptional artwork but, character wise, Popeye had become somewhat neutered from what he once was. By the 80's Olive had got herself a track suit, a la Olivia Newton John, and had a son with Popeye in the execrable , in every sense, 'Popeye and Son'. What seems to have been lost in the second half of the 20th century was the creative voice of the Popeye. Though  many authors have had custody over the years the fact was only one person who could ever truly claim to know what Popeye was thinking: Segar.

Bud Sagendorf drew a really appealing Popeye in his early comic book work but the edge had come off the stories from Segar's day.

A Popeye "Soakie" (bubble bath container) from the 1960's.  

then this happened.

Deviation from the original comic strip started early and was born of necessity. When Fleischer Studios convinced King Features that the character could work visually in animation (by producing the test film 'Popeye The Sailor' in 1933)  they quickly realized it would be necessary to simplify. Seven minute shorts could not support the kind of character development and epic story arcs that imbued the comic strip and the assembly line nature of animated cartoons meant settling on a steady cast of characters of knowable quantity. Looking at the image at the top of this post gives you an idea how routinely Segar introduced new characters. Thus Bluto became the recurring heavy only because  Segar's 'The Eighth Sea' story (in which Bluto was only an episodic villain) happened to be in progress at the time the animated series was launched. The other main difference was spinach as the source of Popeye's strength which was only intermittently noted in the strip. But despite these simplifications the Fleischer cartoons retained the gritty, even freakish, look (and feel) of the Segar original. More importantly they retained, and even built on, the presence of an essential unseen character: the depression itself.

Popeye's domicile in Fleischer's 'For Better or Worser' (1935)


panels from the "A Sock For Susan's Sake' continuity (1937)

Popeye is nothing if not the story of economically lower middle class and poor characters. For me, this is something that got loused up with later iterations.   In Segar's comic strip the characters are always losing any money they gain through their adventures only to return at the end to their original economically deprived state. This often would motivate the start of a new story. The Fleischers likewise depicted Popeye's world as impoverished: not necessarily as a motivation to plot but, in my opinion, almost an existential comment on the world as it existed in the 30's.  I think it's safe to say that the initial appeal over other less class conscious comic strip characters of the day was it's ability to speak to the circumstances of the broadest segment of the audience: working people and the poor.  The secret was the genius skill with which both comic strip and animated cartoon were able to turn such grim material into humour without coming off as simply cruel or somehow supercilious.  People existing in those circumstances would surely have recognized, and found relief,  not only from the irony of the humour but from the scrappy character of a fighter who lived by his (not always so sharp) wits.

Castor, Olive and Ham Gravy lose their winnings from Dice Island (in the story that introduced Popeye) to a couple of crooked stock brokers (Mr. Glibb and Mr. Blabber). 

Popeye wanders a depressed neighborhood (so poor the hydrants are held together by rope!) in 'I Eats My Spinach' (1933)

As animated cartoons go Fleischer's Popeye series proved to be tremendously popular and, thanks to television re-runs, continued to win over successive generations not only due to their humour but also their excellent production quality which made competing low budget made-for-TV fare seem pale by comparison. Kids could tell the difference in quality then...and many still do when they see the Fleischer Popeyes today. In fact, for the majority of the world Fleischer Popeye is Popeye - spinach can and all.

Something new has been added: Popeye's famous Spinach Can was a unique addition of the Fleischer  cartoons (as seen in 'I Wanna Be a Lifeguard', 1936)

So then, after so many decades of Popeye where should the character go from here?  That was the problem when Jules Feiffer, a former assistant to Will Eisner and long time cartoonist  of The Village Voice, was assigned the task of writing an original screenplay to a live action version of Popeye in the late 70's (the film was released in 1980) for director Robert Altman.  Feiffer, who long preferred Segar's vision of the character found himself at odds with  director Altman (and producer Robert Evans) who insisted on elements familiar to audiences through the Fleischer cartoons. This resulted in characters such as Pappy, Bluto and Spinach being introduced in oddly prosaic fashion. Popeye's epic search for Pappy had taken months in Segar's strip making the reveal of "the Commodore's" identity in the film underwhelming by comparison. Castor Oyl, a major character in the strip, was also severely neutered and was played in a manner similar to the Kent Dorfman character played by Stephen Furst in 1978's 'Animal House' (Castor was played by similar type Donovan Scott). Still, Feiffer was able to get the period of the film correct and suitably depressed surroundings, lack of food, money and amenities (an important satirical element of the Segar original) were all depicted and pop tunesmith Harry Nillson was able to add some good songs. Audience response was, however, mixed. Leonard Maltin suggested in his review that movie goers: "Tune in a few hours' worth of Max Fleischer cartoons; you'll be much better off".  He had a point since technology did not yet exist to properly depict the wild comic violence of both strip and animated cartoon, an essential element of Popeye, within live action parameters. Those scenes in the live action Popeye were clumsy indeed.

Neither fish nor fowl the 1980 live action Popeye had some good and not-so-good elements. It's since found it's audience on home video, DVD etc.

The problem with the live action film underlines an intrinsic problem with adapting Popeye to the big screen: how to keep the characters vital while meeting the needs of many audiences: fans of the comic strip, fans of the animated cartoons  and audiences new to Popeye.  Nowadays this is usually done by numerous script doctors tasked with putting a percentage of the film towards 'fan service' and a percentage towards 'general entertainment' (generic elements of contemporary block busters) for a result which usually comes off as highly clinical.  That is the Popeye we are most likely to see.  If not  from Tartakovsky then somebody else.

Model from 'Puppet Love' (Image: Popeye Animator's Blogspot)

But is it even worth it? As far as I'm concerned the best animated Popeye has been done already: by the Fleischers.  Thankfully those were issued on DVD so we can at least have easy access to them: a door which was closed and locked for decades. But what is there to add that hasn't already been tried in the 87 years since Popeye's birth?  There have already been too many Popeyes.  Personally I can only see one path that's even worth exploring: a faithful cinematic adaptation of a Segar continuity.

Popeye's iconic first words ever were a wisecrack.

That is one hell of a tall order by the way. The fact is that no Segar continuity contains every element that audiences would recognize from the animated cartoons. Wimpy is not in 'The Eighth Sea'. Bluto is not in 'Plunder Island' (though Wimpy, Alice the Goon and The Sea Hag are).  Both are missing from Popeye's first story.  Popeye does not consume a can of spinach in any of them. Yet what is working beautifully is the storytelling. Here is an area ripe for cinematic treatment. Popeye's comic strip adventures were epic in scope and often lasted many months. They're real 'page turners' too as Segar introduced supernatural elements, strange mysteries, treasure hunts and all manner of adventure. There's enough material here already for a half dozen feature films. It would take, however, a screenwriter of considerable talent to convert comic strip to screenplay without steamrolling over Segar's carefully crafted narratives and, importantly, satiric dialog.  If Fleischer elements (Bluto, Spinach Can etc.) must be added they would need to be done so with great care.

Segar's 'Plunder Island' was the first story to feature Alice The Goon (image: Heritage Auctions).  

Mind you it's possible a story like 'Plunder Island' might work just fine without Bluto or the spinach can so long as stylistically the animation, design and everything else were to hew to the look and feel of the Fleischer cartoons: the look most audiences associate with Popeye.  In this instance CG could be used as a tool  but the film would need to have a dimensionally hand drawn and painted look.  This is one hell of an order too since no-one has successfully been able to fully replicate the Fleischer style, en masse, in the modern age. Part of this is due to the fact that much of what the Fleischers did has been 'trained out' of commercial animators today. Yet, applying the balletic approach of a Disney ** (or the 'zippy' style of a Powerpuff Girl) looks totally wrong on the brutish and weird world of Popeye. However there are people out there who have both the professional experience and lifetime love of Fleischer to handle such an order providing the budget existed.  And skilled drafts-people can always adapt assuming they have the right direction, time and tools for the job. Besides, audiences might be primed for something that looks different from the pack. Just a theory.

A rare appearance of Geezil in a Fleischer cartoon ('A Clean Shaven Man', 1936)


There have been many animated Popeyes over the years but never a faithful one. For me this is the only path worth taking for a new movie Popeye. It's the only offering yet to be made that actually adds to the legacy of the character. Otherwise better to create original characters to go with new situations rather than awkwardly shoe-horning something old into something new. Naturally I understand that is not what is going to happen if Popeye ever gets back out of development hell.  Personally I'm OK if that's where the project stays. To quote Leonard Maltin: "Tune in a few hours' worth of Max Fleischer cartoons; you'll be much better off".

(toot toot)


*-Wrong for Popeye not wrong in general. Powerpuff Girls or Samurai Jack, for example, would look wrong were they done a la Fleischer. Apples and oranges. 

**-Shamus Culhane points this out in his autobiography in reference to 'Popeye Meets William Tell'-a cartoon he directed after returning from Disney. Don't misunderstand my use of the word 'balletic'. Disney's best work were ballets IMO, and nobody did it better, but this approach isn't right for everything.