Popeye The Sailor (animated Cartoons) - Fleischer Studios

Fleischer Studios

Popeye made his film debut in Popeye the Sailor, a 1933 Betty Boop cartoon. Although Betty Boop has a small cameo appearance, the cartoon mostly introduces the main characters: Popeye's coming to rescue Olive Oyl after being kidnapped by Bluto. The triangle between Popeye, Olive and Bluto was set up from the beginning and soon became the template for most Popeye productions that would follow. The cartoon opens with a newspaper headline announcing Popeye as a movie star, reflecting the transition into film. I Yam What I Yam became the first entry in the regular Popeye the Sailor series.

Thanks to the animated shorts, Popeye became even more of a sensation than he had been in comic strips. As Betty Boop gradually declined in quality as a result of Hays Code enforcement in 1934, Popeye became the studio's star character by 1936. Popeye began to sell more tickets and became the most popular cartoon character in the country in the 1930s, beating Mickey Mouse. Paramount added to Popeye's popularity by sponsoring the "Popeye Club" as part of their Saturday matinée program, in competition with Mickey Mouse Clubs. Popeye cartoons, including a sing-along special entitled Let's Sing With Popeye, were a regular part of the weekly meetings. For a 10-cent membership fee, club members were given a Popeye kazoo, a membership card, the chance to become elected as the Club's "Popeye" or "Olive Oyl," and the opportunity to win other gifts. Polls taken by theater owners proved Popeye more popular than Mickey, and Popeye upheld his position for the rest of the decade.

Fleischer cartoons differed highly from their counterparts at Walt Disney Productions and Warner Bros. Cartoons. The Popeye series, like other cartoons produced by the Fleischers, was noted for its urban feel (the Fleischers operated in New York, specifically on Broadway a few blocks from Times Square), its manageable variations on a simple theme (Popeye loses Olive to bully Bluto and must eat his spinach and defeat him), and the characters' "under-the-breath" mutterings. The voices for Fleischer cartoons produced during the early and mid-1930s were recorded after the animation was completed. The actors, Mercer in particular, would therefore improvise lines that were not on the storyboards or prepared for the lip-sync (generally word-play and clever puns). Even after the Fleischers began pre-recording dialog for lip-sync shortly after moving to Miami, Mercer and the other voice actors would record ad-libbed lines while watching a finished copy of the cartoon. Popeye lives in a dilapidated apartment building in A Dream Walking (1934), reflecting the urban feel and Depression-era hardships.

The Fleischers moved their studio to Miami, Florida in September 1938 in order to weaken union control and take advantage of tax breaks. The Popeye series continued production, although a marked change was seen in the Florida-produced shorts: they were brighter and less detailed in their artwork, with attempts to bring the character animation closer to a Disney style. Mae Questel, who started a family, refused to move to Florida, and Margie Hines, the wife of Jack Mercer, voiced Olive Oyl through the end of 1943. Several voice actors, among them Pinto Colvig (better known as the voice of Disney's Goofy), succeeded Gus Wickie as the voice of Bluto between 1938 and 1943.

Fleischer Studios produced 108 Popeye cartoons, 105 of them in black-and-white. The remaining three were two-reel (double-length) Technicolor adaptations of stories from the Arabian Nights billed as "Popeye Color Features": Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936), Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves (1937), and Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp (1939).

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