Animation Movies Shorts

Popeye The Sailor
Sindbad The Sailor

Director – Dave Fleischer – 1936 – US – 16m – colour – Oscar nominated


Currently streaming on MUBI.

A rare, two reeler, colour outing for the Fleischer brothers’ Popeye, this removes him from his usual urban environment to an island populated with fabulous monsters – the opening features snakes, lions, a dragon and a vulture before we meet self-proclaimed “The Most Remarkable Fellow”, credited in the cast as Sindbad The Sailor although anyone familiar with other Flesicher Popeye cartoons will recognise him as regular villain Bluto. Sindbad sings a song asking the rhetorical question who this extraordinary fellow is, culminating in Popeye’s voice unexpectedly singing “Popeye The Sailor Man”, from which springs the film’s subsequent dramatic conflict. Talking about a shackled two headed giant Sindbad also references King Kong, released three years earlier and an obvious influence on the remote island with caves and incredible beasts seen here.

(MUBI’s source print print is missing a little bit of the opening credits, so you might want to hit pause on the single credits page detailing the cast before it vanishes after a few seconds. Otherwise, the print is in pretty decent condition.)

When Sindbad sends a giant bird to scuttle Popeye’s ship and kidnap the woman (Olive Oyl), the bird’s take off is animated less like a bird and more like a nineteen thirties aircraft that struggles to leave the ground. Popeye promptly swims to shore holding aloft J Wellington Wimpy so that the latter can eat a hamburger.

After landing on the island, Popeye walks through a cave. The layout is given several levels to make the cave appear deep and cavernous and appears to include a 3D model floor which adds nothing whatsoever to the plot but proves highly satisfying visually.

And that’s generally the point with Dave Fleischer’s work: visuals and sight gags. Whether he’s using repeated cycles of drawings to make characters move in a visually arresting way as for instance in the case of the two snakes at the start of the film or the turning of Sindbad’s pocket telescope into a lengthier contraption to view Popeye’s ship out at sea, the level of gratuitous visual invention is a joy to behold, so much so that you may find yourself freezing the film and going back and re-watching specific gags.

One could take it to task for a perfunctory plot – Sindbad (Bluto) kidnaps Olive, Popeye fights him to get her back, eats spinach and wins – its portrayal of women (Olive) as passive damsels in distress and its racism – a dim-witted, two headed giant who is a caricature of an Italian – but put all that aside and the astonishing gigs and visuals are accompanied by what I can only describe as charm. As such, it’s not only a typically enjoyable cartoon from one of the great pioneering US animators / animation studios, but also an invaluable glimpse into a time and a value system long gone. The fact that it was made in colour is the icing on the cake.

Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor is currently streaming on MUBI. Here’s a clip:

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