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Warner Home Video presents
Popeye the Sailor: 1933-38 (1933-38)

"I yam what I yam."
- Popeye (various)

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: August 06, 2007

Director: Dave Fleisher

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for cartoon violence, racial insensitivity
Release Date: July 31, 2007
UPC: 012569797963
Genre: animation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+A-A- A+

DVD Review

From his humble beginnings as a walk-on in the legendary Segar's comic strip Thimble Theatre, Popeye the Sailor has become an entertainment icon. Popeye hasn't really been in the public eye over the last couple decades, but most people still recognize the distinctive look of the character and the other characters he appeared with. His long run as an animated star is now celebrated in a fantastic four disc set from Warner Bros, who have loaded it up with extra features and glorious-looking video quality. For any fan of animation, this is simply a necessity.

The four discs in this set cover Popeye's formative years, running from 1933 through 1938, a time that saw the character evolve thanks to the arrival of Jack Mercer, who added comedic ad-libs during his voicing of the character. Popeye's character, such as it is, boils down to a general decency, coupled with the propensity for engaging in mass violence when the need arises. The success of the character isn't hard to fathom; he isn't smarter than his opposition, like a Bugs Bunny, and he isn't a jerk for the sake of it, like Daffy Duck or the early Woody Woodpecker. He simply does what he does, such as chasing after Olive Oyl, and when Bluto or someone else pushes him too far, he responds in kind. He acts the way many would like to at, given the way the world can step on you. It's interesting to watch how Popeye usually doesn't get too angry when forced to down some spinach and clean house; it's more like a pleasure he's denied himself till the necessary moment.

Olive Oyl and Bluto are pretty much the two constants in the series along with Popeye, with the other occasional supporting characters less interesting, like child of unknown origin Swee'Pea and professional glutton Wimpy. Olive Oyl utterly lacks glamor yet finds herself constantly battled over and desired. She's also a bit dreadful to deal with at times, something that makes you wonder what Popeye and Bluto see in her. Clearly they've been at sea a bit too long. Bluto isn't always what we might consider "bad," but when confronted by Popeye's superiority, he simply can't deal with it. Also in the mix are the aforementioned Swee'Pea and Wimpy, two characters I could just as soon do without, and there are also the Goons and Eugene the Jeep.

Warner makes clear that this set is intended for the "adult collectors," and as such may not be suitable for kids; indeed, the occasional racist and politically incorrect gag is here, so if you don't want to explain why punching a group of Native Americans turns them into nickels, to name one example, you may wish to keep this set away from the children. I didn't seen anything virulently racist in the toons I watched, but Warner has at least done the right thing in presenting these toons uncut and with warnings. I understand that the World War II-era toons feature some nasty anti-Japanese stuff, so that awaits in the next set. At any rate, these are a product of their time and should be viewed as such. It isn't a reason to stay away from this set, at least for me.

This set also allows us to admire the Fleishers' "stereoptical" process, which provides the toons with a remarkable 3-D look. The two Technicolor two-reel films, Popeye Meets Sinbad the Sailor and Popeye Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves are both included in this set, and both look great and lift the series to a new plateau. With any review of sets like this, you get a lot of empty hype, but this set is one that really lives up to it. It's a must have for any animation fan, and will provide hours of enjoyment.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The toons on these discs have been given the usual quality treatment we expect from Warner, and look extremely good. There are some that have print damage that couldn't be dealt with, but considering the state of previous public domain releases I have seen, these look great. English subtitles are available, in case you have trouble latching onto Popeye's muttered ad-libs.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original mono tracks sound generally clean and occasionally show their age.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 60 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Documentaries
8 Featurette(s)
22 Feature/Episode commentaries by Various animators, historians and voice talent
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Sixteen bonus cartoons
Extras Review: Here's where the casual fan like myself really found the value in this set; I don't consider myself a scholar of animation, but I have a strong appreciation for it and am glad to get the background information presented in the various documentaries and commentaries on these discs. The centerpiece is a lengthy history of Popeye (43m:23), titled I Yam What I Yam, which details Popeye's path from bit player in the Segar strip to his eventual status as animation icon. Plenty of animation experts weigh in with observations and anecdotes. The other documentary of note is Forging the Frame: Roots of Animation 1900-1920 (31m:02s), which looks at the material from cinema's early days, including the great Winsor McCay.

Also included are brief looks at the various characters of the series, with Olive Oyl (04m:21s), Bluto (04m:41s), Swee'Pea (04m:25s), and Wimpy (04m:31s) all lightheartedly profiled, and most usefully, a featurette on the various talents behind Popeye's distinctive voice (09m:30s), not to mention a look at the music of the series and the two Technicolor two-reelers. There are plenty of commentary tracks available, with multiple toons on each disc getting the treatment, for a total of 22 of the 60 toons. The commentators include animators, animation directors, and animation historians. Finally, each disc has a "From the Vault" section, which gathers toons from 1915 onward; these total sixteen in number, and come in fairly rough condition, but nothing that will truly hinder viewing. Lastly, a commendation on the packaging, which features an eye-grabbing mustard yellow color scheme adorned with the characters on each panel. Full listing on each disc's contents is provided, a la the Looney Tunes sets.

Extras Grade: A+


Final Comments

Another week, another great collection of classic cartoons, this time a fantastic collection of Popeye's earliest period, filled with remastered and cleaned up shorts, along with a passel of extras that include documentaries, commentaries, and bonus rare toons from the early years of the art form. I'm sure someone could find fault with this set, but it isn't me. Essential for animation fans and collectors.


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