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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Popeye and Friends, Vol. 1
Popeye and Friends, Vol. 1
Warner Bros. // Unrated // June 17, 2008
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by David Cornelius | posted July 7, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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With 234 theatrical shorts and an additional 405 cartoons produced for television, keeping track of Popeye cartoons is a task best left to the truly devoted. To the layman, all those titles become a blur, especially once you leave the safe harbor of the Fleischer and Famous Studios shorts and enter the murky depths of kiddie TV.

The 1960s series "Popeye the Sailor," which featured a couple hundred newly minted shorts produced in an insanely short period of time, is considered a low mark for the character, with unoriginal stories and unremarkable action; the show is remembered more for its changes (Bluto became "Brutus") than for the adventures themselves.

But that show was nothing compared to Hanna-Barbera's 1978 franchise revival "The All-New Popeye Hour." While an effort was made to restore the characters to their original glory (goodbye Brutus, welcome back Bluto) and animators earnestly attempted to recreate the visual stylings of the Fleischer cartoons, "The All-New Popeye Hour" wound up as yet another great big mess stinking up Saturday mornings in the late 70s.

Shoddy animation and terrible writing were a factor, yes, but the big culprit was the parent watchdog groups that pushed for outlandish restrictions on content due to what they considered to be an abundance of unnecessary violence that just might rot the fragile minds of America's youth. These are the folks that told us "Super Friends" would be better without any actual superhero action, and they figured Popeye would be funnier if he didn't have to punch anybody. Won't anybody think of the children?!

As a result, "The All-New Popeye Hour" became "The Embarrassingly Neutered Popeye Hour." The Sailor Man would still guzzle his spinach as his muscles grew and grew, but he didn't actually use those muscles for much. His job here would be to get Olive Oyl out of whatever slapstick mess she's created in her kitchen, or to outwit Bluto as he tries to sabotage a horse race, or to hang out with his nephews. Sometimes Swee'pea would get stuck somewhere, and Popeye would "comically" rescue him. Wimpy, by the way, suddenly sounded like W.C. Fields. It is, if possible, even worse than it sounds.

As was the case with most Hanna-Barbera omnibus shows, "The All-New Popeye Hour" would cram a few regular Popeye shorts in alongside themed "Popeye's Sports Parade" and "Popeye's Treasure Hunt" shorts, while tossing in the adventures of Dinky Dog (a completely unrelated H-B work) to help fill time.

In keeping with their penchant for recycling material ad nauseam, Hanna-Barbera cut the show down to half an hour in 1981 and renamed it "The Popeye and Olive Show." CBS put the whole thing out of its misery in 1983; another dreadful revival, "Popeye and Son," aired for one season in 1987.

The DVD

Warner Brothers has collected eight shorts, seemingly at random, from "The All-New Popeye Hour" to fill a single-disc release they're calling "Popeye & Friends: Vol. 1." This appears to be a new series aimed at families who want affordable, more family-friendly Popeye releases, perhaps having been turned off by the studio's multi-disc collections of the original theatrical shorts (due to price or, more likely, uncensored content - the packaging here hypes Popeye's role as a "family man"). The disc follows Warner Brothers' blueprint for single-disc cartoon releases: just over sixty minutes of content, no extras, reasonably low asking price.

But it's not much of a bargain. These shorts are duds - my daughter was just about as bored as I was with them - and as such, it's not a disc that will earn much replay demand from the kids. Popeye completists, meanwhile, will grumble at the grab-bag nature of the release; why only eight cartoons, and why picked with no discernable order? I'd guess that the only target audience for this release is the clueless parent who accidentally buys it, thinking it to contain a handful of classic theatrical shorts.

The eight shorts included in this collection are: "Abject Flying Object," "Ship Ahoy," "I Wouldn't Take That Mare to the Fair on a Dare," "Popeye Goes Sightseeing," "Chips Off the Old Ice Block," "Popeye the Plumber," "Swee'pea Plagues a Parade," and "Polly Wants Some Spinach." Each short runs around eight minutes and includes complete opening theme and closing credits; a newly produced King Features logo is tacked on to the end of each short.

Video & Audio

Presented in their original 1.33:1 broadcast format, these eight shorts look downright terrible. Granted, these cartoons always looked lousy - in one shot, you can see the dark edge of an animation cell drag across the screen as a character walks out of frame. Sheesh. But for all the packaging's bragging of being an "authorized edition" that's taken "from the original masters," nobody bothered to clean up a single frame. Grain and dirt are everywhere, and colors are faded and limp. This is one ugly show.

The Dolby mono soundtrack fares slightly better, presenting dialogue and music clearly enough, if in a flat tone. Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai dubs are included (all in mono), as are optional English, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, and Thai subtitles.

Extras

None, except for an obnoxious anti-piracy PSA (a lame "jokey" one featuring clips from "The Wizard of Oz") that plays as the disc loads, because, you know, just because toddlers are too young to use the computer doesn't mean we shouldn't berate them anyway. Them kids have shifty eyes.

Final Thoughts

To show you just how arbitrary and pointless this release is, allow me to announce that a second volume in the "Popeye & Friends" line is due later this year, with cartoons taken not from "The All-New Popeye Hour," but from "Popeye and Son." How random is that? That just makes this disc even more useless. Skip It.
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