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Big Chief Ugh-Amugh-Ugh

Original release date: April 25, 1938

When Warner Home Video posted that political-incorrectness disclaimer at the start of those Popeye DVDs, it's a foregone conclusion that they were referring to cartoons such as this one.

The cartoon begins with the titular American Indian chief singing a song about how he has "gotta havem squaw." It's meant to sound like a traditional Indian chant but includes some foot-kicking and hi-de-ho moves to appeal to the yahoos.

This is followed by another unfunny minute in which Popeye and Olive are seeing riding near the chief's reservation on a wayward donkey. When the stubborn burro stops and refuses to move any further, Popeye and Olive try to get him going by yanking at his head and tail. Hey, I thought Bluto was the only animal abuser in this group!

Olive ends up landing in the middle of the chief's big dance and is immediately named the chief's squaw. Olive has been fickle before, but giving in to a total stranger just because he offers her jewelry??

Popeye tries to protect Olive but is nearly burned at the stake for his trouble. He manages to break free and rescue Olive, but all through contrivances too depressing to relate here.

The animation is top-notch, as always, and a few good gags are sprinkled throughout. But the whole cartoon is done at such "Me heapum big chief" level of stereotyping as to be downright depressing to watch. (For comparisonís sake, check out the 1940 Marx Brothers comedy Go West, which has a similarly condescending attitude towards Native Americans.) Compared to this one, I Yam What I Am is almost enlightened. Even Jack Mercer's usually funny mutterings contribute to the load here (such as when Popeye builds a tremendous fire and tells the chief, "That oughta keep your wig-warm").

Yeah, I know, different era, unenlightened attitudes, etc. But considering that it was the "white" people who used stereotypes like this to reinforce their superiority, it surely doesn't say too much about the brainpower of the whites who perpetuated this stuff.

(Trivia: This cartoon featured the last voice performance in a Popeye cartoon from Gus Wickie, who memorably voiced Bluto for 28 cartoons. He died shortly after this cartoon's release.)


My rating:

© 2007, Steve Bailey.

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