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Letís Celebrake

Original release date: Jan. 21, 1938

Even in a cartoon series known for its wacko imagery, this cartoon's first shot is pretty startling: Popeye and Bluto, both in full tuxedo, manning a horse-and-carriage and happily singing a duet. Up to now, there's been no hint that these guys were anything but, at best, icily polite rivals. When did they go all Brokeback Mountain on us??

Turns out that the occasion is New Year's Eve, so I guess we're meant to guess that Popeye and Bluto got their Christmas stockings filled with sufficient supplies of spinach and...well, whatever makes Bluto happiest, so for now they're buddy-buddy (at least until Olive spurns one of them at the matrimonial agency again).

The Boys arrive at Olive's house and are greeted at the door by Olive's sweet old grandma. Olive is ready to leave, but Popeye decides it would be cold-hearted to leave Granny by herself on New Yearís Eve. This is obviously heartfelt and would be nice to savor, except that Granny is one of those stereotypes worn thin by years of sitcoms, cutely misinterpreting anything that's said to her because of her poor hearing. Between this, Popeye and Bluto's sudden chumminess, and the cartoon's not-up-to-par animation, it doesn't seem like an occasion for dancing in the ballroom with Guy Lombardo.

After Bluto and Olive hit the floor for a dance contest, Popeye tries to do the same with Granny, but he can't get her to shake a leg. He rushes back to the table, where the waiter is leaving dinner trays. From the tray, Popeye grabs a can of spinach (which apparently was being served at all the finest New York ballrooms on New Year's Eve), feeds it to Granny, and gets her high-stepping enough for her and Popeye to win the contest.

The cartoon is more funny/cute than funny/ha-ha and is sometimes depressingly close to the dispirited tone of the limited-animation Popeye cartoons of early-'60s TV. The climax underlines the cartoon's lack of energy, with seemingly the same three couples dancing in front of the camera over and over, and the gorgeous 3D backgrounds of previous cartoons replaced by lots of little circles meant to represent an onlooking crowd.

If this sounds like carping, it's only because the Fleischers themselves have set such a high standard up to this point; it's rather like hiring Buster Keaton at his peak and then casting him as a doofus dad in a sitcom. Happily, this downslide in quality doesn't last, and the next cartoon gets things back on track.

My rating:

© 2007, Steve Bailey.

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