While aboard a Navy ship, Popeye pulls in a Japanese carrier. Two extreme Japanese stereotypes -- buck-teeth and all -- try to trick Popeye into believing that they want to sign a peace agreement with him. Popeye falls for it until the pair try to do him in. Once Popeye catches on, the entire Japanese fleet is called out to fight Popeye. The spinach gets broken out only halfway through the cartoon. Guess who wins.
Heaven knows that the Fleischers were not above stereotyping for the purpose of laughs. And obviously, this cartoon has to be viewed in the historical context of World War II, and with this cartoon's notion that Popeye = every American soldier fighting to conquer the Japanese.
With all of that said, it only makes it more painful that the first post-Fleischer Popeye cartoon is eye-popping not because of its animation (though that's more than up to standard here), but because of its one-note demonizing of the enemy.
Once Popeye has conquered the enemy ship and removed (nearly all of) its inhabitants, one wishes the cartoon could end then and there. Instead, it painfully lingers for another two minutes, as the enemy ship's lone remaining officer tries to commit suicide (and "save face") by swallowing gasoline. And the final "gag" is did-I-really-just-see-that mind-blowing, as the Japanese ship sinks to the sound effect of a flushing toilet.
No doubt, all of the above get-those-slanty-eyed-Japs rhetoric had American audiences cheering in 1942. Today, it serves only to remind us how America's poisonous pattern of ethnocentricism serves to alienate us from much of the world.
Bottom line: Sad way for Popeye to enter a post-Fleischer world.
© 2007, Steve Bailey.
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