For two people adrift at sea on a life raft, Popeye and Olive Oyl are awfully nonchalant -- they're both dressed in their Sunday best and are playing checkers. Popeye sees a nearby ship that he thinks might save them, and Olive, who appears even more simple-minded than she was twenty years previous, can only coo, "Oh, Popeye! Now I can go home and watch television!" (Don't watch those King Features Popeye cartoons, Olive – they'll moi-der ya!)
Popeye and Olive board the boat and try to head for home, but the ghosts aboard the ship will have none of it. They knock Popeye overboard and try to make a blindfolded Olive walk the plank. The cleverest touch in this middling cartoon is the climax's deus ex spinach, in which Popeye finds a container marked "Ye King's Spinach" (how fresh is a non-canned container of spinach that's been aboard an ancient ship?), downs it, and turns invisible himself to battle the ghosts.
When one recalls the atmospheric and electrifying ghost ship in the Fleischers' Shiver Me Timbers!, one realizes just how much the Popeye cartoons have been relying on the audience's goodwill and nostalgia for 15 years. (In the credits at least, the only tie to the Fleischer era is the cartoon's director, Izzy Sparber, who worked on gems such as King of the Mardi Gras.)
Compared to the earlier cartoon, here the ghosts are downright domesticated. The Fleischer-era Popeye would have finished off them and Bluto before lunch.
Even so, this cartoon has decent (if not eye-popping) production values compared to the painful made-for-TV Popeyes of the 1960's and beyond. It took us a long, long time after the quality stuff was gone to realize just what we were missing. Farewell, Popeye (at least in theaters).
© 2007, Steve Bailey.
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