Saturday, January 12, 2013
Still Wild after All These Years
Already I'm crying. Popeye's once again on turbulent waters in the smallest of vessels with Olive wondering why she's dutifully by his side. Bella Swan, eat your heart out! The choppy waters are disturbing his theme song; that must be what I like about it. The notes from his pipe are late because of the waters. There's a subtle close-up as Popeye starts punching big fish that leap out of the sea at him, turning them into sardine-sized little fish. Charles Fort would appreciate this, surely. Olive's ready for the third wave with two self-sealing cans of sardines. I'm not even watching the damn thing!!!
They come to a stop sign in the ocean. A whale passes by with the license plate "2Y-1601" on it. Popeye decides to put in a little effort and starts blowing on their makeshift sail. A hand made of sea water carries their vessel to shore. I'm telling you; James Cameron got every idea ever from Popeye cartoons! Morphing, giant water worms... Popeye shakes hands with the water hand, saying "SO LONG, SKIPPAH!" He might be regretting that handshake, as they've landed at the worst possible place. A land with the fauna of Africa, but the fauna of Brazilian rain forests... at least, from what I can tell. Maybe Africa has forests like that... some Master's Degree I got! That's what I get for not looking at Yahoo! Images. The screaming and bellowing of the forest creatures frightens Olive, who leaps backward, and then Popeye who leaps backward after Olive.
And so, we get a sequence that George Harrison might have liked if he saw it, as it features slightly clunky music heavy with saxophones. A gorilla breaks a bone in half and shoves it into its mouth. What a pig. A tiger takes a bite out of a tree. That's just confusing! There's other creatures as well; another intricate scene. And then... the beast of the title. Stampy's grandfather charges straight through the forest, knocking down every tree in its path. Awesome use of perspective here.
The elephant gets an eyeful of Popeye and goes right to work, grabbing Popeye with his trunk and thrashing him about in a figure eight motion. Popeye is clearly getting the crap beat out of him, but Olive remains optimistic: "Attaboy, Popeye! Give it to 'im..." she says. Just then, a gorilla, perhaps the one from earlier, takes an interest in Olive. She faints, and the gorilla carries her off. Must be time for an act break.
Popeye's thrashing by the elephant eventually stops, so he lets him have it right in the trunk. And, just like that damn Test Your Strength game from the first one, and from an Arbuckle / Keaton short, and from Beetlejuice and countless others, a lump of pain rises up to the elephant's head. There's a rich tradition is all I'm sayin'. Let's dwell on the elephant's pain lump; it'll be on the test later.
Why does everyone in these cartoons have Pac-Man eyes? Everyone but the humans, apparently.
Popeye notices that Olive's gone. Good thing he can see the gorilla from afar. The gorilla uses Olive's head to crack open coconuts. The Fleischers, like Monty Python after them, are sensitive to the audience's sensibilities, and they know that any more than two coconuts would simply be gratuitous. Popeye's in full sprint mode now, running about as fast as a non-land lubber like him can. Just then, the gorilla walks past a moose... a moose? In Africa? Maybe it's a wildebeest. It's got moose horns, though, right? For simplicity's sake, I'll just refer to the moose as "the party of the first part." So the moose gets an eyeful of Popeye and doesn't like what it sees. It starts snorting like a pig, for God's sake! Popeye sees the moose and puts his hands up like antlers, bracing for the impending collision. The moose has been revving up, and now takes off, its snorts rising in pitch. Tears are starting to flow again. God, I love that part. If they don't have this cartoon in Heaven, then it must be Hell in disguise. Popeye and the moose collide. "OW!" says Popeye. They regroup and go in for a second helping. Another fist-fight tornado and, unfortunately for the moose, it turns into a head on a plaque, which Popeye hangs on a nearby tree. The long shadow of Teddy Roosevelt, alas. If they were making this today, Popeye and the moose would be seen going to a pub afterwards. Frankly, this is worse than the racist stuff!
Back to the elephant. The Fleischer Orchestra plays "Memories, Memories..." and we see the elephant thinking. Thinking about that time a few minutes ago when Popeye gave him that punch in the trunk. Like a Firefly, an elephant never forgets. For God's sake, the animators went to the trouble to superimpose a whole thought bubble!
Back to Popeye and that snappy Franz Liszt number, then back to the elephant, stamping past the moose head plaque. Popeye crosses a chasm on the neck of a giraffe... how's the elephant going to do that? The xylophone music here reminds me of Wacky Wildlife... anyone? Never mind. The gorilla is scared now, running at top speed with Olive in hand. The gorilla climbs the nearest tree it can find... big mistake, because it's not that tall. Apparently, it's a banana tree... do they even grow on trees? I thought they were large shrubs or something. No time to look it up. Anywho, Popeye punches the tree. Everything flies up far into the air, and the tree comes down first, morphing into a cart. The cart fills up with fruit, and the gorilla pushes the cart away. Popeye doesn't catch Olive, but says to the gorilla "G'WAN, SELL YOUR BANANAS!" This probably seems racist somehow, and definitely violent, but I'll leave that for brighter minds to elaborate on. Probably Imperialistic, too.
Like Donald Trump, Popeye rarely has a day when he's not proud of himself, and as usual he's triumphant in victory, having vanquished the jungle beast that tried to steal Olive. On the other hand, like the Alfred Hitchcock film, Notorious, Olive's kinda tainted goods now. I mean, who wants a gorilla's Sloppy Seconds, am I right? But Popeye's not the lone witness of his gorilla thrashing. Two monkeys in a far-off tree saw the whole thing, and they alert the rest of the jungle creatures with a general alarm. Another good Fleischer moment. And soon enough, Popeye and Olive are surrounded by the most ferocious beasts of the jungle: a rhino, a bear, some snakes, and a tiger. That's just a warm-up, folks. Popeye yells "I'LL TAKE YA ALL ON ONE AT A TIME!" I know, I know, but it sounds tough. A lion is first. Bluto says "I'm king!"... I mean, the lion, who sounds a bit like Bluto, says "I'm KING!" Well, we've been lacking in Bluto-esque figures until now. Popeye retorts with "Then I'll crown ya! WHAM!" And sure enough, Popeye's lump turns into a crown.
Up next: a cartoon python the size of an anaconda, which wraps itself completely around Popeye and gives his whole body a good strangling. What, no hypnosis? But alas, the snake's no match for Popeye's pipe smoke, and down it goes to the ground.
Apparently, that was too much abuse for Olive. She's got the spinach this time, and she tries to piss off the Hays Code people the way she gets it out of her shoe. We'd rather see Betty Boop try that, no? And so, we're given the most saxophone-laden version of Popeye's theme song as Popeye eats his spinach, and gets the lumps out of his body, waving to the crowd when he's back to normal.
Back to the elephant, who's finally crossed the giraffe bridge and now looks upon Popeye. He thinks about that painful lump he got, once again to the tune of "Memories, Memories...." The elephant nods, then charges into battle. That elephant doesn't know what he's in for. Reminds me of that joke... ah, skip it. Popeye grabs the elephant by the trunk (more salt in the wound) and spins it round and round for about six seconds, finally letting it go. The elephant flies far away, smashing a small island into the water! Popeye's now taking on all the beasts, at least two at a time, as they all fly towards him, only to get smashed by a spinached-up Popeye. We get a long shot of flying animals. Epic. I suppose I should be a little critical, and point out that the animation in this part jumps at about 5:36 and change. Well, nobody's perfect.
Well, I'll stand with PETA on this one. We get a few shots of an empty treescape filling up with animal skins. Still, it's done with panache! Skins land on Olive, culminating in a whole gorilla skin, complete with face and everything. Olive turns around to drive the point home that it's just Olive in a gorilla suit. Popeye can't tell the difference, however, and he comes up and punches Olive, laughing. Hmmm... did he really think it was a gorilla? Olive suffered about as much physical abuse as she's ever done in this short, but she hits Popeye back when he sings his ending song: once for each pipe whistle. Popeye's heart is broken. I must be too self-conscious about the tears, because they're not welling up as much now that I'm blogging about it. Maybe I better watch the beginning again... ah, there they go. Classic.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan