Thursday, December 19, 2013

At Play in the Fields of the Legends of Old

The Fleischers did three two-reel color Popeye shorts, and I'm pretty confident that any fan of the Fleischer shorts will tell you that their favorite is the one called Popeye the Sailor meets Ali Baba's 40 Thieves.  Gotta make sure I get that title right.  In terms of pure showmanship, Ali Baba can still stand toe to toe with any modern cartoon, even at 76 years old.
...oh right!  A review.  Well, I've once again run out of time, so I'll just stick to the highlights.  Also, I should probably discuss the racial aspects of the cartoon, but here's a blog that gives the proper racial perspective.  Spoiler Alert: even though it's so racist, they still find it entertaining and actually recommend it!  Gasp... Here's a Wikipedia link to The Forty Thieves.  I mean, sure, I could go into the other room and get our Encyclopedia of Literature, but... well, you know.  It's the other room!  Might as well be on the other side of the moon.  Besides, the quote unquote "Encyclopedia of Literature" is probably just as biased and racist as everything else.  But if Wikipedia is to be believed, then the legend of the Forty Thieves wasn't even cribbed from 1001 Arabian Nights... again, a biased and culturally insensitive collection, probably filtered through racist employees of the Dutch East India Company.  Personally, I think it's Popeye just trying to hitch his wagon to as many established coattails as possible.  I mean, what's next?  Aladdin's Lamp?... oh, for Goodness zake...
Okay, so a few of my favourite moments.  First of all, Bluto's... I mean Abu Hassan's theme song.  It's hard not to like the villain's theme song, especially with the phrase "I'm a terrible guy" right there in it.  God bless Gus Wickie.  And besides, I take the sequence of Popeye and company crashing their plane-boat in the desert as a slap in the face to American Imperialism.  I mean, Popeye just keeps flying until the plane breaks down?  And he doesn't even know where to look for the Forty Thieves, second of all.  I'm getting more sentimental about this short as the years drag on.  For me, the waterworks flow when they're in the desert and they fade to the giant crescent moon.  Admittedly, some of Popeye's muttering at this point is not very clever: specifically, where he says "You know, I could go for a sandwich if I had a "which"."  Puh-leeeeeze.
Maybe it's just a sexual metaphor, but I also really dig the part where the Forty Thieves first breach the wall of the town Popeye and company arrived at.  Also, the noises the good guys make when they chug their first water in days are worth the price of admission by themselves.  From these, and Bluto wolfing down his lunch, Homer Simpson was surely born.
There's extensive use of large 3D backgrounds, and I think it also features the only use of a 3D model with moving parts: specifically, the giant wagon at the end, pulled by Bluto and the Forty Thieves.  Some people, like Steven Spielberg, have referred to the movies of the '30s, '40s and '50s as some of the greatest ever made, and for me, Popeye the Sailor meets Ali Baba's 40 Thieves belongs right up there.  Forget Disney, this Popeye short is the one.  The editing is as modern as it gets, the animation's top notch, and it represents the finest work of the Fleischer Studios.  Arguably, not as zany as some of their truly zany stuff, but they did what they could.  And 76 years from now, if society still exists, this Popeye short will still be as good as when it was first made.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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