Combustible Celluloid

Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Popeye's Pops

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy on DVD.

Popeye's 75th anniversary continues with this pleasing, above-average 44-minute cartoon, the first new Popeye cartoon in decades, and the first time the sailor and his friends have been presented in 3D computer animation.

When he sees an image of his shipwrecked Pappy in a dream, Popeye (voiced by Billy West, replacing the great Jack Mercer) decides to spend Christmas looking for him. Shipmates Bluto (voiced by Gary Chalk), Olive Oyl and Swee' Pea (both voiced by Tabitha St. Germain) and Wimpy (voiced by Sanders Whiting) lend a hand, but the Sea Hag (voiced by Kathy Bates) has other plans.

The animators do their best to stay true to the Popeye formula, and especially the unique visual style of the old Max and Dave Fleischer cartoons, but they allow a few modern jokes to creep in, mostly to the film's benefit. Paul Reiser (TV's "Mad About You") co-wrote the script and co-produced.

It's the DVD's extras that begin to strike one as odd. Over and over, the animators in the making-of featurette refer to the great 1930s Max and Dave Fleischer cartoons, but instead we see clips from the graceless, inferior King Features cartoons of the 1960s. In addition, the disc boasts "four classic episodes," but these, too, are the cheap-looking King cartoons.

According to some Popeye fans, there's a conspiracy afoot. Apparently, Warner Bros. owns the rights to all the old Fleischer cartoons, but King Features owns the rights to the characters. Some say that the Fleischer cartoons have been restored and are ready to be released, but that King is dragging its feet, unable or unwilling to come to a compromise.

Meanwhile, I can only recommend VCI Entertainment's two-disc "Popeye the Sailor Man: 75th Anniversary" collection, with two discs worth of re-mastered public domain cartoons, including nine Fleischer shorts.

Note: Fred Grandinetti, author of "Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History" (McFarland, 2004) informs me that many of the original (restored and uncut) Fleischer Popeye cartoons are being preserved at the Chester Public Library in Chester, Illinois.

December 25, 2004

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