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The Sailorman Returns!

Best news I could get on my birthday yesterday was the announcement that all parties concerned have finally reached an accord that will allow the complete library of classic Popeye cartoons to come out on home video, starting sometime next year.

Be it known that except for a few shorts which slipped into the public domain, there has never been a legitimate home video release of the Popeye shorts. In the 50s, Paramount sold its film library to Associated Artists Productions, which managed the TV rights (and was responsible for the "a.a.p." title card on every Popeye we saw on TV in the 60s). AAP was bought out by United Artists, which merged with MGM, which was bought by Ted Turner, who was then bought out by Time Warner. None of these various owners could bring out a home video release because King Features, owners of the original Popeye comic strip and thus its trademarks, claimed only they had the home video rights. Now everyone has gotten together, and Warners will have boxed sets in chronological order starting in 2007.

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It’s worth noting that the Popeye DVDs will apparently be in chronological order, starting with his guest appearance in a Betty Boop cartoon in 1933. Consider that the Fleischer studios had been around for 12 years already, and the first Popeye cartoons are considered as good as any other in the series. If the Looney Tunes DVDs were released chronologically, you’d have to slog through lots of Bosko, Buddy, Foxy and Goopy Gear (not to mention many forgettable Warner Music-published songs) before you find the first Porky Pig.

Some time ago, I wrote some new rules of Cartoon Physics which codified many of Popeye’s spinach-powers "feats of strenkth." I realized that many of Popeye’s visual gags were alive and well in the films of Hong Kong director Stephen Chow (Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle). There I’ve seen characters, through computer animation, take on the appearance of the names of their fighting stances: a giant bullfrog, or a Buddha’s palm, or summon a Yin/Yang symbol in the air before them. Is it possible Chow might admit being influenced by Popeye cartoons (or more likely, the martial arts manga)? I can just see the script directions in a live-action Popeye movies:

Although his limbs are tied to each of four elephants trying to pull him apart, the Mysterious Sailor manages to rub the bowl of his corncob pipe across the front of his shirt, causing a can of spinach to appear from beneath his collar, where there was none before. With the can balanced precariously on his skinny chest, The Sailor takes a deep breath and exhales through his pipe, superoxygenating the embers inside until they emit a blue-hot welder’s arc. Quickly the arc cuts away at the top of the can, and The Sailor shift ever so slightly so that the spinach inside falls directly into his mouth. as he chews, he meditates on his mantra, conveniently set to a sprightly musical ditty:

Ommm… Popeye the Sailor Man
Omm… Popeye the Sailor Man
I am what I am and that’s all that I am
Omm… Popeye the Sailor Man

As he hears the music, he flexes his fists, causing his wrists, and amazingly, his ankles, too, to swell to five times their normal size, easily snappng the manacle binding him. The Mysterious Sailor then flexes his right arm. In his mind, he hears a double-time rendition of "The Stars and Stripes Forever," while we see a huge mass of muscle form on his pipecleaner forearm. Within the mightly bulge of his bicep, we see a squadron of fighter jets taking off from the deck of an aircraft carrier. The Mysterious Sailor faces his tormentors with a smile on his face. We know that his vengeance will be terrible indeed. and yet comical…

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