Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Popeye Don't Get No Respeck

Promotional ad for the Popeye comic strip (1929-1938) drawn by his creator E.C. Segar. (Image: Mouse Heaven)

Ahoy. Though I've effectively left this blog to moulder (with the exception of the odd DVD review) I thought I might as well commit to it some random thoughts on the subject of a Popeye animated feature. I didn't even know one was in the works until the fall of 2014 when Genndy Tartakovsky (of 'Samurai Jack' and 'Hotel Transylvania' fame) posted a test reel of how his version of (a CG) Popeye would look. There was a lot wrong with it * (and the self serving 'biography' at the start bode of potentially worse to come) but I figured it was a done deal and  I braced myself for the inevitable 'Ice Age' starring Popeye to railroad into production. For some reason though it was pulled back into development where, I read, it still lives.

Part of the problem with adapting Popeye is where to go. Since the death in 1938 of Popeye's creator E.C. Segar the character has had many authors and has evolved multiple times over the decades. During the 1950's, for instance, the animated Popeye was reimagined as a suburban dweller wandering  landlocked pre-fab homes in a sailor suit. In the comic books of the 50's Bud Sagendorf brought in elements of juvenile fantasy such as aliens and space ships (as did the animated cartoons) and generally moved Popeye in a more 'kid-friendly' direction. Both are worthy of praise, and discovery, for their  exceptional artwork but, character wise, Popeye had become somewhat neutered from what he once was. By the 80's Olive had got herself a track suit, a la Olivia Newton John, and had a son with Popeye in the execrable , in every sense, 'Popeye and Son'. What seems to have been lost in the second half of the 20th century was the creative voice of the Popeye. Though  many authors have had custody over the years the fact was only one person who could ever truly claim to know what Popeye was thinking: Segar.

Bud Sagendorf drew a really appealing Popeye in his early comic book work but the edge had come off the stories from Segar's day.

A Popeye "Soakie" (bubble bath container) from the 1960's.  

then this happened.

Deviation from the original comic strip started early and was born of necessity. When Fleischer Studios convinced King Features that the character could work visually in animation (by producing the test film 'Popeye The Sailor' in 1933)  they quickly realized it would be necessary to simplify. Seven minute shorts could not support the kind of character development and epic story arcs that imbued the comic strip and the assembly line nature of animated cartoons meant settling on a steady cast of characters of knowable quantity. Looking at the image at the top of this post gives you an idea how routinely Segar introduced new characters. Thus Bluto became the recurring heavy only because  Segar's 'The Eighth Sea' story (in which Bluto was only an episodic villain) happened to be in progress at the time the animated series was launched. The other main difference was spinach as the source of Popeye's strength which was only intermittently noted in the strip. But despite these simplifications the Fleischer cartoons retained the gritty, even freakish, look (and feel) of the Segar original. More importantly they retained, and even built on, the presence of an essential unseen character: the depression itself.

Popeye's domicile in Fleischer's 'For Better or Worser' (1935)

panels from the "A Sock For Susan's Sake' continuity (1937)

Popeye is nothing if not the story of economically lower middle class and poor characters. For me, this is something that got loused up with later iterations.   In Segar's comic strip the characters are always losing any money they gain through their adventures only to return at the end to their original economically deprived state. This often would motivate the start of a new story. The Fleischers likewise depicted Popeye's world as impoverished: not necessarily as a motivation to plot but, in my opinion, almost an existential comment on the world as it existed in the 30's.  I think it's safe to say that the initial appeal over other less class conscious comic strip characters of the day was it's ability to speak to the circumstances of the broadest segment of the audience: working people and the poor.  The secret was the genius skill with which both comic strip and animated cartoon were able to turn such grim material into humour without coming off as simply cruel or somehow supercilious.  People existing in those circumstances would surely have recognized, and found relief,  not only from the irony of the humour but from the scrappy character of a fighter who lived by his (not always so sharp) wits.

Castor, Olive and Ham Gravy lose their winnings from Dice Island (in the story that introduced Popeye) to a couple of crooked stock brokers (Mr. Glibb and Mr. Blabber). 

Popeye wanders a depressed neighborhood (so poor the hydrants are held together by rope!) in 'I Eats My Spinach' (1933)

As animated cartoons go Fleischer's Popeye series proved to be tremendously popular and, thanks to television re-runs, continued to win over successive generations not only due to their humour but also their excellent production quality which made competing low budget made-for-TV fare seem pale by comparison. Kids could tell the difference in quality then...and many still do when they see the Fleischer Popeyes today. In fact, for the majority of the world Fleischer Popeye is Popeye - spinach can and all.

Something new has been added: Popeye's famous Spinach Can was a unique addition of the Fleischer  cartoons (as seen in 'I Wanna Be a Lifeguard', 1936)

So then, after so many decades of Popeye where should the character go from here?  That was the problem when Jules Feiffer, a former assistant to Will Eisner and long time cartoonist  of The Village Voice, was assigned the task of writing an original screenplay to a live action version of Popeye in the late 70's (the film was released in 1980) for director Robert Altman.  Feiffer, who long preferred Segar's vision of the character found himself at odds with  director Altman (and producer Robert Evans) who insisted on elements familiar to audiences through the Fleischer cartoons. This resulted in characters such as Pappy, Bluto and Spinach being introduced in oddly prosaic fashion. Popeye's epic search for Pappy had taken months in Segar's strip making the reveal of "the Commodore's" identity in the film underwhelming by comparison. Castor Oyl, a major character in the strip, was also severely neutered and was played in a manner similar to the Kent Dorfman character played by Stephen Furst in 1978's 'Animal House' (Castor was played by similar type Donovan Scott). Still, Feiffer was able to get the period of the film correct and suitably depressed surroundings, lack of food, money and amenities (an important satirical element of the Segar original) were all depicted and pop tunesmith Harry Nillson was able to add some good songs. Audience response was, however, mixed. Leonard Maltin suggested in his review that movie goers: "Tune in a few hours' worth of Max Fleischer cartoons; you'll be much better off".  He had a point since technology did not yet exist to properly depict the wild comic violence of both strip and animated cartoon, an essential element of Popeye, within live action parameters. Those scenes in the live action Popeye were clumsy indeed.

Neither fish nor fowl the 1980 live action Popeye had some good and not-so-good elements. It's since found it's audience on home video, DVD etc.

The problem with the live action film underlines an intrinsic problem with adapting Popeye to the big screen: how to keep the characters vital while meeting the needs of many audiences: fans of the comic strip, fans of the animated cartoons  and audiences new to Popeye.  Nowadays this is usually done by numerous script doctors tasked with putting a percentage of the film towards 'fan service' and a percentage towards 'general entertainment' (generic elements of contemporary block busters) for a result which usually comes off as highly clinical.  That is the Popeye we are most likely to see.  If not  from Tartakovsky then somebody else.

Model from 'Puppet Love' (Image: Popeye Animator's Blogspot)

But is it even worth it? As far as I'm concerned the best animated Popeye has been done already: by the Fleischers.  Thankfully those were issued on DVD so we can at least have easy access to them: a door which was closed and locked for decades. But what is there to add that hasn't already been tried in the 87 years since Popeye's birth?  There have already been too many Popeyes.  Personally I can only see one path that's even worth exploring: a faithful cinematic adaptation of a Segar continuity.

Popeye's iconic first words ever were a wisecrack.

That is one hell of a tall order by the way. The fact is that no Segar continuity contains every element that audiences would recognize from the animated cartoons. Wimpy is not in 'The Eighth Sea'. Bluto is not in 'Plunder Island' (though Wimpy, Alice the Goon and The Sea Hag are).  Both are missing from Popeye's first story.  Popeye does not consume a can of spinach in any of them. Yet what is working beautifully is the storytelling. Here is an area ripe for cinematic treatment. Popeye's comic strip adventures were epic in scope and often lasted many months. They're real 'page turners' too as Segar introduced supernatural elements, strange mysteries, treasure hunts and all manner of adventure. There's enough material here already for a half dozen feature films. It would take, however, a screenwriter of considerable talent to convert comic strip to screenplay without steamrolling over Segar's carefully crafted narratives and, importantly, satiric dialog.  If Fleischer elements (Bluto, Spinach Can etc.) must be added they would need to be done so with great care.

Segar's 'Plunder Island' was the first story to feature Alice The Goon (image: Heritage Auctions).  

Mind you it's possible a story like 'Plunder Island' might work just fine without Bluto or the spinach can so long as stylistically the animation, design and everything else were to hew to the look and feel of the Fleischer cartoons: the look most audiences associate with Popeye.  In this instance CG could be used as a tool  but the film would need to have a dimensionally hand drawn and painted look.  This is one hell of an order too since no-one has successfully been able to fully replicate the Fleischer style, en masse, in the modern age. Part of this is due to the fact that much of what the Fleischers did has been 'trained out' of commercial animators today. Yet, applying the balletic approach of a Disney ** (or the 'zippy' style of a Powerpuff Girl) looks totally wrong on the brutish and weird world of Popeye. However there are people out there who have both the professional experience and lifetime love of Fleischer to handle such an order providing the budget existed.  And skilled drafts-people can always adapt assuming they have the right direction, time and tools for the job. Besides, audiences might be primed for something that looks different from the pack. Just a theory.

A rare appearance of Geezil in a Fleischer cartoon ('A Clean Shaven Man', 1936)

There have been many animated Popeyes over the years but never a faithful one. For me this is the only path worth taking for a new movie Popeye. It's the only offering yet to be made that actually adds to the legacy of the character. Otherwise better to create original characters to go with new situations rather than awkwardly shoe-horning something old into something new. Naturally I understand that is not what is going to happen if Popeye ever gets back out of development hell.  Personally I'm OK if that's where the project stays. To quote Leonard Maltin: "Tune in a few hours' worth of Max Fleischer cartoons; you'll be much better off".

(toot toot)

*-Wrong for Popeye not wrong in general. Powerpuff Girls or Samurai Jack, for example, would look wrong were they done a la Fleischer. Apples and oranges. 

**-Shamus Culhane points this out in his autobiography in reference to 'Popeye Meets William Tell'-a cartoon he directed after returning from Disney. Don't misunderstand my use of the word 'balletic'. Disney's best work were ballets IMO, and nobody did it better, but this approach isn't right for everything.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Vulcan Entertains: Willie Whopper

Note: This review is for the DVD version of Willie Whopper

Thunderbean and Steve Stanchfield should be familiar names if you visit this blog. Steve started reissuing cartoons on VHS way back in the 80's during the era of the 'Whole Toon Catalog' for those of you old enough to remember. I had no idea how long he had been doing it. Since then he and his staff have treated the world with meticulous restorations of cartoons otherwise consigned to the dustbin of history: first on DVD and later Blu Ray.

Original opening to 'Stratos-Fear' (1933)

His latest release of Ub Iwerks' obscure series Willie Whopper finds Steve partnering for the first time with a rights holder (traditionally he sources the best material from cartoons in the public domain) Blackhawk Films and the staff from a genuine film archive: UCLA. As a result print materials, including rare 35mm negatives and master positives, that no outside collector could have access to have been brought together for a DVD/Blu release for the first time.

Background from 'Robin Hood Jr' (1934)

As for the series itself it is, admittedly,  a mixed affair.  The story of how Willie Whopper came to be and his short existence is better chronicled elsewhere (the booklet included with the disc contains good general overview) but, suffice it to say, he was no star turn. Regardless, the best of his cartoons contain a kinetic energy which combines the emerging character driven approach of the west coast with the surrealism and imagination of the New York studios during a period in animation when there was a strong stylistic difference between the two.

Delirium ensues in 'Reducing Creme' (1934)

They're also surprisingly bawdy. A complete list of every sexual (Freudian or overt) or outhouse type gag would be difficult to tabulate but most of the cartoons have at least one or two. One cartoon, Jungle Jitters, has a female character who is topless for the whole cartoon! There's also inebriation of multiple kinds, smoking, obscene gestures and topped off by a character whose catch phrase ,"Now YOU tell one",  encourages children to lie.  Fun for the whole family.

Freudian and overt at the same time: 'Jungle Jitters' (1934)

More importantly, however, the set contains two complete Willie Whopper cartoons which were released in Cinecolor. While known for decades to have been released in color "Hell's Fire" and "Davy Jones Locker" remained elusive but for black and white 16mm versions and a color fragment of "Hell's Fire" entitled 'Masquerade Holiday'.  When a previous DVD release, 'Cartoons That Time Forgot', issued 'Masquerade Holiday' to VHS and later DVD in the 90's they prefaced the cartoon with a disclaimer that what they had might well be the only surviving color fragment of the film. In fact, there was a complete negative stored at UCLA the whole time which was unearthed in  gathering materials for this set. Stanchfield gives a better (and more accurate) sense of the technical details in his short essay in the included booklet. If you are so inclined you can get a sense of life before this discovery and restoration by reading my (admittedly badly written and more than a little crazy) series on the only complete, at least as was generally thought of at the time, version of "Hell's Fire": Vulcan Entertains.

Not anymore. 

Enjoy some Hell.  'Hell's Fire' (1934)

The remainder of the set completes the entire short run of the series, all looking fine, complete with the MGM logos that were sheared off in previous video versions of the films. Also gathered together are cartoons which have never been released officially to disc such as the terrific "The Cave Man", "Reducing Creme" and "Robin Hood Jr.". The sound is good too: clear and resonant if, at times, a little variable due to the multiple sources cobbled together ("Hell's Fire" for example). Always good to remind anyone hearing this stuff for the first time of the limitations of early sound recording. This is as good as some of this will ever sound.

Cartoons That Time Forgot (1999)

Thunderbean (2015)

A comparison between identical frames from 'Stratos-Fear' as it appears on the Thunderbean disc and the Cartoons That Time Forgot disc (issued in the 90's) indicates this latest release shows more of the film frame and better resolution. Not surprising since the Thunderbean version sources from a 35mm print whereas the Cartoons That time Forgot sources from 16mm.

The bonus features consist of: a reel of reissue title cards, a section with the three jazz records (two by Benny Moten and another by Jelly Roll Morton) used in "The Cave Man" and 'The Good Scout', a 'bonus cartoon' section which consists of a reissue print of Flip the Frog's "Funny Face" along with the two aforementioned edited versions of "Hell's Fire". There are also two galleries: one consisting of a few thumbnail and gag drawings featuring Willie by Grim Natwick along with a few trade ads and a lot of pencil boxes and the other consisting of scene-by-scene outlines for a number of cartoons. I'm still picking though this section (unlike many commercial disc galleries, slideshows etc. Thunderbean galleries allow zooming in to better inspect the images/read tiny print etc.) but I have finally discovered the name of Willie's dog  which has been a mystery which has alluded me for years: it's 'Rags'.  Great to have this stuff included. Strangely there doesn't seem to be a single photo of Iwerks himself in the galleries or on the cover.

Great to see the MGM logos up front where they belong. In the Flip The Frog cartoons Flip's theme actually begins with a fanfare over the MGM logo.

Functional but kinda slap-dash lookin'. Somebody make the music STOP!

The only quibble I can honestly make are for the disc cover  and menu layout  which seems
rushed and the conglomeration of elements (fonts, drawings, color etc.) lacking in cohesion. The 12 second clip of Willie's theme song looping interminably is kind of grating also. Not that any of this effects the quality of the films, which look amazing, or the menu navigation which is  legible and functions fine. After all, the meat of this set is not the menus but the content which is well worth  parting with a few bucks to own. These don't come around every day so check it out!

                                                                            Now YOU tell one, you lying little bastards.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Betty Boop: Vol.3

After emerging from my mailbox home, disc firmly in teeth, it occurred to me I was due to give my thoughts on BETTY BOOP THE ESSENTIAL COLLECTION VOL.3. Just stop sticking in those cardboard mailers-they really hurt!

First off I should say, if you are trying to decide on one of the (somewhat pricey) three issued volumes, you should absolutely knuckle down and buy this. Of the 12 cartoons on the disc four really are essential, not just among Fleischer cartoons but animation in general. Two or three others are really good examples of Fleischer at it's surrealistic peak and the rest, while perhaps not on anybody's top ten, still retaining the high production values the Fleischers maintained unwaveringly until almost the end. Of Betty's jazz cartoons it contains four (the essentials) of the five. Roland 'Doc' Crandall's masterpiece SNOW WHITE will undoubtedly appear on a future volume.

Now I should say I've seen these cartoons a gargoonian amount of times. So, my point of view isn't someone just discovering these for the first time but someone who's all too familiar with all the rotten ways Betty Boop has entered the DVD marketplace over the years. 

The question on my mind remained whether Olive had sought to correct the screen ratio problem that  distracted highly from my enjoyment of their first two volumes. At first everything seemed OK but when I compared the Olive version with the earlier Republic VHS/Laser transfers something still seemed off. On closer inspection though I realized the problem was not with the Olive transfer but with the earlier Republic version! For example, compare examples of the same frame of I'LL BE GLAD WHEN YOU'RE DEAD YOU RASCAL YOU from both Republic and Olive by clicking the below image and scrolling back and forth with your mouse wheel. 

Olive restoration

Republic version (overlayed on Olive version)

Not only were the Republic Betty Boops cropped but it seems as though they were also photographed at a slight angle (not quite straight on as a scan will give you) as well as slightly tilted. Whatever the problem was (I'm no video expert) it looks messed up. Comparing the two versions show what a good job looks like: it makes the previous version look obsolete.

Frankly, it's dazzling. Shots like the above previously ruined by DNR, over-exposure, interlacing and about every other problem now read crystal clear in a way not seen outside of a film archive in decades! I don't want to spoil things by posting too many grabs but there are some mind blowing things on this disc: detail in backgrounds of MINNIE THE MOOCHER I never noticed before, the top of the studio wall visible (!) in the live action intro to I HEARD and more!

As for the audio, I will say it is also an improvement over all previous video versions with fuller body and resonance within the context of very early sound recording. That said, the soundtracks to MINNIE THE MOOCHER and HA! HA! HA! retain the distortion audible in the earlier Republic release. A strange thing since BETTY BOOP'S UPS AND DOWNS (on Vol.2) had it's audio corrected. In the case of MINNIE THE MOOCHER this may be as good as it ever sounds (though it certainly bears investigation) but there are certainly better sounding versions of HA! HA! HA! out there. Likewise with BE UP TO DATE. For those of us who've already grown comfortable with the distortion (from earlier versions) it's no biggie but those checking these out for the first time  will need to adjust their eardrums a little for these. 

So, overall, a much better job than Vols. 1 and 2. I see recently that King Features has designed some alternate covers for Vols.1-3 featuring the work of the talented Stephen Destephano. The Olive covers are terrible so perhaps this may be the way we will see them in the future. Personally I'm a booster for original vintage artwork gracing the covers. Many Fleischer promotional drawings survive to this day so there's no shortage of images to choose from. Betty even had an official logo that appeared on all kinds of merchandise through the 30's. Either way it's better than what they are using currently: looking a bit like the cover of that spanish text book you lost in the eighth grade. As to Paramount stepping up and correcting the video problems that effected Bettty Boop The Essential Collection Volumes One and Two (Thanks Thad!), I hoist my best jug of corn drippuns in your general direction! Thank-you!!!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A bit more on Betty Boop

Happy New Year all! By now you may have realized I sort of view this blog as lawn sculpture: beautifully decomposing into toxic goo with each passing day. But before I allow the elements to take hold again there's still some left over business stuffed in that shoe box with the crumpled bank receipts, pizza menus and 2 for 1 bagel coupons. Wait, 2 for 1 bagels?!

First off is Volume two of The Betty Boop Essential Collection. Thad K, who broke the story of the goof which rendered our Betty with a head more like a pancake, kindly sent along his own transfers reformatted in something closer to their correct aspect ratios. It certainly helped antidote the original problem which was making me kind of crazy. So, for that I hoist my finest roast pigeon to Thad: thank-you for taking pity on my eyeballs!

That said, I would not call these 'fixed aspect ratios'. I noticed, when the above image was posted to Facebook with the heading 'fixed ratios', how narrow Frederic March's face seemed. So, I decided to compare three versions of BETTY BOOP'S PENTHOUSE: The Olive disc I purchased, Thad's redux version (based on a copy he purchased), and the old Republic version from the VHS set I bought years ago. What I discovered were images which were distorting vertically as well as horizontally. If you click the first image below and scroll between the series of three using your mouse wheel you'll see what I mean.




Personally, I don't care: I'm glad to have these cartoons looking closer to their correct aspect ratio than what we got from the first two Olive discs.  Everything I've read from Thad backs up that his disc was only a best guess done as a kindness to fans who were upset by the problem.  So it should be clear that these are not actually fixed ratios. My instinct, totally unverified by anything, is that the Republic set is the closest to showing the proper proportions of the characters, BG's etc. (neither stretched nor squashed) but that the image, as seen above, was cropped randomly to fit Academy Ratio. 

'Poor Cinderella' is a title appearing on Olive's master list of Betty Boop cartoons  appearing in their Essential Collection. However, many others, including the brilliant MYSTERIOUS MOSE, were left off for reasons unknown.

I've noticed some people asking if  the aspect ratio differs only on the pre-code Bettys or whether all of them are effected: a logical question since Fleischers changed formats early in their run.  Personally I didn't notice anything funny on Olive's release of THE FOXY HUNTER (1937, long after Fleischers had standardized their release format) until I scrolled it (as you can do below) with the same frame from the earlier Republic VHS. You will see there is indeed squishing occurring. So it is not a problem exclusive only to the pre-code Bettys.



Dryness is something you have to get used to if you're a Fleischer fan. I was thinking today of the Popeye Laser Disc I purchased at top dollar years prior to WB's Popeye set. The hope was at least it would be less bad than what I had previously. That was dry. Compared to them days (with a recent release of Puppetoons, Thunderbean discs of Gulliver and Eshbaugh on the way and even Betty Boop) we're livin' in a paradise, buckeroo!  Personally I was getting worried the series might stop abruptly at Vol.2. So, the hope is they're quality checking the work this time around. Thad's redux discs are welcome but I would expect better from Vol.3 for which I'll be shelling out actual hard earned cash.  Of course I, like you, would prefer the mammoth no-frills box set of Screen Song cartoons (or Color Classics for that matter) for the binge weekend of a lifetime. 12 cartoons a disc, with months to wait between volumes, is pretty thin. But any action on the part of Paramount to do something beside sit on their gigantic back catalog of cartoons should be greeted with as much enthusiasm as possible. And as I wrote previously, the aspect ratio was the only real problem with the first two volumes and, aside from that, they have never looked or sounded better. So there is something to be enthusiastic about! We now return you to our regularly scheduled test pattern...

The Official Test Pattern of Uncle John's Crazy Town. Please Stand By...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Mixed Blessing...

First off, Paramount taking any interest in their animation legacy (which includes a rich trove from Fleischers, Famous and George Pal) is big news. The studio has been trounced badly in recent years mostly due to the manner in which the studio was taken from Max. But, for a long time it was a good relationship and the partnership resulted in many cartoons that are now regarded as classics of the genre.  Even through the lean years of the 40's Para still maintained two animation studios. So, for all the flack it is Paramount we must ultimately thank for the existence of the Fleischer and Famous cartoon films as we know them today. Animation history, from a home viewing perspective, has been much poorer for their absence. Now we have BETTY BOOP: THE ESSENTIAL COLLECTION: the first release of authorized Betty Boop cartoons in over a decade.

The cover of Olive Films Betty Boop includes a slip case. I can see the cover designer was attempting to do something in the vein of the Betty Boop playing cards issued in the 30's combined with the look of the 'Definitive Collection' (which was illustrated by Leslie Cabarga) but yet it lacks the finesse to distinguish it from dollar bin cheapies: a mistake that could effect sales among non-fans IMO. Of course, collectors are the primary market (and a bigger market then credited) for a disc like this.

Bimbo playing card from a line of bridge sets issued at the time of the Fleischer Studios.

Betty Boop Platinum Collection was a bootleg some fans prefer as it uses as it's master a couple of non-DVNR'd Republic laser discs issued in the early 90's

I'm sure you've already read Thad's insightful review over at Cartoon Research but if you haven't click here. I can tell you my heart sank when I heard they had messed with the aspect ratio: the one mistake I didn't account for in my last post! That makes reviewing the disc a little tricky. I see some commenters over at CR can't see the difference so, below, is a comparison between an an original animation drawing from BETTY BOOP'S MAY PARTY (from Ryan Englade's Collection) and a frame grab from the Olive disc. If you click on the first image and then use your mouse wheel to scroll back and forth between the two you will see the squashing. An inker (or clean-up artist) would never mess with the volume like that (unless they wanted their scene thrown back).  Below that is a side-by-side comparison.

So, clearly there's something wrong. And yet it's a simple error that can be corrected. Let's not forget the mistakes of previous releases. Or have we forgotten the big stink over the AAP titles that slipped onto some of the early Popeye disc sets?  VCI's SOMEWHERE IN DREAMLAND DVD set claimed both that the set was compiled from the best surviving materials and that TIME FOR LOVE was a lost film. Neither was true but a later pressing of SWIDL corrected the error by including a good quality 16mm print of TIME FOR LOVE.  If Olive could do that for the aspect ratio problem for the BETTY BOOP: ESSENTIAL COLLECTION I would easily call this the animation disc of the year and worthy of the price tag even minus the bonus features.

BAMBOO ISLE Olive disc
BAMBOO ISLE Platinum disc. You can see from the above comparison that we are indeed seeing more of the frame instead of just cropping it off.  It's just  the wrong aspect ratio. Otherwise, the Olive disc is clearly the better image.

So, now the positive side. Except for the aspect ratio problem virtually everything else is better than we've seen before. One thing Olive does really well is author their discs. The Platinum set (taken from early Republic laser discs), by comparison, has a lot problems: bad interlacing, artifacting, blurry resolution, and the company's obnoxious logo in front of every cartoon among them.  I'm sure someone out there will point out the finer points of DVD authoring but the Olive disc step-frames (slow advance) better than anything I've seen and thus allows a look at the cartoons previously not possible.

The image resolution on Olive's BETTY BOOP'S RISE TO FAME is truly striking. You can practically read the note pad! Not that I'm lookin' at the note pad if ya know what I mean (A-HOOOOGA). So much for serious criticism.

The Platinum Collection version is actually from a dupey 16mm NTA print (Olive's is UM&M 35)

I can confirm too the Olive Betty Boops generally sound better than we've heard them before too. BETTY BOOP'S HALLOWEEN PARTY still contains the same distortion as it did in 'The Definitive Collection' set of the 1990's (a problem it shared with  BETTY BOOP'S UPS AND DOWNS) but nothing too awful. Many, like BETTY BOOP'S PENTHOUSE, have never sounded better. 

So, what could have been a total disaster is instead a first rate job with only one serious problem that can be easily fixed.  My hope is that they correct the problem for future volumes and, should they go to a second pressing (or a box set), fix the problem (by slight 'pillar' boxing) in the effected Volume 1 (and Volume 2?) cartoons then.  BETTY BOOP THE ESSENTIAL COLLECTION is not "unwatchable" as has been suggested but a job so close to being perfect* deserves to go for the gold. As far as the choice of cartoons: well, if I were picking my personal 'Essential' mix (keeping in mind I am a freak)  it wouldn't be all that different from what was chosen by Olive. Many are decrying the lack of bonus features. They would be nice but I felt the  Popeye documentaries and "Popumentaries" to be, for the most part, pretty lackluster and not adding anything so significant as to justify their expense. I personally never watch 'em. 

*-rereading this it sounds like I'm minimizing the error. The content has been severely altered from what the film makers intended and should be corrected.


I know restoration of the titles is not on the minds of Olive or Paramount for these discs. That's fine by me but, if I were Olive, I'd ask Paramount to call in the favor from Warners for loaning out Betty Boop clips for their OUT OF THE INKWELL: THE FLEISCHER STORY documentary and get the "into the inkwell" footage that closed out many of the early Fleischer cartoons. They survived uncut on some of the early Popeyes such as I YAM WHAT I YAM. Heck, they restored the opening Para logo too. Be good to have anyways for any future Fleischer projects. And wouldn't it be great if I HEARD had it's beginning and ending back? Of course it was probably something more in line with a cheque delivered by courier rather than a favor. But, hey, a guy can dream can't he?

Title for I YAM WHAT I YAM