Friday 19 October 2012

Into the Inkwell

Any child of five should easily be able to grade the Popeye cartoons. At least, as a child of five, I did. The ones with the opening and closing doors at the beginning were the best. They had a flow of funny little things going on, warped stuff like buildings and furniture in the background and John Philip Sousa quickly pumping away as Popeye humiliated and beat the crap out of someone.

These, of course, were the Fleischer studios Popeyes. They vanished from local TV in my area around 1967, never to return to my childhood. Years later, they were released on DVD, and seeing those doors open and close again bring back happy memories. But the DVD versions have something I never saw as a kid.

The television rights to 234 Popeye cartoons were sold by Paramount in mid-April 1956 to PRM, Inc., a shell parent company for Associated Artists Productions that re-did the titles, getting rid of all those nasty references to Paramount. In the process, it cut off stop-motion animation at the end of the first eight Popeyes where the iris out turned into an inkwell.

The titles faded into view as the inkwell flipped up, and the inkwell top did a little spin and landed in its proper place.

It’s a shame they did away with this ending. It’s distinctive and it’s an appropriate tie-in to Fleischer’s silent-era past with the imaginative Out of the Inkwell cartoons.

Chopping off the ending wasn’t the most egregious abuse these cartoons suffered. That was when they were colourised and re-filmed. The shades of grey enhance the originals and adding colour completely ruined the atmosphere. Fortunately, you can now see them again as they were originally made, with the neat little inkwell included.


  1. On the AAP prints, I found it interesting to learn that Max Fleischer had filed a lawsuit in 1955 over the removal of his name from the credits of the films. But his name wasn't removed on the TV prints; in the case of AAP, they made a concerted effort to retain his name on the post-39 shorts when they cropped the original title cards to remove the "Paramount Presents" identifier (since Max's legal action was against Paramount and not AAP, I may be mis-reading this and the suit may be connected to the original Famous Studios theatrical releases, while Dave Fliescher's ensuing 1956 lawsuit was targeted at AAP and the money they were earning from the cartoons).

    Overall, AAP's crops were annoying, but slightly less annoying than the UM&M/NTA title editing, and certainly less irritating than Ted Turner's 1987-88 colorizations (the first three of those -- "Axe Me Another", "Be Kind to Aminals" and "Alona On the Sarong Seas" are particularly heinous, being redrawn at the same miserable levels of the Looney Tunes and Betty Boop colorizations 20 years earlier). Warners' decision to computer colorize their B&W Looney Tunes just 2 1/2 years after the Korean Popeye redrawns made the quality level look even worse by comparison.

  2. I always wondered why I didn't like Popeye cartoons when I was younger. But now I see why- all that they played on TV then was the colorized versions. Seeing the originals on YouTube is a heck of a lot more enjoyable.

    The way every other frame seems removed and the tracings are done so badly made the movements look jerky and uninteresting.

  3. The re-traced Fleischers didn't air in my area, Tymine, but the Warners cartoons did. We had a black and white set. I couldn't figure out why :Porky Pig cartoons I had seen before suddenly looked jerky and downright ugly in some places.