It's high in calcium, potassium, and vitamin A. Yep, Judge Bill Gibron loves his spinach.
I yam what I yam…in CGI!
When that salty seaman with the oversized forearms, Popeye, dreams he knows where his long last Pappy is, he gathers up his crew and sets sail for the Sea of Mystery. First mate Bluto gets the vessel shipshape, while Popeye's girlfriend Olive Oyl prepares a sumptuous holiday banquet for the crew (she's also coming along, since it's not right for "family" to be separated on the holidays, in this case, Christmas). Popeye's foundling, Swee'pea, will also be along for the ride, as our nautical nice guy never goes anywhere without him. Even Wimpy will stow away, hoping to horn in on some of Olive's fanciful feast.
But as they move further into the Sea of Mystery, they learn that the Sea Hag, that wicked witch of the water, has trapped Pappy as part of a prophecy. She says that a one-eyed sailor will help her rule all the oceans of the world. And since Pappy won't cooperate, her only other option is his son—Popeye. But our spinach-loving boatman won't go without a fight. When the Sea Hag puts Olive under a spell, making her instantly fall in love with Bluto, it's all Popeye can stand, because he can't stands no more.
Far too infantile to recall the Fleischer Brothers original concept for the cartoon, but with enough visual invention and splendor to make it worth a look, Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy is your standard electronic babysitting device decked out in some fancy, megabit-based visualization to revamp the tired tale of a scurvy dog and his madcap adventures. Popeye comes from a rather politically incorrect school of cartooning, where men beat the barnacles out of each other to pitch woo over a woman who was supposed to worship the very ground they grappled on. Many remember the old animated episodes from King Features Syndicate that presented Popeye as permanently pissed off, ready to rumble with Bluto/Brutus—or anyone for that matter—from Alice the Goon to that underwater wench the Sea Hag, who looked at him wrong. Notorious for his volatile temper, ever-present malapropisms, and massacre-y of the English language, Popeye was a successful newspaper comic strip (as part of the Thimble Theater) before making the switch to the big screen to become a black and white (eventually turning to color) god of the animated short.
Longtime fans will then probably be split over the presentation of their favorite characters here. Popeye is much more of a mild-mannered family man here, far less volatile and volcanic in his rage than in his original, ornery days. Worse, Bluto is no longer a nemesis and suitor for Popeye's woman, Olive Oyl. Instead, he is a big blubbering baby with a tendency to make odd, almost homoerotic suggestions to his best friend/ship's captain (there is a strange exchange about inviting girlfriends onboard that seems to suggest a same-sex lifestyle for Big Bad Mr. B). Olive is still a cranky beanpole of a babe, but she's less hysterical (read frantic, not funny) and more outright bitchy, complaining in tones unfamiliar to people with a passion for Popeye. Still, Wimpy joneses away for any manner of sustenance, Swee'pea manages to consistently avoid all daddy-made disaster with a wink to the audience, and Poopdeck Pappy is as irascible as ever. Add in a fairly decent, demented Sea Hag (though Kathy Bates's smooth, satiny voice just doesn't match her craggy, creepy origins), and you've got a decent depiction of the old school Popeye players.
Taken on its own terms then, this go round with the bluejacket and his band of broad caricatures is pretty good—it's just not the Popeye many of us grew up with. Bluto should be pounding the crap out of Popeye any chance he gets, not snuggling up to him with borderline inappropriate suggestions. This obese ogre should be chasing after Olive, not spurning her advances until the Sea Hag places her under a magic spell, forcing said affection. Popeye is way too pleasant most of the way through this syrupy goo, making more jests than jabs and funnies than fisticuffs. We never once worry that the crew won't be successful, that the Sea Hag won't be spurned, and that everyone will celebrate a strangely out of place seasonal greeting at the end of it all. Indeed, Popeye's Voyage borrows a little to heavily from other water-based bonanzas (The Sea Hag grows immense, a la Ursula in The Little Mermaid and Popeye has a nice, nautical "Under the Sea" style swim along song as well), making most of the plot seem formulaic and far too familiar. The script, written by Jim Hardison and, of all people, Paul "Mad About You" Reiser (talk about something "so nuts") has some clever quips, but the overall feeling is one of recycling, not rejuvenation.
What does work here is the amazing CGI imagery from Mainframe Entertainment. Sure, the characters look action-figure flat in their relative roundness, but the amazing settings and atmospheric backdrops create a veritable visual feast. There is a real attention to detail in Popeye's ship, the Sea Hag's lair, the look of the sharks, and Shipwreck Rock in the Sea of Mystery. All the water is magnificent, ebbing and flowing with real depth and density. The ancillary elements, from the ship's steam to the smoke rising from Olive's feast, are amazingly magical. Too bad that this visual splendor is more or less wasted on something as trite as this far too simple sea shanty. Had Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy had a better, braver script and stayed closer to the traditional old skimmer we've come to accept and love—bad social graces, psychotic tendencies, and all—we might have something more than a typical family time killer. Kiddies will probably palpitate over this new, high tech version of the leafy green loving lout. Just remember that this isn't your pappy's Popeye and you'll be just fine.
Visually, Lions Gate and Family Home Entertainment do a bang-up job of presenting this title on the digital medium. Since it was rendered via a motherboard connection, the transfer to disc is pure Pixar pristine. There is no bleeding, flaring, pixelation, or compression related issues to be seen. There is a glaring omission, however, one that will drive most OAR purists into fits of mouth foaming. Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy was originally produced in a 1.85:1 widescreen image. Why Lions Gate chose to chop the colorful creation into a more "family friendly" panning and scanning nightmare is a question only they, and their brothers in frame cropping buffoonery, Disney, can answer. Had they kept the original ratio, as seen in the trailer and other bonus materials, the picture would be reference quality. As it stands, it's a decent depiction, if not the creators' original intent.
The audio aspects of the disc are equally suspect. While the box claims that there is both Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 surround mixes on this DVD, you'll be hard pressed to tell the difference. The 5.1 is barely immersive, with most of the so-called ambiance channeled in the front, like the dialogue and the music. The back channels barely get a workout, even as we voyage across the vast expanse of the sea. Though everything is crystal clear and mixed to perfection (including Mr. DEVO Mark Mothersbaugh's inventive score), the lack of a multi-speaker set up for this film undermines what could have been a very evocative aural entertainment. While there is really nothing wrong with the sound otherwise, the lack of any integration is irritating.
As are the bonus features. The trailers are treaclely sweet, the sole deleted scene is a quickly sketched storyboard with sound, the ten-minute making-of feels more like a publicity puff piece than a look at how this CGI creation was made, and the animated interviews with Popeye, Olive, and Swee'pea are worth a cursory look, nothing more (there are just ten seconds of CG characters making jokes out of text-based questions). The only decent bit of added content are the four "classic" animated Popeye cartoons, all from the 1960s color version of the show. They include "Spinach Greetings" (the Sea Hag tries to ruin Christmas), "Popeye in the Grand Steeple Chase" (Popeye buys a horse from the glue factory and enters the competition), "Valley of the Goons" (Popeye thwarts a ship full of slave traders looking to kidnap the Goons), and "William Won't Tell" (Popeye in medieval times, shooting arrows). At five minutes a clip, these mindless mini-movies go by relatively quickly, and their cardboard animation style and simplistic stories have a nice nostalgic ring to them.
While many can argue with the retrofitting of Popeye and his pals for the more mundane, milquetoast modern audience, the truth is that this CGI Quest is gorgeous to look at, with some entertainment excitement and energy to boot. The Fleischer Brothers may not approve of the way their sailor man has been smoothed out for the 21st century, but they'd love the fact that, in a time of quickly changing tastes and fleeting fads, their nautical navigator is still a well-remembered commodity. Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy may just be an old sea dog learning a new set of silicon tricks, but the resulting magic is pretty impressive. Children and in-finks alike will enjoy this watery wonder.
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• Four Classic Episodes of the 1960s Era Popeye Cartoons
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