When Popeye was first introduced into the comic strip Thimble Theater in 1929, he was just a hired hand, a minor character. But just a few years later, he had taken over the comic strip, and beginning in 1933 the Fleischer Studio began turning out Popeye theatrical cartoons to capitalize on its popularity. (And if anyone knows of an immensely successful cartoon character more unlikely than a wizened, one-eyed sailor, I should like to hear about it.)
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But back in the early 1930’s, Disney owned the cartoon market. Later during that decade, others such as Leon Schlesinger began making inroads into Disney’s turf, but none fought Disney so aggressively as Max and Dave Fleischer, who, among other cartoons such as the Out of the Inkwell series, made the Popeye cartoons. These were immensely popular, as Popeye was also at the top of the heap in newspaper comics. Emboldened by their early success, the Fleischers turned out three ‘Color Specials’, which, at over sixteen minutes each, about three times a normal cartoon’s length, were billed in theaters as "A Popeye Feature". They also featured brilliant color instead of the usual B&W and an early 3-D type effect by use of their patented ‘multiplane’ camera.
The first of these, Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor, appeared in 1936, followed in 1937 by Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves and Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp in 1939. All are now in the public domain, available on YouTube, and embedded below. I watched these over and over in the bygone days when cartoons used to be on TV after school, but that was back when gasoline was $0.25 a gallon. Show your kids – or grandkids – what they missed out on by being born 50 years too late.