Three Technicolor Popeye two-reelers (Popeye Color Specials) came out in the thirties, with POPEYE THE SAILOR MEETS SINDBAD THE SAILOR (1936) being the one that’s full of monsters and creatures.
In this 16 minute story Sindbad the Sailor (Bluto) lives in a castle on an island full of chained creatures, including lions, vultures, reptiles, apes, dragons and even a two-headed giant. He also has a pet roc that he sends to kidnap Olive Oyl and sink Popeye’s boat, which is sailing past the isle. Popeye gets to fight the roc (which he serves up like a big roast chicken), the giant and, with the help of his spinach, he finally has a brawl with Sindbad.
The story is mainly told in song, with Sindbad proclaiming himself to be the greatest sailor and a most remarkable, extraordinary fellow. (He even namechecks King Kong!) The characterisations are straightforward and fun, with anarchic, rubbery, Fleischer-style animation that is loose and free, with no effort to mimic reality. This short also showcases some impressive scenes using the Fleischer Studio’s ‘setback process’.
Here’s a little background info on the ‘setback’ rig: it consisted of a forced-perspective, miniature set mounted on a turntable. This served as the background to the cel art that was held in a vertical glass plate. The turntable would be rotated incrementally behind the cels, creating the effect of a ‘tracking shot’, with the 2D animated character, in a side-view walk cycle, traversing a quite realistic-looking 3D environment.
Interestingly, Ray Harryhausen credited POPEYE THE SAILOR MEETS SINDBAD THE SAILOR as an inspiration for his movie THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958). Ray’s movie featured a dragon and a roc – and a sequence was planned set in a valley of serpents, but this wasn’t shot. In the Popeye cartoon, however, Sindbad sings about going into a Valley of Serpents and we see him make two big, green snakes faint simply by giving them a ‘dirty look’.
The short has a creepy (at least for modern audiences) running gag featuring Wimpy chasing after a yellow duck with a meat grinder, presumably wanting to grind it up alive to make a hamburger!
This Popeye short was deemed culturally significant by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.