The Sailorman Gets Colourized

The Fleischers have never made a regular "Popeye" short in colour. This is a simple truth. If you see a 6 or 7 minute long Fleischer cartoon featuring the one-eyed sailorman that is in colour, you are not watching an original or a copy of an original. What you are watching is a "copy of a copy" - a fake, a sham, a deception, a simulacrum. What does this mean?
Well, you see, in the late 1980s, a guy named Ted Turner acquired the rights to the Fleischer/Famous "Popeye" library. "Iíd like to announce Iíve given a gift the whole world can appreciate, Iíve colorized the moon," Turner fanatically exclaims in one episode of the hilariously satirical animated TV show - "Family Guy." While it was not really the moon that Turner colourized in real life, the analogy appropriately describes Turner’s godlike interference with the classic black and white cartoon library, which included many old "Betty Boops," "Popeyes," and "Looney Tunes." The colourization of Fleischer "Popeyes," which began in 1987 and was mostly done in Asia, resulted in nothing but bastardization of a great body of the 1930s original cartoon art. And since the horrendous colourized versions of these films were the only versions broadcast on TV for many years, many people have never had an opportunity to see the glorious originals and could have easily mistaken the inferior fakes for the beautiful originals.
"Well, what’s the big deal?" you might ask. It was only colour that was added. Isn’t that supposed to improve the quality? Well, I wish it were that simple. But, it is NOT. Perhaps it is best to let Fred Grandinetti explain the details of how exactly Ted Turner succeeded to ruin and misrepresent the original work from Fleischer Studios. Here is what he writes in his Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History:


WHAT THE...? No, this is not a problem with TV reception. The detail used in signage seen in the original black and white cartoons has been reduced to kindergarten drawings during the colourization process in Asia. From Morning, Noon and Nightclub(1937)

Several years ago, performers and fans of classic black and white programs have spoken out against Ted Turner’s colorization process. Turner has claimed that anyone preferring to see a colorized program in black and white need only turn down the color knob on his television set. But with an animated cartoon, the colorized version may differ from the original whether viewed in color or black and white. In 1987 Turner began colorizing the 120 Popeye films originally produced in black and white by Fleischer and later Famous Studios. The color conversion was done by Entercolor Technologies and cost approximately $10.000 to $11.000 per cartoon depending upon length. Turner explained in a press release that coloring a cartoon is different from coloring a (live-action, o.p.a.) motion picture: "The process for coloring Popeye is a total film process, involving making all necessary color separations from the original 35 mm masters. Then each cell is hand-colored, The color converted cells are transferred onto 16mm film. The effect is a new color negative." However, because pictures are redrawn and hand colored, in several cartoons, movement and images that appeared in the originals are missing in the new prints. For example, if the person doing the redrawings forgot to draw Popeye’s pipe in one scene, the pipe would be gone-whether the viewer turned down his color knob or not. Here are a few examples of Popeye cartoons distorted by the colorization process:

Bridge Ahoy
Here is the scene from Bridge Ahoy (1936) where the cel of Popeye and Olive was reversed (and shot) for the colourized cartoon. Though this image lasts for a second, it throws off the pacing of the scene.
Blow Me Down (1933) - In the black and white cartoon, several objects are hurled at Olive Oyl’s dressing room, creating a knocking sound. Olive, after hearing this sound, says, "Come in." In the colored film, the objects were not drawn, so Olive’s words make no sense.

I Eats Me Spinach (1933) - In the opening scene, where Popeye sings his theme song, while the action goes on around him, the voice goes out of sync ruining the pacing of the scene. In the black and white original, the action and vocals are in sync. During a rodeo fight between Bluto and a bull, the bull’s antlers hit Bluto’s face causing the brute’s head to spin, which is heard on the soundtrack. In the colored cartoon, Bluto’s head doesn’t move. Towards the end of the cartoon, Popeye punches a bull, it flys into the air and then falls to earth in the form of various cuts of meat. In the colorized cartoon, Popeye punches the bull, it flies up in the air, and then suddenly, Popeye and the bull vanish, only to appear a few seconds later.

A Dream Walking (1934) - This film features dazzling 3-D backgrounds, and the black and white version is considered a classic, but the added color makes it look like standard fare. In this cartoon are two brief scenes showing Popeye running behind Bluto against two different backgrounds. In the colored print, the same scene of Popeye running behind Bluto is repeated twice, showing the same background. Cheap shortcuts like this were typical of later cartoons, but not of classic Fleischer work.

The Dance Contest (1934) - Featured the illusion of a moving ballroom, which is destroyed in the colorized version.

For Better Or Worser (1935) - Yet again, Bluto suffers a head blow and we see him shake it off in the black and white film, but not in the colored version.

You Gotta Be a Football Hero (1935) - Popeye eats his spinach and becomes a one-man football team with images of several ghostly Popeyes surrounding him. The ghostly images must have been scared away in the color cartoon.

King of the Mardi Gras (1935) - Not only do Wimpy’s hat and coat keep changing color from scene to scene but Bluto is billed as „Blotoš on a circus tent. In the black and white cartoon, a bit of a tent partially covers the U in Bluto, but in the colored version, I suppose it was easier to change the spelling of Bluto‚s name than to correctly trace the shape of the tent!

Adventures of Popeye (1935) - This film features live-action, black and white footage of a little boy buying a Popeye book, then being picked on by a bully. Popeye comes to life and shows the tyke scenes from his earlier adventures. In the colored version, the live-action footage is left in black and white, but the animated scenes are redrawn in color. The last five minutes of the film get thrown out of sync with the animation due to the colorization process. A classic film ruined by color.

The Spinach Overture (1935) - Popeye twirls his pipe, and in the color print you can hear it, but you cannot see it!

A Clean Shaven Man (1935) - Popeye and Bluto run to Wimpy’s Barber Shop in the black and white film. In the colored print they run to a place redrawn as Wimby’s Bber.

Clean Shaven Man
In A Clean Shaven Man (1935), the black and white original had Popeye and Bluto walking into
"Wimpyís Barber Shop", but in the coloured version, the pair enter someplace called "Wimbyís Bbep" ??


Bridge Ahoy (1936) - Olive and Popeye are building a bridge. In one scene, they are tossing rivets to each other. In the colored print, for a split second, Popeye and Olive switch places because the colored cel, featuring the two characters, was filmed in reverse, ruining the careful pacing of the scene.

Little Swee’pea (1936) - The 3-D backgrounds are lost in this film, and did you ever see a yellow hippo at a zoo?!

Morning, Noon and Nightclub (1937) - In the black and white cartoons, the Fleischer Studios took the time to add detail to any posters featured in the films. In this colored version, they look as if they have been redrawn by an artist wearing a blindfold!

Learn Polikeness (1938) - At the end of the cartoon, Popeye toots his pipe. While we hear the toot-toot on the soundtrack, the related animation was not redrawn. Popeye is just seen bobbing his head!

Big Chief Ugh-Amugh-Ugh! (1938) - Popeye and Olive are riding a donkey, and you hear a bump but you don’t see the donkey trip because this action was not redrawn.

Goonland (1938) - This classic cartoon features the film breaking, and two human hands using a clothespin to put the film back together. In the color version, the film puts itself back together, ruining the effect.

Shakespearean Spinach (1940) - Again, Popeye twirls his pipe and the animation was not redrawn to conform to the soundtrack.

Child Psykolojiky (1940) - Popeye plays poker with his Pappy in the opening scene, but Popeye’s poker chips keep vanishing and appearing for no reason!

Pipeye-Pupeye-Poopeye and Peepeye (1942) - Popeye’s nephews have their names carved in their chairs. Because the names were redrawn so carelessly, in some shots we see only the letters Pee carved on Peepeye’s chair!

Olive Oyl and Water Don’t Mix
Did you know Bluto suffered from Alopecia Areata? Donít worry if you didnít. Neither did Segar nor the Fleischers. In the "Korean" version of Olive Oyl and Water Don’t Mix (1942), however, Olive approaches a bald Bluto! Bluto’s hair was not coloured in.
Olive Oyl and Water Don’t Mix (1942) - In a brief scene as Olive approaches Popeye and Bluto from behind, the back of Bluto’s hair was not colored in, making him look bald!

Many Tanks (1942) - Yet again, Popeye’s tooting of his pipe is not redrawn at film’s end!

Me Musical Nephews (1942) - This black and white film was produced by the successor to the Fleischer Studios, Famous Studios, but with the crew from the Fleischer unit. In the opening scene where we see Popeye’s nephews saying their prayers (Bless Olive Oyl and Wimpy ...), Popeye is wearing a black shirt, blue pants, and red collar. This would be fine, but he’s supposed to be colored white as he is wearing his white sailor’s uniform before and after this praying scene.

Too Weak To Work (1943) - Why are Popeye and Bluto’s sailor knots colored red in this cartoon?!? Blue or black, but red?

A Jolly Good Furlough (1943) - Another cartoon with a portion of the soundtrack going out of sync thanks to colorization.

Woodpeckin’ (1943) - The opening credits are redrawn so light you can‚t read them!

Cartoons Ain’t Human (1943) - The last black and white Popeye cartoon features a scene where Popeye, after putting on paper a rather suggestive idea, a human hand holding a stamper appears to stamp Censored on the paper. In the color print, the word Censored just pops up, the hand is not seen.

(Grandinetti, 2004: 130-134)

As big a fan of the Fleischer "Popeye" cartoons as I am, I cannot stand to watch the re-drawn versions of these animated shorts. Actually, I managed to watch only two entire colourized "Popeyes" (and only because I had not seen them before). There is something very shoddy about them. The Fleischers’ meticulous ink lines and superbly rich grey tones are in the "Turner-ized" versions reduced to substandard colours and sloppy (and somewhat jerky) animated movements. By insisting to modernize old classics to the modern sensibilities, Ted Turner’s colourization of classic "Popeyes" has transformed a great work of 1930s animation art into nothing but kitschy simulacrum.