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Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor
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Remind Me

Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor

Jack Mercer's parents were both actors, but he wanted to pursue visual art instead. In his early 20s, he got a job as a fledgling animator at the famous Fleischer Studios. One day, Dave Fleischer happened to hear him using a funny voice and decided this was perfect for one of the studios newest animated stars, Popeye the Sailor, a character created in 1929 by E.C. Segar for the newspaper comic strip "Thimble Theatre" and licensed for film animation by the Fleischers in 1932. Taking over for original Popeye voice artist, William Costello in 1935, Mercer remained the voice of the spinach-eating sailor for the next 45 years. The man who never intended to be an actor became one of the most recognizable voices of the 20th century, and gave vocal life to dozens of other characters in his long career.

Mae Questel was already a star of sorts at the Fleischer studios providing the talking and singing voice of the Queen of the Lot, Betty Boop. The daughter of Orthodox Jews who did everything they could to keep her from pursuing a career in show business, Questel started as a novelty singer capable of imitating both male and female voices, including Maurice Chevalier, Eddie Cantor, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Fanny Brice and Helen Kane, the 1920s performer on whom Betty Boop was modeled (although for legal reasons, the Fleischers never admitted that). She voiced Olive Oyl for the first time in 1933 and continued in the role for another 30 years. She also had a busy career in front of the camera, appearing late in life in Funny Girl (1968), New York Stories (1989) and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989).

As Popeye and Olive, Mercer and Questel were a screen duo to rival Tracy and Hepburn or Astaire and Rogers, unseen and uncredited but with far greater longevity than either of those pairs. In the mid-30s, the studio began to put them in longer (two-reel) cartoons that allowed their characters, in a fun meta-fictional twist, to be both themselves and characters in stories more far-ranging than the simple "Thimble Theatre" adventures of old. Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor was the first of these, and the duo's old nemesis Bluto took on the role of Sindbad locking the two sailors in a battle to see who was the greatest and most worthy of the fair Miss Oyl.

These Popeye Color Features or Color Specials, as the trilogy of "epics" were known, were produced in Technicolor and at more than 15 minutes, at least three times as long as regular Popeye cartoons. In many theaters, they were billed alongside the main feature. Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Short Subject Cartoon. In 2004, it was deemed culturally significant and selected for preservation in the Library of Congress National Film Registry, along with such features as Jailhouse Rock (1957), Eraserhead (1977) and Schindler's List (1993). In a 1994 survey of 1,000 animation professionals, it was ranked 17 in the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time making it the highest rated of the five Fleischer works on the list. Special effects expert Ray Harryhausen once said the cartoon was a major influence on his production of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958).

The cartoon production was a family affair typical of the Fleischer Studios, with Max producing, brother Dave directing and brother Lou taking on music supervising chores as well as voicing the character of Wimpy.

The successful release was followed by two more two-reelers with exotic settings, Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves (1937) and Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp (1939).

Director: Dave Fleaischer, Willard Bowsky (animation director, uncredited)
Producer: Max Fleischer
Music: Sammy Lerner, Bob Rothberg, Sammy Timberg
Animation: Willard Bowsky, George Germanetti, Edward Nolan, Lillian Friedman
Cast: Jack Mercer (voice of Popeye), Mae Questel (voice of Olive Oyl), Gus Wickie (voice of Sindbad), Lou Fleischer (Wimpy)

By Rob Nixon

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