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  Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp Popeye Of Arabia
Year: 1939
Director: Dave Fleischer
Stars: Jack Mercer, Margie Hines, Carl Meyer
Genre: Comedy, Animated, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Olive Oyl (voiced by Margie Hines) has a job working on the scripts at Surprise Pictures, a movie studio, and today is slaving over a hot typewriter to come up with a new way of telling the tale of Aladdin and his lamp. She has a brainwave, and puts her boyfriend Popeye (Jack Mercer) into the lead role as a trader in second hand goods in old Arabia who would love to raise his station in life, and perhaps woo the Princess, who Olive casts as herself, being carried in by her servants through the city streets to the cheers of her subjects. However, one of those subjects is the evil sorcerer Wazzir (Carl Meyer), and he has plans: all he needs to do to implement them is get his hands on a certain lamp, and Aladdin can assist...

This was the last in the Fleischer Brothers Arabian Nights trilogy to star their biggest draw, Popeye the Sailor, only here he did no sailing and remained resolutely landlocked, mainly because he was not being himself, he was Aladdin. Although this entry was the longest of the three an innovation or two from the previous efforts were missing, most notably the use of three dimensional sets for the characters to interact in, whether it was cost cutting or they didn't have the time, this looked a lot more like the traditional cartooning of the day. Not that Dave Fleischer was slacking, for that distinctively fluid animation was still well on display.

As with the others in this series, the plot was assembled from elements of the old folk tale but not slavishly so, thereby offering a loose framework for the jokes to arrive thick and fast, mostly thanks to Popeye's mutterings and unusual use of the English language. Once Wazzir has coaxed our hero to the cave the lamp is in, he contrives to steal it and leaves Popeye stuck under a pile of rubble, but he makes the mistake of dropping the golden object and it falls back into the cave. Popeye strikes a match on it to see in the gloom, which releases the genie, voiced by an uncredited actor putting on an exaggerated Yiddish accent, and resembling the Disney version of the nineties.

That Walt Disney's company would have staged a version of Aladdin all those years later and have such a huge hit with it when it owed much to the Fleischers' incarnation would have seriously rankled with the brothers if they had ever known, but some did recall the Popeye version and would have seen it as a tribute of sorts, rather than a rip-off, in spite of the marked likeness in some aspects. You could compare the two, and while the Disney was one of their finest achievements at the end of the century, the Fleischer wasn't one of the best of their Arabian Nights trilogy, yet there was much to enjoy, especially in the irreverent nature of the humour, with anything going for a gag, both visual and verbal.

Once Aladdin has released the genie he gets his wishes, though curiously he is not restricted to three as is part of the source narrative, so he becomes a prince all the better to romance Princess Olive, offering a treasure chest filled with jewels to sweeten her demeanour, which works like a dream, as if there were any doubt. Bluto is notable in his absence, as perhaps they thought a more obvious, wizardlike villain was more appropriate, but Wazzir is fair enough and seeing Popeye up against a different bad guy was more in keeping with E.C. Segar comic strip where Bluto had been intended as a one-off character until the cartoons which adopted him took off in popularity. The detail as ever was excellent, with Popeye having five fingers on each hand, unlike his rival Mickey Mouse who had the labour-saving four, and the final spinach versus magic battle on the staircase of the palace was well worth waiting for, complete with firebreathing dragon for Popeye to contend with. That they never made any more of these is a shame, but the character was strong enough to endure.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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