Tag Archives: Popeye

VHS REVIEW: Popeye in “Ancient Fistory” (Amvest Video, 1989)

Hey, do you remember when I wrote about that Amvest/Kid Pics Alice in Wonderland VHS tape, and I expressed my desire to find one of their offerings with the “Happy Hamster” intro and outro host segments included? Well, this review comes courtesy of that ongoing quest.

They don’t show up at thrift stores and the like very often, but in the time since I wrote that review, I’ve picked up several additional titles in that bygone line of budget videos. These tapes were your standard kids fare of the time, focusing on public domain cartoons and such (no small field back in the 1980s & 1990s, granted). Think Parent’s Approved Video, except harder to find nowadays.

Anyway, none of those subsequent finds yielded the ‘Ster (and two of them had the wrong tape inside; I still picked ’em up for the sleeves if nothing else, but it’s irritating because I generally don’t find mismatched tapes that often), so it was with that continuing failure that I picked up this Ancient Fistory, starring Popeye. This wasn’t a thrift purchase though; nah, I resorted to online buyin’ for this one. I thought the relatively-later date of 1989 would prove promising (I had been hovering around the 1986/1987 mark, and while you never know with this company and re-releases and whatnot, apparently the Happy Hamster waltzed on the scene around the 1988/1989 mark).

Look, it was $10, the shipping was free, and it came with three other Popeye tapes that I didn’t really need, so I pushed aside the nagging thought that I’ll eventually find it at a thrift somewhere and just bought it.

Of course, it figures the Happy Hamster isn’t on this one either, but I blew $10 on the tape so I’m getting a post out of the thing anyway.

(Actually, truth be told, awhile back I did pick up one of the Amvest releases with the Happy Hamster, a three-tape set of old Disney cartoons. Even though the shorts presented are all presumably public domain, I don’t want to taunt Mickey’s crew, so no-go on the update front where that one is concerned.)

My reference to Parent’s Approved Video (PAV from here on out) a bit ago was intentional; a lot of the earlier Kid Pics tapes featured artwork and fonts similar to PAV’s, so much so that at first glance it’s easy to think a certain one is a PAV title. But, as the years rolled by, the artwork started becoming a bit more sophisticated, relatively speaking. The tape we’re talking about today is a good example; just look at it here! The artwork isn’t just competent, it’s actually pretty good! Seriously, this is no small feat; there were some seriously-lacking budget Popeye tapes out there back in the day. Getting Popeye to, you know, look like Popeye, that didn’t always happen. But it happened here and that means Amvest won that round.

As per the back cover, here’s our line-up: Ancient Fistory, Greek Mirthology, A Haul in One, and Insect to Injury. These are all Famous Studios-era entries in Popeye’s oeuvre; while there are several cartoons from my preferred Fleischer-era Popeye that have lapsed, most of the public domain Popeye shorts are from the later Famous Studios years, and as such make up the majority of budget VHS (and now DVD) releases.

While I feel the Famous shorts pale in comparison to the Fleischer series (particularly the Fleischer series prior to them moving the studios from New York to Florida in 1938, after which they cutesy-upped and watered-down our one-eyed sailor), the Famous cartoons are still pretty solid, consistently good-not-great in my opinion.

Four cartoons on this tape may not sound like a whole lot, but considering that some budget releases around that time got away with three or even only two entries (sometimes with additional PD cartoon filler, sometimes not), four entries is practically a smorgasbord of animated fisticuffs! Even though they omitted my personal favorite Famous Studios Popeye, 1957’s Spree Lunch (the penultimate cartoon in the original Popeye theatrical series), this is still a solid bunch of cartoons, and had they flipped the last two entries, they’d even be in chronological order!

Let’s check ’em out, one by one…

The tape’s namesake comes from the very first cartoon presented (gee, you don’t say!), and it’s one of those ‘fantasy’ Popeye entries that I tend to be ambivalent towards. It’s not bad though, with some pretty funny sight gags (including a literal bullseye) and even an appearance by Poopdeck Pappy!

1953’s (ignore that copyright credit here; Wikipedia says it dropped on 1-30-53) Ancient Fistory is a play on the old Cinderella tale. Here, Olive Oyl plays a princess who is hosting a ball in order to net a hubby find a suitable prince. The kingdom isn’t stated, but considering all the “ye” declarations and “-eth” suffixes, old timey England is the implication.

Popeye works in the kitchen of “Bluto’s Beanery,” in the servile, dressed-in-rags role (it’s a pretty miserable existence, apparently), though Bluto must be doing pretty well with the venture; he’s spiffily dressed and headed to the ball. Enter Popeye’s “Fairy Godfather,” as portrayed by Poopdeck Pappy. Pappy turns a can on spinach into a slick automobile (anachronism?) and gives Popeye some swanky duds, with the expected caveat that it all goes away at midnight.

Like so many of these shorts, Olive falls for both Popeye and Bluto, which sets in motion a series of feats of strength. Popeye doesn’t win before midnight, but then the car turns back into the can of spinach, Popeye consumes said can of spinach, and, well, you know how things turn out.

The second short presented continues the “ancient history” theme. 1954’s Greek Mirthology always seemed to me like Famous’ attempt at getting in on the vibes of those two-reeler cartoons from the Fleischer reign that placed the ‘Eye in situations featuring historical characters (Sinbad Sindbad, Aladdin, Ali Baba) but without recycling footage from those cartoons (which Famous also did).

‘Course, it’s not like these cartoons in general were always strictly “real time,” and this isn’t a two-reeler, so I’m probably all kinds of off-base here. Still, that’s how I’ve thought of Greek Mirthology in the past and how I will continue to do so in the future. And you can’t stop me.

Here, Popeye recounts the tale of great-ancestor Hercules to his nephews Pip-Eye, Peep-Eye, Pup-Eye and Poop-Eye in an effort to get them to eat spinach. (It’s important to note that not only was Popeye given actual teeth by this point in his run, but his one eye is just squinty rather than straight-up missing, which is good, because his nephews all exhibit the same trait.) According to Popeye, Herc had been getting his strength from sniffing strong garlic (glad he wasn’t eating it!), until a marauding bully (Bluto, of course) shows and discovers the weakness in that method. A chance-landing in a spinach patch (naturally from a Bluto punch) produces superior results, and the rest is, erm, history.

Popeye’s nephews naturally remain unconvinced and head outside to get some ice cream from a vendor who turns out to be…Bluto! In a sad turn of events, Popeye doesn’t deliver a beat down upon him as the short concludes.

The third cartoon takes place solely in the present time (I presume), but it’s still more-or-less the same as what we’ve just seen twice-over: Popeye and Bluto competing with each other until Popeye ends it all by downing some spinach. Olive is back as the object of desire again, as opposed to the attempt to gain love for spinach from the nephews in the previous installment. Look, the general plots of these were pretty durable, okay? (Similar or not, they were all pretty entertaining, to the endless credit of the people behind these cartoons.)

1956’s A Haul in One is one of those Popeye cartoons in which he and Bluto are actually pals at the start, before Olive enters the picture and provides the catalyst for punchin’. Here, the two former (?) sailors have their own moving company, an apparently harmonious affair until they stop by Olive’s. It’s never explained why she’s moving, but I’m going to assume it’s due to unpaid rent. (Good luck gettin’ your deposit back, Olive!) Anyway, as you may have guessed, Popeye prevails in the end.

Now is as good a time as any to talk about the print quality of all this. Technically, Amvest didn’t get terrible copies of these shorts; there’s some dust and whatnot, but compared to how they could have looked, these really aren’t that bad. Far uglier things have shown up on budget videos!

The main problem is the VHS duplication. Boy are these blurry! Sure, the prints were probably a few generations removed anyway, but there should still be more sharpness than there actually is. It all just looks like a budget VHS tape. (Go figure!) And I was playing all this on my right sporty RCA SVHS deck, too!

Still, this wasn’t meant to be an archival release. This was for the kids, and on that front, hey, they’re more than watchable, they’re entertaining, they’ve got their opening cred—

Aw c’mon!

Yes, this is how our fourth and final feature commences. Obviously there was some VHS-to-VHS duplication going on at some point! 1956’s Insect to Injury, on my copy here anyway, starts at the beginning, but not the very beginning. Not only were the opening credits MIA, but you’ve got that on-screen VCR info up in the upper-right hand corner!

I’m going to guess this took place when they were creating their “master,” I doubt they made each and every copy from VHS-to-VHS. Unless they were, I dunno. It’s kind of a funny reminder of how laid back things could be in that era of budget video, if nothing else.

As for the short itself, Popeye’s house is besieged by termites. They eatin’ up everything, man! No Bluto or Olive in this one, it’s strictly Popeye vs. bugs. It ends the same though: Popeye fails in his quest to stop the creatures, so he slams some spinach and builds a house out of metal. The termites aren’t destroyed by this, but they are defeated.

You know, I realize Popeye’s famous “I takes all I can stands…” line implies a certain amount of patience, but really, shouldn’t he have realized at some point that his natural strength can only take him so far? Just stay powered up on spinach all the time, man!

Anyway, there you have it, four Famous Studios Popeye adventures courtesy of Amvest Video’s Kid Pics division. These tapes aren’t very common, and since Popeye (and Superman, while we’re at it) are top-tier PD cartoon properties in my eyes, I had to nab this one online. It’s fun, it’s entertaining, and it’s a good example of budget cartoon compilations from that era. If nothing else, I got a post out of it, so I’m saying I got ten bucks worth out of the whole thing.

I just wish the Happy Hamster had been included.

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New Generation Video’s Superman VHS (1989)

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I found this tape last night at a thrift store I seldom visit; this particular place rarely has much that interests me, but what it lacks in Northeast Ohio Video Hunter-appropriate fodder it more than makes up for in irritation, though to their credit visits there have resulted in several scores.

I wouldn’t be a good whatever I am if I didn’t make the occasional trip to the place, even if it’s just a token visit. And that’s really all I intended last night’s pilgrimage to be. Make no mistake, last night’s visit wasn’t exactly one for the books, but I did come away with the above-seen Superman tape, and I did leave without the overwhelming desire to hit somebody, so I’m calling it a successful visit. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a total sucker for budget Superman tapes.

That has much to do with my formative years, though. I mean, did any of us not grow up with the Fleischer/Famous Studios Superman cartoons of the 1940’s? I know they were a balanced part of my childhood, and given the sheer number of cheapo VHS (and now DVD) releases over the decades, I suspect the same for untold numbers of other people. Not that Superman is unique in that area; the public domain status of the cartoons (not to mention the enduring popularity of Superfella in general) have made them easy fodder for countless fly-by-night company releases, but the same can be said of any number of Popeye shorts, or Looney Tunes/Merry Melodies, and so on and so on. Needless to say, the tape seen above is one such release.

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As a young babychild, I had three similar Supe tapes, only one of which has survived to the present day. The one that’s still with me is a fairly competent release in terms of packaging and whatnot, but the other two were, to the best of my recollection, both from the same company and were much more slipshod affairs. I can’t remember the last time I saw those two tapes (literally, God only knows what happened to them), but the amateurish packaging was apparent to even my 4-5 year old eyes. We’re talking sad artwork with mismatched colors and so on. I’d like to think if I came across copies of those tapes somewhere, I’d be able to recognize, but hell, for all I know, I already have identical copies, and I’m just not realizing it. By no means is this the only budget Superman tape I’ve bought over the years, and considering pitiful artwork is a hallmark of said releases, they tend to all sort of blend together in my increasingly cluttered mind.

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Actually, part of the personal appeal of this particular release is that it’s decidedly more competent than your average budget VHS release. Seriously, the quality-level falls somewhere in between those childhood Supes tapes, leaning more towards the “competent-but-still-only-worth-the-$2-it-originally-retailed-for” end of the scale. No one’s going to be fooled into thinking the tape contains anything pulled from the archives of whoever, of course, but the artwork is good and, despite the absence of any kind of description on the back, there are no misspelled words, which is a mild surprise. It really all comes down to the artwork: it almost looks too good for a tape of this nature. Really, aside from the yellow on Supe’s boots (which may have been standard at one point, I really don’t know), it’s a darn fine representation of the Man Of Steel. Even the logo, which usually looks decidedly hand-drawn on these releases, is pretty professional looking. I wouldn’t be surprised if the pic and logo were ripped from an actual Superman comic or press release or something somewhere.

The semi-slick lookin’ artwork on my copy is marred only by the presence of two pieces of tape that must have been coated with the most adhesive substance in the universe. Look close at the pics of the front cover and you’ll see. This tape can not be removed without tearing the box, which in a bizarre way is kinda sorta fitting; Superman may be indestructible, but so is the thousand year old scotch tape on his box.

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Yeah, I’m thinking the logo and pics used on the front and back of the box were pulled from somewhere else. I mean, as much as I love Superman, I’m not exactly a die-hard, hardcore Superfan, but I’m still pretty sure I’ve seen these images before, especially the artwork on the back of the box. So, is that sort of thing allowed? I’d guess not, since most budget releases of the Superman cartoons featured clearly ‘homemade’ artwork (no joke, some of them were legitimately ass-ugly creations.) That said, considering the distribution of this tape was probably in the tens of, well, tens, I’m assuming it either never came to the attention of DC Comics, or it did and they totally laughed it off with the wave of a hand and an “aw pshaw!” Or, maybe the artwork was slightly redrawn for this box, thus somehow legalizing it?

The only reason I’m mentioning all that is because isn’t DC Comics or Warner Bros. or whoever owns all this insanely protective over that sorta thang?

Also, how long was New Generation Video around? Internet searches are of no help whatsoever, regardless of what combination of words I type in. At any rate, I can’t think of any other releases by them, and the sad but true fact of the matter is that I have more knowledge on this subject than should probably be legally allowed. That said, I’m far from an expert on the matter, and the world of public domain cartoon VHS tapes was a murky one indeed, often consisting of tapes with hazy-at-best origins. Now, I’m not suggesting this NGV should be lumped in with those other, more mysterious tapes or their companies (at least we get an address and barcode on the back), just merely observing.

While on the subject, I remember Mom taking my Brother and I to the D&K Discount Store in the State Road Shopping Center waaaaay back in the summer of 1997, and there were tons of tapes similar to the one we’re looking at today. Who made them? Where did they come from? That info is lost to time, but what I can tell you is that I strongly suspect this NGV tape came from a similar store.

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Three cartoons doesn’t seem like a lot, and of course they’re not, but that was par for the course for tapes like this. To New Generation Video’s credit, at least it’s not one or two Supes shorts and then unrelated ‘toons padding out the rest of the tape, as was so often the case. The episode titled “Superman” is actually “The Mad Scientist,” which is one I’m well familiar with from my childhood, and the one I’d consider my favorite not only of this bunch, but of all the Superman cartoons. The other two, I’m actually not that familiar with. I don’t recall them from my childhood tapes, and thus am less nostalgic for them.

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There’s a close-up of the New Generation Video info at the bottom of the back of the tape’s sleeve. Innit the logo cute? The approximate 30 minute running time is close enough; the tape runs around 27 minutes, so, yeah.

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The label, obviously. This is the only place on the tape that any kind of copyright date is found. Note the presence of “NGV Vol. 13,” which is also found on the sides of the tape’s sleeve (scroll back up and look if you don’t believe me.) So, there were ostensibly12 other New Generation Video releases, at least. I love the defective tape warranty on the label; rather than simply shelling out another $2-$3 for a new copy from wherever this originally came from (I refuse to believe this cost more than that, even back then), someone would rather piss away $2 on shipping and handling, plus the cost of sending the defective tape itself back, and then waiting 4-6 weeks for a replacement? Dude, screw that.

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Uhhh Ohhh!!! Is my tape’s defective?! Has that warranty expired yet?!?! I guess that explains the rattling I’d heard ever since I picked the tape up. To be fair, I discovered this in the store before I bought it, but since the other side of the tape’s flip-door was still attached, I figured it would work fine. I’m a renegade that way.

And I was right, my VCR accepted the tape without qualms, and spit it out without blowing up, so all is well on that front. That said, go back up two pics and look at the tape label. Notice the standard “adjust tracking” line. Never has that disclaimer been more apt than this tape. The tracking was really rough, and the following screencaps were the best results from the fruits of my labor.

(To be fair, I was running this tape through a VCR that has at this point ran through approximately 500 million ancient VHS tapes, including some of questionable quality from a condition-standpoint. Maybe the part of my VCR that handles the super-fine trackin’ required for this video is just shot, I don’t know.)

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As for the cartoon themselves, the best I can say is that I’ve seen worse. If the tracking wasn’t constantly throwing hissy fits, these would be unspectacular-but-serviceable representations of the Superman cartoons. Of course, there were scratches, there was dust, and as the screencaps attest, the color varied from cartoon to cartoon.

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But, these shorts have certainly looked worse over the years. I was actually kinda surprised to find these looking as decent as they do. Maybe back in the day when there wasn’t 25 years under the tape’s belt and it was played on a decent VCR, things looked even better.

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Like I said, I’m not all that familiar with these two. I could watch them and write out a dissertation, but I’ve already invested far too much time into a budget VHS that only I and maybe 8 other people care about. Apparently, “Terror On The Midway” was the final Supes short produced by the Fleischer Bros., before they were outed by Paramount and “Fleischer” became “Famous Studios.”

I can also say there seems to be odd cuts between the Superman intro screens and the episode titles seen at the beginning of the shorts. “The Mechanical Monsters” is missing an end card entirely, merely fading out and then into the start of “Terror On The Midway.” Also, “Superman”/”The Mad Scientist” was the very first in the Superman series of cartoons, but includes a Famous Studios intro card, rather than Fleischer. As much as I like these shorts, I don’t know every detail of their history, so maybe these are all aspects common to other tapes.

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Uh oh! Cool splicin’! Or something like that. This Paramount ending card comes from the conclusion of “The Mad Scientist,” and it was did done treated poorly at some point. In general, the body of all the cartoons look okay, but the beginnings and ends typically look rougher, as it so often goes.

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That’s it, New Generation Video’s 1989 Superman tape. I never thought I’d be able to find as much to say about it as I did, but now that I’ve given it a semi-thorough review, I suspect Superman Superfans the world over will now be climbing over each other for their own copy.

If nothing else, at least I got something out of that thrift-trip last night.