Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Fleischer Inventiveness and Animation Timing - Onion Pacific

I can't say that ‘Onion Pacific’ (1940 - de facto directed by Willard Bowsky) is one of the better Popeye cartoons ever produced - it’s definitely one of the more mediocre shorts of the series. I can say though, that the cartoon has a moment of inventive brilliance and great timing.

The following clip is a great example of Fleischer inventiveness - Popeye builds a super locomotive out of the wreckage of his rickety train and a water tower.  The Fleischer animators could sell this fantastic type of action to the audience because of a simple bit of timing used to ground it in reality. I'll elaborate on that point later.

Popeye is pissed off among the wreckage of his train and the water tower.

He changes mood as he savours the thought of eating spinach - setting up the events to follow. I love this bit of character business that's absent from practically all of the other Popeye cartoons.

As a side note I’d like to point out that this more sophisticated stretch and squash chewing action was alien to the earlier Fleischer cartoons. Though I can't ID the animator, I suspect it was done by one of the west coast imports. Despite the above drawings looking strange, you can see how the animator took care to follow through with the shapes and construction of Popeye's head to make sure that the chewing action was well executed.

Popeye fuels up on spinach, mimicking the action of putting coal into the boiler furnace. He becomes a human engine, his arms caricaturing the action of a train’s drives shafts, building up internal stream and readying for a burst of energy.

Popeye builds his locomotive in super fast time…

… and finishes with something that can't possibly exist - a super locomotive cobbled together from wreckage. After he slaps on the nose of the train it reacts like a real piece of machinery and grounds it in reality - at least our perceived reality of what a real train would look and feel like rocking on its shock absorbers. That action puts a great finish to the super train construction, punctuating its completion and easing out of the building action. It sells the idea to the audience that Popeye's locomotive creation could actually exist.

I wonder if the super train is metaphor for penis size??


Reg Hartt said...

Sometimes a train,even a super train, is just a train.

This gives me a chance to say you are doing great work.

Keep it up.

The Dream Hat: Gene Hamm's Musings said...

I love Fleischer cartoons. The other great Fleischer cartoon involving a train and with scenes of incredible timing is BILLION DOLLAR LIMITED, a Superman cartoon. When Superman is gassed and dragged by the train and then stops it and slowly pushes it, increases speed and then pushes the train while running.....incredible intricate timing.

Gene Hamm

Mark Kausler said...

Hey Bob,
So glad to be reading a Popeye Animators post after such a long time! I loved the analysis of Popeye's chewing action and putting the train together. Then there's the music, "Yankee Doodle" and "Columbia the Gem of the Ocean", played at very fast tempo, probably an 8 or a 6 click, really helps the feeling of acceleration as the streamlined engine picks up speed. I like the staggered timing on the wooden trestle as the train speeds across it. Looking forward to more Fleischer theories soon!
Mark Kausler

Bob Jaques said...

Hey Mark - Thanks for the compliment. I have a lot of topic ideas I've built up over the past 2 years so I'll try to make the blogging thing as regular as I can.

Did you ever get my email with our change of address info??

- Bob

Bob Jaques said...

Hey Reg - thanks for the compliment.