December 31, 2017 posted by James Parten

A New Year’s “Celebrake”-tion

Somebody once observed that there were a large number of Christmas cartoons out and about–and that they continue to be made.

Halloween? check!

Thanksgiving? A few.

Fourth of July? Again, a few.

New Years’ Eve? Not so much!

All of which makes Let’s Celebrake (1938) all the more notable.

This was the first Popeye cartoon released during the calendar year of 1938 (January 21 of the year, to be exact), although it has a 1937 copyright. And it’s notable for what it has — and for what it doesn’t have.

First off, Popeye (voice of Jack Mercer) and Bluto (probably voice of Gus Wickie) are friends. Not Fightin’ Pals (to give a title from 1940) of the Flagg-and-Quirt persuasion, but actual friends. They are riding in a two-horse sleigh, singing “New Year’s Comes But Once A Year”, an adaptation of the title song from the earlier Max Fleischer Color Classic, “Christmas Comes But Once A Year”. Even the horses join in the singing, taking the song’s “bridge” (the middle eight bar) unto themselves.

When they get to Olive Oyl’s house, they are met at the door by her dear, but quite elderly grandmother. Granny walks with a cane, and is quite deaf.

Popeye, Olive and Bluto are going out to enjoy some New Years’ cheer–but Popeye can’t bear to see Granny sitting alone with her knitting on New Years’ Eve. Nothing will do unless Popeye takes Granny with them, which causes Bluto some consternation.

This continues at the Happy Hour nightclub, where Bluto is not too happy about Popeye bringing Granny along. While Popeye uses a party favor to tickle Granny under the chin, Bluto takes Olive onto the dance floor.

Popeye takes Granny onto the floor, but they maintain a position at the edge of the milling crowd of dancers, with granny hardly moving at all.

Popeye then has the idea to feed Granny some spinach, which increases her pep by a considerable degree, as they win a dance-contest loving-cup with their swinging terpsichore–to the astonishment of both Olive and Bluto.

Musically speaking, this cartoon is pleasingly plump with good music–especially when they get to the Happy Hour Club (where the neon sign literally “wrings out” the Old Year).

When we arrive–apparently they are already there–the orchestra is playing “Blossoms on Broadway”, the title song of a now-obscure Paramount musical, written for the screen by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger. The song was actually more successful than the movie.

When the band is interrupted by the manager (?) announcing a dance contest for a loving cup, the orchestra stops playing, in an entertainingly ragged way, just like a real dance band might under the circumstances.

Once the announcement has been made, the band is even more ragged as they break into “Stop! You’re Breaking My Heart”, a rhythm ditty which Ted Koehler ad Burton Lane contributed to Artists And Models during the previous summer.

Once Granny has had her shot of spinach, and the decks have been cleared, they dance to a medley that starts out with “Jammin'”, a Sam Coslow song from Turn Off The Moon, a musical that Paramount had put out in the spring of 1937. That leads into “Swing High, Swing Low”, a Ralph Freed-Burton Lane composition that does not come from a Paramount musical.

And that leads into a song that was not even a Famous Music copyright: “Happy Days Are Here Again”, which came out of an early M-G-M musical, Chasing Rainbows. Fleischer’s music people had borrowed that one before–way back in 1930 for Sky Scrapin’, a Talkartoon.

And, what New Years’ Eve would be complete without “Auld Lang Syne” to wrap it up in a nice, musical bow?

And then there’s what this cartoon DOES NOT have that is worthy of note. Let’s Celebrake does NOT end in a knock-down, drag-out fight between Popeye and Bluto, with lots of collateral damage done by both parties. In fact, Bluto is a perfect gentleman here. He is so kerflummoxed by the sight of Granny shagging it on down with Popeye, that he doesn’t know how to react. All he can do is sit there next to Olive, and gaze in wonderment at the spectacle.

And thus: a perfectly HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Next Week: The Travels of Snow White


  • Aside from this Popeye short, Rankin/Bass’ “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year”, and the Peanuts’ special “Happy New Year, Charlie Brown!”… I can’t come up with any additional New Year’s-related cartoons.

    Maybe Scrappy in “Holiday Land” and (it’s a stretch) Bugs in “The Wabbit Who Came to Supper”?

    • There’s also Tex Avery’s 1940 Merry Melodies short “Holiday Highlights”, one of his travelogue spoofs featuring gags based on holidays, including one about New Year’s Day and the Tournament of Roses Parade.

    • Thanks for that Tex Avery tip, Tony.

      I was feeling a little déjà vu after asking that question regarding New Year’s specials. Turns out we discussed it in the comments last year too! 🙂

      Aside from the ones already mentioned, the old post mentions “Rabbit Every Sunday” (Bugs) and of course, “Sappy New Year” (Heckle & Jeckle). I see Shane mentioned that one too, in the posts below.

    • EDIT: That should have read “Rabbit Every Monday” (another kind of a stretch to count it as a New Year’s cartoon specifically… but fun nonetheless.)

      Happy New Year everyone!

    • Nic beat me to the punch…

      Yes, I stumbled across that “Davey and Goliath” New Year’s special on Amazon’s streaming platform.

  • Veddy nice! A refreshing change of pace to see a cartoon where Popeye and Bluto aren’t beating the tar out of one another…

  • “That leads into ‘Swing High, Swing Low,’ a Ralph Freed-Burton Lane composition that does not come from a Paramount musical.”

    Well, I don’t know whether the song was written for the picture, but “Swing High, Swing Low” is definitely heard over the opening credits of Par’s 1937 Lombard/MacMurray film SWING HIGH, SWING LOW.

    Fine piece on a unique cartoon. Happy new year!

  • Soyuzmultfilm, during the Soviet Era, animated several New Year’s cartoons (since the Soviets never celebrated Christmas) featuring a Santa Claus like character named Grandfather Frost/Father Frost.

    And I know of an unusual year-end cartoon from Romania, which had “Merry Christmas” in three languages except in English where the word “Happy Birthday” was inserted instead of Happy Christmas or Merry Christmas.

  • Also worth noting is the Terrytoon Sappy New Year by Dave Tendlar.

  • The former Disney Junior series Handy Manny had a New Years Eve episode called Happy New Year!/Feliz Año Nuevo.
    And on The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror episode had a New Years Eve theme episode where everything went haywire when 2000 came because Homer forgot to synchronize the nuclear power plant’s electric calendar with the rest of the world.

  • There was a planed Pokemon New Years special in 1997.!_Pocket_Monsters_Encore
    Never aired; the show was still on hiatus after the seizure incident. Probably would’ve been a clip show with out any new animation.

    A year later they aired another special:!_Pocket_Monsters_Special!
    Still only a clip show.

  • I haven’t seen it, but there was a “Davey & Goliath” New Years special where after a disagreement, Sally runs away from home and the duo try to find her.

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