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