Hands down, We’re on Our Way to Rio is my favorite Popeye Cartoon, period. It isn’t that I don’t love other Popeye cartoons- in fact, this is the *only* color Popeye in my top 10. I remember a time it was showing it in the 70s on WKBD Television, and somewhere near the middle of the cartoon I was lamenting the fact that it was going to end soon and I couldn’t watch the beginning song again.
In watching Rio compared to Famous Studio’s output, it’s clearly more extravagant (especially in the backgrounds) than the cartoons surrounding it; I’ve always wondered if the government had contributed to the budget of the short as part of the good neighbor policy (note the lyrics near the beginning of the picture). In any case, both the visuals and the music are top notch. Other entries around the same time, such as Puppet Love and She Sick Sailors, are also a lot of fun, but the musical element in this film I think is what makes it my own favorite.
The cartoon is neatly split into a clean three act story structure. That isn’t to say it makes *perfect* sense. It’s pretty unclear why Popeye and Bluto, in their US Sailor uniforms, are riding an Ox from the mountains into Rio, and that somehow Olive doesn’t know who they are, but I guess we just have to accept those things. I think it’s the best Famous Studio cartoon of the period, during what is perhaps the studios best period.
As many of the other Popeyes of the period, this features really fun, creative animation by Ben Soloman and Jim Tyer. They are both animator’s animators, but even more so, it’s clear that they are self directing their own animation. These particular animators seem to flourish in these films. The structure of Famous Studios followed a similar hierarchy as the one that existed at Fleischers, with the director of the film really overseeing production rather that actually directing the film, leaving the lead animator to do so.
The film contains many beautifully animated scenes, including a great scene (by Tyer) with Bluto reacting so strongly to the site of ‘Olive’ that he’s mistaken for a seal by a waiter, who inexplicably feeds him a fish! A shot following close behind (also by Tyer) has Popeye and Bluto riding around on a table, animated by their enthusiasm. I do wish the later cartoons from Famous has these sort of oddly freewheeling gags.The dancing animation near the end of the film (much of it by Soloman) is beautifully designed, timed and drawn. Maybe my favorite shot in the film is Popeye being slammed against a giant Tamborine as Bluto attempts to derail his Samba performance.
The animation near the end of the film features some rotoscoping of Popeye and ‘Olive’ dancing. Many years back, I was lucky enough to visit Myron and Rosalie Waldman. On the back of one of the gag drawings that Rosalie had kept was one of the Rotoscoped Popeye drawings.
This was always a hard cartoon to see a decent copy of; even the best TV prints I’ve seen (and the one mastered by Turner) left a lot to be desired. It wasn’t until I saw this 35mm Technicolor print that the true hues of the film were revealed. We’ve shown this a little, and as I looked around my friends always had big smiles on their faces watching it. I think the folks at Famous would be happy to hear that 70 years after making their film, it still made people smile and laugh. It’s worth sharing, so here it is! Make sure to watch in HD.
Here is ‘Rio’ with it’s original titles and in Technicolor!
So, now, what is your favorite Popeye cartoon, and why? As long as it’s not Problem Pappy I’m happy!
Have a good week everyone!