Popeye the Oatmeal Man. In 1990, there was some controversy about an animated commercial where Popeye the Sailor says, “Can the spinach! I wants me Instant Quaker Oatmeal!” Popeye eagerly gobbles the oatmeal instead of spinach. Even the famous song was changed to “I eats me oatmeal and I’m stronger than steel. I’m Popeye the Quaker Man.”
“Oatmeal is good food like spinach,” said Jeff Brown, vice president of King Features syndicate in the San Francisco Chronicle. “The essence of Popeye is good nutrition. That’s the way we’ve positioned Popeye in the new campaign. Look, I’m not a dietitian but we really don’t think it’s a problem for Popeye to eat something besides spinach once in a while.”
Quaker happily conceded that Popeye likes oatmeal because the company paid King Features a lot of money for Popeye to like oatmeal. The Quaker people produced four new comic books to put in oatmeal boxes and even sold “Can the Spinach” Popeye shoelaces for two dollars and two box tops.
Members of the Religious Society of Friends – the Quakers – disliked Popeye identifying himself as a “Quaker man” since he still punched his way out of trouble and real Quakers believe in nonviolence.
“If Popeye is to be portrayed as a Quaker man, then he must behave as a Quaker man, and Quaker men do not go about resolving dispute and conflict by means of violence,” said Elizabeth Foley, development and media coordinator for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. “Olive Oyl is constantly portrayed as a passive female who stands on the sideline and cheers as Popeye commits acts of violence. Quaker women were responsible for beginning the suffrage movement in this country. Alice Paul, a Quaker woman from Moorestown, N.J., wrote the Equal Rights Amendment.”
The group tried to arrange a meeting with Frank Morgan, the president of Quaker Oats Company, who responded that the promotion had run its course and no decision had been made to continue using Popeye in the future or to continue to associate him with the product.
Who’s That Voice? When Disney’s animated feature film Bambi was released in 1942, there were no voice credits issued because Walt wanted people to think of the characters as animals and not somebody’s voice. It was that philosophy that was also used in the casting to avoid using recognizable voices. The two voices that audiences might have vaguely recognized were Sterling Holloway who ended up having a minor role as the voice of the adult Flower and Cammie King who voiced Faline had only done one other film role, Rhett Butler’s daughter in Gone With the Wind (1939).
The Wizard of Oz That Never Was. In 1982 a group of young Seattle animators (Gordon Baker, Michael Bagley, Rick Koppes and Greg Churchill) under the direction of Robert MacVeigh (an animator and collector of Oz material) announced they were mounting an animated version of the original book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that was then in public domain. The drawings were to be done in the style of the Oz books mimicking the work of artists W.W. Denslow and John R. Neill. The plans were to have the early scenes in Kansas with more muted colors and then very bright colors once the story shifted to Oz. MacVeigh said that Dorothy would be an eight year old girl, her magic slippers would be silver and she would meet not just Munchkins but Kalidahs, Winkies and the fragile china people.
That Other Snow White. From the L.A. Daily News June 5, 1990: “(Actress) Irene Cara, who vocalizes for Snow White in the animated Happily Ever After (1990) wants us to know that her Snow White ‘is not passive like Disney’s was. She’s very gutsy and strong’. But that is not all. ‘Instead of seven dwarfs, their cousins the seven dwarfelles (all women) help her out. The only male character who provides her with strength is her prince, who has been turned into a troll-like gnome. The film is very feminist…definitely up-to-date as far as the 90s images of women’. Cara also does the theme song for the feature sequel to the fairy tale.”
Gassing the Badgers. In the animated feature Once Upon A Forest (1993), there is a scene where Cornelius the badger remembers that when he was young, humans deliberately spraying poison gas into his burrow, killing the rest of his family. American audiences were probably unaware that in Wales and Southwest England from 1975-1981 there was a controversial act used to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis where burrows of badgers (even uninfected ones) were gassed with hydrogen cyanide to “cull” them to prevent the spread of the disease that can infect humans. That’s why Cornelius knows what herbs to use to help his niece Michelle when she breathes in the poison from the spilled tanker truck.
Henry Selick On Top of the World. “MTV basically saved my life,” said filmmaker Henry Selick to Variety trade paper in 1993. At that point he had worked on films such as Seepage at Night, Twice Upon a Time and Return to Oz before a series of shorts brought him to the attention of Tim Burton and landed him the gig of working on Nightmare Before Christmas.
At the time, before the general release of Nightmare, Selick was being wooed to work for Disney on James and the Giant Peach as well as a TriStar Picture adaptation of Harold and the Purple Crayon, Geffen Pictures live-action film of novelist Dennis Covington’s Lizard and a project with Tim Burton based on Katherine Dunn’s novel Geek Love.
“Nightmare is a risk for Disney in many ways,” said Selick. “It includes ten songs, double the five-song average in most Disney big budget musicals. I believe children five or six years old might get scared but it will play strong with children eight to twelve and adults, of course.”
Bugs’ Birthday. A six story $300,000 Bugs Bunny balloon appeared in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the fall of 1989 to kick off Bugs Bunny’s 50th anniversary that was celebrated in 1990 with classic Bugs Bunny short cartoons shown in front of Warner Brothers theatrical feature films. In July 1989, Steven Levitt of the research firm, Marketing Evaluation, stated that Bugs Bunny ranked second, after Mickey Mouse, as people’s favorite cartoon character. Actually, Bugs tied with Snoopy and just slightly ahead of Garfield.