Animation History
May 2, 2023 posted by Jerry Beck

My Top Five Favorite Fleischer Popeye Cartoons

Facebook friend Harold Starbuck recently asked me: “Jerry Beck as a cartoon historian, do you have an opinion on the TOP 5 Popeye cartoons?”

I have tried answering “Top 5” and “Top 10” requests before – see here and here and here – and to be honest, I hate answering that sort of question. My problem is that I have too much love for the classic Hollywood theatrical shorts – that I can almost find something to love about any of them (with the exception of Walter Lantz/Paul Smith cartoons from 1960-1972 – Sorry, there is NOTHING good about those!).

I was short a column for this week (Get Well and Come Back, Jim Korkis!) so I thought I’d address this vital question today – and get YOUR opinion on your favorites, while we are at it.

For this listing, I’m restricting my choices to the Fleischer cartoons (We’ll hold off Famous and King Features for another time) – and I can’t put them in numeric order. I just can’t. I love them all pretty much equally.

For me, from 1933 through 1939 each Popeye is just hit after hit. They are batting them out of the park. The early ones have that Fleischer charm, some wonky animation, and those funny drawings. When Mercer starts supplying the voice, the premises actually improve, the 3D backgrounds are a visual delight, the songs by Sammy Timberg (and others) are so catchy. The improving character animation (along with those voices) really enhance their personalities – as well as make us laugh.

These are just my favorites (as opposed to choosing anything historically important). It’s subjective, of course. Please list your five favorites in the comments below.

And so, in alphabetic order…

HELLO HOW AM I? (1939)

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself for looking like Popeye!” – Olive Oil

Popeye seeing double! Wimpy at his most diabolical for a hamburger meal. It’s like a Twilight Zone episode – with Mercer doing maybe his best acting here in a dual role. It’s almost a psychological drama – Popeye fighting himself, literally. Popeye punching his doppleganger’s face mask off is almost scary… Great situation comedy. One of my very favorite Popeyes. “I’m Popeye!”


I show this one in my animation history class – as an example of a quintessential Popeye, Olive, Bluto cartoon. This one has some the best ad lib dialogue, and some of the funniest battle scenes – on a telephone wire high above the ground. Another cartoon in which a Popeye rival pretends to be Popeye – this time its Bluto, over the phone, insulting Olive using Popeye’s voice. Of course Popeye eventually eats his Spinach and gives Bluto the “Twisker” punch. Great last shot, in silhouette, of Popeye and Olive in embrace. Just perfect, says I.


Here’s a short no one ever talks about. The first one by Seymour Kneitel since 1939 – and his last under Dave Fleischer, before he takes over and the studio becomes Famous. And it stands out as one of the best Popeyes of that final year. The musical soundtrack is particularly great – and please note: this is the last Popeye cartoon with our hero in his civilian white cap and black shirt; it would be the service dress white uniform from here on out. I was never a big fan of the nephews… but this is their best one (IMHO).


This one (and the next) should come as no surprise. Sindbad was the first Technicolor Popeye, the first of a wonderful trilogy of two-reelers – and the only Popeye to be nominated for an Academy Award (and I think it should have won). Where do we begin – the songs (including Jack Mercer’s first shot of singing the entire “Popeye the Sailor Man” theme), the 3D backgrounds, Bluto as Sindbad, and the adlibs. What I like is them including some of the fabled Sindbad adversaries: the two-headed giant Boola (doing a comedic fake Greek dialect – ala George Givot), and the giant bird (the Rokh). The climactic battle is one of the funniest showdowns ever.


A strong follow up to Sindbad The Sailor, with an equally evil “Bluto” – this time Abu Hassan and his gang of 40 thieves. Popeye and Olive (and Wimpy) in a “stereo-optical” desert and kidnapped by Hassan. This time instead of one or two various foes – Popeye has to tackle an army of forty thieves and the gags come fast. I said I wasn’t going to put these in chronologic order of preference — but I have to admit, this is probably the best Popeye short (in my humble opinion).


  • I notice you’ve included no Billy Costello Popeyes. By far the standout to me would be “A Dream Walking”. The situation, taking some ideas from “Sky Scraping” one better, serves as a classic blueprint for so many Popeyes to follow (including “Lost and Foundry”, “Nix on Hypnotricks”, Mess Production”, “A Balmy Swami”, and “Child Sockology”, to name a few), and was a dramatic influence on many other studios (examples including “Clock Cleaners”, “Homeless Hare”, “Trouble Indemnity”, “Hypnotic Hick”, and “Tot Watchers”, among others). True, the film itself owes some debt for its existence to Mutt and Jeff’s “Where Am I?” – but the sophistication and skill of Fleischer’s rendering makes it take on a life of its own surpassing the Bud Fisher version (with the exception of one spectacular shot of Jeff balancing on a beam from point of view looking down on city traffic twenty stories below). Utterly amazing was the technical precision of the skyscraper girder backgrounds in Fleischer’s classic, including an unbelievable shot of Popeye swinging like Tarzan upwards from floor to floor, in perfect perspective rendered without the aid of the turntable camera. Another priceless moment of animation rendering would be the sequence where Popeye and Bluto both get knocked dizzy by an I-beam, and join Olive in her sleepwalk, managing to intersect with her at a three-way junction, where each crosses paths with the other in slow motion with only a hair’s-breadth of space between them, none of them colliding or awakening the other! And the film also includes one of Wimpy’s most callous and comical observations: “She’ll awaken – once she falls!”

  • Well, thank you, Jerry for this cool post and for asking….:

    My top 5 Fleischer Popeye cartoons are, in order of least to most fav are:

    5. Wotta Nitemare
    4. Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp
    3. Plumbing is a “Pipe”
    2. Lost and Foundry
    1. Be Kind to “Aminals”

    (As one might expect if one knows me, the cartoons that have especially delightful twists, or feature horses, are the best!)

    As always, the stories, the animation and the hilarious post-sync dialog wonderfully unique to Fleischer are what set their original 1930s cartoons apart from all other studios’!
    (I remember when my brother and I used to watch Popeye (TV) shows on Sundays in the 1970s, we’d always be excited when one from the 1930s would begin. Since they’d mix the shorts up (date-wise) on the show, when we saw the old black and white opening on the ship deck, we’d say:
    “Oh, this is one of the older ones; this’ll be great!”)

  • My favorite scene in the Sinbad cartoon is when Bluto starts punching Popeye and all those nautical items come flying out of Popeye’s pockets. No matter how many times I watch it it still cracks me up.

  • Hard to pick, but here are some of my favorites:

    1. Popeye the Sailor
    2. Little Swee’pea
    3. Lost and Foundry
    4. Cops is Always Right
    5. Goonland

  • You can’t get these tunes out of your head: “We Aim To Please”, “Beware of Barnacle Bill”, “Leave Well Enough Alone”. And a tip of the hat to “Goonland” and “The Spinach Overture”.

    My favorite of the first year’s batch. “Happy New Year!” *POW*
    The scene where the camera slowly pulls back as Popeye’s clunker trudges up a rocky mountain road, and deposits a boulder atop braying Bluto’s noggin just kills me.
    Gags and perspective animation are both terrific
    LET’S CELEBRAKE! (1938)
    Like “Feed the Kitty”, a cartoon that’s both hilarious and heartwarming–A hard combo to pull off.,
    NO Bluto, NO spinach, and yet it’s a funny, satisfying Popeye entry. Famous, take note.

  • My personal picks would be

    1. Sock-A-Bye Baby (1934)
    2. Can You Take It (1934)
    3. Bridge Ahoy! (1936)
    4. Goonland (1938)
    5. The Jeep (1938)

    Also thank you for including my upload of Ali Baba’s Fourty Thieves. It’s really good publicity for my channel.

    • Thank YOU for uploading the restoration of Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves off the Warner Bros. Popeye DVD that I was involved with. It’s good publicity for that physical media collection – which can be ordered here:

      • I still remember my elation when that volume was selected as “Best DVD of the Year” by Entertainment Weekly (back when that publication was worth reading). Sometimes – meaning rarely – the mainstream media does recognize genuine excellence when they see it.

      • Another Unsolicited Endorsement for the Popeye collections, not only for their beautiful restorations but excellent bonus materials, including the documentaries on the history of animation and the Fleischers themselves.

      • How many of the 21 digitally-recreated titles have resurfaced in their original form in the 15 years since the DVD set came out? One of these days I’m going to make those Popeye Party Pizzas following the recipe inserted into the 1933-38 set…

  • When I saw this was a post about Top 5 favourite Fleischer Popeyes, the very first cartoon that came to mind was “Hello How Am I”. (There’s no question mark, and no comma either; the lack of punctuation bothers me, but it’s the only thing about this cartoon that does.) I remember watching it for the first time as a teenager and just laughing myself silly. “If I’m not me, who am I? And if I’m somebody else, why do I look like me?” A conundrum worthy of Maimonides!

    I also second “Sindbad” — a most remarkable, extraordinary cartoon! Rounding out my five favourites:

    “Wild Elephinks”. I love the animal designs in this one!

    “A Dream Walking”. It boggles my mind as it makes me laugh, every single time.

    “The Spinach Overture”, for Bluto’s virtuoso violin playing and Popeye’s spinach-fueled ragtime piano cadenza.

    But there are just so many great ones. By the 1970s, the Fleischer Popeyes were the only black-and-white cartoons still being regularly shown on TV. Obviously they were far superior to the new rubbish that was being cranked out by Filmation and Hanna-Barbera at the time; but more than that — in many respects they were better than any other cartoons I had ever seen. The Fleischer Popeye cartoons were as great a factor in nurturing my love of animation as the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies and the Disney features. I can’t praise them highly enough.

  • I’ll just add ones I haven’t seen here:
    What, No Spinach? – fun seeing Wimpy playing Popeye and Bluto off each other for his own ends.
    For Better or Worser – the most hilariously caustic take on matrimony ever. What kind of joint is that marriage broker?
    Let’s get Movin’ – classic ‘top that’ number.
    Hospitaliky – favorite twist ending.

  • Jerry’s top five is mostly my own and I emphatically agree FORTY THIEVES is the best Popeye of all. (As much as I love SINDBAD, it’s simply got too much exposition and not enough plot.)

    It’s tough to limit the greatest animated series of the ’30s it to five, but… in chronological order…

    CHOOSE YOUR “WEPPINS” – Vastly underrated cartoon. “Character” is too overlooked, and this thing is loaded with it, right from the very start with the casting of Wimpy as an incompetent cop and right to the end with Olive getting in on giving the quasi-Bluto whatfor. The sword fight climax (mostly animated by director Dave Tendlar himself) may be my very favorite Popeye fight of all. It’s Tendlar’s tour-de-force, all the more amazing he did it so early in his directing career.
    GOONLAND – It’s an obvious choice, and needs no justification. Fewer greater lines were ever recorded than Mercer’s delivery of, “Whatchya want me to do—KISS YA?!”

  • 1. Popeye The Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves
    2. Aladdin And His Wonderful Lamp
    3. What, No Spinach?
    4. Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor
    5. Fightin’ Pals

  • Excellent choices. I might add “Goonland” if there was another slot. : )

  • Goonland
    Lost and Foundry
    What-No Spinach
    The Spinach Overture
    I Wanna Be a Lifeguard

  • Good choices, Jerry. Here are my picks

    A CLEAN SHAVEN MAN- Definitely my favorite of the Fleischers. Love the song and L&H like comedy at the barbershop
    WHAT, NO SPINACH?- I love Wimpy, easily his best during this period (besides HELLO HOW AM I)
    HOLD THE WIRE- Lots of fun. The fight, the ad libs, everything about it is great
    GOONLAND- The best Pappy short hands down. I wish the others were as good (sans WITH POOPDECK PAPPY, a classic)
    POPEYE MEETS ALI BABA- Probably the best Popeye cartoon

  • I won’t list favorites as they are all favorites but the dance cartoons are at the top of my list as they just wow people I’ve shown them to starting with THE DANCE CONTEST. They just keep topping each other. There are probably five or more of those. MORNING, NOON AND NIGHTCLUB is insane.

  • 1) Popeye meets Ali Baba and His 40 thieves
    2) Goonland
    3) Hello, How am i?
    4) Abusement Park
    5) The Man On The flying Trapeze

  • I’d actually agree with you on four of the five cartoons. I’d swap out the Nephews in favour of “King of the Mardi Gras,” which benefits from a terrific opening shot, followed by Gus Wicke at his best.

    Honourable mentions to: “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard” (great duet with Wicke and Mercer), “Choose Yer Weppins,” and a very close call, “A Dream Walking,” which has a wonderful score.

  • No particular order here:

    2.) GOONLAND
    4.) THE JEEP

    Oh, I could add more, but those are certainly at the top of my list, but I also have to include:


    • Leonard,
      Re: THE MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE… I edited the raw audio of your interview with Dave Tendlar for Steve’s Popeye disc, and I loved hearing Dave reminisce how proud he was of his trapeze animation in that cartoon. Again, a tour-de-force for a very young artist in a very young industry.

      • Thad:

        Thanks for the kind words on the Dave Tendlar interview. He was in very bad health at the time and possibly the reason he had so much tell tell me about ALADDIN AND HIS WONDERFUL LAMP was that I sent him an article or two I had written – after talking to Gordon Sheehan and doing additional research – and it sparked his memory. As for THE MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE, I told Dave on the phone things Gordon Sheehan remembered about the film and that too, sparked Mr. Tendlar’s memory.

        While the animation of the “Bluto”-like trapeze artist isn’t so great, the “panning camera” technique was pretty revolutionary for 1934. Also, Gordon told me that E.C. Segar came for a visit to the Fleischer Studios – either in the Spring or early Summer of 1934 – and I suspect that may be one reason why THE MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE seems so Segar-like to me. Olive Oyl’s mother, the boarding house, etc. – right out of the comic strip!

  • My favorites shift with mood, but a few:

    — Ali Baba, of course. Must confess to not hating the Famous cheater, since the new soundtrack added some nice mutterings.
    — Kickin’ the Conga Round. The rivalry feels a bit sharper (love the “magic tricks”) and the dancing/fighting is great.
    — Brotherly Love. Classic song, and Popeye beating thugs into chumminess.
    — Barnacle Bill. This felt like the definitive one when I was a kid.
    — Adventures of Popeye, for the weird live action stuff.

  • To be honest, I was going to have fun trying to pick which one out of Sinbad and Ali Baba, mainly because of growing up with a public domain home video featuring both of them. But, after years of praising Sinbad after its Film Registry induction, I’m now in the camp of Ali Baba as my favourite, for its better gags and entertaining character animation.

    So with Ali Baba and Sinbad taking my top two spots, I might have to go for these three, although it has been ages since I’ve seen several of these.

    Seasin’s Greetinks! (1933)
    It’s just as violent and entertaining as everyone’s favourite seasonal action film. Probably the earliest. short from my choices.

    A Dream Walking (1934)
    A very inventive entry, and has been well-praised from other contributions.

    Mutiny Ain’t Nice (1938)
    It might as well go for this one because when it was screened at my local film society in Abingdon, it scored higher than the WC Fields film it was featured with.

    Honourable mentions will have to go to 6. Bulldozing the Bull (1938), For Better or Worser (1935), and W’ere on Our Way to Rio (1944) – well, I do have a soft spot for those Famous Studios films!

  • I’m late to the (deep sea) rodeo, but:

    AXE ME ANOTHER, because the musical sequence is just so perfectly timed
    CHILD PSYKOLOJIKY: Don’t try the stunts at home, but Pappy and Swee’pea—horrible as they are—have rarely been funnier. Extra points for Popeye’s history lesson about “George Washlincoln,” scored perfectly to the folk song “Long Long Ago.”
    GOONLAND: Not very much to add… hair today, goon tomorrow…
    HELLO, HOW AM I: One of the few cartoons to capture Wimpy’s absolute shamelessness from the comics.
    WHAT, NO SPINACH!: And another great Wimpy, though while its title comes from a song, I’m missing it if it’s in the score anywhere:

  • I can’t believe that nobody (so far) chose SHIVER ME TIMBERS, my own personal favorite. The three Technicolor two-reelers almost shouldn’t count because they’re such standouts anyway (the last of which is the best animated Aladdin of all time–and yes, that includes the Disney, and I know people who worked on that one who would agree with me).

    • To be honest, I wouldn’t go that far (Disney’s had a better genie, for one thing).

    • Check out the Disney Princess Comics Treasury…

      …for a story where *Disney’s* Aladdin, like Popeye’s, lives on the corner of Chow and Mein—no kidding. (I was the translator… Aladdin’s hovel, when he’s not at the palace, had no fixed address in US Disney lore, so…)

  • I too consider SHIVER ME TIMBERS my favourite. The raven and the bat’s shadow promise spooky times, on which the film delivers and then some!

    GOONLAND deservedly got some of the loudest cheers in a 1976 cartoon festival at the University of Victoria hosted by Greg Ford.


  • I see a certain number of votes for Goonland, which has been my #1 for decades.
    I really appreciate both the sentiment and the humor in it; while I was out cycling today the song crept into my head: “I’ll sail and sail and sail the sea/ and I’ll never come back ’till he comes with me/ ’cause I’ve found out where to find my pappy/ my pappy what got lost when I was born”.
    We won’t even speak about the fabulous moment when they break the film, and it gets fixed again with a safety pin.
    The greatest.

  • Off topic, Warner Archive will be pop-eyed – says that over 100 copies of “Looney Tunes Collector’s Choice Volume 1” were sold in the past week.

    Hey There It’s Yogi Bear isn’t doing too badly either at 50+.

    (Looking forward to your post for the best 5 Popeyes from “The All New Popeye Hour”)

  • I think these would be my top 5 favorites:

    Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor
    Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves
    The Spinach Roadster
    The Paneless Window Washer
    Hello, How Am I?

  • There’s so many great Fleischer era Popeyes. It’s also difficult to pin down to only five.

    For me, the most outstanding ones are

    Hello, How Am I – for all the reasons listed above.

    Popeye Meets Sinbad – I consider Ali Baba the superior of the three Technicolor two reels, but I like this one more.

    What No Spinach – another great Wimpy outing. All the shorts with diner settings give me an appetite.

    Goonland – great adventure short. Also one of the more sentimental Popeyes.

    The Football Toucher Downer – little hyperactive Olive is so cute.

    If only they utilized Wimpy more often and took advantage of his unscrupulous personality for comedy. It’s also a tragedy that Gus Wicke didn’t voice Bluto long term.

  • Here’s some of my favorites:

    Goonland– Great short with the Goons and Pappy with a memorable breaking the fourth wall gag.

    I Wanna Be a Lifeguard– This has a memorable title song and nice 3-D backgrounds.

    Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves– My favorite of the color two-reelers with another memorable song.

    It’s the Natural Thing to Do– A very funny premise with yet another memorable song.

    Leave Well Enough Alone– A nice little lesson with a… you can tell I really like the songs in these shorts.

    An “honbr’l’ mench’n”: Child Psykolojiky– While Popeye isn’t in it that much, I like that it shows the relationship of Swee’ Pea and Pappy. For some reason, I feel like it foreshadowed the comic book stories of Bud Sagendorf and had the Fleischer Studio did not close, I would’ve like to see Bud collaborate on some shorts (that is, if the studio was still doing them).

  • Good choices across the board, but I’d like to throw “Can You Take It?” into the mix as well. The scenes of Popeye taking the challenges have a very “early Fleischer” surreal feel to them, and let’s face it…at one point Popeye literally takes a cannonball to the stomach! That’s gotta put it on a list somewhere!

  • I agree on Ali Baba and His Forty Thieves for the best Popeye cartoon of all time, the other 4 positions in my list are occupied by Hospitaliky (the funniest Popeye of all time for me), Shiver My Timbers (the most fleisheresque Popeye), Goonland (the strangest), Sinbad the Sailor (obviously).
    I think that’s the order from the 1st to the 5th position.


  • My favorites, in chronological order:

    A Dream Walking (1934)
    For Better or Worser (1935)
    Brotherly Love (1936) – for the title song alone, perfectly performed by Olive Oyl
    Lost and Foundry (1937) – stunning timing in this one, as in the first of my choices, of course
    A Date to Skate (1938) – I might have made “Ali Baba’s 40 Thieves” my last choice, too, but since I had picked one for each year so far, why break the pattern?

  • Don’t know all the titles, but:
    >The one where Popeye tries to get Olive to prove she cares by feigning a grave illness. The doctors in the hospital: “Heefa sopha sopha sopha…”
    >Popeye’s a sculptor, Bluto’s a painter – two of the roughest, toughest artistes ever to grace a loft. “I say horizontal!” I say perpendicular!”
    >Popeye and Olive run a greasy spoon diner. Wimpy and Bluto are customers. No money is exchanged. Some business!
    >This time, it’s Bluto’s restaurant. Wimpy sings his love song to hamburgers, Bluto keeps all the food in a safe which inevitably gets hurled at Popeye.
    >Wimpy as an organ grinder (with monkey), and Bluto hates music. It ends with Bluto smashing into a piano, and Popeye turning his arm like a crank. “Who says we can’t have music?”

    • The titles of your favorites are:
      1. Hospitaliky
      2. My Artistical Temperature
      3. We Aim To Please
      4. What – No Spinach?
      5. The Organ Grinders Swing

    • The doctors’ mumble is “ephasafa, lafasafa,” a nonsense phrase originated by the minstrel comedians Frank Williamson and Ed Stone in the 1890s. After serving as the source for “Ephasafa Dill,” a 1903 minstrel song by Harry Von Tilzer, Andrew Sterling, and Barley Costello, the phrase was used for scat-singing within other ragtime and early jazz tunes, most famously Gene Greene’s recorded version of “King of the Bungaloos.” Beyond Popeye’s I YAM LOVE SICK, another animated use can be found in Krazy Kat’s THE BANDMASTER (1930).

      The phrase gave rise to both the term “eephing” (or “eefing”) for scatting in general, and the “Ephs,” the term for students and sportsmen at Williams College—ostensibly named for founder Ephraim Williams, but derived and popularized immediately after Greene.

      There’s an excellent history of “Ephasafa” in its various formulations here:

      (And as a Williams grad and Eph myself, I was obviously interested in this…)

  • Peter, all five of those are solid choices – particularly HOSPITALIKY. I really like all of these – and it just shows you how high the “batting average” of the ’30s Fleischer POPEYE cartoons was throughout the 1930s!

  • Any chance of a blue ray release of these cartoons?
    Due to poor manufacturing, my copy of the D.V.D release has deteriorated to a point where it has become unplayable!

  • Only five? It’s an impossikible task… There are twenty-five or so masterpieces in the Fleischer series! Perhaps the richest cornucopia of gems in the history of American animation – with Bugs, Daffy and the 1935-1938 Mickey Mouse being the only likely competitors.

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