I love the Popeye series of cartoons from the Fleischer Studios. Lest you think that he spent every cartoon battling Bluto, well there were others who experienced the business end of his spinach-fueled fists…including ghosts and ghouls. Of course, the one-eyed sailor is more than a match for any paranormal pests. Case in point, 1934’s Shiver Me Timbers!
This time, Popeye, Olive, and Wimpy happen upon a ghost ship rotting away on the beach. They decide to ignore the signs that say “Keep Off” and head on board to investigate. It doesn’t take long for them to encounter a number of ghosts, including some ghostly hamburgers that frustrate the ever-hungry Wimpy. Olive ends up doused with flour also, which makes her look like a ghost.
Eventually the trio are captured by a band of pirate ghosts and tied up. That won’t hold Popeye for long, though. He starts battling the ghosts and a band of skeletons, but when it looks like the ghouls have the upper hand, out comes the spinach!
Shiver Me Timbers! is one of the earliest Popeye shorts (the character made his animated debut the previous year). It features the character’s original voice artist, William Costello, who did not last long in the role. Jack Mercer would really define the Popeye voice and style in the years to come. Costello’s style does not feature as much of the mumbled talking and side jokes that Mercer would do. That is one of my favorite aspects of the Popeye character, so it’s always a bit disappointing when it’s not there. Still, Costello does a fine job with the voice here, it’s just not as iconic as Mercer’s.
The gags in this short are fun, even if the violence is not quite as unhinged as it is in many of the Bluto shorts. I mean, there’s a limit to what you can do to beat up a ghost when your fist goes right through him. The skeleton sequences are the most intriguing aspect of the film. I think it’s fair to say that the Fleischer’s were somewhat inspired by Disney’s The Skeleton Dance in this one. A few moments can even be seen as a parody of that classic short.
The animation is all classic Fleischer. Their shorts had a unique ability to have a crisp look to the animation, yet still feel somewhat crude, which I’ve always found perfectly suited to the rough and tumble character Popeye is. The background art in this one is especially gorgeous, as detailed as the sets created for the ghostly ships of the Pirates of the Caribbean series.
Shiver Me Timbers! is classic Popeye! Though I think this would’ve been a slightly stronger short had it been made in the Mercer era, bottom line is it’s hard to go wrong with Popeye in my book. This is another strong outing for the one-eyed sailor!