SUMMARY: Popeye sets sail for Goonland where his long-lost father is being held prisoner.
WHY IT’S HERE: While the Betty Boop series was quietly dying, Fleischer studios other major series was flourishing. With the success of the colour specials, the Popeye series was growing more ambitious and cinematic all the time. This is clear in ‘Goonland’, one of the greatest Popeye cartoons and one of the greatest Flesicher cartoons of all. ‘Goonland’ marks the film debut of Popeye’s father Poopdeck Pappy and also the only theatrical appearance of the Goons, a strange and frightening race of creatures. Both these characters, as with most of the characters in the Fleischer Popeyes, were original creations of E.C. Segar whose comic strip ‘Thimble Theatre’ originally introduced Popeye. The Goons were especially influential, not only inspiring Spike Milligan’s seminal radio comedy of the same name but also in introducing the word ‘Goon’ to the English language.
‘Goonland’ itself is a masterpiece beyond its animated firsts. Popeye’s adventures here seem to cinematically exceed the short running time. The story is beautifully told, with Jack Mercer’s brilliant mutterings as both Popeye and Pappy surpassing his other always brilliant performances. The Goons are wonderfully brought to life, especially in a scene where Popeye mimics their Neanderthal movements. It’s a surprise that these vivid characters never came back in a theatrical cartoon, although the comic strip creation Alice the Goon was memorably used as Olive Oyl’s fellow army cadet in a series of TV shorts for ‘The All New Popeye Hour’.
‘Goonland’ is also fondly remembered for its memorable climax in which Popeye and Pappy are saved from the Goons when the film itself breaks, causing their enemies to fall off the screen, before a live action hand repairs the celluloid with a safety pin. It’s a wonderful little flourish from a studio that were especially adept at combining animation and live action from the earliest days of the medium’s inception.