LOOK WHAT YOU’VE JUST CLICKED THROUGH TO!
(Sorry folks, we discovered this piece was being linked to by less than desirable folks. Here’s the article as it originally was.)
TCM in the US were last night scheduled to play Popeye The Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves, a notoriously racist cartoon that almost collapses under the weight of its Arab stereotyping. The film was made in 1937 when, as far as I know, there wasn’t any particular US-Arab conflict or issues that would have brought about such propaganda with specific urgency. It just looks like casual, timeless racism.
Of course, we’re currently going through a period in US foreign relations where this cartoon is particularly potent. If it could ever be said to be dangerous, now is likely that time.
And this, I suppose, is why the cartoon didn’t air. But why no explanation? Why no apology? Why no statement of any kind?
Even more confusingly, TCM did air a pre-toon discussion, designed to place the film in some kind of historical context and defang it somewhat. Here’s the video of that short chat, courtesy of Cartoon Brew:
That can only have piqued your interest (which, of course, is the real reason it exists, possibly more so than providing safety-net contextualisation).
So, let’s follow through. Here, courtesy of YouTube, is the full-length Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves.
One good reason to watch it is to see the live-action miniature set/animation blend in the “tabletop 3D” sequence. That starts at 12:41.
I remember being quite stunned by the “tabletop 3D” as a child, when I first saw the cartoon somewhere between the football results and BBC One’s Saturday night prime time shows. Even now, and even on an iffy YouTube encode, it still holds some allure.
Incidentally, all three of the Fleischer’s longer colour Popeye toons are based on episodes of One Thousand and One Nights. Restored versions of the Sindbad and Ali Babi toons are both on Popeye the Sailor: 1933-1938, Vol. 1, and Aladdin is on Popeye the Sailor: 1938-1940, Vol. 2.
UPDATE: TCM have now issued the following explanation:
You are correct, once again we made a mistake. There was a miscommunication about how the cartoons were to be scheduled (who, specifically, was supposed to enter them into the scheduling database) and so they were left off the schedule completely. Once again, this is embarrassing for us, especially because we were excited to play these cartoons in this specific context. Mistakes like this happen, although I acknowledge it seems like they’ve happened too much lately. It is not unreasonable to want an explanation. I’m sorry.