The last time I was in the Big Apple, I wanted to go to the Popeye exhibit at the Museum of Television and Radio–but I got food poisoning and was too weak to make the two-block trek from my hotel. I’m back in NYC for the holidays–I join Jerry and Amid in hoping yours are happy, by the way–and feeling fine, so I visited it today.
The good news? The show includes some Segar originals, a decent amount of Fleischer and Famous Studios art, a few wonderful vintage posters, a smattering of fun collectibles, and a film loop that includes a newsreel visit to the Fleischer studio in Miami. The Museum is also showing Popeye cartoons in one of its theaters in conjunction with the exhibit; I didn’t attend today’s screening, but if it involved any Fleischers or early Famous shorts, I’m sorry I missed it. And in general, the exhibit seems carefully curated in terms of attention to detail–for instance, the signage includes dates whenever possible, and they seem to be accurate.
But this show had something in common with a pretty high percentage of cartoon-related museum exhibits: An inability or unwillingness to be discriminating. So the film loop also includes stretches of 1970s Hanna-Barbera cartoons, there are multiple POPEYE AND SON cel setups on display, and the recent CGI special is touted heavily and approvingly compared to Segar and Fleischer. It’s as if all Popeye were good Popeye, or it didn’t really matter whether Popeye was any good in the first place.
After spending 20 minutes in the exhibit (and a bit more time watching an unrelated but fascinating compilation of TV clips of Bobby Darrin, selected by Kevin Spacey), I left both happy and dejected. If you love Popeye and get the chance to attend it–it’s on until January 29th–you’ll probably come away with the same feeling.