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First studio cartoon to depict invaders from Mars
Brian Camp from Bronx, NY
3 September 2014
Two years before Warner Bros. sent Bugs Bunny to Mars for "Haredevil
Hare" (1948), Paramount sent Popeye there for "Rocket to Mars" (1946),
in which Popeye accidentally takes off in a rocket at a technical
museum and winds up on Mars where he encounters a green-skinned Martian
Bluto and his army of "little green men," all intent on invading Earth.
Armed with spinach, of course, our hero fights to stop the fleet before
it can launch. There are a few impressive shots of the Martian
landscape and the relentless march of Martians and their armored
vehicles as they prepare to load up a massive spaceship for the
invasion. The gags employed in Popeye's subsequent fight scenes with
the Martians are, however, less impressive. The whole threat is handled
a little too easily and one wonders what a longer, two-reel cartoon
with this theme, with added action and suspense, would be like,
especially when compared to the spectacular two-reel Technicolor
cartoons made in 1936-39 which placed Popeye in Arabian Nights settings
(Sindbad, Ali Baba, and Aladdin).
This is, I believe, the first Hollywood cartoon to feature a theme of
alien invasion and it came eight years after Orson Welles' famous "War
of the Worlds" radio broadcast. There were, of course, earlier cartoons
with depictions of travels to Mars (e.g. Max Fleischer's Koko the Clown
cartoon, "A Trip to Mars," from 1924) and the moon (e.g. Fleischer's
"Dancing on the Moon," from 1935) and at least one cartoon I know of
that referenced Welles' broadcast (Bob Clampett's "Kitty Kornered,"
also 1946), but I don't know of any others before this one that
actually depicted alien invaders, either on another planet or on Earth.
(In Fleischer's earlier Superman cartoons, the threats were always
earthbound.) There was renewed interest in this theme after the war as
reports of UFOs, or "flying saucers" as they came to be known after
1947, began to increase.
The director here is Bill Tytla, a former top animator with the Disney
Studio who was renowned for his work on SNOW WHITE, PINOCCHIO, FANTASIA
and DUMBO, and one can see his considerable talent in the overall
design of this above-average postwar Popeye entry. The color process
used here is the two-color process, Cinecolor, and not Technicolor.
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