The start of the 1940s brought about many changes for Popeye. World War II had just begun, and as the United States prepared for its eventual involvement in the global affair, the country's animation studios sent out their best stars to fight for the cause and rally people's support for the troops. The Warners sent Bugs Bunny and Disney pushed out Donald Duck, both of whom found their stardom peaking in this decade. The Fleischers, naturally, drafted Popeye into the Navy. Along with this came changes: among other things, his regular outfit was replaced with a regulation naval uniform which he would wear throughout the rest of his screen career, and he and Bluto went through further design changes, both becoming more rounder and softer (especially in Bluto's case, if you'll notice his appearances in this set). At this point, the Fleischer Studios were in big trouble. They were in heavy monetary debt to Paramount, as their second feature, Mr. Bug Goes to Town, failed at the box office (being inconveniently released two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor), and their new Miami studio had been costly on its own, not just to move there, but to construct the facility and expand their workforce to work in feature films in the first place. And what's more, the studio was in the midst of its own war, as the co-founding brothers Max and Dave Fleischer grew increasingly estranged from each other for reasons that remain quite unclear to this day. The large debt and the equally large rift caused Paramount to force the brothers out of the control of their studio (especially as Dave Fleischer began moonlighting to Columbia Picture's Screen Gems studio around this time), renaming it Famous Studios in 1942. While the staff consisted more or less of the same people, it would become evident over time that the loss of the Fleischers would also cause the loss of the shorts' trademark personality.
But it seems unfair to compare Famous Studios to its predecessor. While it would lose the soul and charm of the Fleischer works, it would in fact develop a soul and charm of its very own, and they deserve to be looked at in a light such as that. The shorts contained here cover the wartime years, as well as the transition from Fleischer to Famous. The black and white Famous shorts (all of which are present here), seem to try and keep on the Fleischer feel---and perhaps, due to lack of color, they appear to succeed---yet by the end of this bunch, the studio's own personality seems to be evolving out of what they once were. Notable shorts (for me) from Famous at this point are "Me Musical Nephews", "Seein' Red, White, 'n' Blue", "Happy Birthdaze", and "Cartoons Ain't Human", as proof that one should not judge that the shark had immediatley been jumped. As this covers the wartime era, the fact that a large number of cartoons here contain Japanese and German stereotypes (more emphasis on the former than the latter, as German references are mainly regulated to swastikas and only two episodes really show any German characters), typical of cartoons during these years. It should be understood that this was done to boost the morale of the supporting public to cheer the country on as it fought its enemies in the war. Thus, they are a product of their time, and should be looked to as relative to it, and that the stereotypes should practically be considered harmless and inoffensive as a result (especially if you see what a lot of programs, such as South Park or Family Guy, have been allowed to put out today) as their caricatures are essentially meaningless in the present day. They are in fact capable of being as enjoyable for anyone and everyone as anything else in the Popeye theatrical series. Several of the shorts also contain references to the war effort, such as supply rationing, that many may not understand today. (A couple of audio commentaries tend to point them out.)
In terms of the DVDs, the video and audio quality continues to be excellent. What I happen to find bothersome is that the extras are lighter than in Volume Two. While we do get three new excellent "Popumentaries", the number of commentaries we get are roughly halved from the number in the previous collection. Not only that, but the vintage shorts and the retrospective documentary on animation in the 1920s seems out of place as this collection covers shorts from two decades past all this. However, it could be argued that this is because the collections are now two-disc, and had Volumes Two and Three been a four-disc set, it would have had the extras arranged somewhat like this. Thus, it's sort of okay. But it still makes me wish there were just a couple more things in here. Nevertheless, the collection is excellent when all content is taken together into account. Yet again, this is one that fans of Popeye and Golden Age cartoons don't want to pass up.