Krazy Kat: The World’s Fair/Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You

Previously in Krazy Kat cartoon adaptations:

In the early 60s, when King Features decided it needed a bunch of new Popeye cartoons, it hired pretty much everyone who could hold a pencil to make a cartoon, and in two years they made about as many cartoons as Fleischer/Famous/Paramount Cartoon Studios had made in the previous thirty years combined. There were some good sides to this — characters like Poopdeck Pappy and Eugene the Jeep finally reappeared after decades, and some characters like the Sea Hag and Alice the Goon finally got animated — but overall, the results are probably best described as “god-awful”, though some at least get fever-dream weird.

And yet … the first of this batch animated by Paramount Cartoon Studios, Hits And Missiles, is not too bad. It’s not Popeye at his best, but this story bringing Popeye to the Moon for reasons related to it being the early 60s is noticeably better than the lethargic efforts Paramount had been putting out before its series ended in 1957. Maybe a couple years off and having the time to recharge helped. If you judged just by the debut feature, you’d be justified in saying the 60s glut of Popeye cartoons was a pretty good new adaptation of the character.

So you probably know where I’m going with this: granted that the first Krazy Kat cartoon of the 1960s run was a pretty good adaptation of the comic strip to TV cartoons. What was the rest of the series like?

And thus I come to a convenient pair of episodes, The World’s Fair and Don’t Call Us We’ll Call You, and I admit feeling betrayed by them. The World’s Fair starts with a premise I can imagine almost fitting into the comic strip, that of Coconino County hosting its own you-know-what, and then slumps into a couple of foreign-country jokes and a logically confusing plot about the international pavilions being some kind of contest. Don’t Call Us We’ll Call You disappoints me more: it’s a string of Going To Vaudeville jokes that could be run in any cartoon or on any sitcom with the premise “let’s try out for a show”, without reflecting personality or character or anything specific to who’s performing them.

I haven’t watched all the King Features Krazy Kat cartoons, so I can’t say whether these happen to be the worst of the series (well, at least the ones that are the worst-adapted), and this was apparently one of the last cartoons aired, and probably made, so perhaps they had burned off all the easily-adapted stories anyone could think of by then and they had to do something. But it’s disheartening to see.

Is it fundamentally impossible to turn George Herriman’s comic strip into anything but what it started as? The track record of these cartoons hasn’t been encouraging, though it’s hard to say that anyone gave the comic strip a serious try, especially as many of these cartoons were made on very tight deadlines not necessarily allowing writers to do things like compose second drafts or sleep. I would think that the comic strip could be turned into cartoons and make sense, but, a half-century after the last cartoon adaptation, and seven decades after the comic strip last ran, would anyone try?

I note for the record that a jazz ballet based on the comic strip was made in 1922, and I remember it being performed again within the past few years. However, I haven’t seen it, and I’m ignorant enough of ballet that even if I had seen it I couldn’t say whether it was any good as ballet.


Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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