I seem to have fallen into a theme of sampling the Popeye cartoons made in the early 60s from each of the various studios that King Featured hired to produce several zillion cartoons over the course of twenty minutes. Today’s, “The Last Resort”, was animated by Gerald Ray Studios, and I’d like to tell you something about them.
I barely can. The Internet seems to have overlooked Gerald Ray Studios in its entirety; the only references I can find to it are pages mentioning the 1960s cartoon. Fred M Grandinetti’s Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History offers that Gerald Ray had worked with Jay Ward — of Bullwinkle fame — on Crusader Rabbit and directed several Fractured Fairy Tales, and went on to form a Mexico City animation studio. You probably would have guessed these facts just from watching the cartoon, though.
If you weren’t sure there was a lot of Bullwinkle DNA in this studio then I recommend you try watching this cartoon with the sound off, because doing that makes clear how funny it is to watch. One of the guiding ideas behind Jay Ward’s style was that they may not be able to animate the scenes lushly, but, any given picture could be a funny one, and even if all you could animate in a scene was one character’s mouth moving you can at least switch between several different scenes showing the characters in different poses. It’s a simple trick, but it pays off well: the brevity of any given shot and the switching between shots fools the eye into thinking there’s more animation going on than there actually is.
And, as with Bullwinkle, the pictures are funny even when they don’t need to be, and sometimes in complicated ways: it would be enough of a joke that the Sea Hag is counterfeiting three-dollar bills. We didn’t strictly need to see one of them, but if we are going to, it’s funny that a three-dollar bill should have Benedict Arnold on it. And it’s funny enough that a three-dollar bill should show Benedict Arnold, but it’s funny on top of that that he’s shown hanging. It’s the sort of incidental detail that makes a tight budget work for you.
The cartoon’s also interesting in that it features the Sea Hag and Toar. Both were characters introduced to the comic strip in the 30s and, strangely, neither appeared in the Fleischer cartoons. They also didn’t appear in the Famous Studios cartoons, but the Famous Studios cartoons gradually forgot about all the Popeye-universe characters besides Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, and two of Popeye’s nephews. Poopdeck Pappy, Eugene the Jeep, the Goons, and the other two nephews just faded out; if nothing else we can thank the 60s cartoons for bringing them back around.
I can’t think of a good reason the Fleischer Studios, particularly, didn’t use the Sea Hag. She makes a wonderfully compelling antagonist to Popeye, smart in the ways Bluto really can’t be and with the added plot complication that Popeye feels he can’t hit her. Come to think of it, that might be the problem, since that would make it harder to end a short on a big action climax unless the plotting was stronger, and of all the things Fleischer Studios did well, plotting was not among them.
Toar’s late appearance in animation is easier to understand. E C Segar introduced him in the comic strip as a prehistoric brute who, thanks to drinking from a magic pool, enjoys eternal youth. He started as a villain, but pretty soon fell in line as one of Popeye’s loyal supporters because Popeye is made of awesome. (A lot of his antagonists in the strip followed that character trajectory.) Having him introduced as the Sea Hag’s lackey is authentic to how he was introduced in the comic strip. And it’s easy to understand why he wouldn’t be introduced to the cartoons before the Sea Hag was: if he isn’t the real villain’s lackey, then there isn’t much plot role he can serve that Bluto can’t do at least as well. (Toar’s even voiced by Jackson Beck, Bluto’s voice.)
Gerald Ray Studios only made ten of the 1960s Popeye cartoons, which is a shame. The Bullwinkle-style limited animation serves the characters well.