Popeye: Close Encounters of the Third Spinach


Previously:


I’d wanted to continue my little thread of Popeye-In-Space cartoons, but couldn’t think of another Famous Studios or, better, Fleischer Studios cartoon where he went into space. But then I remembered Famous, Fleischer, and even King Features weren’t all the animators of Popeye.

From 1978 to 1983 Popeye was a Saturday morning cartoon, as the All-New Popeye Hour and then The Popeye and Olive Show (a half-hour). In my youth I trusted that this was just as the world should be: of course they were regularly making new Popeye cartoons. In hindsight I realize this was part of Popeye‘s recessional from pop culture; after this (and of course the Robert Altman movie), there just wasn’t much left. A series called Popeye and Son was made in the late 80s, but I never saw an episode, and only ever encountered it as a video CD in Singapore. The comic strip was very briefly controversial when Bobby London did a string of abortion-touching jokes that would have been a dull week in Doonesbury, and since then despite occasional noble or crazy attempts to bring it back, the franchise has been mostly something for comic strip collectors or T-shirts you get at the boardwalk.

I haven’t seen episodes of the show since, well, eating Popeye’s fried chicken while in Singapore — the Popeye’s in the airport was regularly showing episodes on the TV, so the kids had something to watch — or the early 80s and so none came to mind, but an episode guide identified one that had to be space-related, and thus, I went looking for “Close Encounters Of The Third Spinach”. The only version I could find of it is dubbed into Finnish because, of course. Why not? I’m including it anyway because I think there’s enough to watch in the animation itself that it’s not distracting to have to guess at what the characters are saying to one another.

As the title implies — and why not “Close Encounters Of The Spinach Kind”, anyway? — this cartoon is a parody of Star Wars. I still think that’s neat, though; in the past 35 years the parody or homage or imitation of Star Wars has practically become a genre in itself, and seeing how it was done before most of those parodies were is enlightening — for example, while the trash compactor scene makes the cut, there’s nothing even remotely near the trench run. I can’t imagine a cartoon making that decision about what to do and what not to today.

I also like the casting: Poopdeck Pappy makes a sensible Obi-Wan, and Wimpy in the Han Solo role is a good joke. Because of the dubbing I am not sure who’s cast as the robot. The obvious candidates would be Swee’pea and Eugene the Jeep, and while Eugene makes the more logical choice for the kind of magical otherworldly creature that the robot has to be, he’s not really one to deliver dialogue. On the other hand, that also makes Eugene an even more natural R2.

As for the animation, well, the character designs are good enough, and many of the settings, particularly the Bluto/Death Star, are amusing. But the animation is the routine circa-1980 Hanna-Barbera staging, competently done without ever really excelling. It’s not a disaster, but it is coasting on one’s built-up love for Popeye (and, I guess, Star Wars) for its appeal. Popeye In Space should be more inspired.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

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

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