Amusement parks are great places for cartoons. By definition an amusement park is the sort of strange, surreal place where anything might happen. And a cartoon is a way we represent the potential for reality, without losing the sense that something else might happen yet.
Popeye would go back to amusement parks several times. Surprisingly few times, I’d say, given the potential for Popeye to show off his superhuman prowess, and for the ability of an amusement park to provide any setting or prop useful. But for this week let me share Abusement Park. This was originally released to theaters the 25th of April, 1947, so it’s more nearly seasonally appropriate than King of the Mardis Gras, despite its other shortcomings.
The biggest shortcoming is that Jack Mercer doesn’t act in it. Mercer was the voice of Popeye most of the time from 1935 up to his death in 1984. But there were exceptions, such as a streak from 1945 to 1947 when he was, if I’m not mistaken, in the Army. In this cartoon Harry Foster Welch voices Popeye. Welch performed for most of 1945-to-1947. Abusement Park happens to be the last time he performed the character. His isn’t a bad voice, and he plays Popeye reasonably well, I think. It’s just hard escaping the most common performance.
The plot’s also a bit weaker than King of the Mardis Gras, I think because the earlier cartoon presents Popeye and Bluto trying to appeal to a whole audience, rather than attending just to Olive Oyl. There’s somehow a difference in trying to draw a crowd to trying to win a single woman’s attention. Also, and I admit this is a silly thing, but it has always bothered me, since childhood, that Popeye blows into a telephone and explodes a lighthouse. It’s not that I don’t think he could do it. It’s just such a jerk move. Sometimes the parts of the cartoons where Popeye shows off his strength forget that he’s also supposed to be nice.
As before the action ends on a roller coaster, an impressively gigantic one. While the action runs nicely wild — if you’re not satisfied with a battle fought in midair along a chain of elephants we just don’t have anything in common — Famous Studios doesn’t make use of the 3-D settings the Fleischer Studios did. I wonder if they even had the equipment anymore. There aren’t the wonderful and hypnotic movements along the course of the roller coaster track, where all those structural supports move in perspective. The roller coaster itself gets panning shots, or gets shunted off-camera fast enough. It doesn’t look bad, mind you. But it’s hard not to conclude the animation for this roller coaster sequence was a lot less trying than that for King of the Mardis Gras. The chipping away at budgets and animation and effort that would make 1950s Famous Studio cartoons such a chore weren’t bad yet, but they were coming.