Popeye On Another Roller Coaster


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.

Author: Joseph Nebus

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

10 thoughts on “Popeye On Another Roller Coaster”

  1. So we have two sailors, dressed in sailor outfits…

    who need water wings and a waist-floaty to swim in what can’t be deep water. And it’s not even played for comedy, it’s just quick visual.

    Also, Olive Oyl is really invulnerable here. Like. beyond usual cartoon invulnerable.

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    1. He did! If I’m not missing something the introduction to the movie was the last time he played Popeye, too. The animation was done by Hanna-Barbera, because somehow this Paramount-Disney co-production couldn’t find someone capable of holding a pencil for ten seconds of animation.

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  2. That was due to the clause in Max Flischer’s will “If a big screen live action adaption of Popeye is ever made Paramount is Forbidden to supply an animated opening to it .” At the time it was an odd statement addition, but the Flischers were way ahead of their time.

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    1. You know, it’s the strokes of long-term insight that most surprise people.

      Come to think of it, I’m a little surprised there was never a live-action Popeye in, like, the 30s. Possibly the cartoons ate up the conceptual space for that. But there were live-action adaptations of comics like Skippy, Barney Google, Gasoline Alley (starring the poor fellow who’d play Winky in the Rocky Jones show), Blondie, and many more. No reason there couldn’t be a Popeye, even if (say) the Whiffle Hen or the Jeep would have been difficult to do right. They couldn’t get them right for Robert Altman either, which is why they moved the Jeep’s prophecy powers over to Swee’Pea.

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      1. Of course I’m sure the fact that the baby hired to play Swee’pea was related to Altman had nothing to do with the creative and/or casting decisions. Like when he had his son write the lyrics to “Suicide is Painless” for MASH.

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        1. Y’know, I have a book written more or less on-set about the making of the Popeye movie — the studios were expecting this to be the next Wizard of Oz so there’s a striking lot of publicity for it — but I don’t remember it describing how the casting affected the course of the story. Of course, as these were publicity books, they probably wouldn’t say anything directly about nepotism-inspired creative choices. But it’s been so long since I read the book, or set my hands on it, that I just don’t remember what it said about the casting besides that they liked how the kid smiled.

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    1. I don’t know how they were figuring to do the Jeep. Could certainly imagine stop-motion animation, or a puppet, or possibly using some exotic breed of dog or something and putting makeup on. Any of which would be great and weird to see.

      I’m not sure that I’m actually in touch with Popeye fan culture, apart from my love. But the impression I get from animation fans as I remember the is that nobody had any particular problem with Swee’pea. I think probably because he was added early on and gave the Fleischers the chance to do some fun cartoons with the character. By the time Swee’pea was doing only boring stuff it was the 1950s and all the cartoons were kind of boring. (Then in the 60s they were either boring or crazypants, but again, every character was boring or crazypants in the 60s Popeye cartoons.)

      It’s the nephews nobody has any patience for. And fair enough; they really had the one great cartoon, remade as a good cartoon, and then the best of their appearances were just ones where they didn’t drag down the action too much.

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