So earlier this week Comics Kingdom sent me an e-mail. I assume they sent it to other people too. It just had that tone to it. It said King Features was “excited to announce” the launch of Popeye’s Island Adventures. It’s part of an effort to bring Popeye back into the pop culture. They say it’s with “a fresh update on the original characters and storyline”.
All right, then. I’m game. Stand near me for about twenty minutes and you’ll work out that I’m a Popeye fan. And I’m sad that he hasn’t got much of a place in the public consciousness these days besides weird appearances on T-shirts sold at kiosks on the Jersey Shore. I’m not sure why he hasn’t had much traction since, well, the live-action movie came out. It’s easy to complain that Popeye’s just this dumb violent character, but, c’mon. Other cartoons get away with punching. And dumb is a matter of context. Give a character interesting things to do and they’re interesting. And Popeye has this forthrightness and moral clarity that I still think admirable.
So let’s see what King Features is doing with the character now. Episode one, Follow The Spinach.
It was maybe halfway into the two-minute cartoon that I realized, oh, they’re not just being drawn to look young. This is supposed to be some adventures of a Young Popeye and company. All right. I’m not sure if this is what it takes to appeal to a new generation. But, I also like variants on established character sets and I don’t think there’s been a “young Popeye” series before. At least not an important one. I’ll give that a try.
I’m glad to see Eugene the Jeep. Eugene’s the top of the many weird, interesting creatures in the Popeye universe. (Cartoons and comic strips.) Only sad point is he doesn’t really have anything to do with the story; he tickles Bluto’s feet and that’s all?
The short feels oddly paced to me. The story’s thin, but a two minute cartoon doesn’t have time for a deep plot. Still, it has Popeye eating his spinach at the halfway point in the cartoon. I’m more comfortable with it as the climax. You know, after Popeye’s had all he can stands and can’t stands no more. However, he’s also got to have time to do things, so maybe this couldn’t be pushed any later in the short. It puts more work on the introductory minute, though.
More time would help, surely. But that would surely be more expensive, and I can’t imagine there’s a huge budget for making Popeye cartoons in 2018. It shows in a couple ways. The voices, particularly. Reducing all the characters to little grunting noises avoids the problem of dubbing for different language-speakers. (This is proven by the variety of languages already in the YouTube comments. Also from this I learn I can tell when someone is whining about “political correctness” in Spanish.) But it requires either simpler plots or demands more elaborate expository artwork. I mean, try to explain the Jeep’s powers using only pictograms. Plus a lot of what’s fun about Popeye is listening to him talk. I’m not sure how long I would enjoy listening to Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto grunting at each other.
It’s got a fair bit of the stuff I like Popeye cartoons for. Particularly the feats of ridiculous exaggeration, as when the spinach-charged Popeye spins his ears into helicopter propellers. Or Popeye, skateboarding across the sand, picking up a train of bicycle, washing machine, walrus, and donkey.
The animation looks, to me, like a Flash game. That is, it looks cheap, to me. But if it weren’t cheap the short wouldn’t exist at all, so, fine. I thought the scene cuts were too quick, spoiling the comic effect of some shots. Why have Popeye haul a bicycle, washing machine, walrus, and donkey through the sand if there’s barely the time to see it? Also, in what seems like the exact opposite gripe, that the camera panned too slowly when a character moved quickly, such as when Popeye leaps into the tree at about 0:23. But, for example, I didn’t get why the spinach on Bluto’s fishing rod kept moving when Bluto set the reel down. That the reel was still spinning I didn’t catch until a repeat view. This is all probably stuff the animators (not credited in the video, by the way, nor on the YouTube page caption) will get the hang of with experience.
I’m not sure what I think of the character designs, or the choice to make this Young Popeye. It does give a pretext to quietly drop Popeye’s pipe. If that’s the compromise that gets us Popeye cartoons without protest from well-meaning people, all right. His blowing a bosun’s whistle is a decent replacement. That, based on the YouTube comments, this infuriates the sort of person who complains about SJW’s makes the substitution a double bonus. And Eugene’s cute. I hope he gets to be in a cartoon soon.
So, I’m glad to see King Features trying to make new Popeye cartoons. I’ll here for new ones.