The still picture underneath the closing music of all the Popeye’s Island Adventures has included Swee’Pea. Through the first four of these shorts, though, he hadn’t appeared. That changes now. This week’s cartoon, episode 5, is aptly named Swee’Pea Arrives.
I don’t remember as a kid wondering where Swee’Pea came from. In the comic strip he was left on Popeye’s doorstep, and only now do I think to wonder if E C Segar might have been riffing on Gasoline Alley. If I ever have some time I’ll read the sequence and see if that’s sustainable. In the Robert Altman movie, he’s left in a deliberately swapped basket for Popeye to take. I don’t think the cartoons ever addressed the topic. Anyway, it’s all variations on a theme: Swee’Pea is a foundling, and Popeye and Olive Oyl care for him. And that’s reestablished this cartoon, with Swee’Pea dropping from a plane to arrive in Popeye and Olive Oyl’s care.
It’s after that that we get a mess. If you’re giving a character an introduction story you need them to do something relevant, fair enough. But this is … just … what? Last week’s Scramble for the Egg was a good step up. It had a clear, coherent story and I thought that signalled a step up in quality for these cartoons. This one’s disappointing.
Popeye grilling spinach-burgers is a fine idea. A hungry Bluto seeing them and wanting to swipe some is also a good idea. It risks the problem Road Runner cartoons have, though. If the villain’s motivation is that he’s hungry, well, is that really villainous? Especially when the villain succeeding would be, at most, petty theft. You can’t fault the Road Runner for refusing to be eaten. But Popeye can look like a jerk for wanting a fifth burger. Moral shading can make for good stories. It’s a lot of difficulty to put into a two-minute pantomime cartoon.
Bluto costumes himself in a haz-mat suit, spinning a tale of spinach being toxic. And Popeye falls for it, as though we lived in a world in which poorly-inspected foodstuffs could carry health hazards. That’s a good enough starting point. It just comes halfway through the cartoon’s run time. And then for some reason Swee’Pea understands the No-Blutos sign. And recognizes Bluto inside the haz-mat suit. And decides to take action. And knows the remaining spinach burger will give him the fighting prowess to do something about it. And … why? Why any of these?
The logic of the cartoon would be stronger if it hadn’t spent its time introducing Swee’Pea. At least then the only mystery would be how Swee’Pea recognized Bluto in the haz-mat suit. Maybe a scene could have given Swee’Pea the hint. … Alternatively, if Swee’Pea weren’t in this at all, but Eugene the Jeep were, then recognizing Bluto would make sense. I’m curious if this did start as a Eugene script and then get changed because Eugene’s gotten so much to do already. (This does remind me of the Robert Altman movie, and how Swee’Pea got Eugene’s part and supernatural abilities.)
But then dropping Swee’Pea would lose the first minute, which is a bunch of nice scenes of Popeye and Olive Oyl with the kid. And it has some nice bits of direction, too, including some first-person shots. And, y’know, happy people playing. The editing of the cartoon felt too tight, too fast for me. But again all the camera moves made sense, and focused on the line of action appropriately. I don’t care for the animation style where a character holds something and then there’s a fast swish to move whatever needed to be moved. But that’s my tastes rather than a moral failing of the artists.
It’s the second week in a row that Popeye doesn’t eat his spinach. And it’s, I think, the first time another character does instead. Again, I’m glad that they’re not using too rigid a plot frame here. It does make Popeye again a passive character in his own adventures, though. He’s needed to put a spinach burger on the grill, and to catch the falling Swee’Pea, and that’s it. Swee’Pea even blows Popeye’s pipe at the end.
I’ve called this a two-minute short. The first four cartoons were. But this one ran long: two minutes, ten seconds. Ten seconds might not seem like much, but it’s an appreciable fraction of the original run time. Maybe they’re pushing to see if they can do fuller-length cartoons. Maybe it reflects the needs of the storyline. There’s two plots here, adopting Swee’Pea and Bluto scheming. Maybe there aren’t ten seconds you could cut from this without leaving the cartoon completely incoherent.
There’s still no credits. But the last twenty seconds of the video are pictures of the cast, and the encouragement to subscribe to the channel. For the first time this week those last twenty seconds have some band singing. It’s not the old Popeye the Sailor Man song, but it is a pretty catchy one that circles the same idea. I don’t know why they’re using a different song either, but, nice to have.
Several YouTube commenters asked where’s Wimpy. Wimpy’s a great character, mooching with an almost fae folk-like indifference to the mortals his schemes set in motion. You could make a series just out of him. He isn’t in the still underneath the closing music here, and I haven’t seen hints he’ll be in the cast. I’m curious whether there’s any plans to use him.