It’s happened before that Bluto has been the viewpoint character for a Popeye cartoon. At least to start things in action. Focus usually returns to Bluto. This week’s Popeye’s Island Adventure might be the most that Bluto has been the protagonist for a cartoon. I say ‘might’ because I remember basically three scenes from the late-70s Hanna-Barbera run. And all I’ve seen of Popeye and Son is that sometimes it was playing, silently, on the TV in the kids corner of the Popeye’s Fried Chicken in Singapore. (There was the one Popeye’s, and it was in Changi Airport.) But let me just assert that Can’t Handle The Tooth is the most Bluto-focused cartoon, and let people correct me.
My first thought about this was the cartoon’s a mess. The second was that fluffy was going to need like four pass-throughs to follow it. I did too, really. The storyline’s still messy, but I don’t think it’s hopeless. The short needs time, though. Incidents keep happening, in a sequence that feels a bit like a dream, or like a kid attempting to tell a story. A bit more screen time would help non-kids like me follow along.
I’d have gotten some of the time from the cartoon’s start. Bluto digging into Popeye’s ship is a reasonable thing for him to do. But the action only starts when Bluto tries opening an errant can of spinach. That’s at least ten seconds of stuff we didn’t really need established. Bluto trying to open the can is decent stuff.
Half a minute in, Bluto finally has a loose tooth. Trying to get it fully loose, and having every attempt fail in stranger ways: that’s the short’s focus. I like the silent-movie-approach of tying a string to a door and how that would have failed even if Popeye had gone through the door. And I like that this sets off a briefly-glimpsed side plot where Popeye can’t catch an errant spinach can. That premise could have been a short on its own, too. It might yet be. (Maybe not. Perhaps something that’s amusing in brief glimpses in the margins of the short would be boring if it were the primary focus. At least I’ve heard of that dynamic happening. But I’m a nerd, so deep down, I believe that anything funny can only be way more funny if you do a lot of it.)
The strangest interlude is with Eugene the Jeep. It’s a moment that feels like a frustration dream. Bluto figures biting into an apple will loosen the tooth; Eugene magically swipes the apples. He even turns a bunch of apples into a baked pie. I’m not sure how I feel about Eugene’s shift to magic-assisted gluttony, but there we are. Olive Oyl stepping out in a welding mask, with a torch and pliers, is another bizarre moment. I guess she has reasons for it, as who doesn’t fix a wobbly table in the sand by applying flame and pulling things?
And then it gets really weird. It’s not new that spinach should do wondrous things for entities besides Popeye. Nor is it new that it works on inanimate objects. When a bit of spinach falls on Bluto’s finally-free tooth … it … becomes gigantic? I don’t get how that follows from the usual spinach superpowers, and I missed why Bluto, Popeye, and the tooth end up in this giant rolling ball. Popeye ends up falling on Olive’s repaired table, another showing where the Sailor Kid’s fairly hapless. Bluto ends up in the water, and loses his gigantified tooth. It’s not the first time I’ve felt bad for Bluto at the end of a cartoon, although this one feels particularly unfair to him.
I’ve watched the cartoon many times over now, so I have a fair idea what’s happened in it. I’m still struggling with why these particular things should have happened. I think it spent too much time establishing Bluto’s loose tooth, and squeezing out plot time from the attempt to pull it. More time for the failed attempts, I think, would have rewarded the short greatly. It might never make sense that Bluto’s tooth turns gigantic. But more time to process the events could have made it feel less tiring.
This is the cartoon that leaves me with the question: do teeth float?
This and my other reviews of Popeye’s Island Adventures cartoons should be here.