So, there hasn’t been a new Popeye’s Island Adventures uploaded since that one for Popeye’s birthday. I have not the faintest what this signifies, or even if it’s anything more than “the person who approves these cartoons before posting them had a vacation week coming”. It throws me off, though. I’d been expecting something to review. For a wonder I’ve got stuff to post sketched out for nearly a week ahead. But today? No, all I have for today is the conceptual fragment “the largest-ever spill of working fluid from the Shrinkatorium, a volume estimated at nearly four tablespoons” and it’s possible I might build that into something, but it’s not there yet. (I also think I should do more with “Muppet Babies Kids”, but at least I was able to put that idea somewhere it did some good.)
Well. King Features’s Popeye account posts stuff besides these weird new Flash(?)-animated two-minute shorts. They’ve also been posting stuff from the King Features archives. So here’s one from the 1960s run, that I picked out because I didn’t have the time to watch a half-hour episode of the 70s-80s Hanna-Barbera run, nor of the late 80s Popeye and Son. It’s from 1960, one of the mass of 800 billion cartoons they made in ten minutes: Jeep Is Jeep.
The cartoon was animated by Paramount Cartoon, their Famous Studios, and for that matter the former Fleischer Studios. The credited animators were Morey Reden, Isadore Klein, and William B Pattengill. Reden had done a couple of Pluto shorts for Disney, moved over to Famous Studios in time for, like, The Anvil Chorus Girl, and would go on to animate stuff like Beetle Bailey and Milton the Monster before getting into the Hanna-Barbera circuit. Klein was an animator some in the 40s, then moved into story for a long while for Famous Studios (he’s also credited with the story here), and then back into animation. Pattengill was also a career Famous Studios artist, starting with (it looks to me) the Little Lulu cartoons, Herman and Katnip, and Popeye. He did also work on the 1973 Charlotte’s Web. And Seymour Kneitel directed, like, everything the Fleischer or Famous Studios ever put out.
Toward the end of the Famous Studios run the Popeye cartoons were getting pretty dire, boring things with mediocre animation. But among the 1960s King Features cartoons, mediocre animation looked pretty good. And they knew the characters and settings well.
Very well, at that. The short is almost made up of scraps of other cartoons. I’m not counting the mention that it’s Popeye’s birthday, although that makes a nice link for me to last week’s cartoon. Also apparently Popeye’s birthday is in April, or the present is arriving quite early or late. But Popeye getting a mysterious box which contains Eugene? And a note that explains it all? Fleischer studios did that in 1940, in Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep. Swee’Pea gets out of babysitter Popeye’s care and Eugene the Jeep leads him in a rescue? That was Popeye With The Jeep, from June 1938. Yes, Eugene appeared in a cartoon before he got “presented”. Just roll with it. Popeye has to keep performing to keep Swee’Pea from crying? I Likes Babies and Infinks, 1937.
So this cartoon isn’t an improvement on any of those. Knew that going in. There’s some good stuff here. One is getting Eugene the Jeep back in action. For whatever reason the Famous Studios cartoons never used Eugene. For all the mistakes of the King Features run, they got back interesting characters who’d been forgotten after the Fleischer Studios closed up (Eugene, Poopdeck Pappy, Goons), or that somehow never got used at all (the Sea Hag, the Whiffle Hen, Roughhouse). He’s a bit more angular here, and his patterning is simplified, but what the heck, it works for me. Eugene here is a gift from “the Maharaja of Pasha”, a character I think was made up for the short and that shows how hard they worked on “foreign” names back then.
Eugene the Jeep has traditionally been from Africa; I’m curious why he’s from India now. Or, I guess, they just establish he got to India, without quite saying the Jeep is an Indian animal now. All right; no problem with Eugene having a life before he meets Popeye. But I’m curious if the shift to India reflected some pop-cultural idea of India as a land of mysticism and magic. Or if they just had that great “Maharaja of Pasha” joke ready to go and were going to use it. Or if they couldn’t think of a joke African name. I’m sure a circa 1960 joke African name would have aged well.
The jokes about Eugene’s magic seem reused, even if I’m not sure he actually did make traffic vanish in an earlier short. I notice Popeye gets hit by the same two cars that Eugene made vanish. So it’s comforting to know Eugene didn’t banish them to the cornfield, he just moved them like two blocks away instead. Eugene walking through a wall and Popeye chagrinned that he can’t do that too was done before, along with mutterings about why he can’t do that too.
Popeye punches a locomotive into oblivion. It’s a move he’s made before. Really seems like he would have had an easier time grabbing Swee’Pea and running. But we need some action. Also Swee’Pea riding Eugene like a horse is adorable.
Eugene’s ability to teleport gets set up properly, but doesn’t come into play. And that muddies one of the few moments of animation style here. Popeye teleporting around the room searching for Swee’Pea should be a good, cheap way to show frantic energy. But if we’ve just had Eugene teleporting with the same style? I’m sure this never bothered me as a kid; today, it seems a misstep. At least Popeye needed to move around with a swooshing noise instead of the bell chime. His walking through walls at least pays off with a joke. And it gets used for a nice bit where Eugene walks at an angle toward the camera, a rare and welcome moment of characters not just walking perpendicular to the camera. The characters crossing the street is a similarly welcome, not-quite-perspective movement.
Well, if Popeye’s Island Adventures comes back, I’ll review them at essays available on this link. If it doesn’t, I’ll do something else.