This week’s Popeye’s Island Adventure runs long. Not that long, just two minutes 15 seconds. That’s even longer than the busy one which introduced Swee’Pea. What do they do with all that time? … They build sandcastles. Here’s episode 14, Epic Sandcastle Battle.
We start with Olive Oyl leading Popeye in sandcastle-making. She’s got plans. Bluto interrupts them by having a machine which he uses to build a castle in seconds. This offends Popeye for some reason. Well, they’re kids, they can take offense at someone else just existing without it being too bad. He marches off, leaving Olive Oyl to her own subplot. Popeye stares down Bluto, and eats his spinach. At only 25 seconds in, which might be an all-time record for Popeye resorting to this. And we’re all left admitting there’s no answer to why Popeye doesn’t always eat his spinach first. He builds a castle in seconds himself, and gets back to glaring and making threatening grunts at Bluto.
Eugene the Jeep interrupts. We haven’t seen him in a while, not since the disturbing cloning episode. As with the kraken episode Eugene sets himself up as referee. And the short got me. Bluto’s castle rating a 6? Fine enough. Popeye’s rating a 9? When they looked about equally good? I didn’t think Eugene that partial and was pleasantly surprised that it was a fake-out.
Bluto whips up a new sandcastle, that crocodile friend he dreams about having, and has in pool toy form. Popeye makes a can of spinach. Bluto gets more serious, building an Eiffel Tower. And now the short gets really good. It was decent before, with a bunch of nice little jokes like Popeye sawing his way out of a pile of sand, or Eugene’s 9-no-6 scoring fakeout. But now it gets to a new level. Popeye punches open the sand “can” of spinach, and uses the blob of sand “spinach” to build something no less impressive, a Big Ben.
Bluto had added to the skill of his Eiffel Tower by putting on a comic Frenchman moustache and a strand of shells, plus that We’re Set In France background music. Popeye dons a Beefeater’s hat and offers Eugene tea. Great extra comic joke. It’s sand tea. Oh, that’s really good.
Bluto builds a Colosseum. Eugene’s intrigued. Popeye gets his attention, tapping with the long pole of a gondola, which he rows over to the Leaning Tower of Pisa he’s built. Bluto sits Eugene down and serves him sand cannolis; Popeye matches with sand spaghetti. They grind enough pepper on him that Eugene sneezes. It sends the Leaning Tower of Pisa, after a moment of straightening out, falling over into Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, and the Colosseum. It’s all a fine mess.
Eugene magics his way out of the rubble. Olive Oyl, whom you may remember was in this short, has finished her sculpture. It’s a heroic pose of Eugene the Jeep, which he immediately awards a perfect 10. You do have to work the judges.
I like this one. I like it a bit more each time I watch it. The premise is solid. The competition grows sensibly, and it’s resolved well. That’s all fine. What raises this a level is that all the business is done in funny ways. Popeye sawing his way out of a heap of sand, at the start. Popeye as a Beefeater offering Eugene tea. It being sand tea. Bluto, Eugene, and Popeye gasping as the Leaning Tower of Pisa comes to stand upright, and relaxing as it tilts again. Bluto dusting off his first sandcastle to present it to Eugene. These are all small jokes. But they’re well-formed, placed at the right moments, and well-timed. Once again I’d like to know more about the making of these shorts, particularly the writers, directors, and production order. It’d be good to know whether better-than-average cartoons like this are because one team is quite good at this, or whether everyone’s getting the hang of the two-minute Flash cartoon.
They seem committed to making Popeye’s Island Adventures. I seem committed to having thoughts about Popeye’s Island Adventures, with the results here.