Popeye’s Island Adventure has a picnic, fresh strange body horror

The new Popeye’s Island Adventure for this week is Popeye’s Picnic. As is the custom there’s a couple of other cartoons suffixed to this. In this way, they get those valuable YouTube ads which interrupt the cartoon at, for me, the one-minute mark, in the middle of an otherwise good bit of Bluto plummeting through space. I realize I’m getting to sound like all I do is complain about how web sites have set up their business. In fairness, web sites have set up their business that way and should do better instead.

I am glad for this cartoon. I’d felt like the last couple shorts all left me grumbly and sour. This one’s got a story structure that works better for me. The setup suggests a couple of nice simple jokes and an obvious climax. That seems to reliably work for me.

The setup: Olive Oyl, Popeye, and Swee’Pea are having a picnic. Bluto’s having a picnic too, right nearby, only he uses a mechanical picnic basket. I get why Bluto’s stuff all has to be weird, slightly sinister-looking mechanisms. It plays to an old storytelling tradition of good people as being closer to nature, maybe building Rube Goldberg contraptions if they must have a machine do something. Bad people need a remote-controlled umbrella.

The structural problem with two groups having a picnic on the beach is they don’t need to interact at all. Not unless the beach is crowded, which the Popeye’s Island Adventures setting can’t be until they add a sixth character. Popeye’s ready to fight right away, based on nothing more than ninety years of experience with Bluto, but all he can do is grumble. Finally 43 seconds in, Bluto notices that Popeye has spinach and launches the actual story: attempts to swipe some spinach.

I’m curious why the short took so much of its run time in establishing that Popeye and Bluto were near each other. It’d be fine for an eight-minute cartoon, with time to play with the setting more. Was this the beset use of their two minutes, ten seconds? But then the cartoons are aimed at kids, probably quite young kids. Are they writing around the idea that kids need the premise explained more thoroughly? To me that feels like they’re underestimating kids’ ability to roll with the story. But I have a lot of experience watching stories, and it’s difficult to imagine what a novice cartoon-watcher sees.

The string of attempts by Bluto to steal spinach are fun, though. The first is just sneaking up while hidden inside his mechanical basket. Popeye notices just in time. From this I realize that a character acting all sheepish when their sneaking-about gets discovered is a comic beat that always works for me. This is when the commercial interrupted things for me.

Bluto tries tunneling up to the can of spinach; Popeye fakes him out with a can containing a crab. I’m not sure the crab quite fits the Popeye character model, but then almost no animals besides Jeeps and Whiffle Birds quite look like they belong in Popeye. I still think there’s something weird in the animation of the crab shuffling off.

Finally Bluto has an idea that works, using a team of mechanical ants to swipe a can spinach. Popeye has some spinach-bearing sandwiches to start a chase. And then we get a weird choice. Popeye isn’t satisfied just to run over there; he wants to do something with style. Fair enough; it’s a cartoon, the characters should do stuff that looks fun. He takes inspiration from the boomerang that Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea have been playing with. This also gives a reason for the two characters to even be in the cartoon. He eats a sandwich and turns into a Popeye-headed boomerang that … falls to the ground. He needs Olive Oyl’s help to go after Bluto.

Popeye’s spinach-eating transforming his body is this standard bit of cartoon business. This makes me realize I’ve taken his transformations to be, at least mostly, metaphorical. Like, sure, he grows tank tire treads or something, but that’s just to depict how he’s charging unstoppably through the terrain. A limbless boomerang-Popeye needing an assist to actually move makes this change … like, literal. As in someone who happened to stroll onto the beach would see this living young man’s head growing out of a blue-and-white boomerang. I know this isn’t the first time that the spinach-induced transformation is shown to direct what Popeye can literally do. It still seems weird to me. I think because it builds a joke on what a boomerang can’t do. When Popeye turns into, like, a rocket the focus is on how a rocket can fly through space.

Well, Olive Oyl uses a beach umbrella to propel Popeye at Bluto and grab the spinach back. Really seems like it would’ve been more efficient for Popeye to just run, but it’s true that wouldn’t be as interesting to look at. Popeye settles down to have a sandwich, and gets nose-pinched by the crab from earlier. Correct ending, that.

After the short ends we get another repeat of the one with the Popeye clones. Then the sandcastle battle again. Then the treasure-hunting cartoon and then then Heatwave. This is the same slate of four cartoons as run after the Olive-Oyl-on-vacation short two weeks ago. They’re all good picks of cartoons, but it seems sloppy at least to rerun all four in the same order so quickly.

I’m doing my best to review all these Popeye’s Island Adventures. Essays about them should be at this link.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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