There were two minutes, seventeen seconds for this week’s cartoon. It’s hard telling any kind of story with so little time. This week, they impressed me with a story that’s densely plotted and interesting, without getting confusing. The 25th of these little animations is Drone Drama. It’s not an inspiring title. I can imagine it fitting into the King Features Syndicate cartoon run of the 60s. But do you remember the subject line I picked for this essay? No, and I say that before I’ve even written it. So I can give them a break.
We start with eleven seconds in Bluto’s Swamp. He’s making something sinister: one of those drones like you’d fly at the beach, only evil. Then we go to Popeye’s ship home. He and Olive Oyl are tending the spinach gardens. Swee’Pea is doing magic tricks with Eugene the Jeep. Routine enough.
Bluto sneaks up on Popeye’s ship home. He camouflages a can of bait as spinach and leaves it for Popeye as … bait. Despite Olive’s misgivings, Popeye takes the … bait. Bluto’s drone drops a cage on Popeye and Olive Oyl. Popeye opens the false spinach can and swallows the bait. This doesn’t get him any particular superpowers. It leaves me feeling queasy too.
Bluto flies, on is drone, up to the spinach garden. And at this point I realized how much I was liking this story. There’s some fun in the Young Bluto as a rival more than a villain, yes. But him doing actually villainous things is fun. And he’s got a good scheme here, one that’s using this drone invention well. Bluto uses the drone to drop a trap on Popeye and Olive Oyl, to get to the spinach garden, and even to scoop up the garden all around Swee’Pea and Eugene. And then to flee back to the swamp.
Swee’Pea and Eugene take action. Eugene vanishes, lest he spoil the plot by fixing the problem right away. Swee’Pea uses his saw to cut open Popeye’s cage. And this is something else I liked here. Swee’Pea can saw open the cage, but there needs to be a reason why he’d have a saw. So he’s practicing magic. And now this is all set up so it’s surprising but justified.
(Yes, yes, as illustrated Popeye and Olive Oyl would be able to get out of the cage if they stepped through the wide bars. I’m an easy audience. I’m willing to pretend the cage mesh is “really” too narrow to let them pass. It may not be more work to have the computer draw a fine-mesh cage rather than a sparse one. But it’s still hard to have a fine mesh cage and have the cartoon still read cleanly, especially to people watching on a phone. Give the animators a break.)
Popeye breaks out the emergency spinach reserve. Which was in a compartment covered by Swee’Pea and Eugene, by the way. In case you needed a reason why Bluto’s drone didn’t do anything about the hidden spinach reserve, there’s one. I’m not sure this is answering a potential objection to the storyline. It might have just been that “on top of the secret compartment” was the only good background available for Swee’Pea’s scenes. But it feels like it explains a problem someone overthinking the cartoon might have.
Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee’Pea catch up with Bluto and the stolen spinach. Bluto urges them to bring it on, and I like his smug confidence. It seems odd when you realize he’s seen they have spinach with them. Olive eats her can, and does a Plastic Man-style arm-reach to grab the bag of spinach. It turns out Bluto’s hidden his drone in the spinach bag. It pops out with big spinny whirly blades of death. Once again I like this. Bluto’s anticipating Popeye and his bunch. It makes him a tougher menace, and so a stronger climax.
Swee’Pea eats his spinach and flies into the air as a … something that flies, anyway. He tears up the drone, and the spinach falls toward the swamp. Popeye doesn’t eat a can; he grabs some loose spinach when the bag spills open. He makes a giant fan of himself, and blows Bluto into the swap. Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea grab the spinach bag. And Eugene finally reappears, to slap cucumber slices on Bluto’s mud-covered face. Happy ending all around.
This is a lot of plot for 137 seconds. I’m impressed with how well it all works. Bluto’s got a good scheme in mind. And he even anticipates Popeye’s responses and figures what to do about them. I like this. It gives the plot a more complicated and interesting shape than the last few weeks have shown. And for as much as happens here it’s never confusing. I followed what characters were doing and why they were doing it. And even stuff that didn’t seem relevant, like Swee’Pea and Eugene’s hanging out, mattered to the story. It’s all well-crafted. Again I’m sorry we don’t get credits for these shorts. I’m curious to know. Has one of the writing teams figured out how to work within the constraints this series uses? Or do things sometimes just all fit together well?
I’m doing my best to review all these Popeye’s Island Adventures. Essays about them should be at this link. Next week, though, I plan to finally build myself a bit of buffer and review a much older cartoon. I hope you enjoy the change.