Popeye goes after the Golden Fleece


There’s four cartoons in this YouTube video that King Features Sydnicate posted. Last week I discussed Coffee House. The week before, I discussed The Billionaire. Also in this quartet is Dead-Eye Popeye. I’m not going to review that. If you want to watch Dead-Eye Popeye, go right ahead, from this link. Popeye as a Western sheriff. It’s a Larry Harmon-directed cartoon. It’s not a great cartoon. It’s not terrible. A week after you watch it last you’ll remember nothing from it. I watched it six days ago. I remember there was something amusing about Bluto and his identical brothers. I don’t remember what.

I’m interested instead in Golden-Type Fleece. It’s another Jack Kinney-directed cartoon. We saw him with the Coffee House last week. It promises at least stylish drawing, such as the title card’s illustration of the Argo. It also promises odd pauses in conversations. Be warned: there’s a bit here that’s been running through my head, nonstop, since 1978.

Once again Popeye’s telling Swee’Pea a tale. The King Features cartoons used this frame a lot. I don’t know why. I think I’d accept a cartoon where Popeye just played Jason of the Argo. Or playing Aladdin himself. But having a frame like this solves some narrative problems. The cartoon can patch any holes in story logic by having Popeye say “then later”. Maybe that’s all they needed. It reminds me of SCTV throwing a “coming soon” bumper around any spoof they only had partially finished.

And what’s left in the story is a bunch of Greek Mythology jokes. The normal Popeye cast gets to be Greek Mythology characters. Popeye as Jason is almost required, certainly. I guess Wimpy is then the only choice left to be the King who sends out Jason. (Who else could they use? Toar? Roughhouse? Castor Oyl?) The Sea Hag as the Queen is similarly forced. This may be an accident, but it does reflect a thing from the comic strip. In the comics the Sea Hag is kind of enamored of Wimpy. Or at least sees him as a way to crush Popeye. Wimpy certainly won’t turn away someone who thinks she can use him, too. And he is smart, or at least cunning, enough to stay ahead of her. It’s a great plot-generating relationship when the comic remembers it.

Bluto as every (male) antagonist — Jupiter, Neptune, a centaur — is forced on the plot. You could read the triple casting of Bluto as a comment on the whole Bluto/Brutus/Pluto/etc shenanigans. You couldn’t make that stick, though. Olive Oyl as a ticket taker who isn’t enamored of Jason/Popeye is a fun bit. It’s disappointing when she does kind of fall for him later. I don’t know whether the sirens are supposed to be Alice the Goon. She’s off-model if she is. But, I mean, look at Popeye’s hands this cartoon. Not for too long. I don’t know who the bird on the prow of Jason’s ship is. Researching this cartoon taught me the Argo had a plank of sacred wood with the power of speech. That’s neat and I don’t remember seeing that in any Ray Harryhausen-animated movie.

There are a fair bunch of funny pictures here. King Wimpy summoning Jason using semaphore flags, for example, on a pier with posts that I’m going to call Doric columns. There’s not enough scenes funny by themselves, though. I notice how often a scene is one character speaking, on a nearly featureless background. The animation looks like it came in on budget. The dialogue is more interesting. The characters in the story tend to talk in rhyming couplets. I don’t know why. I guess to make it sound faintly more like this is from an epic poem? But without being too complicated to write, or for kids to understand? But the rhyming isn’t done too rigorously. There’s good about this. It means Jupiter doesn’t need a complicated way to order a lightning bolt to “get back there!” He can just deliver the laugh line.

The plot, so far as there is one, is much more The Odyssey than it is Jason and the Argonauts. And each scene is just enough of a setting to hang jokes on. Look at the bit with the Lorelei Loons, “cousins to the Goons”. Mae Questel warbling “rock rock rock, rock-a-bye-sailor and a rock rock rock” is the bit that’s been going in my head for decades now. I know that some writer circa 1960 thought this was a great bit of snark about that awful racket his kids call music. I don’t care. The dumb bit works. It also inspires in Popeye some awesome weird facial expressions. One of them my love pointed out when I discussed Popeye’s weird face two weeks ago.

Popeye, both eyes bugged out and way open, hair making weird zigzags, and his mouth dangling open. His tongue's poked out and curled up and angled so it's under his eye.
That’s a nice wholesome look for Popeye the Sailor OH LORD HIS TONGUE GOES UNDERNEATH HIS EYE WHAT IS THIS STOP IT STOP IT NO IT’S NOT STOPPING ENOUGH STOP IT MORE!

There’s a lot of spinach eaten this cartoon, most of it off-screen. There’s only one can eaten while the viewer’s there. Jason says he ate a can right before punching Jupiter’s lightning bolts back. He’s said to have eaten two cans to cover his ears against the Loons. He says he’s going to eat spinach to deal with the Blutaur, but we don’t see that. Five cans would beat the record that Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp set, if we count spinach we’re told but not shown was eaten.

I like this cartoon. I’m not sure I can justify that like. Popeye as Jason is a good premise. And I like telling The Argonauts The Odyssey as a string of set pieces with dumb jokes attached. This includes sliding the Golden Fleece to the Golden Fleas Circus. It’s kind of a Dad Joke but, you know? Tell your Dad Jokes without apology. It’ll be all right.

But the cartoon is shoddy. Look at King Wimpy’s talk cycle. It’s some movement, yes, but it’s pointless, not bothering to be funny at any point. There’s a five-second stretch of showing nothing but water waves, while Jason’s off-camera, talking. It’s not even funny waves. Maybe all the animation budget was eaten up with designing new outfits for Wimpy, Popeye, and Olive Oyl, and coming up with a mer-man and a centaur design for Bluto. The music is the usual hit-shuffle-on-the-background-library. I know these cartoons wouldn’t get fresh orchestration for anything, but, like, couldn’t they have underscored the “I’m-Jason-the-sailor-man” to any of the instrumentals of the Popeye theme song they already had? Jack Mercer could sing along to that beat, or at least near enough.

So I like it. But I can see where this is so close to being a much better cartoon. At least it’s got that “rock rock rock, rock-a-bye-sailor and a rock rock rock” hook. You won’t forget that a week from now.

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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