I find a couple of things as I look through the 1960s King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons. There’s forgettable cartoons. There’s cartoons that aren’t good, but are at least bizarre. There’s cartoons that I like because they get weird in fun ways. And then there’s simple baffling cartoons. Popeye’s Pet Store, another Jack Kinney piece, is one of those.
New cartoon, new profession for Popeye. He’s not actually sailing, for some reason. But he’s not just puttering around the Boring Suburbs, which is usually a good sign. He’s running a pet store. I thought it looked like the one Magilla Gorilla lived in. No; it’s nothing like that. I’m just the fool for thinking every 60s cartoon city pet shop looks the same.
I call this a baffling cartoon. I think that when I was a kid I wouldn’t even notice. But, like: yes, it’s funny that Popeye should dust a goldfish. We don’t see him put the goldfish back in the water, though. It’s logical to suppose he puts it back, but, he started out doing something illogical. How do we know he hasn’t kept that up? We never see an aquarium, after all.
It makes sense, for the cartoon, that Popeye’s regular friends want pets. And it’s fine that Popeye shouldn’t have just what they want. That Olive Oyl should insist a chihuahua is the poodle she wants is funny. If you don’t agree, would you at least grant that’s the shape of a correctly formed joke? That a better cartoon would make it work? But then we get to Wimpy wanting a “hamburger hound”, whatever that is. And Popeye giving him an anteater? That’s just what Wimpy was thinking of? That Swee’Pea wants a cat, and Popeye, the pet store owner, hasn’t got any? But uses a bird in place? That’s baffling.
More than anything this reads like the setup for a Monty Python sketch. Several, really. Popeye giving a parrot(?) as a pussycat makes me think of the “Pet Conversons” sketch. Popeye not having any of the various animals people want makes me think of the Cheese Shop. Those are better sketches, yes, but it’s striking that good premises were just sitting there ready for at least a decade before more talented hands picked them up.
Finally we get Bluto in. He’s introduced growling that “I hate satisfied customers,” which is a nice weird line. He goes about to un-satisfy everyone and picks up a net. I guess he’s the city dogcatcher, although the cartoon isn’t explicit about that. I guess we’re supposed to read the net as shorthand for that. It’d help if he had, like, a badge or something. Even a line saying “as the city dogcatcher I can un-satisfy them”. The cartoon can’t be trying to save screen time. After the dogcatcher’s truck pulls up next to a spinach truck, Popeye — Popeye — says “Spinach, that’s what I need!” And then “Good ol’ spinach,” in case we don’t understand what can of leafy green stuff Popeye has just eaten while Popeye’s fanfare plays.
More baffling stuff. Bluto the dogcatcher-I-guess grabs everyone’s new pets. They’re upset. OK. Why are they upset with Popeye? Why call him a cheat? Why does the angry-mob noise not sound like any of King Features’ three voice actors are in it? (I’m curious if anyone knows what cartoon or sound effect library the sound at about 14:18 is from.)
Popeye has an Augie Doggie’s Daddy costume. All right. I don’t know what fursuit I would assume Popeye to have, so, Doggy Daddy will do. Why does Bluto grab him? Bluto was out to un-satisfy customers; who’s the customer here? It’s not that Bluto’s acting as regular dogcatcher; he gloats at 15:26 that “I’ll un-satisfy them”. And then in the dogcatcher’s van, Popeye reaches out to a spinach truck luckily nearby. I guess he’s one of those fursuiters who won’t remove his head while on stage no matter what? Also, Popeye can smell canned spinach? … Well, I’ll give him that. We’re talking Popeye.
Popeye fights Bluto while in costume. This has the odd thread that Bluto doesn’t actually know who he’s fighting. There’s also a quick funny moment at about 16:28, where Popeye runs across the screen, Bluto chomping down on his rear end. That’s a nice silly little extra bit. Anyway, a quick bit of fighting and everybody’s happy again, apart from Bluto who doesn’t count. All right.
This is definitely a cartoon to watch while you’re doing something else. The better I pay attention the more I notice things that don’t quite make sense. The storyline’s simple enough: Popeye gets his friends pets, Bluto steals the pets, Popeye gets the pets back. Why does it end up being harder to follow the more I watch?