King Features’s description for this cartoon calls it a “Middle Ages – Time Machine gimmick”. They’re wrong. There were “time machine gimmick” cartoons. One of the King Features framing devices was Professor O G Wotasnozzle sending Popeye, and maybe others, into some other time. This one doesn’t. Rather like the Mississippi Sissy cartoon I looked at last week, it just starts in the setting. Bluto doesn’t appear at all, although the dragon gets the “Blow The Man Down” Bluto leitmotif.
So here, another Jack Kinney production, Popeye And The Dragon.
I’ve learned to have mixed feelings when one of these King Features cartoons starts with a weird setting. It’s great to be out of the Boring Suburbs. It means there’s a chance for some fresh jokes, or at least jokes in new skins. But if Popeye’s in a new outfit? The animators’ time went to designing that instead of, like, key frames. So I expect more intersting material with worse animation.
Can’t say I was wrong. I was a bit distracted by how much effort the cartoon went to not to show two characters interacting. Even interactions that should be just lining up the characters, like the Dragon blowing fire on Popeye or vice-versa, are more implied than shown. It’s not entirely like that. I’m amused, like I always am, by the Dragon repeatedly swatting away an attacking Popeye. I just feel like I can reconstruct the budgeting for this cartoon.
It’s a great start, too, plunging right into a Dragon rampaging through the castle. We even get two extras, which I guess is where they put the budget that would have gone into a second reaction shot for Wimpy. And for some reason Wimpy as the owner of an armor shop. Having an armor shop is a good solid idea, as is Popeye insisting on a stove instead. And that opens up a couple cute, underplayed jokes, like Popeye’s pants catching fire and Wimpy throwing water in his face. (Is this why he finishes the battle naked? His armor’s broken off and there’s nothing underneath?) Casting Wimpy as the proprietor suggests they ran out of characters. Properly, yeah, Geezil would make sense, but he’s got problems.
There’s a bunch of jokes about charge cards here, just to remind you that this cartoon was made in 1960, when charge cards and pizza were inherently funny concepts. I like that Popeye has a Dragon Club card, though.
Another good bit is the horse Popeye rents. He’s got a nice sensible cowardice to him. It’s a bit hard to read his personality, since he’s got a single facial expression. But they’re at least trying to define him in body language and action alone. Popeye doesn’t even describe his action. That’s more trust being put in the drawings than I expect from this era.
Once again we get a slightly baffling ending that doesn’t make literal sense given the rest of the cartoon. Popeye wanting a spinach shoppe makes sense. The dragon working as cook makes sense too. Why Popeye’s the diner and Olive Oyl the waitstaff? I don’t know. They wanted him to go out eating a plate of spinach; they didn’t have time to work out how they got there.