Popeye the Sailor: Washing Cars, Naturally


There’s times I wonder if I understood things wrong, and Jack Kinney made all the 60s King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons. Not so, though; we get just enough Larry Harmon cartoons to prove that. It does seem like each week is another Kinney cartoon, though. This one too. So, here’s Popeye’s Car Wash, plus some thoughts of my own.

Does anyone remember when Popeye sailed? Well, of course he did. There was that Jason-and-the-Golden-Fleece cartoon sometime ago. But it’s not like the 60s cartoons pioneered the idea that most of his cartoons were on land. Few of the comic strip adventures were built on him sailing either.

Popeye and BlutoBrutus running rival businesses has a long heritage, even back to the Fleischer cartoons. That’s a sound setup. The cartoon can do some joke about one person at his job, then the other, and then the two fight. The structure resists the cartoon being too monotonous.

Another small joy of the cartoon is the cars. If you can think of an American-made car that looks like something, it’s probably a late 50s car. Sure, you might mock them for ridiculous chrome details and hood ornaments and tail fins. But when you understand the historical context … eh, they’re still pretty funny. Add to that the bits of UPA design that every animation studio picked up, especially ones doing television-grade limited animation. You get the happy blend of something that stylizes well, drawn by people looking to stylize a thing. So if we’ve got a teal car that looks like a fish, good. Let’s see that. BlutoBrutus’s car wash also has the sort of mid-century architecture that really works for me.

It starts with Popeye sulking about how BlutoBrutus has taken all his business. It’s hard to see why, given that Popeye’s got a dumpier car wash place that charges 50% more than BlutoBrutus does. I like that the moment Popeye drops his prices to free he’s got a line of cars. I do not for a moment believe in Wimpy being so cross about anything as to declare how he ought to sue you. If Wimpy tells you he’s going to sue, it’s to embarrass you out of your declaration that you know he’s a mooch. He wants you to back away from you defaming him by calling him what he is. They don’t have the cast to have someone be the aggrieved customer. Olive Oyl should play the role but she’s committed otherwise.

There’s some great little bits of animation here. I like the flow of Popeye hard at work washing one side of the parade of cars. I also like Popeye, BlutoBrutus, and Olive Oyl chasing one another, in all permutations and at different gaps, around BlutoBrutus’s Beauty Bath. There’s even a moment where the animation and the music come together, as BlutoBrutus and Popeye trade punches at about 10:26.

A leering Brutus, with a neck that's as wide and even taller than his head.
Um. That’s … that’s not a correct amount of neck.

Not sure what’s the funnier bit of cheaping out on the animation: BlutoBrutus covering his mouth to call Popeye “sucker” at 6:55, or the bit of mud that just stays hovering in place while Popeye lowers his mouth at 7:20. There’s not much way to make sense of BlutoBrutus falling on and taking the place of the statue out frot of his car wash either.

So overall we’ve got a pretty successful cartoon here. Good to see.

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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