Popeye goes Ski Jumping this time


We’ve finally got a break from Jack Kinney-directed episodes. This one’s … oh. Larry Harmon. You know, the with the crew that would go on to be Filmation. I mean, I like Filmation. They made a lot of the cartoons so deeply weird that they appealed to the young me. Who else would think to do a cartoon refresh of Gilligan’s Island by just moving everyone to a new planet? I don’t expect great animation. I’m happy if I can get a weird cartoon, though. So here’s Ski-Jump Champ, another 1960 piece.

This isn’t the first skiing cartoon from Popeye. It’s also not the first one where Jackson Beck plays Bluto as some wholly new character with a French accent. Maybe French-Canadian. Beck was apparently comfortable with that accent; he has it on a fair number of old-time radio characters too. Here he’s Gorgeous Pierre, greatest ski jumper in the world. I too wonder if that’s a riff on Gorgeous George, the 50s pro wrestler who’s the guy being riffed on in those cartoons where a pro wrestler has curly blond hair and a perfume bottle.

And it’s not even the first cartoon this month where the story is Popeye and Bluto Brutus Gorgeous Pierre doing stunts to win Olive Oyl’s affections. What makes this stand out mostly is the animation getting weird. Like, in the first scene Popeye’s right eye keeps doing this little fluttering that made me think they were accidentally opening it. No; it’s just that his eyebrow jumps between spots. Which is a mistake that curiously makes his face look much more alive and real than the animators wanted. So that’s worth talking about because it’s an animation error that makes the cartoon kind of better, somehow. It’s superior to Bluto Brutus Gorgeous Pierre using a jack to lift the end of a ski jump, which my eye keeps trying to parse as an optical illusion. And I have no idea what’s supposed to be happening about 3:04, when Popeye skis into the rope.

This all comes to a ski race because I guess they needed some structure for the back half of the cartoon. We see Bluto Brutus Gorgeous Pierre being all devious by going right after the race starter says to “go”, while Popeye stands around blinking. And here I realized I have mixed feelings about the character designs here. They’re very simple ones. Like, I look at them and think, “I could draw that,” which is a sign of a very simple character design. But simple isn’t the same as bad. I admire how they’re able to get Popeye and Olive Oyl and You-Know-Who drawn and recognizable with so few lines and as many as five colors.

Bluto, using a very long handle on a car jack, lifting up the end of a ski jump by its base. No two elements seem to be in reasonable places, relative to one another. The horizontal bar of the ski jump's posts seems to be at an angle, or else the ends of the posts are cut at an angle and one goes about six inches farther down than the other. It's all subtly disorienting in its composition and layout.
Artist’s challenge: find a vanishing point that could possibly apply here. Civil engineer’s challenge: how did this ski jump pass the state inspection when its foundation is just “sitting on top of the snow, with a jack underneath its one cross bar”?

We do get that cartoon-race motif where the villain would win easily if he didn’t keep stopping to sabotage the hero. In the last minute and a half the cartoon finally gets weird for weirdness’s sake. Gorgeous Pierre paints a tunnel into a tree. It’s a Coyote and Road Runner gag, except for being senseless. There’s a reason to take a tunnel through the mountain; why aim for the one tree on the hill because you think you can pass through it? That said, I apparently like this sort of nonsense because I didn’t think about that until the third time through. Another bit of nonsense I like is Popeye drinking spinach juice for whatever reason. I wonder if this is riffing on some commercial people in 1960 would remember. The cartoon ends with a fight cloud, and a small-pawed bear being roped into things. The bear gets to win the ski race. And Popeye declares “like Napoleon said, you can’t win them all” and spontaneously dons a Napoleon costume. Why? I have no idea.

By now, you know me. I found this a dull but okay cartoon through most of its length. I got more interested as the cartoon got more ridiculous. Also that bear was adorable and I reliably like the comic premise of the character who’s important but asleep through the whole thing. I will not call this a great one, since it isn’t. Popeye turning into Napoleon is a nice surprise, but it’s not the sort of joke which won’t wear out.

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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