Popeye: Goon With The Wind, a cartoon in which the wind affects nothing

I guess I’ll do another couple King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons. Goon With The Wind turned up, just in the title credits, two things I like. First, a mention of the Goons, who’re one of Elzie Segar’s nice weird creations. They look big and monstrous and then somehow they end up being oddly likable. The second? Gene Deitch listed as the director. His style might not be yours, but it is mine. I expect animation that’s strange, a little impressionistic, and with sound effects that are … what, a reversed spring noise recorded in an echoey bathroom? Something surreal, anyway. I’m disappointed there’s not more animator credits to know who actually put pencil to paper here.

But that’s nothing I can do a thing about. So let’s watch Goon With The Wind.

We get Popeye and Olive Oyl outside their usual costumes this cartoon. And you know what that means: they won’t be able to afford animating the whole cartoon. So we get some obvious cheats, like looking close up at a boulder on top of Popeye’s cage instead of Popeye complaining about that. And we get some animation that just doesn’t work. The second time the Goon is pushing Popeye’s and Olive Oyl’s boat, for example (at about 18:14) it could not look less like the boat is actually moving. And I have no idea where the cage that drops on Popeye dropped from, or why.

But the animation budget gets thoughtfully used. When the characters are just talking, they move between extreme poses. It’s a good trick to make “standing around talking” resemble action. Jay Ward cartoons relied on this. There’s some wonderful little bits too, particularly Popeye circling, as if on skates, the Goon King at the wedding, around 21:19. There’s also a really good shower of sparkles at about 21:22, by the way; I recommend freezing the frame to look at that effect. There’s also some nice water effects, like at 18:19, as the Goon pushes the boat to the Goon island. There’s other, small bits that animate well, like at about 20:00 where Olive Oyl runs away from the Goon King, to be easily caught by the guard, whom Popeye slugs from inside his cage. Or about 21:50, Popeye setting down the still-tied-up Olive Oyl, who falls over in the sand without drawing attention otherwise.

The Goons get a new model for this cartoon. Well, these are called Goons from the Moon; maybe they’re different from the Earth Goons. I can see the resemblance to the original, Alice-the-Goon type Goon. The great long floppy nose, particularly, and that particularly Segar-ish fat lower arm. But this cartoon does away with their large size and broad shoulders and skinny lower bodies. Oh, and their furry hips look a lot like grass skirts now. And instead of speaking in pulsed vibrations, they talk in high-pitched English With Bad Pronouns. Here, I get uncomfortable. The character design, the bad speech, the plot — the Goons kidnapping Olive Oyl to serve as their Queen — evoke some blend of the Jungle Princess and the Mighty Whitey threads. But the cartoon avoided getting to “yipes” territory to my eyes. Possibly there was enough plot to keep me interested in where this is all going, and how it’ll get there.

This is the rare cartoon that starts with Popeye sailing and not ending up in a shipwreck. Olive Oyl is the one to notice that the boat is moving opposite the direction of the wind, which Popeye and the audience need explained to them. Good for Olive, who comes out pretty well this cartoon. It does re-invite the question: is Popeye is actually a good sailor? He gets shipwrecked or lost a lot. But a kidnapping can happen to anyone.

Popeye and Olive Oyl work pretty well togethere here. Olive Oyl is tempted, naturally, by the chance to be Queen of an island. But I imagine most of us would at least consider the possibility. Popeye has a good reason not to have a can of spinach on him. And Olive Oyl doesn’t screw around not getting his spinach. They act like they know how to get out of this kind of fix.

I’ve wondered about the writing for these shorts. Were the cartoons written by the animation team, or were they scripted and just sent off to whatever studio was up today? The story here feels stronger than usual and I’m curious whether that’s Deitch’s team’s doing, or just the luck of the draw.

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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