I don’t know how many animation teams Jack Kinney had working for these many 60s Popeye cartoons. It’s clearly enough that I should be paying attention to directors, though. The cartoon for this week has Hugh Fraser listed as the animation director, and story by Raymond Jacobs. Both the animation and the story feel quite different to other Jack Kinney cartoons. This is how we work out secrets of how the cartoons were made, sixty years later. From 1960, it’s Popeye in Haweye.
This starts with a nice stylish title card. A lot of these do. The style carries into the short, though, with this enormous plane and double-deck windows. And then, uh, uh, some Hawai’ian women tossing leis onto tourist Olive Oyl. So that’s how far into the cartoon I was before feeling really uncomfortable. This lasted a second and then we were on to the next beat, introducing Popeye and Brutus as rival tour guides. There’s also a mob of other tour guides, and there’s a rare bit of overlapping dialogue. Before Olive Oyl can even see what’s going on the tour guides are all beating each other up.
It’s abrupt, and the cartoon trusts the viewer to work out why the fight even started. I didn’t expect that. I expect cheap made-for-tv cartoons of the era to be ruthlessly expository. It’s cheap, for the air time filled, for the characters to explain the setup to each other. And it avoids the audience, young kids watching on lousy sets, from being confused. It’s packed.
Popeye and Brutus are the surviving tour guides, and Olive Oyl agrees to go on both tours but pay for the better. (This cartoon would be totally different if there were a second tourist on the plane.) Brutus wins the coin toss, and it’s underplayed that he uses a two-headed coin. Olive Oyl’s first tour is a breakneck run through all the parts of Hawai’i that don’t have people in them. Then a race onto the plane to dive, among other things, through a volcano. Then to a tandem bike ride past orchids. And before you know it the tour’s over, with Brutus arguing that the tour is great because there is so much of it. I concede the logic.
Popeye’s tour is slow and gentle. It’s impossible to argue that he isn’t the better guide, if nothing else for matching the tour to what his customer wants. It makes me wonder what Brutus’s tours are like when he isn’t infatuated with the customer. There’s a fight, motivated apparently because the cartoon has to end with a fight. But Popeye’s spinach comes form eating Olive Oyl’s lei, an act so weird that she comments on it. Somehow the arbitrariness of that cuts the arbitrariness of this fight at this moment in a way that makes both better. One punch and Brutus goes buoncing off into a luau, for a moment of serious cringe. And Popeye and Olive Oyl have a moonlight date.
The story’s simple. But it moves economically. Maybe even too fast, but that serves the plot well. I’m surprised by how well the whole thing fits together. The animation is also … well, I don’t blame you if you think it’s sloppy. To me, it looks loose and active, like the characters are bouncing. It’s a good energy.