60s Popeye goes to … Haweye? … Popeye Haweye. All right. We’ll try this.


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.

Olive Oyl, laying back on a pillow on a small sailboat, holding an orchid up so that it looks like a mustache and mouth on an extended snout.
One thing you can say for this cartoon: it is not short of funny moments to screen grab. Olive Oyl on Brutus’s plane particularly has all sorts of peculiar head shapes to marvel at.

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.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

3 thoughts on “60s Popeye goes to … Haweye? … Popeye Haweye. All right. We’ll try this.”

  1. Hugh Fraser’s Popeyes, for Jack Kinney, are known for being sloppy. For example the sailor’s pipe is there, then gone, back again?! It’s cartoons like his which have given the entire series a bad reputation. Fraser worked for Disney so I don’t understand why his work is very poor on this series. I know the budgets were small and time was limited but Kinney’s other animation directors fared a bit better (though not all). Still, I didn’t notice these animation goofs at age five and the series did make a lot of money for all concerned.

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    1. Just why Hugh Fraser’s cartoons are animated so sloppily is the kind of thing that fascinates me about these cartoons. King Features’s project of making twenty million Popeye cartoons in about four weeks was a big task and it forced a lot of decisions that seem strange to us now. It’d be interesting to know, like, what directors and animators were using this as just a chance to get some credits, versus which ones figured they could be experimental (and in what ways) in an environment where it’s safe to fail. Or what people were given animation or story or other roles by friends helping them through a rough patch, or other strange things. It’s beyond my resources to find the documentation or people who would know, but I can at least look at the work and see if any patterns are clear.

      The sloppiness in this cartoon, at least, certainly never bothered me when I was a kid and in the intended audience. These days … I didn’t mind it, I think because the overall cartoon felt lively enough. It could be like a pipe disappearing and reappearing might have contributed to that energy; my brain might register it as motion even when nothing is really happening.

      I am curious what kind of money the series made for King Features. Certainly it sustained the cartoons in the syndicated market through to the mid-80s, in New York and Philadelphia, which is a pretty good return. It’s curious they didn’t make another batch in, like, the mid-60s, although that might be explained by having enough cartoons that kids weren’t getting bored with what was already there, so new cartoons wouldn’t have made the package enough more money.

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