I got to wondering whether every major cartoon character in the 60s built a homemade robot. Then I thought out who I could remember doing this: Popeye. Wile E Coyote, in one of the Rudy Larriva cartoons. That’s about it, although I’d bet money that, like, Mister Jinks tried one on Pixie and Dixie. It seems like something which was in vogue, anyway.
Popeye the Popular Mechanic is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The animation director’s listed as Hugh Fraser. The story’s credited to Joe Grant and Walter Schmidt, names that I haven’t noticed before.
Popeye lays out the premise by talking to himself. It’s an efficient way in to explaining why he’s building a robot. For this short, he’s so sloppy a person as to, like, hang wading overalls from the curtain rod. I’m curious how he got them there in the first place. Like, I’m cluttered because I can’t bring myself to exert the energy to put stuff away. Hanging wading overalls like that seems like more effort than anything you could do with them. The tire in the living room makes sense, of course. I don’t know why he has the Holy Grail sitting on the mantle. I love his standing lamp, though.
You know the short’s something when I’m pondering things like that. Most of my notes are stray random odd bits. Like, Popeye subscribes to Popeye Popular Mechanics? You might think they didn’t micro-target subscribers like that back in the day, but remember, this is the era when the Saturday Evening Post decided to improve its fortunes by cancelling all subscriptions from people with undesirable zip codes. Somehow this plan turned out to be stupid and failed.
Anyway, Popeye builds Mac the Mechanical Man. There’s some spare parts left over, a thing I expected to set up mischief. I’m still not sure it didn’t. Mac, ordered to clean, pops a washer-woman’s hat out of its head and then goes ballet-dancing around the room. Ordered to cook, Mac pops a chef’s hat out and makes pancakes the traditional way: using bullets and pouring oil on them to light them on fire. It’s a bit daft. I’m not clear it’s supposed to be the fault of the leftover parts. I guess Mac was trying to make crepes suzette after all, even after being told Popeye wanted “flapjacks”, both things that were not on Mac’s menu-board chest.
I’m curious why Mac doesn’t speak. It’s not like they were afraid of having Jack Mercer or, especially, Jackson Beck double up voices. Maybe it was to keep Mac a bit alien. If he’s joking around with Popeye (you know he’d be joking around with Popeye) then Brutus coming in and rewiring him to be Evil is darker stuff. Still, Mac’s got an expressive face, and he acts flamboyantly, more alive than anyone else in the short. Maybe giving him a voice would let him too completely take over the short.
So Brutus remembers he’s not in this short, and comes in to set Mac on a rampage. But why? I guess to give the cartoon a climax. Jokes of Mac doing some household chore all weird are fine, but shapeless. On the other hand, it’s not as if Coyote-and-Road-Runner cartoons have a storyline, or as if we like the cartoons where there is. It’s a measure of how slight Brutus’s role is that he and Popeye never directly confront each other. It’s not until after Mac has shot the bomb back at Brutus (somehow having worked out that it’s dangerous?) that Popeye even knows Brutus is here today. There’s no spinach either, or mention of it apart from Mac’s menu board. I wonder if Grant and Schmidt wrote this up for any old cartoon character and wrote Popeye in when, say, the Beetle Bailey series didn’t have room for it. Or whether they made that for Beetle Bailey too. Close with Popeye happy at his mechanical servant and dreaming of Olive Oyl’s approval, and Mac going wild for that.
This cartoon seems like it ought to be boring. It sets up a premise, shuffles it around a bit more, then tosses in a bomb to bring it to an end. I wasn’t bored, though. The pacing was decent. Mac went about the housekeeping chores in weird ways, which made that worth watching. The animation drawing is … I’ll call it loose, to the point you can ask whether anyone drawing this had model sheets to refer to. But I’ll take loose and weird-looking. I may not agree with whatever Popeye is doing with his lips at about 13:52 there, but I agree he has the right to do it. It puts life into what’s otherwise a dead scene.