So partway through Jingle Jangle Jungle we hit a scene with Jungle Cannibals. The cartoon was already on thin ice; the premise, sending Popeye to hunt big game, was dubious enough. Why not skip it and leave this forgotten cartoon where it already was?
And then it … didn’t get offensive enough for my tastes. Other people will hear this warning and decide to dump this, and they’re correct. The scene doesn’t make sense except by using the idea of the Savage Jungle Cannibals. But the cannibals never really appear on screen. They’re a cloud of eyeballs instead. I suspect the hidden hand of network censors. Read the accounts of TV and radio show runners and you hear how the censors are humorless scolds who don’t want anything that might be a joke to come through. Then you learn that the censors were sending endless memos saying, stop with the ethnic jokes and maybe find a role for a woman that’s not a shrew.
I do not know how Ed Nofziger came to write this, or what influenced him and director Ken Hultgren. But the results are weird. So, let me step into 1960’s Jingle Jangle Jungle.
Popeye hunting big game is a troublesome start. Yes, he has hunted animals before. But early on Elzie Segar realized Popeye was not someone to beat up animals. The Fleischers tried a couple Popeye-goes-hunting cartoons, and yes, sometimes it worked. But it’s a bad start. Still, Ed Nofziger has written some weird stuff. I have him logged as writer for Hamburger Fishing, a peculiar fairy-tale retelling, and Sweapea Thru The Looking Glass, a peculiar fairy-tale-adjacent story. Both are weird cartoons, which appeals to me.
And this? This is a weird cartoon. The premise is that the core gang is off hunting tigers. And that’s about all. Stuff happens that circles around this. A giant flower makes out with Brutus. A rhinoceros goes charging through, tooting with the same sound as Popeye’s pipe. Popeye calls this a train and almost opens his eyes for this. I get to wondering if this is a repurposed Mister Magoo script. A cobra pops in; Popeye plays something tuneless on his pipe, until an elephant wanders by playing the accordion. And then the Esso Tiger gets all snuggly with Olive Oyl.
At one point Popeye declares he’s seeing things and, yeah, that’s fair. This whole short has a weird dream logic. When the Jungle Cannibals sort-of appear, somehow tie up Popeye and drop him into the stew pot, and then have made a spinach stew of things? The effect, for me, is more bizarre than anything else. It’s almost a tone poem, with a loose theme of hunting, rather than anything else.
There’s some interesting almost genre-awareness here. Brutus crying out “help, Popeye, help” in the same cadence that Olive Oyl has used for ages. (Granted there’s not many ways to read the line, but there are options.) Early on, Popeye answering Brutus’s boast with “That’s what you think” and Brutus taunting “That’s what you think I think!”. It’s a rare-for-the-era line that actually responds to what the other person said, and with personality. Touches like that make me interested in what is otherwise a nearly plotless cartoon.
I really want to make some kind of subtext out about how Olive Oyl and Brutus find themselves threatened by nature being overly affectionate, rather than hostile. It’s a good joke to have Olive Oyl find a tiger who’s a ferociously snuggly kitty boi. Almost as good to have Brutus helpless before a flower’s attention. I doubt it reflects anything more than a respect for the (I assume) censor’s directive to cut back on the violence, especially against animals. If I am right in my assumption, the censor was on to something here. The cartoon would be much less intersting if Olive Oyl were hiding from a snarling tiger. It wouldn’t have a fraction the strangeness, and that would be a terrible loss.
I can’t call this cartoon good exactly. Good-and-weird, though, that fits. And that’s the sort of thing I like often enough.