I believe this is the first time, since I started doing these cartoons systematically, that I’ve looked at a Gerald Ray-produced 60s Popeye cartoon. The director’s listed as Bob Bemiller. The credits, done with this nice split of typefaces that makes me think of a mid-century bowling alley, don’t list a writer. On the other hand, we’re promised eight animators worked on drawing this one. It’s 1960’s Popeye’s Junior Headache. Spoiler: it does not feature Popeye Junior.
The plot is just that an exhausted Popeye’s roped into babysitting Olive Oyl’s niece Diesel, and she’s your traditional hellion. The obvious plot is how bad she can get before Popeye grabs his spinach and Does Something about all this. The short does that plot; the question is how good it is at that.
The first shot is promising, though. It’s a view of Popeye slumped over in bed answering the phone. The view’s from a ceiling corner of the room, an angle harder to draw than the scene strictly needed. His room’s got a full bed, chest, curtains, a rug with an anchor on it, a ship’s-wheel clock. The scene would read as well as a side shot of Popeye sitting in a bed, with the wall and floor suggested by a pair of flat colors. That the animators put some personality into a boring scene bodes well.
Gerald Ray was, among other things in a long career, one of the directors for Rocky and Bullwinkle and Other Titles. Bullwinkle was never a lavishly animated show. But it used a good trick: a lot of short scenes moving between funny pictures. Ray imported that to here. It’s really cheap to animate, as they do at about 19:20, Popeye talking by having the book covering his face move. It’s also no effort to put Diesel Oyl standing there with a magnifying glass on the book. But together this makes a funny scene. I mean at least funny in intent. You might not like the joke, but you know what’s supposed to be funny there and why it’s supposed to be funny.
An example of this style: Popeye finally has enough and gets to the kitchen. It’s not actually my childhood kitchen but boy did it give me warm nostalgic feelings. Anyway, he eats a can of Something That’s Not Spinach. He gets his power-up music; his pipe falls apart. If you aren’t watching you might miss that, or even think it’s an animation error. But having his spinach power-up go wrong like that is a good joke. It wasn’t necessary; watch the cartoon with the sound off and the story goes as well. But it makes things more fun to watch.
Deisel Oyl — The Popeye wiki says Deezil, on what grounds I don’t know — is a creation of the cartoons. I don’t know whether she appeared outside the 60s cartoons specifically. She’s voiced by Mae Questel, who’s using basically the voice she has for Swee’Pea. I can’t say this first appearance has made me fond of her. But you can also see where Swee’Pea couldn’t work for the story. Popeye’s Nephews might work, although I’m sure King Features figured they had no right to use those characters. Remember, these cartoons have “Brutus” rather than “Bluto” because they weren’t sure whether Bluto was created from the comic strip (which they owned) or the Fleischer Cartoons (which they didn’t).
So this is a basic cartoon, but executed well in that there’s plenty of funny pictures to watch as the action carries on. I suspect had Gerald Ray done more of the King Features Popeyes the series might be remembered more fondly.