There’s familiar names in the credits for this week’s 60s Popeye cartoon. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Jack Mercer was the voice of Popeye, with a handful of interruptions, from 1935 through to the Robert Altman movie. He’d also written Popeye cartoons, and others, going back to 1942. The director’s Seymore Kneitel, who again had directed Popeye cartoons going back to Paramount’s taking over the Fleischer Studios. Basically, these are old pros. They could have done Dog Catcher Popeye in their sleep. Did they?
There’s something a bit telling in the credit and title cards. They’re tightly organized, neatly lettered. Smoothly professional enough to be a little boring. This is an era where, yes, a lot of awful cartoons were being made under the Popeye brand identity. Often the most interesting thing about them is the title card, with some mid-century modern abstraction and the title painted in some way that’s maybe even hard to read. Not this; this is neatly stenciled letters. There’s no question what you’re seeing.
And that’s the cartoon. This is a smoothly made production. There’s a clear storyline. A poor tormented dog catches Popeye’s attention; he rescues it. It wants to follow him; he tries to escape. Brutus the actual dog catcher notices the dog; Popeye saves the dog. At no point is there question what characters are doing, or trying to do, or why. All the action is clear and well-rendered. There’s even stuff, like the park entrance or the dog catcher’s truck, drawn in one-point perspective. It’s all well-crafted.
Also boring. There’s not any personality in the cartoon. No weirdness. The only interesting shot is a couple moments seen from the dog’s point of view, where Popeye explains why he can’t adopt the dog. There’s a bit of novelty in the story from Brutus not really being out to get Popeye. Or even being in the wrong.
It’s petty to complain about a cartoon being done with so much professional competence that I can’t even sneer at it. But I also know that I saw this cartoon about 480,000 times growing up, and I’ve watched it three times over the past week, and in two days I’m not going to remember even writing an essay about it. This weekend I also watched an episode of the Emergency +4 cartoon that existed for absolutely no decent reason. And that was fascinating for how it took a whole Mark Trail plot’s worth of dangers in the desert and made it all lifeless and dull. But its incompetence at establishing stakes for the characters? And the bizarreness of its choice to exist at all? Its bold choice to use the temporary music track for the opening and closing credits? I’m going to remember and think about that again.