60s Popeye: neat meet with the Track Meet Cheat


… I’m a little surprised that wasn’t the actual title of this short. We’re back to Larry Harmon productions for the cartoon this week. It’s another short directed by Paul Fennell, with story by Charles Shows. Let’s take a moment to watch Track Meet Cheat. The moment takes about five and a half minutes, with credits.

So the cartoon is animated as I’d expect from the future Filmation team. The characters are angular; Brutus is almost a triangle. The movement well-defined or stiff, depending on how good a mood you’re in. The story is … now that’s interesting.

If you watch this when you’re seven years old, or if you watch it while distracted, the story makes good solid sense. Brutus is showing off at the extremely thin stadium. Popeye has enough of this, and challenges him to the track-and-field events. Popeye does great but Brutus cheats until Popeye has enough, spinach, fight, triumph, end.

The thing is that’s not quite what we see. Like, Brutus is showing off, yeah, but he’s also there to put on a show. If we take his ballyhoo in earnest, he is setting world records. And we don’t actually see Popeye challenge him, nor Brutus accept the challenge. If we didn’t know the series we could see this as a relentless heckler spoiling the show. Connective tissue is missing.

It’s not just skipped steps in setting up the story. There are anomalies in motivation all over. For example, in tossing the ball-and-chain, Brutus makes a good impressive throw. Then he runs out and catches it. It’s an impressive stunt, but it spoils the throw as an athletic performance. Popeye does a high jump by tying balloons to himself; how is that supposed to impress the judges? Brutus hands Popeye a bomb, which explodes, and then Brutus wonders where the guy he just blew up went. Why?

Picture of Brutus looking up, nervous, and holding a small consumer-grade circa 1960 camera.
Brutus looks like he’s only now realizing the horror that setting a bomb in Popeye’s hand would actually be. That or he’s sorry he doesn’t have a Polaroid.

If you’re a kid watching this, there’s no trouble. These things just happen because it makes sense for the scene. You know Brutus and Popeye act like this because that’s what they’re doing. If you watch while distracted there’s no problem. You, having learned how narratives work, imagine a connective tissue that makes sense. There’s a hole that swallows up Popeye’s pole, when he tries to vault? Brutus probably dug that to sabotage his opponent.

So there’s a curious anomaly here. The cartoon makes perfect sense, unless you’re an adult paying attention to it.

I’m not saying it’s bad. The stunts are nice, many of the jokes work for me. I love any chance for Popeye to do that angry chimney-puffing on his pipe. Wimpy hawking spinach burgers is a more interesting way to get the spinach than just pulling out a can would be. Wimpy not wanting anyone to actually eat the spinach burgers makes his participation an existentialist absurdity. Or just painting a joke onto an already non-sequitur plot element. It’s just a cartoon that works better if you don’t scrutinize it.

Author: Joseph Nebus

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

2 thoughts on “60s Popeye: neat meet with the Track Meet Cheat”

  1. I know you legitimately appreciate these cartoons for what they are, but you have to admit there’s a little “that’ll satisfy the little SOB’s for another week” in the story-writing. 🙂

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    1. Yeah, there is an element of this. I’m happy to give creators the benefit of the doubt, and treat it as the best plausible interpretation of the work. But I also know a lot of these were produced in less time than it takes to watch, so anything that occupied time went into production, especially if they had the stock footage.

      There have been a couple cartoons that are such nonentities that I skipped them, which is going to come back to haunt me in 216 weeks when I’m ready for my big summary Review of All These Forgotten Popeye Cartoons Before I Go On To the Beetle Bailey Ones That Somehow Exist.

      By the way if you haven’t seen the amazingly extant Beetle Bailey half-hour special that King Features made in ’89 but couldn’t get CBS to air, uh … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCJHC070Nvk … At least it got some animators some work.

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