60s Popeye: Popeye Revere, a title that makes me remember the cartoon wrong


A confession to a cultural blind spot: I’ve never actually read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem about Paul Revere. I know chunks of it, mostly because of cartoons quoting it, sometimes at what seems to be great length. This is one of those cartoons. Thanks to it, I feel like I know enough of the original I don’t have to know the original. There are a bunch of movies I know I’ll never watch either because SCTV gave me the essentials. That’s right, Humoresque, I don’t care if you’re showing in TCM or not! So there!

This is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story’s by Noel Tucker and the animation director Ken Hultgren. Here’s 1960’s Popeye Revere.

Some of these cartoons I remember nothing about. Some are seared into my memory. This was one I thought was seared in, largely by Popeye adapting Longfellow’s words. Who could forget about the chance “to hear// of the midnight ride of Popeye Revere”? Me, apparently, since that’s not what Popeye says. It’s Poopdeck Revere, everywhere except in the title of the cartoon. Why did the cartoon not have the correct name? What were you afraid of, Jack Kinney?

Which gets at my other question: why is Poopdeck Pappy in this? Were they worried it would confuse viewers to have Popeye-Narrator and Popeye-Revere both talking? In other tell-Swee’Pea-a-story cartoons Popeye gets cast as the male hero. Real Popeye does more narration this time than usual, yes. I think he says “to every Middlesex village and farm” at least eighteen times over the course of two minutes.

I’m not opposed to Poopdeck, mind. He’s a fun character. He can take the little-stinker roles Popeye evolved out of. But it’s not like Paul Revere is a little-stinker character. So why this choice?

Animation frame showing Poopdeck Pappy (dressed as Paul Revere) leaping handily over a barrel rolling toward him.
200 points!

The big addition to Longfellow’s poem, I assume, is Brutus as a Tory trying to stop Poopdeck’s ride. Brutus throwing barrels at Poopdeck, which he leaps over, reminded me “wasn’t there something about Donkey Kong starting out as a Popeye video game?” It’s more complicated than that but, yeah, the path to Donkey Kong included an attempted Popeye license. This is probably coincidence, though. The molasses, or as they spell it molassas, does give the cartoon a punch line.

There’s not much standing out in the animation here. There is one neat little effect, as Poopdeck rides and calls to every middlesex village and farm. As he turns side to side his figure grows larger and smaller. It’s a nice addition of life to a basic cycle.

Animation frame showing Poopdeck Pappy (dressed as Paul Revere) partly behind the barrel rolling toward him. His hand might be in front of the barrel; the animation cels are ambiguously placed. In any case it's too late for him to jump over the barrel, except by virtue of an animation error.
OK this looks bad but you actually want it, because it times-in a collision-detection glitch that gives you a frame clipping in your GPU that Metroids your gigablorpz. I don’t know how video game speedrunning works.

Swee’Pea seems to have an attitude about hearing all this stuff regarding Poopdeck Revere. At one point he holds up a sign, ‘PURE CORN’, for the audience. It seems like a cheap thrill, and an insincere one. (It’s your cartoon, after all. If you don’t like it, why didn’t you make a better one?) But then remember the opening of the tell-me-a-story frame. Swee’Pea asked if Paul Revere’s ride really went like that in the poem. And Popeye goes ahead and basically re-reads the poem, just with slight recasting. I understand Swee’Pea feeling caught in this fix.

Author: Joseph Nebus

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

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