60s Popeye: Jeep is Jeep

The title seems clear enough. And the credits are promising: it’s another Paramount Cartoon Studios product. That is, the people who’d been animating Popeye since 1933 and could do it in their sleep, and from 1952 to 1958 did. There’s the guarantee of basic competence here. The producer and animation director are Seymour Kneitel. The story’s another by I Klein. Here’s 1960’s Jeep Is Jeep.

This cartoon looked ready to be great. I’m a Eugene the Jeep fan from way back. You’ve seen my icon here. And in the first scenes we see Popeye is not in his Boring Suburban House. He’s in a Boring Suburb, sure, but his house is boat-shaped. Usually a good sign.

That’s a paragraph that tells of my disappointment. Not that it’s another introducing-the-Jeep cartoon. And not that it’s introducing the Jeep after we’ve had several cartoons, including from Paramount, with Eugene. That part’s almost a tradition. Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep, in which Popeye’s introduced to Eugene by Olive Oyl, came out two years after Popeye the Sailor with the Jeep, in which Popeye introduces Eugene to Olive Oyl. That’s fine. This is not a serialized comic.

The problem is first it takes forever — at least, until 1:45 — before Eugene gets into the cartoon at all. This in a cartoon that runs 5:40, counting the credits. And then another minute explaining his gimmicks: he’s magic, can walk through walls, and can answer any question.

Animation cel of Swee'Pea riding bareback on Eugene the Jeep, who seems happy to be his steed.
OK but this part? Life goal.

Finally, at 2:42, Swee’Pea wanders off. Understandable, since what kid would be interested in a magic dog that’s just arrived? And Popeye finally notices this, about 2:58 in, and the story finally starts: Eugene leading Popeye to Swee’Pea. The premise is all right, if a low-animation-cel remake of Popeye the Sailor with the Jeep. At least one joke — Eugene walking through a stone wall, and Popeye punching his way through — is directly reused. (It also ends with Popeye doing one of his oldest animated moves, punching a train into stopping.) The cartoon’s this low-energy remake even before Eugene finally arrives. Popeye doing tricks while babysitting Swee’Pea evokes the Fleischer’s I Likes Babies And Infinks, but very slow.

There’s no blaming people for reusing jokes, or even whole plots, especially not 22 years later. But the original cartoon had more and better jokes. And it had the punch line that Eugene was mischievously leading Popeye on a needless chase. Without that? It’s a slow march through not much fun.


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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