60s Popeye: Popeye the Ugly Ducklin, a good outing for the Goons


So, yes, this is not Sunday. You might wonder why I’m doing another King Features Popeye cartoon review so soon. Mostly, I’m feeling very overloaded, and very worried about what the week ahead will bring, and I need stuff that’s easy and even fun to write. Watching questionably good cartoons that I loved as a child? That’s right up my alley. I’m not giving up on the comic strip plot recaps, or something long-form for Thursday nights, nor Statistics Saturday, but for right now I’m taking the other days more easy.

Today’s cartoon is another Jack Kinney joint. Story’s by Ed Nofziger. Animation directors our friends Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. I remember this team from Out Of This World, which took a great premise and was not, and Shoot the Chutes, a sky-diving contest. Here, we have Popeye the Ugly Ducklin.

We start with what looks like Swee’Pea asking for a fairy story. Instead he’s asking what Popeye was like as a kid. Same structure, although it does open to Popeye telling a fairy tale that has reason to cast him in a role. Popeye denies he was strong and handsome as a kid. Well, denies he was handsome, anyway. And he proves it with a picture in the family album, which he has right there. I don’t know who was keeping this family album since Popeye was an orphink right up until he found his Pappy.

Anyway, we get one of those few cartoons showing Young Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus. They’re playing school and shunning Popeye as somehow the ugly one. After being mocked enough, he runs away, landing eventually on Goon Island. This is an interesting riff on Popeye’s father being captive on Goon Island, in one of the Fleischer cartoons. Popeye’s been harassed even by the sea creatures on his way there. The Goons, ugly themselves, show him nothing but kindness, though.

Then some scenes of his growing up, reading books like The Wizard of Goon or playing goonball. Incidentally, if I’m reading things right The Wizard of Oz — the original book — was in the public domain by 1960. Why wasn’t there a Popeye version of this? Also, I notice the boat in the background of the goonball game is the Sea Hag. I’m not sure what that signifies. Back in Strange Things Are Happening the Sea Hag had henchgoons, of course, but different cartoon, different continuity, perhaps.

Kid Popeye dancing the Sailor's Hornpipe, while two Goons play flute and cello for him.
Not answered: is Alice the Goon one of the Goons who raised Popeye? Or was she in his age cohort? It seems like something that affects their relationship, whatever way it turns out.

There’s a nicely done growing-up montage of Popeye eating spinach at the table. Then it’s time to return “home” for some reason, so they give him a song and a pipe and the chance to grab a whale. Grown-up Olive Oyl is still a teacher, only now she finds Popeye cute. Grown-up brutus is still a lousy student, and hasn’t improved his bullying game any. A can of spinach later and Popeye is punching Brutus through the school, a pretty fun stunt, before finally knocking him to Goon Island. It’s supposed to see if the Goons can teach Brutus a lesson. I suppose we have to conclude they didn’t. And we close on the bare end of Popeye’s little rhyming couplet, starting at “Cause I eats me spinach”. I don’t know why not the full thing.

It’s all an okay origin story, sure. I like Robert Altman’s movie more, but this one is a lot zippier. It hasn’t got the snappy moral of The Ugly Duckling, although I’m not sure The Ugly Duckling has that snappy a moral either. Um. I guess something about how a thing you find ugly, you might just be holding to inappropriate standards. Which is a good thing to remind snarky Internet critics.

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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