60s Popeye: Pop Goes The Whistle, a new decade with an old plot

I believe this is the first King Features Popeye that doesn’t have a 1960 copyright date. 1961’s Pop Goes The Whistle is another from the reliable group at Paramount Cartoon Studios, formerly Famous Studios, formerly Fleischer Studios. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Seymour Kneitel gets listed as director.

Why not Popeye Goes The Whistle?

We must be starting from Popeye’s Boring Suburban Home, although we don’t see that. We start up close on the teddy bear. It’s a good opening, much more interesting than an establishing shot of a house.

The teddy bear’s also set up as though an important part of the story. Whistling Willy is important enough in how it gives Swee’pea a reason to go wandering off. And it resolves with a good enough tag. But at heart this is another story of Popeye imperiling himself to chase the oblivious Swee’Pea. It’s rather close in spirit to Jeep Is Jeep. Also to older and better cartoons such as Lost and Foundry.

There’s several different settings that Swee’Pea wanders through. My impression is earlier iterations kept more tightly to a single location (even if that is wandering the streets of a city). Here, we get Swee’pea in traffic, and then off to a factory, then to the harbor, then to the circus. I didn’t notice until rewatching that it’s a bit weird to suppose all these things are in a child’s crawling range. So it’s not like this is something that demolishes the cartoon. The settings must just reflect that it’s hard to think of that many different places where you’d see a whistle. I imagine there might have been a football game, if King Features was going to pay for animating the referee and at least one team.

A trained circus seal blows a whistle and juggles Popeye on its snout.
Wait a minute, that conical snout with a little dot nose? Those circles for eyes and cheeks? That’s not a seal, that’s Otto Soglow’s classic pantomime character The Little King in disguise!

I always say I expect competence from Paramount Cartoon Studios here. And we get that. There’s no bizarre artistic choices or serious animation errors or anything. The pace is a bit slow, as though the studio has one gear and is sticking to it. The most odd bit is, on top of the factory, Popeye stopping to observe the stork nest and getting punched by the parent stork. I suppose, storywise, we need something to disrupt his pursuit of Swee’Pea. It’s an odd moment, but I guess if I were in the situation I’d pause to marvel at the bird nest too.

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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