60s Popeye: Around The World In Eighty Ways, most of which are running

For today, we’re back to 1960. So I lose another hypothesis about how King Features is bundling these cartoons for YouTube. This is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story’s by Ralph Wright and the direction credited to Harvey Toombs. Here’s Around The World In Eighty Ways.

I grew up in a Golden Age of game shows, in the 70s and 80s. I felt betrayed when the genre’s revival in the late 90/early 2000s turned into reality shows. But shows about competitive stunts weren’t a new mutation; they go back to the game show’s origins. The stunts could be weird, abstract things. Thomas A DeLong’s Quiz Craze tells me one Truth or Consequences contestant who couldn’t say how many English Kings were named Henry received the consequence of “figure out a way to get more pennies in circulation”. (It was World War II; there was a penny shortage. She appealed to viewers to send their pennies in to the show, which would buy War Bonds. I agree this sounds like the joke you would make about World War II publicity stunts. Got 300,000 pennies in a week, though, and I assume Ralph Edwards knew what to do with them.)

What I never liked, as a kid, was game show cartoons, though. The plot logic always seemed to require the contestants not know the way the game worked. I could not imagine going on a show without having an idea what to expect. You would know if you were asked to go to all this trouble for a dollar and ninety-eight cents.

I no longer remember what I thought of this cartoon as a kid. I suspect I would have disbelieved the premise of Popeye and Brutus racing around the world on Wimpy Klinkclatter’s behalf. (Although, back in 2001 Conan O’Brien’s production company did a reality show that dropped a couple people off somewhere in the world, the challenge being to get home with only what they had in their pockets. So the show premise now seems more plausible.) The prize of a barrel full of money is great, but I was a smart enough kid to ask how much that was.

If you are not hindered by my game show nerd rage — and you should not be — then we’ve got a mostly good cartoon here. It’s a long sequence of geography-themed sight gags. Some of them are slight, like Popeye testing the water at the South Pole and finding it chilly. Some of them are gleefully dumb, like Brutus and Popeye running headfirst into the Eastern Seaboard. One of them inspired dread as it started: when they got to, as Popeye called it, “Singing-pore!” (In the comic strip Popeye often mentioned Singapore as one of his favorite places to get into a good brawl.) Mercifully we don’t see any locals, but the music and the background art gets into uncomfortable territory. Also, not to lean too hard on my five years living in Singapore but, really? A rickshaw rather than a trishaw? Someone failed to do the research for a more plausible bit of local color. Anyway, there’s a lot of small scenes, and many have fun bits of side business.

At the South Pole, Brutus smiles a little too deeply at a penguin who grins nervously back. Popeye, who's dipped his toe in the water, shivers and holds his feet. Nobody's wearing a jacket.
Brutus wins his side bet with the penguin that Popeye would so take the dare of testing how cold the water was.

We get another cartoon where someone besides Popeye eats spinach. Popeye doesn’t offer Brutus/Bluto/etc the chance to eat spinach and punch him often; it’s fair Brutus wouldn’t suspect something must be up. It’s an economical way to end the cartoon and get Popeye his win.

There’s a weird production glitch as Wimpy reveals what $1.575,928 lead pazookas are worth. Popeye repeats “lead pazookas”, but it’s Jackson Beck saying the second word. I infer that the script at one point had Popeye and Brutus both get back to the studio. I don’t know why the change. Maybe they found there wasn’t time for Brutus to race back after all? But then why not have Jack Mercer re-record the line? It’s not like they couldn’t get him in the studio. Maybe they figured the line was so short kids wouldn’t notice, especially since they couldn’t rewind and listen to it again.

It is weird that after Brutus drops a bomb on Popeye (and his turtle), Popeye rolls with pretending to be a ghost (or ghosk) to mess with Brutus’s head. It doesn’t feel outside the bounds of a Popeye cartoon for me. It’s just a weird place for a plot that’s “crazy race around the world” to go.


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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