60s Popeye: The Troll What Got Gruff


Today’s cartoon is another Jack Kinney production. It’s got a fairy tale theme, so of course the story is by Ed Nofziger and the animation direction credited to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. I’m not sure they were the team for fairy tale stories, but at least those names seem to bundle together. Here’s The Troll What Got Gruff.

This is another cartoon framed as Swee’Pea wanting a fairy story. A Popeye fairy story, he says, and I think that’s a new qualifier. It would make sense to do a Popeye series of nothing but fairy tales. The Popeye cast has a good blend of fixed and flexible traits. It could have been their own take on Jay Ward’s Fractured Fairy Tales. The Popeye cartoons never did drop the frame entirely, though they did forget to come back to Popeye and Swee’Pea this cartoon.

The story is a loose riff on the Three Billy Goats Gruff, here with Brutus playing the troll and Swee’Pea, Olive Oyl, and Popeye as the goats. Brutus also seems to be having the most fun this cartoon. He goes into the toll-bridge business because the fishing’s bad and there has to be an easier way to make a living. He never manages to collect any tolls, but he does get to mess with a couple of people. There’s something nice and preposterously fun in Brutus’s escalation in bridge management techniques. Easy enough to start by hitting the bridge with a log to shake Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl off. Building that up to where he’s moved his house up, and installed a mechanical foot and a net, gives it some fun escalation. That Brutus somehow puts together a spring-loaded drawbridge too is some fun business.

Popeye in a spinach patch leaning forward at the camera. His eyes are shut and his mouth gapingly wide open so that he looks more like a merry cow than anything else. He has a *lot* of mouth in this pose.
Say what you will about Popeye, but he is one happy eater.

I suppose there’s a plot to this cartoon. I’m not dismissing it when I say that. There’s a nice clear scenario, and we get to the Popeye-versus-Brutus stuff in pretty good time. But most of the Popeye-versus-Brutus stuff could be shuffled and you’d have as sensible a story. There are a lot of good little lines, though. Brutus under the bridge grumbling that “I ain’t getting rich down here”. Then, later, grumbling, “Imagine that, just ’cause I swiped this bridge they won’t pay toll.” Popeye amazed to find he’s landed in a spinach patch, and being asked, “What did you expect, horseradish?” Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl doing the It’s-a-bird/It’s-a-plane/It’s-Popeye patter, echoed later by “It’s a buzzard!” “It’s a flying troll!” There should be another false identification, though. I don’t see why that’s missing. I like Brutus’s declaration that “there must be an easier way to earn a living”. It’s a good balanced conclusion to the setup.

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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