60s Popeye: Popeye’s Tea Party, with a lot of casual tea-sing


We travel back in time with Jack Kinney studios to 1960 today. Popeye’s Tea Party has a story credited to Jim Rivind, and direction by Hugh Fraser. Jim Rivind is a new name around here. Hugh Fraser is all over the place.

The title’s almost a warning that there’s depictions of “Indians” and these are not done with an attention to research into the people who actually lived there, or how these people were perceived by white folks of 1773. They don’t do much more than wear feathered headbands, but, still. If you don’t see any reason you need to put up with that nonsense in your recreational reading you are right. Catch you tomorrow.

Once again we start with O G Wotasnozzle and his time machine. I swear, Wotasnozzle did other stuff when he took over Elzie Segar’s Sappo. It does make me wonder what’s gained by using this frame, though. I understand thinking that it helps because it explains why Popeye and company are in, here, pre-Revolutionary Boston. I don’t know that this is a thing anybody needed explained, though. It’s not like Popeye and the Dragon explained why everyone was in this setting, or would have been better for it.

But the frame offers a lot of familiarity, and people love familiarity. We complain about it in kids entertainment, but kids aren’t that different from people in that way. Maybe Jack Kinney understood this would be affectionately remembered. Or appreciated how much time it filled with stock animation.

This time around Popeye’s sent to meet the rest of the cast ahead of the Boston Tea Party. Brutus is the tax collector, proclaiming the tax will be “the same as usual plus 50% for tax collector Brutus”. This reflects the American notion that the Tea Act was the British government imposing big new taxes just to be meanyheads. Wimpy’s cast as the owner of Ye Red Rooster, an inn offering “Tea Burgers, Tea bone Burgers, Tea Spinach, Tea 2c/plain, plus 50% tax for Brutus”. Got that sign up pretty fast. It’s a fair reason to have Wimpy in the action (Brutus was inevitable). Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea are along because the cartoon needed some more ineffective characters.

Not that anyone’s very efficient during the Tea Party raid. It allows for a lot of little jokes, on the order of Swee’Pea shooting arrows at Brutus’s rear end without Brutus ever noticing. Or Wimpy pulling out an arrow to find a hamburger on its end and declaring “I can’t waste this shot!” If there’s a particular charm it’s the dialogue, which has a bunch of good sentences. Popeye declaring “No taxation without resentment,” which is true enough. Olive Oyl calling to a Popeye that’s hurting through the air, “Look out, Popeye!” and Popeye asking, “For what?” Brutus grabbing Olive Oyl with the invitatino to “come up and see my riggings”. Swee’Pea saved from falling in the harbor with the declaration, “A nail in time saved mine!” The patter-heavy dialogue gets away from the cartoon at the end, as Brutus in stocks offers the deal, “I don’t tax you and you don’t tax me?” Popeye, tossing ‘tax’ labels on him, says, “OK, but this is for amusement tax, and that’s tax-free!” It’s got the shape of joking patter but doesn’t get there.

Popeye is trapped in the muzzle of a cannon. Wimpy, wearing a bird feather Indian-style, pours tea almost but not quite into Popeye's pipe.
That’s it, Wimpy! Pour that tea kind of near-ish Popeye’s pipe!

There’s also a surprising number of background voices. They don’t sound like Jackson Beck/Jack Mercer/Mae Questel doubling things up either. I’m curious if they just recorded whoever happened to be nearby. Also why they didn’t just tell the regular actors to do a couple lines of grumbling in a different voice.

The animation’s a bit cheaper than usual, to my eye. There’s what feels like a lot of cartoon where it’s just the characters clinging to a mast that rocks back and forth. And one moment (at about 1:55) where Popeye floats off the bottom of the screen, revealing he’s legless below the knees. There’s a bunch of misaligned characters or characters fluttering through objects too. There’s a few attempts at having a character moving toward or away from the camera. Popeye falling into the harbor. Brutus dragging Olive Oyl into the riggings. They can’t make much of an impression against characters disappearing or appearing. Well, they wouldn’t spend so much time with Wotasnozzle if they weren’t trying to save on the animation budget.

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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