60s Popeye: A Mite of Trouble; do you get it? Because, mm.

This is another Paramount Cartoon Studios cartoon. So it’s a fresh 1961 issue too. The director’s Seymour Kneitel and the story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Here’s A Mite of Trouble.

We’ve got the Sea Hag and her vulture back. That’s usually a good start. It feels like Paramount is the only studio to have done things with the Sea Hag, except I know that’s not literally true. Gene Deitch has a nice one featuring the Sea Hag with Toar that I know about, for example. Anyway in this one she’s after the treasure map Popeye has somewhere in his house. The complication: Popeye’s babysitting Swee’Pea so he might not leave the house for, like, hours. The solution:

Oh, good grief. Right, so, off to the Tingaling Brothers Circus, to hire Major Mite the Midget to pretend to be Swee’Pea. She even brings that nice stock footage of her in three-quarter profile swinging her arm out to seal the deal. And we’re off to one of those cartoons where the adult doesn’t suspect their kid is actually a small crook. This although the Sea Hag switches Swee’Pea for Major Mite while he’s riding a swing Popeye pushes. I wonder if they were making a joke about how if something’s not on-screen in a cartoon it doesn’t exist. That feels subtle, but they could have written the swap to happen any time. Why decide to do it in the middle of a swing?

It’s executed well enough, for the premise. There’s a running joke about Major Mite smoking his cigar. It even justifies Popeye giving the Major a bath, to get that cigar smell off him, Mite’s best chance to get some time to himself to search the house.

Popeye trying to stand up. His rear end is glued to his seat, so he's pulling that up with him. And his hand is glued to the dining room table so *that's* lifted too. He's looking only slightly annoyed by all this.
Why is Popeye standing as though he’s wearing invisible high heels?
(It’s actually an instructive pose. If you look closely at his anatomy Popeye here makes even more no sense than usual. But the scene and the motion in it work fine enough. So you can learn something of the difference between drawing something ‘properly’ and drawing it so it communicates.)

It seems like Sea Hag and Major Mite could have worked their plans out a little better. Like, Mite could have kept Popeye busy while Sea Hag ransacked the house. Or just suggested they go out for a walk, as Popeye decides to do anyway, which should have been Sea Hag’s chance to search the house. Mite finds the map in a lampshade and runs off with it. The Sea Hag returns Swee’Pea, saving herself some trouble. Popeye’s remarkably unconcerned with all this because the punch line is: the lampshade was a fake treasure map. The real treasure map is on Swee’Pea’s diaper. As one would expect.

The punch line’s acceptable. It’s a regular beat in the comic strip that Popeye has all sorts of pirate treasure at his command and he just has to dig some up when needed. Having fake treasure maps makes sense. I swear I remember a story where Swee’Pea’s got a treasure map, possibly on his back, but I cna’t find it offhand. If I never found this whole cartoon that funny, I think it’s more the pacing than the concept. I suspect Jack Kinney or, especially, Gene Deitch could have done this story with better timing and made it land.

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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