60s Popeye: Bird Watcher Popeye, for Popeye watchers


Jack Kinney produced today’s short. It’s from 1960 and has a story by Ed Nofziger. Animation direction’s credited to Harvey Toombs. Here’s Bird Watcher Popeye.

It seems like earlier this week I was writing something about the good Popeye cartoons being more about mood than story. Here’s one that’s all mood — all little scenes, really. Maybe you can call what it has a story, but it’s trying to not be one. What it most feels like it’s trying to do is sit on my head. Or it’s trying to be a dream. I know I call on this metaphor a lot. Let me make the case for the dream logic.

Popeye’s pushed into Olive Oyl’s obsession du jour, bird watching. The bird in Olive Oyl’s backyard bites Popeye’s face. So they go to the zoo. At the zoo there’s a penguin who looks like Popeye that punches a penguin that looks like Brutus. There’s a parrot singing the Popeye the Sailor Man song. So a disgusted Olive Oyl sends Popeye into the woods, watching him by telescope. There, Popeye’s punched by a hummingbird who’s also singing the Popeye the Sailor Man tune. And then he’s punched by an owl. Brutus, who’s got a nest on top a chimney, sends a vulture — the Sea Hag’s Bernard, perhaps? — to kidnap Olive Oyl. Popeye spots this, spinach, punching, there we go. We close with Olive Oyl talking how she doesn’t want Popeye to change. Meanwhile the weird “Popeye, You’ve Done It Again” music from that baffling Popeye’s Testimonial Dinner plays. And so, evoking the Beatnik cartoon (Coffee House), Popeye says, “Like, I am what I am”.

Two penguins, with builds and stances which evoke Brutus and Popeye. The Popeye penguin is rolling his arm up, about to slug the Brutus penguin.
Ooh. I like this alternate-universe take.

So which sentence in that previous paragraph could you not reasonably append “for some reason” to? I don’t mind a flimsy story. These are characters I like and I’m happy to see them hang out and do silly stuff. But if Popeye can’t watch birds at the zoo successfully why send him off in the woods on his own? Whether the cartoon works likely depends on how well you tolerate characters doing things without a clear motive.

There’s some fun stuff here. I like the Popeye-and-Brutus penguins. The parrot is a good bit too. Popeye has a bunch of great facial expressions, too. Irritation at the start, as that bird swoops at him. Abashedness when Olive Oyl scolds him. General grouchy looks all around. A laughing cycle where his head is kept still and his body shakes up and down, which does a good job making it look like richer movement.

But, boy, if you are not exactly on this cartoon’s wavelength it’s a disaster to you.

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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