60s Popeye: Robot Popeye, because everybody gets a robot cartoon


Today’s is a 1961 Paramount Cartoon Studios cartoon. So you know that means the direction is by Seymour Kneitel. It’s also a story by Seymour Kneitel. That’s been a weird combination before. Here’s Robot Popeye.

I once asked whether every major cartoon character in the 60s built a robot. That in the Jack Kinney short where Popeye builds a robot. Popeye has also, in a Larry Harmon cartoon, fought against a robot. And, in a Gene Deitch cartoon, has had to face a robot duplicate Olive Oyl. It’s only ringing the changes to have a Paramount-made cartoon where Brutus builds a robot Popeye.

Brutus makes a mechanical man with a model of simple user interface design. The control offers the actions to stop – walk – run – sit; and there’s a dail for his voice. Robeye talks in a bit lower voice than Popeye does in, I guess, a cue to the audience. He’s using Robeye to mess up Popeye’s good name, much like he’d done with a simple marionette in 1944’s Puppet Love. Robeye meets the actual Popeye, sending Popeye into a fit of self-doubt we haven’t seen since 1939’s Hello, How Am I, when Wimpy impersonated Popeye. There have been a lot of duplicates and robots in Popeye, who, let’s not forget, is a rough-and-tumble sailor who likes a good fight. It’s surprising there haven’t been more Popeye robots before. The would do it again.

Brutus and Robeye’s first steps are pretty low-key ones. Confusing Popeye. Going to Roughhouse’s Diner to put Wimpy’s meal on his tab. Also, I guess Popeye has a charge account at the diner. It gets serious when Robeye shows up early for Popeye’s dinner with Olive Oyl and does the usual sorts of tricks. Calling her food poison. Yanking a chair out from under her. Throwing water in his face. You’d think Olive Oyl would recognize when she’s in another duplicates cartoon. But these patterns are always more obvious to outsiders.

Popeye meeting Robeye, a robot duplicate, walking the other way up the street. Robeye is drawn with more angular, straight lines all over, and bolts at his wrists and elbows and hips. Also importantly horizontally across the middle of his shirt is a straight line with bolts underneath the seam.
I recognize that bots and flat panels are important to indicating something’s a robot to the audience, and that they want things that fit over the stock footage well. But do you suppose Robeye’s lower shirt there is just a metal panel bolted to his torso or what?

Speaking of patterns. Once again Brutus sabotages his own successful scheme. Not, for once, by getting grabby at Olive Oyl. By showing Robeye off so Popeye understands what’s going on. It’s common enough that a villain’s hubris wrecks them. And the cartoon only has like five minutes of screen time for the whole plot, so you have to get to the climax somehow. Here, Popeye grabs the remote control and switches it to ‘Get Brutus’. I hate to cut a Roughhouse appearance but Brutus fighting Popeye for the control could have used the time better.

And we close with Olive Oyl recognizing she should have known. Popeye explaining Brutus “wanted to quiz me with you”, a use of the word quiz I did not know was out there. And Robeye eating the cans of spinach. All fair enough, the sort of competent if unexceptional cartoon you expect from Paramount.

I bet Brutus is so embarrassed he put a “Get Brutus” option on the control.

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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