60s Popeye: Beaver or Not (Popeye’s swimming in air)


It’s several kinds of unusual in today’s King Features Popeye cartoon. The first is it’s a Gene Deitch-directed short. So, unfortunately, there’s no credits given for story or any of the Czechoslovakian animators. Just Deitch and producer William L Snyder. It’s from 1961, also, which I think makes this the first 1961 cartoon that isn’t from Paramount.

And then the distinctive thing: this is a cartoon where Popeye interacts with no other humans. There’s rather few like that. We know where that’s several cautions. But, here we go, Beaver Or Not.

Does Popeye ever think to try giving up when he notices he’s in a Popeye-Versus-The-Animal cartoon? These cartoons never show him at his best. They run against his (inconsistently followed) “be kind to children and dumb animals” ideal. He usually looks like the jerk. He ends up having to give in and letting the animal have his way. And Popeye is one of those characters who recognizes he’s in a cartoon. Does he ever think to jump to the happy ending?

This time around, Popeye’s battling a pair of beavers. Not sure why a pair, other than to give them a reason to say stuff to each other. Popeye doesn’t need an excuse to say his thoughts aloud, but a beaver needs some pretext. Popeye’s gone to a cabin in the woods for his vacation, and the beavers just then dam the river up. He tries tearing the dam apart so he can have his river.

One can sympathize with Popeye for wanting his vacation to be free of nonsense. But the need to draw the beavers as damming the river up right beside Popeye’s cabin damages the ability to sympathize. So, what he has to walk twenty feet upriver to get to the water? This is worth getting upset about? I grant it’ll be annoying paddling his canoe back through the mud to get home. He already had to paddle about eight minutes of screen time to get to his cabin. That’s an annoyance for off at the end of the vacation, though.

An angry Popeye stands in a dried riverbed, scowling at the two beavers sitting atop their dam which blocks it.
Popeye gets partly or fully covered in mud at least twice this cartoon. Getting covered in mud feels like something that happens a fair bit in Gene Deitch cartoons but I worry I’m just remembering wrong.

Like with any Popeye-Versus-The-Animal cartoon, Popeye tries various ways to get the animals to do what he wants. They don’t care. There’s some good cartoon action about batting dynamite back and forth. Popeye finally resorts to his spinach, with the beavers wondering “what’s he up to now?” and shrugging “who knows?” Popeye does take the gentlest approach, at least, lifting the dam out of the way and tossing it aside. Could have been meaner.

But the animals must prevail. They do it by discovering more spinach. (Often the way the animal gets the upper hand on Popeye.) “Let’s try it!” “Why not?” Reasonable. They cut Popeye’s cabin down into the river, for an even more of a dam. And finally Popeye yields to the cartoon he’s in and accepts he has to swim with the beavers or not at all. It’s a happy ending that Popeye could have gotten to sooner if he remembered every past cartoon starring an animal.

It’s all pretty good if you don’t feel like Popeye should be to smart to get in this fight. You know what Gene Deitch cartoons will look like, lots of good funny drawings and a strange soundscape. Sometimes mixed poorly: when he’s done changing Popeye can hear “a sawmill”. I can’t hear it at all. Or working so hard to be funny they don’t quite make sense, as in how the beavers roll around laughing and weightless. They look better for the short segment they’re under water, which is a feat. Usually animating something in the water is the hard part. Solid enough cartoon.

Here are some Popeye-Versus-The-Animal theatrical cartoons:

I bet I’m overlooking some, even besides the hunting cartoons and the bullfighting cartoons. And this is without looking into the many made-for-TV cartoons out there.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

6 thoughts on “60s Popeye: Beaver or Not (Popeye’s swimming in air)”

  1. I honestly enjoyed the Popeye vs animal cartoon shorts. This one certainly had a sweet and saccharine ending. While this is not part of the 60’s Popeye series, do you remember this one?

    Shuteye Popeye from 1952

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do remember Shuteye Popeye pretty well. I liked the mouse and part of me keeps wanting to think that’s Herman, from the Herman and Katnip cartoons. It’s not, but it makes so much sense that it should be. (And there was the fun little Internet mini-scandal a couple years back when someone slowed down the mouse’s speech and heard what he was saying.)

      A lot of the Popeye-versus-the-Animal cartoons are decent ones, and I rate The Hungry Goat as outright great. But, like, The Hungry Goat is [not literally] a Tex Avery cartoon that happens to have Popeye in it. And in many of these cartoons Popeye is being more obnoxious than the situation demands. It makes sense that Donald Duck starts out fighting chipmunks on first sight. Popeye’s supposed to be on a more even keel.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. It looks like I built it up in memory to more than it really was. I can’t find an article about people … more amused, really, rather than anything else … by what the mouse said when slowed down. But https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FI3mnmC2hb8 does slow down and make clear just what the mouse was saying. It’s not all that scandalous, just funny to hear.

          There’s a rather funnier audio source for two squirrels who rally Popeye in the 1951 cartoon Vacation With Play, too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5WC2DcyxzA

          Liked by 1 person

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