60s Popeye: The Green Dancin’ Shoes and worrying news about the Tasmania spinach crop


I’m not reviewing Westward Ho-Ho, which is the next cartoon in this series. That cartoon’s one in which Popeye tells of grandpappy sailing his prairie schooner to the West. Along the way he Pappy faces peril from the Cleveland Indians and the Milwaukee Braves. These are presented as tribes of Brutuses. They throw baseballs at Pappy; he bats them back. That’s unreal enough I was considering doing the cartoon anyway. But then Pappy’s ragweed allergy gets him sneezing — second cartoon in a row where sneezing comes into play — and he sneezes all the way to China. Where he faces a Chinese version of Wimpy who talks like 1960-era children’s cartoon writers would figure funny. And that crossed my poorly-defined lines. I’m not being paid enough to write up cartoons that offend me.

So the next one in line is The Green Dancin’ Shoes and it … also has a character get to China. And also see the Chinese Wimpy. He gets one line and gets out of the cartoon. I don’t know why Jack Kinney (producer) figured we needed this. But it’s small enough that I don’t feel a nope-out is appropriate. If your lines are harder than mine, you’re right, and you might want to skip this one.

The Green Dancin’ Shoes is a 1960 production from Jack Kinney. Story is by our old friend Ed Nofziger and animation direction by Ken Hultgren.

This is another cartoon using the frame of Popeye telling Swee’Pea a story; here, a “Popeye Fairy Story”. A Popeye Fairy Story is like a regular fairy story except people eat spinach. Here, it’s a version of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Red Shoes. This makes maybe three adaptations of the Anderson fairy tale I’m aware of in one decade. The other two are the Porky Pig cartoon The Wearing Of The Grin (1951) and the Donald Duck cartoon Trick or Treat (1952). The last maybe stretches a point, since Donald doesn’t wear shoes and doesn’t dance. But, like, Witch Hazel enchants Donald’s feet to move against his will. Anyway none of these adaptations pick up anything from the original story — not even red shoes — except the protagonist losing control of his or her own feet.

Within the story, Olive Oyl is a dancing fiend, wanting to do nothing but this big, silly move that Swee’Pea and everyone else asks, “That’s dancing?” Story-Popeye brings a gift, the kind that’s really for him: the “last can of rare Tasmanian spinach”. This seems like an ecological tragedy to me. But it gives Sea Hag a reason to want the rare spinach: she’ll use it to make Popeye be a pirate for her. Put that way it sounds daft, but I get where everybody’s coming from here. Apart from the story’s Popeye. Olive Oyl is not a hard person to shop for here. He shouldn’t be getting this wrong.

Olive Oyl, wearing the Green Dancing Shoes, bounds happily out into the forest.
How it started …

So now’s a good moment for a question: why is this framed as a Popeye Fairy Story? Why have Popeye read the story to Swee’Pea instead of having this be the things that are “really” happening? I guess Popeye cartoons tend to be set in the present day, instead of the generic fairy-tale past. But that’s not a hard rule, not even among King Features cartoons of the 60s. It’s not to keep magic out of the “reality” of Popeye’s and friends’ lives. The Sea Hag and a bunch of magic characters and items (not even counting spinach) are a part of the setup. The biggest advantage the frame offers is that the cartoon can skip dull parts of the story. Or Popeye the narrator can fill in exposition with a sentence to Swee’Pea. But that’s not relied on here either. It seems like they used the frame because they had it already.

Here’s a point where the frame maybe hurts things. Once Olive puts on the shoes, the Sea Hag enchants them to never stop dancing. Olive Oyl needs about four weeks to realize this is happening. But why does the Sea Hag do this? She got the spinach she wanted, and Olive Oyl’s enchantment doesn’t seem to be part of getting Popeye to do her bidding. If this all “really” happens, then the Sea Hag’s action can be justified. She was too caught up in the fun of making mischief to realize this wasn’t helping her. But as part of a story Popeye is reading — well, why did story-Sea-Hag make this mistake? That is, why didn’t the author of the book Popeye is reading work out the Sea Hag’s motivation there?

Yes, I know; Ed Nofziger wasn’t being paid enough to work that out. Fair. And, after all, a story about dancing shoes where the shoes don’t start dancing is even more flawed. I suppose framing this as a story allows Story-Popeye to fight the Sea Hag. The Real Popeye would have to fight her vulture, who’d need to be in the rest of the story. So the framing does save the screen time and animation budget Bernard would need.

Olive Oyl, wearing the Green Dancing Shoes, is strapped in a hole that the shoes keep digging deeper and deeper, while she cries out for help.
How it’s going.

Still, it’s trying to catch the out-of-control Olive that gets Popeye to run into the Sea Hag. And get the spinach from the Sea Hag, this while Olive’s shoes dig a hole that takes her all the way to China. We get that view of Chinese Wimpy who is, at least, reasonable in not understanding what he’s seeing, and leaves.

Popeye’s able to pull the shoes off Olive, thanks to eating his spinach. They get back home, punching a pile of rocks off, and the Sea Hag gets trapped in her own shoes and dancing into orbit.

This is, Chinese Wimpy aside, a fun cartoon. I enjoyed watching. I enjoyed Olive’s tuneless song to herself about dancing, dancing, dancing. It feels spontaneous and bubbly, with the spirit of children singing their delight at whatever they were doing already. I grant other people may hear Mae Questel tunelessly repeating the word dancing dancing dancing. Would still like reassurance there’s a future for Tasmanian spinach, though.

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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