60s Popeye: The Spinach Scholar, by Seymour Kneitel and a bunch of Bazooka Joe wrappers


It’s a 1960 cartoon, it’s from Paramount Cartoon Studios. Of course it’s produced by Seymour Kneitel. And directed by Seymour Kneitel. And you know where the story’s coming from. Let’s watch The Spinach Scholar.

The cartoon starts again with Popeye’s full-length scat intro. It feels like padding, although there’s funny pictures to spruce it up. Popeye leaving a trail of heart-shaped bubbles behind, particularly. But also his oblivious walking through danger. He rings the doorbell several times, the last time accidentally hitting Olive Oyl’s nose, a joke he’s done in the theatrical cartoons since … not sure. The black-and-white days, anyway.

The premise is Olive Oyl wants Popeye to get an education. (Olive Oyl hasn’t got whites to her eyes, most of the time, only pupils.) So he goes to elementary school. The principal, Jack Mercer trying to do a voice that isn’t exactly Wimpy, puts him in eighth grade. (One teacher meanwhile appears to be an off-model Olive Oyl.) What follows is a string of scenes where the teacher asks a question and Popeye gives a silly answer. The class laughs, and he gets put into a lower grade to try again.

Popeye sits at a schooldesk too small for him. He's waving both hands and puffing smoke from his pipe, eager to answer the teacher.
Speaking as someone who’s taught, I’d take the enthusiastic-but-wrong Popeye. It brings energy to class and makes it easier for other people to speak.

It’s all competently done stuff. And we do see Popeye finally growing reluctant to say the first thing that pops into his head. This can’t save him from being called on and humiliated. The plot requires that, yes. It does add a dose of the inescapable nightmare to things. But it’s too gentle a cartoon to feel like a nightmare. And there’s some fun understated jokes of Popeye fitting into ever-smaller desks. Also the way he expresses his shame with his head morphing into a dumbbell or shrinking or such. Still, this is very much an okay cartoon.

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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