60s Popeye: Coach Popeye, crowding on Gil Thorp by not teaching sports any


We’re back to a Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. It’s also Kinney’s story. The animation direction, though, is Volus Jones. The year is 1960 and the name of the short is Coach Popeye.

It’s a rare appearance of Olive Oyl’s niece Deezil Oyl! Deezil first appeared in the 1960s shorts and I’m not sure if she’s been promoted to the “real” comic strip. She got to be in the Popeye’s Cartoon Club feature that ran for a year, but that’s noncanonical.

Deezil’s not here for a deeper exploration of her character. She’s here because if Swee’Pea were throwing baseballs through the window on his own, he’d be a jerk. Instead they can just be kids playing. Popeye steps in to show the kids how to play properly, and Brutus interferes because he’s Brutus. The resulting cartoon is a weird one. The story feels developed well enough. But there’s also a lot of dead air between things happening. Maybe Jack Kinney was leaving space for the kids to finish laughing. I don’t think of other Kinney-produced cartoons having quite so much space between events, though.

I’ve been trying to figure what feels off about Popeye’s and Brutus’s dialogue. It feels, to me, written to be a bunch of wordplay jokes, whether or not they make sense. Like, consider the exchange where Brutus declares “I can do better’n that!”. Popeye answers, “Ya can’t, cause you’re a bully!” Brutus answers, “Bully for you too!” There’s no logic there, but I can absolutely imagine being seven and delighted by the shifting uses of “bully”. Brutus and Popeye then get into a back-and-forth of “Can!” “Can’t!” and I go back-and-forth on that myself. On one watching of this cartoon it struck me as what writers put in when they want a fight but haven’t got anything to fight about. On another watching, the rhythm and pointlessness of it was funny. So I’ll suppose Jack Kinney knew what he was doing and did it.

A dazed Brutus jumps rope while Popeye plays jacks.
Popeye playing jacks on the lawn implies he’s either really confident about his ball-bouncing skills or he has no idea what he’s doing.

A slightly odd moment is Popeye declaring, “Kids, this is the wrong way, but I gots to teach him a lesson” before eating his spinach. Popeye’s always held up spinach as a good thing everyone should eat more of. With that setup, though, it plays into treating spinach as an illicit advantage. I suppose that attitude was in the air. In the 60s we’d still get Underdog having his Proton Energy Pills and SuperChicken havin his super-sauce. But we’d be taking that sort of power-up out of children’s entertainment soon enough.

An unreservedly good bit here: Brutus declaring to the camera, “Gee! I didn’t count on this!” after Popeye eats his spinach. It’s the sort of absurd, facetious touch that I liked as a kid and still like today.

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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