Today’s is another Gene Deitch cartoon. There’s more credits than usual for this 1960 production: we’re told the animation was by “Halas and Batchelor”. We saw those names before, on Weight For Me, the one where Olive Oyl is fat. Is this another cartoon that’s got no toxic attitudes built in to a timeless premise? Only way to know is by watching Model Muddle, or reading my thoughts about it.
Olive Oyl has a surprise: we’re doing Modern Art jokes! Comic strips and cartoons have had a curious antipathy for Modern Art ever since both modes started. It’s curious because it’s not like either is a threat to the other’s cultural niche. It’s like if train enthusiasts were always mocking fire engine enthusiasts. I get that Modern Art leads itself to easy jokes. Well, to an easy joke. That’s because a lot of it will carry the question “what makes something Art?” and sometimes you don’t want to deal with that. But even in 2021, when society’s dropped all support for the humanities, we’re still interested in the question “what makes (this) and (something)”. Else your STEM friend would not have Opinions about whether a corn dog is a ravioli.
Still, we’re set up for this being a cartoon about Modern Art and don’t quite deliver. We get a couple minutes of Popeye in the museum. For me, this is the high point of the cartoon, sold by Popeye’s disproportionate anger. Jack Mercer reads his lines like Popeye is supposed to have been wounded by all this and it’s great. Characters reacting way out of line with the scene makes for hilarity.
But after that we move to Popeye as an artist. I appreciate the cartoon letting us suppose Popeye drew inspiration from the Modern Art after all. Seems to be a lot of traditional, representational work, but you have to start somewhere. He invites Olive Oyl over and she skips merrily along. Brutus overhears and takes up sabotage. He smashes Popeye’s tall marble sculpture of Olive Oyl’s head, and gets a mallet to his own head for the trouble. That in time for Olive Oyl to arrive and treat the rubble as Art.
Then for some reason she poses while Popeye makes a new An Art, in an abbreviated remake of 1937’s My Artistical Temperature. Popeye way over-explains why he can eat his spinach off a painting, and we get a longer fight with Brutus than usual. Like, for the King Features shorts I expect Popeye to hit Brutus once or twice to knock him out of the cartoon. Here, we get a lot of action. Particularly, Popeye swinging Brutus again and again at the marble to carve a new Olive Oyl head. It’s more painful than I expect. I think that’s from all the time Popeye spends swinging around a hollow-looking, dazed Brutus. The pain is less real when it looks like Brutus would clobber Popeye if he could get a fist in edgewise.
So, in the end, Brutus is dazed, a lot of marble has been quarried and destroyed, Popeye’s made a pretty representative head of Olive Oyl, and Olive Oyl is happy. I guess the museum trip was a success?
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