60s Popeye: Poppa Popeye, about Popeye as a pop, not Popeye’s poppa Pappy


We’re back at 1960 Paramount Cartoon Studios today. This is another Seymour Kneitel showcase. He’s got credit for the story, the direction, and the production. This is Poppa Popeye.

Some of these shorts are condensed stories from the comic strip or comic books. I thought this might be too, but the Popeye Wikia doesn’t hint that it is. There are stories where Swee’Pea’s mother returns for him. There’s at least one version of the Popeye continuity where Swee’Pea’s the lost prince of Demonia. That all suggests this isn’t adapted from the comics.

But you see where I get the impression. There’s a solid premise here, with Swee’Pea kidnapped by a fake father. And a lot of story. There’s no wasted time in the cartoon. After one moment of Popeye entertaining Swee’Pea, establishing his father-ness, Sando enters. He takes Swee’Pea away, and we have a story less time than some cartoons need to get Popeye to Olive Oyl’s house. Even the stuff that’s meant to be silly, like Popeye’s regression to childhood, is quick and efficient. And the plot is more serious than usual. It’s not as moody as Myskery Melody, a comic strip adaptation (and Seymour Kneitel show). But it is more focused and more serious than usual.

I’m not satisfied with the cartoon, though I can’t pin down a specific thing it does wrong. The starting incident makes sense, and Popeye breaking down at the loss of Swee’Pea fits his character well. What everybody does from there makes sense. There’s some good business along the way, too. My favorite is Swee’Pea — running away from the circus to join home — writing a gibberish note.

Popeye, wearing a baby bonnet, lies in a baby carriage, looking sad to the point of crying. Olive Oyl stands over him, worried.
I don’t mean to be harsh but in my opinion Popeye is overreacting to Swee’Pea being at half-day preschool.

Popeye is a passive character here. But the story wouldn’t make sense if he were any other way. He does take the step of (somehow) nailing Swee’Pea’s clothes to the floor, to ensure the child can’t join Sando at the end. But that’s only revealed after the fact, and it’s not clear it was needed. It’s also cheating, but then Sando cheated first by carrying a bunch of toys in for the “let’s see who he goes to” contest. And, Popeye being knocked out as the protagonist gives Swee’Pea the chance to take charge. Maybe the trouble is we see so little of what Swee’Pea goes through that his initiative doesn’t register.

Motivations are a bit underdeveloped. Sando wants a kid for his acrobatics act, fine, but why Swee’Pea? Well, otherwise he wouldn’t be in this cartoon. Popeye gives up Swee’Pea pretty quick. And Sando gives him up at the end of the cartoon as quickly. These steps make sense if the story is condensed from a comic strip or comic book, where the obvious questions could be addressed. But the cartoon is only five minutes, after credits. There’s only so much time that should be spent explaining why we’re going to do the thing we have to do for the cartoon to happen at all.

If this premise had the two or three minutes more that it’d have as a theatrical short, it could have been an all-time great. As it is, it does well confirming a side of Popeye we knew was there, if we’re honest.

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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