60s Popeye: Popeye’s Museum Piece, in which he puts nothing into the museum


It’s another Jack Kinney cartoon, this one from 1960. The story is by Carol Beers and Ruben Apodaca, names I don’t seem to have recorded before. Direction is by Eddie Rehberg, who’s been around a lot. Producer is Jack Kinney. Here, with Professor O G Wotasnozzle as the museum director, is Popeye’s Museum Piece. Wotasnozzle’s name gets a second ‘T’ in the newspaper Brutus reads. That kind of thing happens to him all the time.

My generic joke about the King Features Popeye cartoons of the 60s is that they were produced in less time than it takes to watch. Obvious hyperbole, of course. But there is the feeling at least that no one cartoon ever got much attention. Many stories feel like first drafts, not quite developed enough to where they fully make sense. (And there are a fair number that overcome this and have good solid stories anyway.)

Popeye’s Museum Piece gives that impression of being a first draft. The premise seems good enough. Popeye’s a museum employee. Brutus breaks in to steal a masterpiece. Eugene the Jeep sounds the alarm. Everybody slips some and falls over things they shouldn’t. It never quite works for me and I’m trying to think out why.

I notice the slapstick. There’s a steady joke about, like, Brutus tripping over a mop causing him to fall down the stairs. The thing is that he could hardly avoid anyway. Later he trips in a water pail as he’s crashing into a wall. And this feels emblematic of what doesn’t work. The characters tripping over stuff makes sense, for the plot and for the comedy. But tripping over something to send them into an accident they were going to have anyway? That’s sloppy writing. You can’t be running so fast toward the stairs that you’d have tumbled down even without the mop in the way. There’s another bit, where Popeye trips over Eugene the Jeep and they fall in a heap, with Eugene wearing Popeye’s hat. That works. That pratfall makes sense.

Eugene the Jeep bounds off down the hall. Behind is a painting or diorama showing an angry rabbit poked out of his head and glaring at a woodpecker or possibly a fox poking out of a tree. A jaguar in the tree branch and a bear behind the tree trunk are ready to attack the woodpecker. Also, there's a lion leaping onto the offended rabbit.
What … what is that mural or diorama or painting or whatever on the wall behind Eugene? (Brutus and Popeye run past it several times over, too, since there aren’t that many backgrounds.) I mean, besides a not-cartoony-enough rendition of the animal mayhem for a Slylock Fox spot-the-six-differences panel.

There’s the usual little animation errors. The one that did distract me is Popeye looking at the new masterpiece Professor Wotasnozzle’s declared is so important. Popeye declares he can’t see what’s so great about it. Perhaps because the painting isn’t anywhere on-screen and he’s actually looking at the space between two unrelated paintings. It’s not an error that wrecks the cartoon. But would it have been harder to use a background with the painting in it?

This isn’t a misbegotten cartoon, or even one that’s far from being good. I’m not clear why Popeye is the janitor-and-security-guy at the the city museum. I suppose because if he weren’t, we wouldn’t have a museum cartoon. Given that, Brutus stealing a painting makes sense. Why is Eugene the Jeep popping in and out and occasionally flashing his nose? Why is Popeye so determined to ignore Eugene freaking out over something? These answers might not matter. My impression, though, is the writers didn’t have any reasons in mind for all this. The story ends up sloppy, Brutus tripping over a mop he doesn’t need to as he falls down the stairs.

Popeye refers at one point to “the valuable painting!” which fell into his arms. He doesn’t seem to have reason to think it’s that. But I appreciate the Animal Crossing vibe of naming it “The Valuable Painting”.

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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