60s Popeye: Battery Up or we could sneak out and watch Baseball Bugs if you prefer


Nothing against today’s cartoon. It’s a 1960 cartoon with the story by Jack Kinney. So you know what that says about the production. Animation direction is credited to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. It’s just that there’s already a really good baseball cartoon out there. Still, we didn’t stop making space movies when there’s already the bits from Battle Beyond The Stars that I kind of remember from when I was sixteen. So let’s extend the same courtesy to other premises. Battery up!

We get a nice rousing start, with Jackson Beck doing his best sports-announcer voice. I haven’t listened to actual radio broadcasts of the 50s but it all sounds plausible enough. Introducing the characters with newspaper mockups is a good device and also lets them save like a minute’s worth of animation budget. From the headlines we see Thompson Tries for Records at least twice on the same page, so Thompson’s having a good season.

After that? Well, we get your basic jokes for one difficult half of an inning of baseball. It’s Popeye versus a team of Brutus duplicates. Brutus hits everything Popeye tosses at him, which is lucky because Popeye doesn’t have a catcher. It’s curious that having a team of nine Brutuses is okay in a way that nine Popeyes could not be. In the Fleischer cartoon The Twisker Pitcher Popeye and Bluto had anonymous teammates.

But even with a minute of staring at still pictures there isn’t the animation budget for teammates. There’s also no animation budget for crowds; the only person in the stands is Olive Oyl. She has a nice, underplayed joke where she has everything at her seat, including a coffee percolator, a TV set, and an alarm clock. It’s a surprise to have an understated joke, in this era; I’m glad seeing it.

Picture of a 1960-style TV set, with a smiling Popeye on screen sliding a pristine blank background in place of a 'broken' picture.
Be right back; I’m going to photoshop this into a Coming Up Next card for my fake TV station.

Most of the cartoon’s time is spent on silly pitches and silly fielding. Nothing at all wrong. Worst you can say about it is that there’s only one big, surprising joke. That’s the baseball heading right for the camera and then Popeye apologizing for breaking your TV. That’s a great moment of energy and if there were two more jokes like that I’d call this a great baseball cartoon. (Olive Oyl’s pile of stuff is funny and gets better each time you see it, but it’s not a big joke.) Instead, it’s pretty good for the cheap TV leagues.

A curious point here. Popeye gets around to his spinach, yes. But there’s no point where Brutus and the Bruclones are cheating. They hit everything Popeye throws at them, but they’re hitting fair and square. (And even at that, they hit one pop fly that’s so easy Popeye doesn’t have to move to catch it.) At least in The Twisker Pitcher Bluto did stuff like mess with Popeye’s clothes and swap his spinach out for grass. It throws the moral balance off. And there’s a curious not-quite-resolution. An unconscious Brutus accidentally hits a ball that knocks out Popeye and Olive Oyl. It’s a good idea for how to end the action, since we don’t have time to set up a way for Popeye to win the game. But without someone — it would have to be Wimpy — to observe anything, it leaves the cartoon petering out. Poor form. It’s essays written online reviewing things that are supposed to peter out, not cartoons.

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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