60s Popeye: Sneaking Peeking, with a surprise lesson for us all


It’s another Paramount Cartoon Studios short today. This one has slightly less Seymour Kneitel than yesterdays. Kneitel gets the producer credit, of course, and the director credit. But I Klein gets the story credit. From 1961 here’s Sneaking Peeking.

I mentioned how Paramount Cartoon Studios shorts seem to have one gear. This one has better control of its tempo. Maybe I Klein’s better at pacing things. Or maybe it’s about the stakes of the story. There is something in an unstoppable spirit demolishing a castle that isn’t there in the question of whether Olive Oyl can bowl.

The frame is that Swee’Pea was sneaking into his birthday presents, so he’s to get a lesson in the form of a story that he’ll drift away from. In the story, a King (Poopdeck Pappy) sends Mercury (Wimpy) to dispose of a box containing something terrible. Mercury stops at the castle of the Happy Prince and Princess (Popeye and Olive Oyl) for lunch. Mercury’s not taking as literal the King’s direction to “tarry not” in disposing of this. The Princess sneaks a peek inside because what can it hurt?

Turns out inside is Mister Michief (Brutus, looking good for his captivity in a magic briefcase). Mister Mischief promises to do favors, creating fresh chaos. Cleaning the chimney gets the Prince and Princess and Mercury covered in soot. Cleaning them off gets them soaked by a fountain. Drying them off gets all the furniture in the castle set on fire. Pushing the castle away from the fire gets it knocked over. The Prince has enough of this, eats his spinach, and stomps Mister Mischief back into the box.

At a castle with the drawbridge extended over the moat. The Princess (Olive Oyl) has opened a box and a very tall, slender, muscular Mister Mischief (Brutus) has popped out. The Prince (Popeye), wearing a crown, and Mercury (Wimpy, with wings on his hat and shoes) look on.
No snarking here: that’s a great color palette in this image. The purple ground and stone, with the maroon highlights, gives this a great and distinctive look.

I like this one. Brutus as a chaos agent makes sense. And his chaotic steps have a good range. Each step is a legitimate way to fix the previous problem, while staying obvious how it’s going to make a new, bigger problem. (Keeping that obvious lets the viewer savor the Prince, Princess, and Mercury catching on.) The short picks up a good bit once Mister Mischief gets out. It’s a shame that doesn’t happen sooner.

But there’s nowhere to get time from except from the frame, which is almost as short as it could be. I suppose we could put in the setting by showing the pages of a book of fairy tales and have Jackson Beck introduce this as once-upon-a-time.

The small point left unaddressed, that I’ll bet I Klein hoped nobody in the audience would wonder. So was the King’s plan to drown Mister Mischief, in that box, at sea? Is that why he wouldn’t tell Mercury what he was doing and why it was important to tarry not? Would Mercury have followed directions if he knew why it mattered? The true lesson is that you can’t expect people to follow instructions if they don’t understand why these rules matter.

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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