Today’s is another Seymour Kneitel triple-threat, giving us story, direction, and production. With an assist, though, from Jonathan Swift and possibly the people Seymour Kneitel was working with in 1939. It’s a hap-hap-happy day, to quote a song not used in 1960’s Popeye’s Travels.
When the Fleischer Brothers were destroying their cartoon studio making Gulliver’s Travels into a movie, they considered casting Popeye as Gulliver. Probably the picture would have been better if they had. Popeye has charisma; their animated Gulliver is unburdened by personality. But it wouldn’t have been respectable. Popeye looks disreputable, even scary, to be the star of something taken seriously back then. You can clean up Popeye, but make him less interesting that way. I’m not sure it’s an accident the only feature-length Popeye movie was in the late New Hollywood era. Still, we can imagine what the 1939 movie but with Popeye might have been like.
Or we can watch a five-minute synopses, as here. And it turns out, it’s pretty good overall. That might mislead. An idea that’s fun at five minutes can be leaden at 76. At this condensed length Paramount can focus on the good stuff: Popeye waking up, bound by miniature people and wheeled into town. Walking through a town he towers over. Wading out against a tiny navy. With another 71 minutes there’d have to be some dull stuff too, like coming up with a reason for Lilliput and Belefuscu to fight. I grant the original satirical point was about how many wars are about stupid issues. And not giving any issue is consistent with that point. Still, sometimes a war is about something that matters, too, and it bothered me to not establish that there was a dumb reason for this war.
I also don’t know why the rival nation becomes Belefuscu here. Was it to make it easier for kids to say? It strikes me that in the 70s Hanna-Barbera changed the pronunciation of Mister Mxyzptlk to something less hard to say. Could be they were being kind to the voice actors.
I’m not sure whether the Kings of Lilliput and Belefuscu are meant to resemble their Fleischer Movie versions. I see a loose resemblance. But it’s not like “thin guy and fat guy” is a unique concept for a pair of characters. Their outfits haven’t got any resemblance to the movie’s kings besides “looks like a cartoon king, all right”.
Popeye starts the short with a voice-over narration. I don’t remember that ever happening before. There’s also a great cutaway, after he washes up on shore. The next scene is the bound Popeye being dragged into town. It’s a good dramatic dissolve. And it stands out, given how Paramount Cartoon Studios tends to make sure we see every step of the action. (In the movie Gulliver takes an unaccountable forty minutes to wake up.)
In the end, Popeye guarantees peace through the threat of squishing, exactly like how the War of 1812 ended. He uses a small sailboat to go off and sings his couplet: “Whether you’re a giant or mite there’s no reasons to fight, says Popeye the Sailor Man!”. Popeye. Popeye. The classic cartoon character most likely to be found in a fight cloud. The character who has no end of comic strip panels of him congratulating someone for giving him the best fight he’s had since Singapore.
We can rationalize it. There’s a clear difference, after all, between choosing to get into a bar fight and going to war. But that rationalization is ad hoc. Popeye used to be incredibly popular. That brings an obligation to not screw up people who model themselves on you. He had to become more respectable, even if it makes him less Popeye. It hasn’t destroyed him, but it is hard to believe in a Popeye who hates violence.