60s Popeye: The Lost City of Bubble-Lon, and the spirit of Popeye


We have Gene Deitch to thank as director for today’s short, from 1960. William L Snyder gets the producer credit. The writer? The animators? They get nothing. I’m sure they’re all just glad to be thought of. Here’s The Lost City of Bubble-Lon.

The characteristic word for a Gene Deitch cartoon is “weird”. I can name some weird pieces to this. No Olive Oyl, for example, or mention of her. Brutus gets introduced to Popeye as though they don’t know one another. At least it’s ambiguous. Popeye does not have a can of spinach on him. That last is a minor running theme for Gene Deitch. Popeye was similarly uncanny in Which Is Witch. He left all his spinach in the hold below decks in Hag-Way Robbery. Popeye takes his spinach from Brutus in Potent Lotion.

Choosing to separate Popeye from his can of spinach has good reason behind it. It fails to preempt the question of why Popeye didn’t eat his spinach already, since we don’t know he doesn’t have it. But it does at least say why he didn’t eat his spinach faster. And it makes getting the spinach something that requires action, or as in here, luck. It’s also more consistent with the comic strip origins, where Popeye talked about spinach much more than he ever ate it.

In the throne room of the underwater city of Bubble-Lon. King Glub, cross, points to the jail, as two Bubble-lonian guards take Popeye away.
“Huh,” thinks Popeye. “That went swell. I bet they is taking me to a State dinner now.”

The story structure here feels like one respecting those comic strip origins. Popeye minds his own business until a chance encounter leads him into Professor Underwater’s deal. Which is using this silly invention to search for the Lost City of Bubble-Lon. And this involves a never-before-suspected land of weird cute creatures. Brutus is there as the assistant. They go in, they get captured, Popeye sees Brutus stealing the Bubble-lonian treasury, and he goes to fix that. Luckily the Professor’s air pills are made of spinach. Spinach as a wonder substance is even more a theme of the comic strip than the cartoons, if you can imagine.

I don’t know Gene Deitch’s feelings about Popeye as a character. Nor those of whoever wrote the story, so please take “Gene Deitch” to mean whoever composed this story. I know the generic attitude is that animators tend to like the cartoon, but really love the comic strip. That they’d prefer to work with the Segar origins as much as possible. The cartoon feels in line with that. I like the cartoon, surprising no one. I’m glad to have a more specific reason than usual.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

2 thoughts on “60s Popeye: The Lost City of Bubble-Lon, and the spirit of Popeye”

    1. So far as I know, the Popeye movie script was all Jules Feiffer’s doing. I do know that when Feiffer started out the script he found it easier to write with fake names for the characters so he wasn’t overwhelmed by the character’s history in writing an origin story.

      I don’t remember a Segar-era Thimble Theater story telling of how Popeye discovered spinach, just that he always had. There’ve been cartoons telling versions of the story but if they have a connection to the comic strip it’s likely loose.

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