60s Popeye: Mirror Magic, and look, it’s Popeye’s mother!


Today we’re back to the Paramount Cartoon Studios, and another Seymour Kneitel-fest. He gets credit for story, direction, and production in this 1960 Popeye cartoon. So let’s give that to him and see what Mirror Magic is all about. It’s not much magic, especially not compared to Popeye and the Magic Hat.

There is a curse to competence. It tends to be boring. The last couple Jack Kinney cartoons I looked at had sloppy stories and a lot of animation cheats. But that also gave them this weird, unpredictable nature. Here, Paramount Cartoon Studios, which had been animating Popeye for 27 years already, gets all the craft of cartooning right. But it’s less fun.

The story is an adaptation of Snow White. For once it’s not a story Popeye tells to Swee’Pea. Jackson Beck in his narrator voice sets the stage, in the land of Muscleonia, where the strongest man rules. Little Popeye, whom we meet as an infant lifting his grandmother in her chair, is destined to be strongest in the land. We see it in scenes like Popeye bringing all the cows in the pasture in when his mother asks him to. Also we see Popeye’s Mother, the only time — in animation or in the comic strips — I remember seeing her.

King Brutus doesn’t suspect until the Magic Mirror, Jack Mercer doing his best Ed Wynn, drops the news that the change of might has happened. And so Brutus goes in disguise to kill an unsuspecting Popeye. He tries by dropping stuff that would kill a normal man, all of which Popeye shrugs off. Funny enough. Also interesting: despite the title, there’s no use of magic besides the Wynn Mirror’s ability to tell who’s strongest in the land. And not warn of anyone stronger growing up. Brutus drops his disguise, for not much reason, but gets the drop on Popeye, who eats his can of spinach. I was surprised he had a can. I’d expected the vase he was knocked into to happen to contain spinach.

Popeye, having noticed the back of his outfit was chopped off by a fallen scimitar, turns around to see Brutus, in his old-lady guise, about to smash him with a chair.
“He’s got a chair! He’s got a chair! Oh, what a moment for the referee to have turned his back to scold Popeye’s manager!”

It’s all done competently. The one moment I didn’t understand was Popeye saying how he couldn’t hit an old lady, and Brutus tearing off his old-woman guise, declaring “So you’re not as strong as the mirror said you were!” But that’s a tiny logic gap, so compelled by the plot needs you might miss it. And there are a few neat bits, mostly animation of Brutus leaning into the camera. But that’s all. You can tell from how much of this essay is recapping what happened that I just watched the story, nodded, and didn’t have deeper thoughts about it. The cartoon proves that not everything this era was badly made. But I know which of the last couple cartoons I’ll remember in two months.

At the end of the cartoon Popeye sings about how he’s Popeye the Sailor Man, even though he’s been established as the Pleasant Peasant throughout, and has not been in the same frame as any more water than the glass he holds. I trust there is an explanation for this blunder.

Author: Joseph Nebus

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

3 thoughts on “60s Popeye: Mirror Magic, and look, it’s Popeye’s mother!”

  1. Who are the Popeye clone man and woman who appear in the comic from time to time? I assumed they were his parents. Or did you mean this the first time we’ve seen her animated?

    In late breaking rabbit news there have been sightings of at least three different sized rabbits spotted around the entrance to below the deck over the last few weeks. I wonder if the original bun is pulling a Jack Lemmon from the movie “The Apartment.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The very old male Popeye lookalike in the comic strips is his father Poopdeck Pappy, 99 years old. And just this week, in the Lost Dailies compilations of post-Segar strips, I ran across a Sunday where it’s important that Pappy does look just like Popeye one his beard’s shaved. Just like the cartoons did sometimes.

      The very old female Popeye lookalike is Poopdeck Pappy’s mother, that is, Popeye’s grandmother, who’s got to be even older than Walt Wallet somehow. I know; I’d assumed she was Pappy’s wife too.

      Quite fascinated by this rabbit scandal you have brewing. I hope it resolves peacefully. My recollection from watching “The Apartment” is that it’s pretty grueling.

      Liked by 1 person

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