60s Popeye: Camel Aires, a sketch of a cartoon


Today’s Popeye cartoon has a story by Carol Beers, previously noted for Popeye’s Museum Piece. Direction is by Hugh Fraser, who’s had a bunch of credits to his name. And the producer was Jack Kinney. From 1960 is Camel Aires.

You know when you hear that “Popeye, you’ve done it again” music that the cartoon’s gibberish. It’s amiable gibberish, yes. But so far as it makes sense it’s because the characters and situations are familiar enough. Of course Popeye and Brutus are competing over something and it turns out to be Olive Oyl. Of course Wimpy will have some task he’s easily bribed away from. Brutus wil turn out to double-cross whoever’s working with him, and kidnap Olive Oyl. And Popeye will get his spinach and stop Brutus.

And I know I say this about half these cartoons but, wow, this is a sloppy one. Like, to start, Popeye and Brutus read in the paper how a rare stone was discovered in Egypt. OK, fair that they both have the idea of going to recover it for the intersted museum. The subhead says “Princess Olive Oil Believed Owner Of Valuable Gem”. It’s apparently the gem in her crown. What is the word “believed” doing there? And why can’t they get Olive Oyl’s name right?

Popeye has trouble with his camel, Camille, OK. Brutus, riding Frampton, meets up. “Hope you ain’t going to Egypt after that rare stone ’cause you’ll never make it on that ca-mule!” is pretty good trash-talking, echoing how Popeye had said Camille walks like a mule. They’re already in Egypt. This sort of combination deft and sloppy line runs through the cartoon. We see Olive at the top of the pyramid staircase Brutus and Popeye run up. Wimpy with an axe blocks them. Brutus offers a bribe of two hamburgers for Wimpy to show him where the princess is. Not sure who Brutus thought he was running towards right in front of him.

Brutus and Popeye stand at the base of golden stairs. At the apex is Princess Olive Oyl wearing a gem in her headdress. Halfway up the stairs is Wimpy, standing guard, with a battle axe in hand.
Wimpy as guard may seem odd but who would be a better choice besides literally any other Popeye character, including Roger the Dog, Swee’Pea, or one of the cheese men of the Moon?

There’s a nice bit of animation when Brutus punches out Wimpy. And Wimpy has a good line, “O, the perfidy of mankind!” And that’s the last time we see animation of anything important happening. Olive Oyl cries what sure sounds like stock cries for help and Popeye finds his way through the tunnels that are somehow there, only for Brutus to somehow tie him up. That’s all right. Wimpy, after declaring he’s too weak from hunger to save Popeye, passes up his chance to untie the very flimsy handkerchief holding Olive’s hands together, to go save Popeye, whose name she knows for some reason. Wimpy feeds Popeye spinach for some reason. Popeye blows out the flames he’s been tied over, which somehow frees his hands to untie himself, and then I guess Brutus’s camel throws him? Maybe Popeye has something to do with it? Anyway, Brutus is beaten and does it matter if it was Popeye or just the perfidy of camel? Anyway we all close up with Popeye and Olive riding Camille and Frampton, everybody in love with their species-matching partner.

Mulling this over I realize what the story structure is. It’s the narrative equivalent of the simplified, abstracted backgrounds of UPA-influenced cartoons. That is, the important features get highlighted, and everything else gets a perfunctory appearance if at all. When it’s done well, you get a production that’s just the stuff worth your attention. When it misfires, you notice how the chairs can’t stand on that floor.

Author: Joseph Nebus

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

7 thoughts on “60s Popeye: Camel Aires, a sketch of a cartoon”

  1. Isn’t it a remake of the Mr Magoo short “Camel Towed” with Popeye in Magoo’s role,Olive in Gerald McBoing Boing’s role and Bluto in Brutus’ role and Eugene as Officer Obie?

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    1. OK, I know this was just being silly but looking up Mister Magoo stuff brought me to the discovery there was a feature-length Mister Magoo animated movie, in 2010, in which he and his nephew Justin face off against super villain Tan Gu in the Evilympics. This seems important.

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  2. Another animated misfire by director Hugh Fraser. Notice Wimpy’s nose hairs appear and then vanish. He also thanks Popeye..for what? The sailor didn’t feed him any hamburgers.

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    1. I didn’t notice Wimpy’s nose hair vanishing and reappearing, I admit, but I tend to be easy on animation glitches. If I held it against a cartoon that different animators were using different models then I couldn’t love black-and-white cartoons like I do.

      But yeah, no idea what Wimpy was thanking Popeye for. I’d like to know if it were a line left over from a different draft, or if there were something really ridiculous, like they had to use some stock audio for whatever reason. (There’s certainly clips of Olive Oyl calling for Help, Popeye, Help that they reuse in cartoons.) This era so needs real research into its production.

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      1. I was told Kinney’s unit had one week to complete a cartoon. Although who the animation director was on his films depended upon the quality. Also these films were made for children who just ‘ate’ up Popeye-good or bad.

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        1. I wouldn’t be surprised if the schedule was that tight! Often these cartoons have the feel of a decent rough idea, and you can see where it could be developed into something competent enough. Would you know whether it was literally, like, 40 hours of production or whether it was that they had to have a fresh cartoon every week for the length of the contract?

          I’m also curious whether the other studios were on a similar tight deadline. Paramount Cartoon Studios doesn’t have anywhere near the shakiness, for example, but they’d also been animating Popeye for thirty years, and could rely on a lot of stock footage and even stock writing. (I haven’t checked whether it’s only the Paramount shorts that ever start with Popeye scatting, but it feels like it.)

          Certainly my childhood recollection is that it ate them all up. I knew from the title cards that the theatrical shorts were most likely going to be better, but I wasn’t going to turn down these. (It didn’t hurt that this was the only way to see the Sea Hag, or Alice the Goon, and almost the only way to see Eugene the Jeep.)

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