It’s an amusement park, of course, as we know from the rare (for Paramount Cartoon Studios) title card that dissolves into the front scene. With a story by Howard A Schneider, and direction and production by this Seymour Kneitel chap, here’s 1960’s Amusement Park. All those tents make it look more like a county fair or a circus to me, too.
Popeye worries that Swee’Pea hasn’t got through the Funhouse yet and it’s been over two hours. This is a funny line, reason tells us, as it’s good understatement in the face of absurdity. I didn’t chuckle. And that’s the cartoon for you. The cartoon is constructed right, with the setup making sense and the story developing reasonably. It leads, as amusement park cartoons have always done for Popeye, to antics on the rides, particularly the roller coaster. It just isn’t funny.
Some of that is the fault of the limited animation. Brutus fleeing on a Ferris wheel or a roller coaster is a silly idea, if you think about it. While waiting to catch up with why this is silly, though, you need some spectacle. The theatrical shorts could afford that. King of the Mardis Gras ends with a glorious ride along a beautiful giant wooden roller coaster. Abusement Park skimps on the roller coaster support footage but makes up with a string of elephants flying through the air. Here? … well, Popeye and Olive Oyl ride a Ferris-wheel car through a tunnel of love. It’s obscured but we get to hear the chaos.
The limiting of the animation spectacle works against everything here. Like, Swee’Pea going through the funhouse, while Brutus tries to catch him, and escaping each time? That should work. The innocent wandering heedless of danger might be Swee’Pea’s best role. But what makes a funhouse is having lots of stuff moving in surprising ways. In this funhouse, Swee’Pea crawls through what looks like an empty barn while Brutus is too slow to catch up.
It’s all animated and written with the usual Paramount competence. I can’t pin down what I’d rewrite to make it better, at least within what I imagine the limits on budget and time were. Popeye and Olive Oyl riding a loose Ferris wheel car through the air to crash into a horse-drawn wagon ought to be exciting. Something’s gone wrong if it’s not.
Early on Brutus explains he wants Swee’Pea “to take the place of the midget what drowned in the salt-water taffy”. That seems a surprising grim backstory for the cartoon, although it wouldn’t have felt out of place for a theatrical short. I wonder if the script was pulled out of storage from the Famous Studios days.