60s Popeye: Roger, a Roger cartoon with more Popeye in it


Today’s is a Gene Deitch cartoon, so the only credits I have are his direction and William L Snyder’s production. From 1962 here’s Roger.

This is the rarest of all kinds of Popeye cartoons: the sequel! Apart from clip cartoons I can’t think of any other Popeye short that directly referenced another one. (There are a few shorts, How Green Is My Spinach from 1950 the most notable, where characters remember how this stuff always goes. But none of these are sequels to anything particular.) This is so unexpected that at first I thought this was a repeat of Canice Caprice, which introduced Roger the Dog. It’s not. It’s a completely different story centered around Roger the Talking Dog.

We meet up with Roger, who’s promising to never cause trouble again if Popeye and Olive Oyl take him back. This includes a promise not to speak except to them. It’s a promise Roger will keep even if it forces him to do dumb stuff, like make Popeye look like a fool to the cops. For this time Roger overheard men plotting to rob Mr Tiff’s jewelry store, and he even got the story correct. (He’s on a mission to get Popeye tobacco, which is the only time I can remember anyone mentioning what it is Popeye smokes, too.)

Roger the Dog pledges to never speak except for Popeye and Olive Oyl. He holds his paw up crossing his fingers in imitation of the Boy Scout 'Scout's Honor' pledge.
I didn’t know Roger made Beagle Scout. That’s great!

It’s an interesting character choice that Popeye tries to pass this off to the cops. Reasonable, yes, but why isn’t Popeye’s first plan to catch the robbers himself? When he does try catching them himself the cobs nab Popeye and toss him in jail; it reminds me of Potent Lotion, another Gene Deitch cartoon. Olive Oyl tries to shame the robbers, which works as well as you’d imagine, but it does feel like the sensible choice for her. Roger brings Popeye a can of spinach. Once more Popeye doesn’t leave the house carrying any. That’s been so consistent a thing across Gene Deitch cartoons it must be he, or his writers, thought that made for better storytelling. I suppose they’re right. It answers the question of why Popeye doesn’t eat his spinach sooner in the cartoon. I’m not sure that’s a question that ever much bothered the audience, though.

I regret having started these Popeye cartoon reviews too late to ask Gene Deitch anything he cared to share about them. I’d love to know what motivated doing a second Roger cartoon. Not that it should be Roger, of the characters created by Gene Deitch. I’m not sure there were other characters good for a second story besides Roger and maybe Professor Underwater. But why do a sequel at all?

I can imagine a story-creation narrative that makes sense. You want Popeye to know about a crime by some means he can’t explain. So, a talking animal overhearing this fits. And then it’s either Roger or something as good as Roger. (Eugene the Jeep? He’s been in Gene Deitch cartoons.) And then you need some reason the talking animal won’t talk to the cops, thus, a promise that he keeps outside all common sense. That’s all reverse-engineering the story creation, though.

In the jewelry store Popeye has untied Olive Oyl while Roger the Dog looks up with pride. The police chief rubs his hands together, happy to see what Popeye's delivered: the whole gang of jewelry store robbers, beaten up, and resting on top of the frowning Mr Tiff, an older bald man in glasses who's been revealed as mastermind behind this.
Oh I did not foresee Skin Horse ending with Ira Green getting beat up by Popeye. Works, though.

Popeye eats his spinach off-camera, an event exciting for its rarity. Adds some suspense to what we all know. He catches the robbers, who turn out to be working for Mr Tiff. It’s insurance fraud, the crime every child wants to see foiled when they watch TV or movies! I mean if they’ve had their fill of “bad person is pirating music”. Catching Slippery Sam leaves the cops so grateful they forget how breaking out of jail is still a crime even if Popeye shouldn’t have been there. Happy ending all around.

I’d call this the better of the Roger cartoons. Popeye guides more of the action, even if it’s prompte by Roger. And Roger behaves more sensibly apart from not following Popeye’s direction to tell the cops what he knows. The characters are balanced together better, is what I’m saying. It bodes well for the quality of the next Roger cartoon.

Author: Joseph Nebus

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

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