60s Popeye: Ballet de Spinach, a cartoon without spinach in it


This week’s cartoon, in which Popeye does not eat spinach, is from the Jack Kinney studios. Ken Hultgren gets the story credit. Ken Hultgren gets animation direction. Producer credit goes to some guy name of Jack Kinney. Must be a relative. From 1960 here’s Ballet de Spinach.

I discussed Moby Hick last week as a strongly plot-driven cartoon with not much humor. Here we’ve got an almost plotless cartoon that’s relying on its humor. Olive Oyl has a new obsession, ballet dancing, and she nags Popeye into it. Nagging your friend into your hobby is real enough, and it’s potentially good comedic fodder. I don’t usually care for it myself, but please remember that left to my own devices, I would not actually go out or do anything. I’d sit in a comfortable chair playing on my own devices.

Olive Oyl’s dancing, and she’s going to be on the stage tonight, and she wants Popeye as her partner. This seems to be short notice. She nags Popeye into wearing a tutu and tries to coach him through a scene. Popeye’s outfit isn’t the sure laugh for me that the cartoon acts as it should be. Olive Oyl’s outfit works for me, though. We almost never see her in blue and it looks good on her, even though for some reason the outfit leaves her like two heads shorter than normal. Popeye mosty grumbles and stomps around like Fred Flintstone. It was close enough I wondered if there might have been any animators crossing over between Jack Kinney’s and Hanna-Barbera’s studios. But it’s also very likely there’s just a natural pose for an aggressive male character to stop across the room.

Popeye, dressed in a ballet costume as an angel, points a finger angrily at Olive Oyl, who's also wearing a ballet costume and seems less sure of herself.
The one shot this whole cartoon where someone isn’t making a fist.

Brutus, looking in through the window in what I think is stock footage, laughs at Popeye. So we can add ‘toxic masculinity’ to Brutus’s rap sheet. (It was probably on there already.) Brutus comes in, somehow, to escalate the torment, and Popeye has enough pretty fast. Olive Oyl decides Popeye mustn’t do things out of character for an angel. So he gets clever, asking if angels will smack people in their breadbasket, like this, or clonk them on their head, like this. It gets the punching done.

Characters roped into things they don’t care for is often good for comedy. So is characters forced to follow some rule that conflicts with their natural impulses. So even without a plot this is a sound enough base for the cartoon. It doesn’t work for me, as I don’t find it inherently funny enough that Popeye should be in a tutu. Popeye’s in a fowl enough mood that I don’t have fun watching him. I suspect if there were more sotto voce jokes, Popeye quipping about his embarrassment or awkwardness or inability to dance, it might work.

(I couldn’t work a way to mention The Green Dancin’ Shoes into this, but if you like Jack Kinney-made cartoons about Olive Oyl’s dancing, you might want to know about that one too.)

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: Ballet de Spinach, a cartoon without spinach in it”

  1. Did Segar or any of his successors ever equate Popeye’s spinach habit with grass? One of the comic sites I read is running a story with a doctor claiming spinach is worthless , and with Popeye saying things like “I grow me own…extra strength.”, it’s easy to read a Mary Jane subtext which might not be intended.

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    1. I want to say that it’s ridiculous to think that any of the comic strip writers would, since — with one exception — every writer for Thimble Theatre was born before Popeye was introduced to the comic. Yes, even Hy Eisman who’s doing the strip today. But that one exception was Bobby London I can think offhand where London had Popeye hauling a net of spinach off a speedboat, calling it his “Miami Connection”, so … there’s room there.

      I can’t say anything at all about the comic books. I’ve seen so few of them that literally anything could be in them and I wouldn’t know.

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