60s Popeye: Olive Drab and the Seven Sweapeas (Seven! Count ’em! Because we lose one somewhere)


We’re back to Jack Kinney studios this week. The story’s credited to Jack Miller, a name I don’t have recorded yet. This and Popeye And The Spinach Stalk seem to be his only King Features Popeye credits. The Internet Movie Database credits him with story credits for some noteworthy things, including the Porky Pig/Daffy Duck classic You Ought To Be In Pictures, and a bunch of George Pal shorts including the Oscar-winning Tulips Shall Grow. Animation direction goes to our old friends Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. Here from 1960 is Olive Drab and the Seven Sweapeas. That’s how they spell it, it’s not on me.

Another Jack Kinney cartoon, another fairy-tale story. This is another one not presented with the frame of Popeye reading to Swee’Pea. He’s just narrating to us viewers. A neat thing about Popeye is it’s not strange to drop the characters into another story, the way it would break things if you did this with, like, a Star Trek episode. The oddest piece is casting Swee’Pea as all seven brothers. That works well enough, though. There’s no sense trying to differentiate seven characters in a cartoon this short. And even with the cast of Thimble Theatre characters opened up the way the King Features shorts allowed, there’s no digging out seven kid characters. It is neat they reached into the comic strip enough to find Olive Oyl’s father Cole, to play Olive Drab’s father.

The story’s a nicely done one. Its inspiration from Snow White is clear enough we can rely on that to fill in narrative lacunae. But it’s varied enough that the story feels new. It’s a good development to have Olive Drab go out in the world seeking help over this pirated ship. And there’s an interesting bundle of little ironies in the story. Particularly in how the Seven Swee’Peas go off to find Prince Popeye, who was coming to visit them anyway. We also learn Prince Popeye knew about the whole stolen ship thing without Olive Drab’s going out to tell him. I’m not sure he would have done anything if he weren’t sort-of asked to, so Olive Drab’s voyaging serves a purpose, I guess.

Popeye and his ship are seen through a telescope. The ship has a prow that's a larger replica of Popeye, smiling and looking forward.
Don’t talk to me, or my boat, ever again.

The Sea Hag, of course the villain, figures to prepare a can of cursed spinach for Popeye. Decent enough plan. Changing her focus to stopping Popeye, instead of Olive Drab, adds some nice wrinkles to the story. I was ready for Popeye to end up trapped in eternal sleep and Olive Drab needing to come to his rescue. The cartoon doesn’t go that far off-script, though. Olive Drab taste-tests it and knocks herself out, which makes sense.

Popeye and the Swee’Peas team up for some reason to take on the Sea Hag, although I’m not clear that they know she’s the problem. They seem to be going on the principle that she’s the other character in the short. She describes them as “the whole cotton-pickin’ navy” after her. They don’t seem to need to do much to stop her, though; trying to fire a cannon just gets herself blasted. She rams Popeye, who finds her box of Real Spinach, and he tears apart the bow of her boat. This seems to sink it, although from the art it’s not clear to me this even reaches the waterline. Well, they recover the gold, get back to Olive Drab, and for some reason the Sea Hag’s Vulture whispers how to revive her. And all is happy, Popeye and Olive Drab sailing off into the sunset, while six Swee’Peas wave at them. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.

I most often talk about the curse of competence with Paramount Cartoon Studios shorts. Here, we’ve got Jack Kinney Productions caught by the same issue. It’s a watchable, pleasant enough short. But I’ll be forgetting it soon enough. The short’s not that good, and its glitches are mostly things like poorly-edited line reads. It’s easier to remember, and to review these, when they’re much worse or much better.

Prince Popeye’s boat is an odd choice, though, have to say that for it.

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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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