60s Popeye: The Black Knight (not the one where he fights a pinball game)


We’re back to Jack Kinney studios for a time-travel adventure. This 1960 cartoon has a story credited to Ed Nofziger, with animation direction by Ken Hultgren. As always director and producer credits go to Jack Kinney. Let’s send Popeye to see The Black Knight.

“The Leprechaun”, last week, was all story and no humor. This week, we’re at a different studio, and at near the converse. This almost plays like an improv sketch built around the theme of Popeye in Pop Culture Medieval England. Once more Professor O G Wotasnozzle uses his time machine to possibly abduct an unsuspecting Popeye, sending him to King Arthur — in the time of Prince Valiant — for reasons of what the heck.

The Wotasnozzle frames are always a bit weird since I don’t know why they’re needed. These cartoons never seem like they’d make less sense if we started with Popeye in Medieval times, or the future, or caveman days, or whatnot. We never get scenes of Popeye trying to work out where or when he is. That’s confusing since the standard frame has Popeye knocked unconscious and dropped somewhere else in time. But in this case we don’t see that whole frame; the cartoon assumes the audience has seen enough of this to get the setup. I suppose they have. Kids have so much easier a time understanding stories.

King Wimpy looks bemused, and Queen Olive bothered, that an angry Popeye has been dropped, flopped over, on their dining table.
I understand King Wimpy’s disdain here. I’m also annoyed when someone drops work on my table in the middle of a meal.

Once we’re there, the story pretty near stops. We get the main cast (mostly) recast as Arthurian-ish characters. Wimpy as King Arthur, Olive Oyl as Olive Guinevere, Brutus as the Black Knight are about all you can do. The Sea Hag as Merlin makes the best sense at giving the role to someone magical. Naming her Ethyl Merlin is a nice gag. Anything the Sea Hag does is coded as villainous. It seems to me we don’t often see Merlin portrayed as a villain, at least not in Camelot-set stories. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court excepted. I’m not sure she quite reaches the point of villainy, though. Before she enters everyone’s afraid Popeye is a spy or something — they’re afraid of his pipe as some kind of sorcery. Even a good Merlin might reasonably want this intruder locked up until they were sure what his deal was.

This all turns into a jousting contest between Popeye and the Black Knight, using what stunts need the least possible new animation. There’s charm here. A lot of it is silly dialogue, elevated by the decision to speak with Fake Old-Time Word Endingseth. Or jokes about the knight-fall or how the squashed Brutus is “what a short knight”. The running joke about Wimpy wanting more medieval hamburgers has some nice pacing and delivery, given how many end up bonking him on the head. I don’t get the joke early on about Wimpy wishing they’d invent hamburger buns and Olive Oyl saying “Oh, nay, t’would be ill. Bread!” I mean, I get that it’s funny because it has the sound of a pun, but the pun doesn’t make sense. They’re trying out a lot of jokes, they can’t all work. I appreciate the attempt.

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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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