60s Popeye: I Yam Wot I Yamnesia, with something never before seen in Popeye


This week we’re back at the Jack Kinney studios. The story is by Ralph Wright, whom we’ve seen with a couple mildly baffling cartoons: Double Cross-Country Race, and Forever Ambergris, and Around The World In Eighty Ways. So we can expect, if nothing else, a snappy title, and that’s delivered. Animation direction is by Ken Kultgren, an old friend now. Director and producer credits go, of course, to Jack Kinney. Here is 1960’s I Yam Wot I Yamnesia.

We get more than a snappy title from this. We get that rarity of a premise that hasn’t been done in Popeye before. There’ve been a few shorts where someone disguised themself as Popeye or, sometimes, Olive Oyl. (I think that was only done in the King Features shorts and I don’t know production order for those.) But an actual body-swapping story? That’s new. (Not wholly unprecedented; Vice Versa, which I know as a late-80s movie I didn’t feel the need to watch, was based on a novel from 1882. In the 1930s Turnabout was a popular novel and then movie.)

At least it seems like a body-swapping story. After the first accident, with Popeye and Swee’Pea swapped, Wimpy declares that it’s amnesia. Wimpy’s con-artist inclinations make him a good person to know any needed exposition. But he has a specific reason to know about this: as a boxing referee he’s seen it many times. Wimpy was introduced in the comic strip as a boxing referee; this might be the first time it’s come up in a cartoon that wasn’t about boxing. It also suggests mind-transfer is an occupational hazard of boxers in the Popeye universe. The world-building isn’t strong enough to ponder that. Wimpy knows the cure for bump-on-the-head amnesia is another bump on the head. But Olive Oyl gets in the way of his hitting Swee’Pea gain, and we get another round of body-swapping.

At the front door, Brutus leans forward, eyes closed, to kiss Olive Oyl. She has a stack of four hamburgers in her hand, and one in her mouth, so that Brutus is kissing the hamburger.
I’m sorry, I should have mentioned this week was Popeye After Dark.

Or, again, apparently body swapping? Because the punch line of the cartoon, Popeye and Brutus both acting like babies, doesn’t make sense as a swapping. It’s more like “actual” amnesia with neither remembering anything past when they were Swee’Pea’s age. I know, it’s shocking to imagine a Jack Kinney cartoon where the logic falls apart, but that’s what we have.

But there’s another unprecedented thing here. Wimpy-in-Olive’s-body, or whatever it is, declares (at about 14:02), “I’m one of the Jones boys.” And repeats it, about 15:26, telling Brutus, “Please, sir, I’m one of the Jones boys!” This was, I swear to you, Wimpy’s big catchphrase in the Thimble Theatre comic strip. He would throw up this line as conversational chaff to escape when a mark was starting to catch on to him. As far as I know it’s never been animated before. Ralph Wright revived Wimpy’s backstory to explain something that barely needs explaining. What motivated Wright to go for a deep cut in stuff Wimpy might say? (And a line that, in this context, would be baffling to kids who didn’t know that 25 years before Wimpy said this stuff. Maybe they would guess that his name was Wimpy Jones?)

Popeye and Brutus are sitting and crawling on the floor as toddlers, eyes closed and making goofy faces. Around them are a bunch of toys.
I don’t know what feeling it is Popeye playing with a sailor doll instills in me, but it does.

So the cartoon has striking novelty. What it hasn’t got is much of a plot. Once the premise is established we get about 938 cutaways to Swee’Pea-in-Popeye’s-Body demanding a cookie. And as many of Popeye-in-Swee’Pea’s-body demanding spinach. Wimpy-in-Olive’s-body goes after more hamburgers, as the refrigerator full of burgers isn’t enough. Olive-in-Wimpy’s-body goes off … I dunno, knitting or something, the girls do that all the time, right? But the cartoon is short. The novelty of everyone doing stuff with the wrong voice-actors is enough to last until Brutus arrives. And then he has to work out the premise again, since somehow once you’re body-swapped-by-head-conk you forget this happened?

Popeye-in-Swee’Pea’s-Body goes to make a spinach sandwich and eats a bit himself. This is another rarity, eating spinach before there’s any particular mission. It might be novel that this gets the Popeye-the-Sailor-Man fanfare before there’s any feat of strength to do. Popeye-in-Swee’Pea’s-Body punches Brutus for no reason I can discern. The various rubble knocks everyone but Popeye and Brutus right again. Wimpy’s happy to have the chance to test his theory and Olive Oyl declares, “No, no, a thousand times no; ’tis far better thus!” Thus is Popeye and Brutus playing like toddlers. It’s a funny, out-of-nowhere bit of melodrama on Olive Oyl’s part. I’m not sure what it means about what she wants in a boyfriend.

And that closes out it out. I’d be interested in a Popeye body-swapping cartoon where things happen. But puttering around with the novelty for a couple minutes is pleasant fun 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.

4 thoughts on “60s Popeye: I Yam Wot I Yamnesia, with something never before seen in Popeye”

    1. Oh, that’s something I knew at one point and forgot. It seems like something that’d be viable for at least a one-season sitcom, although there probably never was an era in television when it would be done well.

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  1. Did Robert Altman have Wimpy say his”Jones boy” line when things got real in the Roughhouse or Oxblood scenes? It sounds familiar and could easily be used as one of Altman’s trademark throw away lines.

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