60s Popeye: Have Time, Will Travel, a rich subtle web of continuity


Now in King Features’s YouTube channel we’ve entered a strange space. They’ve decided to cut opening credits, not just from the first video, but from all of them. I had to resort to the Internet Movie Database to confirm that this was a Gene Deitch cartoon, although I kinda knew already. IMDB does say the short was directed by Darko Gospodnetic, which I think is the first specific credit I have for any of the Deitch cartoons. Also, that this is a 1961-produced cartoon, which may explain one mystery. Here we Have Time, Will Travel.

And a content … advisory. I’m not sure it rises to the level of warning. In the short Popeye and Olive Oyl get caught by a tribe of … Neanderthals Or Something I Guess. It’s playing with the tropes of the “primitive cannibal(?) tribe”. It didn’t quite trip over the point of too much, for me. But you should be aware if you are more alert than I am to the racial ideas bundled into the basic idea of showing “primitive tribes”.

I like this cartoon and I can’t quite say why. Energy, I suppose. Watch it with the sound off; there is all sorts of movement, all this vitality to it. It hits a good midpoint between the wild energy of a Jack Kinney short and the strong discipline of Paramount Cartoon Studios. The premise is a great one — Popeye with dinosaurs, always a winner — carried out half-well. Somehow we get off dinosaurs and into a mean tribe like could happen, only more racist, without Popeye having to leave his era at all. And we get a lot of odd stray moments. I imagine that, as a kid, I’d accept without question Popeye ordering a time machine out of a catalogue. That it’s a tinker-toy construction? That’s weird for the sake of weird and you might need to be an adult to notice how arbitrary that is.

Also arbitrary: for some reason Olive Oyl’s house hasn’t got any heat. I’d so like to know, was this in the first draft of the story? Or was it fit in so that there’d be something to do with the Neanderthal’s spears, once those were put into the story? Or was the tribe put in because they had to give something for Olive Oyl to burn? (But then why not have Popeye and Olive Oyl escape, and them burn the time machine in frustration for putting them in a scrape?)

Popeye and Olive Oyl sitting on the bare seats of a time machine made of what appears to be tinkertoys. It has a large square seat back, and a triangular-prism out front, but it's mostly just a wireframe figure.
That shape there is a loose allusion to the time machine of the 1960 movie, right?

Popeye dubs the first dinosaur they encounter, the one they pull a thorn from the foot of, “Oscar”, saying he reminds him of a guy he knows in Brooklyn. This is an intriguing continuity moment. In the comic strip there’s a regular minor character, Oscar, there to be the dopey incompetent sidekick Popeye sometimes needs. Oscar’s barely made it to the cartoons; I think he has one or two appearances as a background character. Is that the Oscar we’re supposed to think of when we see a brontosaurus?

I want to shrug that off as a meaningless coincidence. But Popeye opens the short by saying how if Professor O G Wotasnozzle can build a time machine so can he. Wotasnozzle’s time machine was a recurring setup to put Popeye in weird situations, including facing yet another dinosaur. But this was a recurring gimmick of Jack Kinney cartoons. Gene Deitch (or someone working for him) was aware of what the other studio had done, and trusted that kids would remember that, and chose to explain why they weren’t using Wotasnozzle’s time machine. I was startled enough by the second Roger The Talking Dog cartoon recapping the first for everyone. (Though Roger postdates this cartoon.) Why did Deitch want his cartoons to connect even to other studios’ Popeye cartoons?

A brontosaurus cries out in pain at the tiny thorn in their paw. Popeye leans in, looking at this, dangerously small and close to being underfoot.
I think this is also how Alley Oop met Dinny. (I actually don’t know and can’t find their story offhand.)

As I said at the top, I liked this short. The energy is a big piece. But it could also be these tossed-off hooks to other Popeye stuff. They’ve got me engaged and thinking about the short in ways a lot of these cartoons don’t.

I like the tribe folk shrugging off spinach as “dinosaur cabbage”. Fun little bit. Of course we all know spinach was only bred about two thousand years ago but we have to accept there’s worse anachronisms here. As Doc Wonmug explained when he first learned Alley Oop lived with dinosaurs, there’s stuff we haven’t heard about yet.

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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