60s Popeye: Voice From The Deep! Or See Here, Sea Hag!!


Besides having maybe the longest title for a Popeye cartoon, this week’s short has a tribe of villagers on Phony Island. For the most part we only see one, Chief Knucklebone. Did not like that those points were introduced to the story. To my eye, this avoided being offensive: apart from a celebratory dinner we only see Chief Knucklebone, and he’s presented as acting in his own interests. Still, it’s set on a tropical island where the locals are having trouble they can’t deal with. If you don’t need that in your recreational reading, you are right, and should skip this one.

This one is another Gene Deitch-made cartoon from 1961. As usual with Gene Deitch cartoons I don’t have more specific production details than that. The IMDB offers that the music is by Stepán Konícek and that’s all they have to say. If you’re still up for this, then, let’s watch.

This is, at heart, a stock Popeye plot. At least for the comic strip, although the outline got done a few times in theatrical shorts too. Popeye gets a call for help from a backstory friend who lives on some remote island. (It always seems to be islands in the comic strip, too. I guess so he can sail there, or maybe because there’s so many islands you can make up more and it won’t stand out.) Here, there’s the Sea Hag pulling a Scooby-Doo, scaring off the locals to grab their land. The Sea Hag captures — well, not Olive Oyl, for once. Popeye eats spinach, and vanquishes the foe. (Since that’s done off-screen I guess we can’t say for sure he punched the Sea Hag, but it seems like a close-run thing.) Happy ending.

The Sea Hag sits in front of her Volcano Broadcasting System radio/loudspeaker, an apparatus set up inside the volcano to scare off the locals. Bernard, her vulture, perches on her shoulder, with wings spread wide and peering down at her.
The “voice of the volcano” gimmick is one that I’ve seen recently in the Comics Kingdom Vintage comic strips, too. I think it was in a 1950s run of Mandrake the Magician, but I couldn’t swear it wasn’t Brick Bradford or even Johnny Hazard, come to that. You know how those talking volcanos were back in the day.

What makes it appealing is how it goes about this. The considerable animation, for one thing, starting with a needless but fun spiral at the title cards. Having stuff moving, and in funny ways, forgives a lot of weird edits and slightly mistimed lines and all. Also that the cartoon makes time for needless but funny digressions. Popeye sulking about how he needs an extension phone or an extension bathtub, for example. (Or complaining how the phone always rings when he’s taking a bath, when he’s taking a shower.) Or the airplane pilot come to take Popeye to Phony Island. We don’t seem to need this — why not just cut to Popeye hopping off his boat? — but we get some bouncy flying over the suburbs, and the pilot gets fun lines such as indifferently telling Popeye how to use his parachute. That seeming irrelevance pays off, too: Popeye goes on to use his parachute later, first to get into the volcano and then to get back out. What looks like a throwaway gag sets up plot cleverness. Twice.

And that’s what I like in this short. It’s got a lot of cleverness. Even the Sea Hag’s scheme is a clever one. She wants the island so as to set up a vacation paradise for villains. That’s a fun idea. It’s a setting I’d expect to see in a mid-season episode of Get Smart. I’m sorry we didn’t get to see the plan enacted. I suppose the Sea Hag’s vision of casual pickpocketing and cultural programs establishes the premise. And this might be something more fun imagined than seen in detail. (I’d still like to see the Get Smart episode at KAOS Summer Camp.)

Yes, yes, whenever one of these shorts seems to have more plot than needed I wonder if it came from the comic strip. But I wonder again. The short does a great job at giving the impression there’s more story than is on-screen. I like when they do that.

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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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