We have another Gene Deitch cartoon this week. It’s directed by John Halas, Joy Batchelor, and Tony Guy, so it’s one of the British-made cartoons rather than the Czechoslovakian ones. But no story credit that I’m aware of, unfortunately. Here is 1960’s Dog-Gone Dog-Catcher.
Popeye is a good character. He is not particularly lawful, though. He’s aware authority can be corrupt or malevolent or wrong. A lot of his best moments are standing up to bullies who happen to have rank. There are shorts where Popeye has to talk up how he obeys and respects, mostly, the police. But cast Brutus as the authority figure and have him make a few snide comments to the camera and Popeye can clobber him without bothering anybody.
So I’m bothered that this short doesn’t quite get it right. The setup is all right. Popeye’s given Olive Oyl a new dog, a poodle who’s described as male, possibly the only male poodle in pop culture. His name is Zsa Zsa. Brutus comes along as a thieving dogcatcher and scoops up Zsa Zsa. Popeye goes undercover to free him. He wears one of those cartoon dog outfits that’s so seamless your every real-world Halloween costume disappoints.
My problem is that it’s not clear Brutus was in the wrong here. He was shown wanting to steal a dog and make life hard for the owner. But he is also the city dogcatcher. We see Zsa Zsa let loose, without a collar or license, and menacing-or-something a cat. An honest dogcatcher would likely try to grab Zsa Zsa given that. It throws the moral balance of the cartoon off. It already started wobbly, with the time-constrained need to put Zsa Zsa out unsupervised early on so the story could start. It makes Popeye and Olive Oyl look like negligent dog-owners.
I don’t demand that characters be all one tone. That’s boring, and it’s not realistic. Characters should also make mistakes. But it’s usually better form, when they get it wrong, for it to be part of the story hat they have blown it. But these cartoons are too short, and the audience-appropriate plots are too direct, for Popeye to explore the difference between being good and acting rightly.
If you can get past this — I imagine many of you can — there’s a fun cartoon here. Popeye’s in an impossibly perfect dog costume, which freshens up the action some and lets him mess with Brutus’s head. We get a spinach-flavored dog biscuit, a rare Deich cartoon case where Popeye doesn’t trust to luck for spinach to show up. (Also a weird edit where we have to infer he eats the dog biscuit.) Popeye declaring “I am smarter than the average dog” and I’d love to know if that’s meant to be a Yogi Bear riff. Popeye getting stopped by a cop and explaining he only has a dog license. The cop asking Brutus if dogs can talk, and a rabbit popping up between them to say, “I never heard anything so preposterous!”
That’s all solid stuff. I just don’t like that I’m not sure Popeye was in the right.