What I Thought About All The Jack Kinney Popeye Cartoons


And now, finally, I come to the last of my recap essays. The thoughts I have about Jack Kinney’s Popeye cartoons. This ended up a bigger task than I imagined: the Kinney studios produced over a hundred of the 200-plus shorts of that era. Just reading all my old essays and getting their URLs for this essay took twice as long as I imagined. As always happens, my feelings got more complicated the more I thought about them.

Popeye sprawled on the floor, looking behind him at an empty table. Brutus is photobombing, holding up one finger on an arm he sways back and forth while singing.
Popeye is haunted by the voices of people he cannot perceive, while Brutus? Brutus just has fun.

It’s not that the Kinney cartoons are the hardest to love. For my money I’d say the Larry Harmon shorts, which are all fine if indistinct in that way Filmation cartoons would be, are the hardest to love. Jack Kinney’s studio produced stuff that would have reactions, though. Most of the time. Fred Grandinetti, author of Popeye The Sailor: The 1960’s TV Cartoons, notes how the studio had to produce a cartoon a week. It’s a schedule more grueling than you imagine. The only theatrical studio that ever came close to that was Terrytoons and — I say, loving both Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle — nobody thinks of Terrytoons as a source of good cartoons or even necessarily animation. (Also, Grandinetti has an interview on the Cartoonerific Podcast that people might find interesting.)

Olive Oyl, holding her hands together, looks up at Popeye, who's been transformed into a giraffe and stands so tall that nearly his whole neck is out of frame. The giraffe wears an adapted version of Popeye's shirt.
“Popeye! You come down here this minute and explain why your shirt changed to fit you as a giraffe but your pants just disappeared!”

And as hard a schedule as that is, Kinney’s production team made it even more challenging for themselves. Paramount Cartoon Studios had a decent number of stock animation poses — walk cycles for Popeye, this bit of the Sea Hag waving her hand like a claw at the camera, and such — that could be slotted in as needed. While there are a couple times that Kinney studios reused animation, it’s only a handful. O G Wotasnozzle having fun with his time machine might be the most-used bit. They would save on the animation budget by having stuff happen off-screen, or have the characters watch the simple-to-animate thing that does move, but they mostly drew new stuff.

A grueling, unbearable production schedule can be liberating. It means that ideas which might otherwise be scrapped as unpromising get used because there’s a content hole that needs filling. It means that revisions and editorial oversight and other things that might stamp out the weirdness of creation fail. Think of the comic strip that the guy in your college’s daily newspaper ran, compared to any of the syndicated strips they were running. The syndicated strips would be more reliable, more professional, less bizarre. But the amateur strip has a weird unpredictable personality to it; anything might happen, and if it’s not necessarily going to be tasteful or coherent, all right. That’s the tradeoff. Jack Kinney’s studio didn’t get tasteless, by the standards of white people of 1960. The qualifier needed because of portrayals of Indians — American and Asian — and Chinese and Japanese people that I trust we’d not put into syndication today.

A tiger has one paw wrapped around Wimpy's shoulder, and looks at the camera, with one eye drooping. Wimpy, both eyes open just a tiny bit, is holding up one finger while looking off-camera and apparently whispering.
Look, let them have their time together.

What we do get is a lot of weirdness, though. This often looks like shorts that didn’t get refined. Stories that needed another draft so the logic held up and the dialogue corresponded to things other characters were saying. Animation errors that become so common it was boring to mention. But I like this to an extent. It’s easy to say I’m just liking these shorts ironically. But I like them anyway, appreciating that they are weird, and unpredictable, and part of me looks for that especially in a series I know as well as Popeye. There is something liberating when the story has a dreamy, unnatural flow to it.

But I also know how offputting that is when you want to simply pull up a cartoon and enjoy it. A person dipping into one of these cartoons at random is likely to find something boring (as many of the entries are, I admit) or baffling. Maybe it takes watching a lot of these to see what is delightful in being baffled. I feel more engaged by these than by Paramount (always competent, sometimes dull) or Larry Harmon (never incompetent). Pull up a cartoon at random and I may not like it, but I will probably feel something about what I see. That’s a triumph for a production constrained like this was.

An infant purple dragon, holding his tail over one arm, holds his other arm out and looks away, eyes closed, to reassure Popeye's great-great-grandpappy.
Huh. Wonder what this character’s like, there’s so many ways this pose could be read.

Now, finally, in the order by which these are listed at the Popeye Wikia for some reason, are my reviews of the Jack Kinney-produced Popeye shorts of the 60s. Enjoy!

  • Battery Up – withdrawn video of a surprisingly clean baseball game.
  • Deserted Desert – Popeye searches for the Lost Dutchman Mine.
  • Skinned Divers – featuring the 500-pound man-killing-clam!
  • Popeye’s Service Station – basic jokes about a gas station.
  • Coffee House – cool, cool man, cool. Coooool. Cooooooooooool.
  • Popeye’s Pep-Up Emporium – Popeye runs an exercise gym until the live commercial messes things up.
  • Bird Watcher Popeye – Popeye tries watching birds; features that penguin take on Popeye and Brutus.
  • Time Marches Backwards – back to caveman times; features Caveman Wimpy trying to catch a cowasaurus.
  • Popeye’s Pet Store – Popeye matches people up with the pets they didn’t ask for until Brutus is maybe the dogcatcher about it?
  • Ballet de Spinach – Popeye will wear a tutu for Olive Oyl but he’s not going to not be a jerk about it.
  • Sea Hagracy – Sea Hag’s broke, after paying taxes, so she tries hiring Popeye on and then … what? I really wonder if this is a condensed story from the comic strips, which often started with a great premise that they forget to resolve.
  • Spinach Shortage – Brutus corners the world spinach market maybe not even trying to give Popeye a hard time.
  • Popeye and the Dragon – Popeye has to fight an awfully nice-looking dragon.
  • Popeye the Fireman – There’s a high-rise fire and Popeye’s the only one who can do something about it.
  • Popeye’s Pizza Palace – or as I headlined it then, “an exciting journey into pizza-themed madness”. From the days when just saying ‘pizza’ was a guaranteed laugh.
  • Down the Hatch – Not reviewed and I don’t see why. It looks like King Features didn’t post it for some reason?
  • Lighthouse Keeping – Popeye’s a lighthouse keeper and Brutus accidentally kidnaps Olive Oyl and there’s a shark or something?
  • Popeye and the Phantom – no, not that The Phantom, this one’s just a ghost who’s being a little annoying.
  • Popeye’s Picnic – withdrawn video, where this time Olive Oyl is obsessed with butterflies and Popeye’s all about eating and changing a tire.
  • Out of This World – O G Wotasnozzle sends Popeye to the future where not enough cool stuff happens, sorry to say.
  • Madam Salami – Brutus as a fortune-teller gets Olive Oyl to challenge Popeye to all sorts of deadly stunts.
  • Timber Toppers – another withdrawn video, this one about cutting down trees.
  • Skyscraper Capers – Popeye tries building a skyscraper under boss Brutus, who’s maybe trying to kill him? Hard to say.
  • Private Eye Popeye – Can Eugene the Jeep help Popeye foil the Sea Hag’s diamond-theft plans?
  • Little Olive Riding Hood – another withdrawn video. Popeye tells a fairy tale about the Olive Oyl being Little Red Riding Hood while the Sea Hag’s the Wolf.
  • Popeye’s Hypnotic Glance – will a hypnotized Alice the Goon love Popeye to death?
  • Popeye’s Trojan Horse – Popeye tells Swee’Pea the story of the Trojan Horse and everybody’s a bit silly about it.
  • Frozen Feuds – We meet Alice the Goon by way of Olive Oyl’s 28-minute-long song about Alice the Goon.
  • Popeye’s Corn-Certo – Popeye and Brutus compete to see who’s the better musician. Lot of nice little jokes here.
  • Westward Ho-Ho – Skipped for its depictions of Native Americans.
  • Popeye’s Cool Pool – Popeye builds a pool in a pleasantly gentle absurdist tale that spans a year.
  • Jeep Jeep – we meet Eugene the Jeep for the first time, this time because Eugene discovers him.
  • Popeye’s Museum Piece – can museum-guard Popeye foil Brutus’s robbery with only Eugene the Jeep to help him?
  • Golf Brawl – a big pile of golf-themed spot jokes that get weird.
  • Wimpy’s Lunch Wagon – Popeye looks after a restaurant and Brutus is a jerk about it.
  • Weather Watchers – Brutus is sabotaging Popeye’s weather-forecaster job so what can the sailor do but sabotage him back?
  • Popeye and the Magic Hat – yes, the one where Popeye gets turned into a giraffe and Olive Oyl into a seal and then a flamingo.
  • Popeye and the Giant – another withdrawn video. It’s not a Jack-and-the-Beanstalk story, though. It’s just one where Brutus turns Wimpy into a giant to sell him to the circus.
  • Hill Billy Dilly – What if the famous McCoy-Hatfield feud but everybody is Brutuses?
  • Pest of the Pecos – an Old West cartoon with Popeye as an inept marshall.
  • The Blubbering Whaler – another withdrawn video for some reason. Popeye tells Swee’Pea the story of how he signed on to a whaling ship and refused to hunt whales.
  • Popeye and the Spinach Stalk – now this is that Jack-and-the-Beanstalk story you were expecting a few lines ago.
  • Shoot the Chutes – Popeye and Brutus are in a parachuting contest for Olive Oyl’s affections. Also Olive Oyl is being annoying.
  • Tiger Burger – withdrawn video, which is maybe fine, as there’s a painfully long introduction to a cartoon India before it settles down to Popeye and Wimpy hunting a man-eating tiger.
  • Bottom Gun – another withdrawn video, of another western cartoon where this time Popeye’s a chicken farmer standing up to Brutus.
  • Olive Drab and the Seven Sweapeas – Popeye tells us a fairy tale and somewhere along the way we lose one of seven Swee’Peas.
  • Blinkin’ Beacon – the Sea Hag has captured Swee’Pea! And that even before the cartoon’s started! Fortunately, Popeye knows how this is supposed to turn out. Also here’s another cartoon where he’s a lighthouse-keeper.
  • Azteck Wreck – Not reviewed because of the way the cartoon depicts Mexican people.
  • The Green Dancin’ Shoes – Olive Oyl is dancing, she’s dancing, she’s dancing, dancing, dancing, she’s dancing.
  • Spare Dat Tree – Popeye tells Swee’Pea a slightly dreamy story about saving the two Monarch Trees, who appreciate Ranger Popeye’s support in this trying time.
  • The Glad Gladiator – Popeye’s a gladiator in Ancient Rome and Ham Gravy of all people is a spectator.
  • The Golden Touch – Popeye tells of how King Midas overcame his curse, using Eugene the Jeeps. Features cameos from Alice the Goon, Oscar, and maybe Toar and Geezil.
  • Hamburger Fishing – Popeye reads Swee’Pea a fairy tale where Wimpy catches an enchanted cow version of Olive Oyl.
  • Popeye the Popular Mechanic – Popeye builds a robot but forgets to program it only to do good, not mischief.
  • Popeye’s Folly – Popeye tells Swee’Pea of how his ancestor who built a steamboat and beat out Brutus and Sea Hag.
  • Popeye’s Used Car – Popeye goes shopping for a used car and ha ha, have you seen how wacky the new cars are?
  • Spinachonara – Yeah I’m not reviewing Popeye But He’s Japanese As Written In 1960 unless someone pays me cash.
  • Popeye and the Polite Dragon – Did you know Popeye was part dragon? Learn the story of how that came about here!
  • Popeye the Ugly Ducklin – Popeye tells Swee’Pea of his childhood among the Goons.
  • Popeye’s Tea Party – O G Wotasnozzle sends Popeye to the Boston Tea Party.
  • The Troll Wot Got Gruff – Popeye tells Swee’Pea a fairy tale about the Three Billy Goats Gruff.
  • Popeye the Lifeguard – another withdrawn video, this one where Olive Oyl flirts with Brutus to get lifeguard Popeye jealous.
  • Popeye in the Woods – yet another withdrawn video, a camping video in which it’s possible that Wimpy invented the bacon cheeseburger.
  • After the Ball Went Over – a loose, dreamy cartoon built around ping-pong.
  • Popeye and Buddy Brutus – they start off skin-diving buddies and then end up in Atlantis except everybody’s an octopus and it’s the old west, got it?
  • Popeye’s Car Wash – Popeye and Brutus compete at rival car washes in a cartoon that becomes a weird tone poem of 50s chrome. Also: Brutus has more neck than you’d think he needs.
  • Camel Aires – Olive Oyl is an Ancient Egyptian priestess and Wimpy is her guard and Brutus and Popeye are competing to get a gem away from her and Popeye’s the good guy?
  • Plumbers Pipe Dream – withdrawn video once more. Popeye tries to fix a leaky pipe and accidentally drowns Manhattan. Well, that’ll happen!
  • Popeye and the Herring Snatcher – I don’t seem to have reviewed this and don’t see a reason why not. It looks like they didn’t post it yet?
  • Invisible Popeye – another withdrawn video, a shame, since O G Wotasnozzle uses his time machine to send Popeye into the bonkers future to rescue a lost Olive Oyl from a dense field of animation errors!
  • The Square Egg – The Whiffle Hen is here and is a mother!
  • Old Salt Tale – Popeye tells Swee’Pea why the sea is salt, a tale in which it turns out it’s the Sea Hag’s fault.
  • Jeep Tale – Popeye tells Swee’Pea a story of how Eugene the Jeep learned to be a good jeep like his sisters, in this riff on The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
  • The Super Duper Market – a great mass of spot jokes about supermarkets, those are a thing now.
  • Golden-Type Fleece – Popeye tells Swee’Pea the tale of Jason of the Argo looking for the Golden Fleece and finding … oh, you’ll see.
  • Popeye the White Collar Man – in another withdrawn video Popeye tries tosell insurance to Brutus the movie stuntman.
  • Sweapea Thru the Looking Glass – Popeye’s off golfing, so Swee’Pea and Eugene the Jeep pop through his looking-glass and they get into some weird nonsense.
  • The Black Knight – O G Wotasnozzle uses his time machine to send Popeye back to the time of King Arthur and the Sea Hag is Merlin.
  • Jingle Jangle Jungle – Popeye, Olive Oyl, Wimpy, and Brutus go on a hunting safari and it all goes wrong. Content warning: there’s not-actually-seen Jungle Cannibals which, since we don’t see them, kept me from noping out, but your patience for this nonsense may vary.
  • The Day Silky Went Blozo – King Blozo calls on Popeye to save his kingdom from a dragon who’s promoting fully automated luxury gay space Communism.
  • Rip Van Popeye – Popeye explains thunder to Swee’Pea, and we get the other big Popeye bowling cartoon.
  • Mississippi Sissy – a riverboat melodrama where somehow Wimpy turns a gun on Popeye to get what he’s owed?
  • Double Cross Country Feet Race – Popeye and Brutus compete to see who can run across the country and back faster despite having no ability to animate any of the jokes. Also we learn Brutus weighs 245 pounds.
  • Fashion Fotography – Popeye and brutus eventually compete to see who can take Olive Oyl’s picture. She likes Alice the Goon’s portrait instead.
  • I Yam Wot I Yamnesia – possibly Popeye’s first body-swap story and the first time animation uses Wimpy’s classic catchphrase “I’m one of the Jones boys”.
  • Paper Pasting Pandemonium – another withdrawn video. Popeye and Brutus compete to wallpaper a room before Olive Oyl can have friends over, and also where Olive Oyl has friends besides Popeye and Brutus.
  • Coach Popeye – Popeye and Brutus compete to coach Swee’Pea and Deezil Oyl on how to play without breaking windows.
  • Popeyed Columbus – O G Wotasnozzle uses his time machine to send Popeye back to Columbus’s day. Features hiccoughs and that representation of Columbus we got before white people in the United States started reading what the Spanish were saying about Columbus in the fifteenth centurey.
  • Popeye Revere – a terrible lie as it’s Poopdeck Revere. Also, enough barrel-jumping action that you ask whether this inspired the Donkey Kong video game. (It’s a complicated story but sorta-ish.)
  • Popeye in Haweye – Popeye and Brutus compete as tour guides for Olive Oyl’s trip to a Hawai’i without people.
  • Forever Ambergris – Popeye tells Swee’Pea the story of the time he, Wimpy, and Brutus found some ambergris at sea.
  • Popeye de Leon – Skipped because of a portrayal of Olive Oyl as the Native American ‘Olive-Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha’, although I talk about some of the great work that the Max Fleischer Cartoons Channel on YouTube is doing to get new, watchable prints of 1920s and 30s shorts.
  • Popeyed Fisherman – Popeye tries teaching Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl how to fish but how about that, the novices are way better than the expert, and then a whale swallows them.
  • Popeye in the Grand Steeple Chase – Popeye enters the steeplechase for some reason, and buys a horse from Brutus for some reason.
  • Uncivil War – Popeye teaches Swee’Pea about safe driving habits in what feels like a cartoon aimed at an audience ten years too young to need it.
  • Popeye the Piano Mover – Popeye and Brutus try to move Olive Oyl’s piano to her new place.
  • Popeye’s Testimonial Dinner – a really weird clip cartoon full of timing errors, editing mistakes, cameos (Ham Gravy again!), references to a cartoon never made, and a baffling ending that I first thought might have been some bonkers YouTube encoding glitch. If you’re looking for a cartoon to sit on your head and make you beg for mercy, this is the one for it.
  • Around the World in Eighty Ways – Popeye and Brutus compete to run around the world for a game show.
  • Popeye’s Fixit Shop – Popeye and Brutus compete to repair Olive Oyl’s telephone and then the town hall clock.
  • Bell Hop Popeye – Bellhop Popeye and hotel manager Brutus compete for the attention of “the Maharani”, Mae Questel affecting a generically ethnic accent. I didn’t quite get angry at the portrayal of Olive Oyl as a cartoon Asian Indian woman but I never felt good about it.
  • Barbecue for Two – a pilot for the King Features shorts, a strange-sounding, strange-looking, strangely-structured piece of Popeye entertaining Olive Oyl, Wimpy, Swee’Pea, and the unnamed brute who lives next door.
Swee'Pea, Professor Wotasnozzle, Olive Oyl, and Popeye standa around looking at the Whiffle Hen and the Whiffle Chick. The Whiffle Hen's a roughly ordinary chicken-size bird. The Chick is quite large, about as tall as Popeye, and has a vaguely cubical body and head, and with the beak at a weird angle looks with half-lidded eyes towards the camera.
The Whiffle Chick’s expression is my look in every picture, right down to my head being tilted for no obvious reason.
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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.

5 thoughts on “What I Thought About All The Jack Kinney Popeye Cartoons”

      1. Sorry to say but it’s the baffling animation in the Kinney cartoons which have given the entire series a bad reputation. For example the use of stock footage of Brutus laughing at a window inserted into Popeye and the Giant (a truly poorly animated cartoon), Popeye switching from wearing a bathing suit to his sailor’s uniform in mere seconds from the conclusion of Old Salt Tale, The paper-flipped movements in Popeye the Fireman and the endless looping of Olive screaming in Time Marches Backwards. Kinney’s crew took on more than they could handle. In truth, when I was 5, I never noticed the goofs and these were made for children. Also they made a lot of money for all involved and that was the motivation behind them. If you’re going to expose these cartoons to a new generation pick up the DVD set of the Paramount cartoons which was released by Warner Brothers. It also contains some of the Gerald Rays and be selective on the rest. The Larry Harmon cartoons are typical of the studio’ style and the Gene Deitch films are interesting to say the least. Still they gave us kids more Popeye to love.

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        1. I can’t dispute you there, yeah; the Kinney animation particularly was often enough sloppy … well, I had to stop calling attention to animation errors because they made for a repetitive paragraph every review. Harmon’s I think also bring down the average, but there more for being stiff and talky than actually inept.

          I do have that volume of something like 75 shorts that Warner Brothers released way back when. I don’t remember the exact lineup but do recall some being relatively punishing to watch. From those I think I’d say yeah, watch any Gerald Ray or Gene Deitch one, and any Paramount one is going to do nothing worse than maybe be dull. Larry Harmon, maybe proceed with care; the Kinney cartoons, maybe be ready to skip if they’re not on a list of good ones.

          And yeah, as a kid I had no concept that there even were the different studios, although I recognized these were worse-animated than the theatrical shorts. I was so happy to have more Popeye, though, especially with Eugene or the Sea Hag. I’d watch anything with them and most anything with Poopdeck Pappy back.

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        2. I don’t think all of the Paramount’s are dull. They were more adventure story based than humor filled. Also they did adapt Segar’s strips into neat 5 minute cartoons. The added plus was Winston Sharples’ familiar music scores. I am not saying all were gems in the story
          department but if I had to watch a group from this series I would choose Paramount. My book does offer a guideline on what to watch and ignore. Aside from a few skip every cartoon which Hugh Fraser was the animation director (for Jack Kinney).

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