I remain absolutely gobsmacked at the goings-on in Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean over the past week and want to scream a little bit about that. Before I do, though, I repeat the warning I offered last week, that the story involves the discussion of the (fictional) victim of murder. Folks who don’t see why that should be part of their entertainment are probably making better choices right now. The rest of us, meet me behind the cut.
Paramount Cartoon Studios, formerly Famous Studios, formerly formerly Fleischer Cartoons, was one of the two most prolific makes of the 1960s Popeye shorts. As their corporate history indicates, they had nearly three decades of experience making Popeye cartoons before getting their slice of the King Features contract. So, I notice, a lot of my reviews express similar sentiments. Paramount was by this time very good at making a cartoon that parsed. The stories almost all had clear plots, and straightforward narratives. The animation might rarely be very good, or even lively, but it would never be bad. This was always the quietly competent studio, not worried that they never hit a home run because they can get on base any time they want.
So a lot of these cartoons feel very routine; you’ll see how many of them I describe as Popeye and Brutus compete for a job, or soem similar stock premise. They sometimes break through, though, particularly when they try for a heavy plot. The best is likely Mystery Melody, adapted from the comic strip. But there’s a version of the search for Poopdeck Pappy here, also interesting; or a five-minute Gulliver’s Travels, or Popeye saving Goon Island. Most any time they try for a more complex narrative it works, and gives us a good interesting story.
In going over the list I find there weren’t any cartoons that I skipped for being too racist. (There is one that wasn’t put on King Features’s YouTube channel and it might have been for a troublesome character depiction, though.) That stands out; there’ve been a number of cartoons I noped out of, mostly for poorly-considered depictions of Native Americans, sometimes for depictions of, say, Chinese people. I’m not sure how Paramount Cartoon Studios avoided that. It’s easy to say their long experience working under the Hays Code trained them to avoid ethnic stereotyping except they did theatrical cartoons with “Indian princessess” and other motifs that these days get a disclaimer.
In any event. If one of these cartoons comes up and you see Seymour Kneitel’s name all over it? You’re in for a safe enough watch. Might not be the great cartoon you’re hoping for, but it’s not going to leave you wondering what the heck that was all about.
Here, with a list order taken from whatever made sense to the Popeye Wikia, is the list of Paramont-made cartoons and what I thought of them.
- Hits and Missiles – one that I did back in 2014 and didn’t revisit for this sequence. I need to replace the video, though.
- The Ghost Host – not enough ghost shenanigans.
- Strikes, Spares an’ Spinach – A bowling cartoon! You never see Popeye go bowling.
- Jeep Is Jeep – another chance to meet Eugene the Jeep for the first time!
- The Spinach Scholar – Popeye goes back to school and gets mostly shamed for his trouble.
- Psychiatricks – It looks like a clip show, but isn’t!
- Rags to Riches to Rags – King Features has withdrawn the video for some reason. Features a P G Wodehouse reference.
- Hair Cut-Ups – Another withdrawn video, this one where Popeye tells the story of Samson and Delilah to encourage Swee’Pea to get a haircut. Features Brutus not being the antagonist.
- Poppa Popeye – Swee’Pea gets swiped by a fake father, and Popeye loses it entirely.
- Quick Change Olie – The Whiffle Bird sends Popeye and Wimpy back to Ye Olden Days.
- The Valley of the Goons – Popeye’s shanghaied into a Goon-hunting expedition and fights for their liberation instead.
- Me Quest for Poopdeck Pappy – Another take on what must be Popeye’s most-retold story; features comparisons, of course to Goonland and to Popeye’s Pappy.
- Moby Hick – The Sea Hag tricks Popeye into helping her recover proceeds from a backstory crime!
- Mirror Magic – Popeye’s Mother in one of her very few animated appearances!
- It Only Hurts When They Laughs – Not reviewed and I don’t see any mention of why I skipped it.
- Wimpy the Moocher – Not reviewed and I don’t see any mention of why I skipped it. The Popeye Wikia’s article mentions how this is mostly a Wimpy-versus-Geezil cartoon, though, and Geezil is so heavily ethnically coded I imagine without knowing that King features maybe didn’t want to show anything where he was a load-bearing character.
- Voo-Doo to You Too – another withdrawn video, this one where the Sea Hag makes a voodoo doll of Popeye. I imagine without knowing that the casual depiction of voodoo might be why the video was withdrawn but can’t say.
- Popeye Goes Sale-ing – another withdrawn video, of Olive Oyl and Popeye doing department store gags.
- Popeye’s Travels – yet another withdrawn video, somehow, but you get the part anyone remembers about Gulliver’s Travels wrapped up in five and a half minutes.
- Incident at Missile City – one I’ve looked at twice now, with a strange world of missile-people, plus Poepye.
- Dog Catcher Popeye – Popeye saves a dog from the catcher, that’s all.
- What’s News – one more withdrawn video, for a cartoon adapted from the comic strip where Popeye takes over a newspaper.
- Spinach Greetings – the Sea Hag has captured Santa Claus and only Popeye can save him!
- The Baby Contest – Swee’Pea and Brutus’s son compete for a baby contest, eventually.
- Oil’s Well That Ends Well – Olive Oyl buys a worthless oil well from Brutus that, whoops, turns out to be a gusher.
- Motor Knocks – Yup, another withdrawn video. But it’s the rare short where Popeye starts out being attentive to his girlfriend.
- Amusement Park – Swee’Pea gets roped into the freak show somehow.
- Duel to the Finish – Olive Oyl tries to make Popeye jealous, so she woos Wimpy because, I mean, have you seen her other choices? And Wimpy beats Popeye in a duel!
- Gem Jam – Sea Hag hypnotizes Olive Oyl to steal a cursed gem. This one is set in India and avoids having offensive depictions of Indian people by not having depictions of anyone besides Popeye, Olive Oyl, and the Sea Hag.
- The Bathing Beasts – Popeye and Brutus compete for the Mister America title.
- The Rain Breaker – Popeye goes up to the clouds to work out why the weather forecast is wrong.
- Messin’ Up the Mississippi – For some reason it’s set on a river showboat.
- Love Birds – Olive Oyl’s pet love bird needs a girlfriend, so Popeye goes to a pet shop run by a monkey.
- Sea Serpent – a withdrawn video, because it shows the shocking truth about the Loch Ness Monster.
- Boardering on Trouble – Popeye and Brutus fight over … the management of their Old Western hotel? Also Popeye draws a gun on Brutus for some reason?
- Aladdin’s Lamp – Olive Oyl accidentally buys a genie lamp and the Sea Hag wants it.
- Butler Up – Once again a withdrawn video. Popeye pretends to be Olive’s butler so she can impress Brutus.
- The Leprechaun – There’s a whole bunch of leprechauns in this, and Popeye gets honorary leprechaun status, which is nice for him, I suppose.
- County Fair – Popeye and Brutus compete to win the county fair.
- Hamburgers Aweigh – another withdrawn video. Popeye uses the Whiffle Hen to turn Wimpy into a burger-hater and the Sea Hag gets in on the mind-control game.
- Popeye’s Double Trouble – yet another withdrawn video. Sea Hag tries to pass her bad-luck coin off on Popeye but, what do you know, but she has the bad luck to slip him her good-luck coin instead. Also, Sea Hag impersonates Olive Oyl and Popeye doesn’t catch on.
- Kiddie Kapers – With a dose of Fountain of Youth potion Brutus turns handsome. With some more, Popeye and Olive Oyl turn into kids.
- The Mark of Zero – Telling the story of Popeye as the people’s hero, Zero, to Olive’s niece Deezil Oyl.
- Myskery Melody – A good moody piece, adapted from the comic strip, revealing the Sea Hag and Poopdeck Pappy’s past.
- Scairdy Cat – Brutus turns to chemical warfare, deploying Fear Gas against Popeye, a thing that won’t ever backfire.
- Operation Ice-Tickle – Popeye and Brutus compete to bring back the North Pole and win a date with Olive Oyl! Not the first time I’ve shown a cartoon featuring a balloon flight to the North Pole, somehow!
- The Cure – Wimpy signs up for Hamburgers Anonymous, to overcome his shame at swiping a quarter off of Popeye, and Sea Hug works to bust him out of there.
- William Won’t Tell – A remix of the William tell story. Features Shaggy in a bit part, wearing Olive Oyl’s outfit and Brutus’s beard!
- Pop Goes the Whistle – Swee’pea goes in search of his lost teddy bear and Popeye almost kills himself trying to catch him.
- Autographically Yours – Not reviewed and I don’t know why; I don’t think they posted it.
- A Poil for Olive Oyl – Popeye figures to dive for pearls himself rather than pay for someone who’s already done the work.
- My Fair Olive – Popeye and Brutus compete for Olive Oyl’s affection by … jousting? For some reason?
- Giddy Gold – The Whiffle Bird turns the contents of a Tunnel of Love ride into real things! Oh, Tunnel of Love rides often depict monsters, that’s right. Well, I’m sure it’ll all work out great.s
- Strange Things Are Happening – Everybody is being all weird around Popeye and why are they all talking like they’re trying to kidnap him?
- The Medicine Man – Popeye and Olive Oyl are selling patent medicine and somehow Brutus, the town’s doctor, is the bad guy?
- A Mite of Trouble – once more a withdrawn video. Sea Hag sneaks a fake Swee’Pea into Popeye’s house to find a treasure map.
- Who’s Kiddin’ Zoo – Popeye and Brutus compete to be the new assistant zookeeper, Finally, some kangaroo content!
- Robot Popeye – another withdrawn video, this one where Brutus gets to build the robot Popeye.
- Sneaking Peeking – Popeye tells a fairy tale about the Happy Princess opening a box that contains Mister Mischief.
- Seer-Ring Is Believer-Ring – Olive Oyl accidentally gets a magic ring so Evil-Eye hypnotizes her to get it back. Also somehow Wimpy declares he’s treating everyone at Rough House’s Diner.
- The Wiffle Bird’s Revenge – Her revenge is turning Wimpy into a werewolf for some reason. Also, we get to see Rough House!
- Going… Boing.. Gone – It’s Wimpy and Brutus struggling against each other, with Popeye just included because it’s his name on the series. Features some vanishing cream, a carton motif we don’t get enough of anymore.
- Popeye Thumb – What if Popeye but small? And this teaches Swee’Pea to play baseball.
So I am again angry at Tom Batiuk’s comic strip Funky Winkerbean. Before getting into why I need to warn people the story going on involves a discussion of gun violence and a fictional murder. If you don’t need that in your recreational ranting, yeah. Hoo boy do you not. But for people willing to consider it, come see what’s under the cut.
You can continue to call this vamping, but I am trying to put in some reasonable order the many, many King Features Popeye cartoons of the 60s that I watched. The list today — drawn from the Popeye Wikia and thus in an order I can’t explain — represents cartoons producted by Rembrandt Films or by Halas and Batchelor. Or as everyone’s ever called them, the Gene Deitch cartoons.
I’m an easy touch for a Gene Deitch cartoon. I get where people didn’t like his Tom and Jerry cartoons, Deitch included. But I liked their creative energy and freshness, and I’d put them above the Chuck Jones shorts and even Hanna and Barbera’s own Cinemascope theatrical cartoons. I have much the same feeling here. Deitch cartoons can be weird in theme and plot, but usually successfully, coming together to something that makes sense. The animation works well against its limits. I certainly mentioned a couple times, for example, minor characters having their own walk or run cycles that are a bit out of phase, or even have different periods, so that very little animation looks like more than it does.
Here’s the various shorts that Gene Deitch’s vision oversaw:
- Interrupted Lullaby – King Features took this video down and I don’t know why. Might get around to replacing it.
- Sea No Evil – the one where Popeye keeps buying the same boat gear.
- From Way Out – the one where Popeye accidentally causes an alien invasion.
- Seeing Double – Robot Popeye alert!
- Swee’Pea Soup – the one where Swee’Pea accidentally causes an uprising against King Blozo.
- Hag Way Robbery – the where Eugene is kidnapped and Olive Oyl is all about eating canned olives.
- The Lost City of Bubble-Lon – another currently missing video, sorry. This is the one where there’s an undersea kingdom in a lake or something? It didn’t seem like the ocean to me.
- There’s No Space Like Home – another withdrawn video, sorry. Popeye gets harassed by Martians who, this time, are not mailboxes.
- Potent Lotion – yet another withdrawn video. This is the one where Brutus uses a perfume that makes people want to slug Popeye to cover for a bank robbery.
- Astro-Nut – Popeye signs up to spend sixty days in a simulated spaceflight and it didn’t cross his mind Brutus was going to try moving on Olive Oyl in that time.
- Goon with the Wind – again, a withdrawn video. The Goons here are nothing like Alice the Goon. They’re Moon Goons. It’s not comfortable.
- Insultin’ the Sultan – I don’t seem to have a review of this, or any mention of why I didn’t. From the title and from looking up its plot (Popeye joins the French Foreign Legion) I would believe it if I’d decided this got more racist than I’m going to review if I’m not being paid, but I don’t see a mention of that.
- Dog-Gone Dog-Catcher – Popeye has a dog that he keeps badly, so he makes himself Dogcatcher Brutus’s problem.
- Voice from the Deep or See Here, Sea Hag – Sea Hag scares the residents off a South Seas island so she can set up an Evil Tourist Camp.
- Matinée Idol Popeye – another withdrawn video. Brutus is directing a movie and trying to get leading man Popeye out of the picture so he can move in on Olive Oyl.
- Beaver or Not – Popeye versus two woodland beavers! We always love it when Popeye fights animals, right?
- The Billionaire – Popeye has a fortune, for maybe the only time in his animated existence.
- Model Muddle – Oh hey, a cartoon about Modern Art, I bet this one helps teach kids to appreciate the craft and thought that goes into nonrepresentational and nontraditional arts!
- Which Is Witch – Robot Olive Oyl alert!
- Disguise the Limit – Gorilla costume alert!
- Spoil Sport – Brutus’s cool sporty car or Popeye’s little foot-powered scooter: who will win!
- Have Time, Will Travel – Popeye builds his own time machine and the mystery of Oscar.
- Intellectual Interlude – where Popeye gets to be smart and it’s everybody else’s problem.
- Partial Post – here’s that cartoon where space aliens are mailboxes everyone’s been talking about!
- Weight for Me – Olive Oyl gets fat and Popeye gets all body-shaming.
- Canine Caprice – introducing Roger, talking dog that’s going to Poochie these characters up some.
- Roger – more Roger, and a rare sequel cartoon!
- Tooth Be or Not Tooth Be – where Swee’Pea and Pappy take center stage and Popeye is off … doing … something.
You can argue that I’m vamping on starting my next project here. But I’m also using this gathering of links to all my 60s Popeye cartoon reviews as a chance to better-organize my tags on them, and to discover where I missed a cartoon in my reviewing. I may come back around to them.
So here are the Larry Harmon-produced Popeye cartoons. If you’re curious why this list is in this order, it’s because I’m using the order given at the Popeye Wikia. Why they have that order I don’t know. Maybe production order or production code corder? Maybe original airing order? Maybe in order of when they discovered one of these cartoons? I have no way of knowing. It is going to take me forever to do the Jack Kinney and the Paramount cartoons.
- Muskels Shmuskels — Popeye has to not fight. King Features took the original video of this one off and I haven’t got around to finding a replacement, sorry.
- Hoppy Jalopy — the racecar cartoon, one of the last ones of my project here.
- Dead-Eye Popeye — not reviewed! I had complained of this as too boring to review, back then, and I can’t imagine that stopping me from having thoughts about it now.
- Mueller’s Mad Monster — it’s got a cuteish robot and a bunch of Cartoon Existentialism.
- Caveman Capers — yes, this is the one with a dinosaur.
- Bullfighter Bully — it’s the one where Popeye gets kissed by a calf.
- Ace of Space — for once, aliens abduct Olive Oyl, instead of Popeye. He seems offended.
- College of Hard Knocks — where I couldn’t figure out if Brutus was a legitimate teacher.
- Abdominal Snowman — an Abominable Snowman cartoon, with Olive’s mysterious uncle Sylvan Oyl. What pun is his name about? (There was a Sylvan Oil company in Oklahoma through the 1950s; was that it?)
- Ski-Jump Chump — starring Brutus as Gorgeous Pierre and Jackson Beck doing his French Accent Character.
- Irate Pirate — another one where the video has gone dark. I’ll see if I can do anything about that, until I forget.
- Foola-Foola Bird — turns out to be on Foola-Foola Island, raising the question of why it was so hard for everyone but Popeye to find.
- Uranium on the Cranium — which, of course, has Brutus dress up in a gorilla costume so he can get the uranium mine.
- Two-Faced Paleface — yeah, this one I skipped for the racist depiction of Native American characters.
- Childhood Daze — another Fountain-of-Youth cartoon, this time with Popeye getting youngified.
- Sheepish Sheep-Herder — one more with a missing video. Sorry.
- Track Meet Cheat — a fine enough idea for a cartoon foiled by not really being sure if Brutus is the problem here.
- Crystal Ball Brawl — Wimpy gets a way to foretell the future! Other than asking Eugene the Jeep!
And finally for now, here’s my similar list for the Gerald Ray-produced cartoons.
I haven’t picked my next project to review, no. And it’s convenient — for me at least — to have an index page linking to all the essays of a big group project. On the other hand, there were like four hundred thousand King Features Popeye cartoons of the early 60s. So I’m going to part out these index pages. The studio of origin is the natural dividing line there. Yes, I am keenly aware that Jack Kinney Productions made eight hundred thousand of these shorts. I’ll deal with that later.
Here, then, are the Gerald Ray-produced Popeye cartoons, with whatever thoughts I had about them:
- Where There’s A Will — I can’t find that I did see this! If I’ve missed it on King Features’s YouTube page please let me find it, I can still fit a couple more reviews in.
- Take It Easel — this is the remake of that one Woody Woodpecker cartoon and where I wonder if Milt Schaffer was using a pseudonym to work for Walter Lantz some.
- I Bin Sculpted which is another but much looser remake of older Popeye shorts.
- Fleas a Crowd which is a flea circus cartoon that got released on vinyl for some reason.
- Popeye’s Junior Headache with Olive Oyl’s niece, not Popeye Junior.
- Egypt Us and I’m sorry about the title and what the cartoon thinks Ancient-flavored Egyptians are.
- The Big Sneeze which is trying to be an Abominable Snowman cartoon but doesn’t manage the trick.
- The Last Resort which I did not review as part of this project, and that King Features doesn’t seem to have on its page, which is a shame because it’s one of the few appearances of Toar. Again it might be hidden on King Features’s YouTube page somewhere.
- Jeopardy Sheriff which is another title I don’t understand but moves well enough as a cartoon.
- Baby Phase the juggling dream story.
Coming up next: oh, I don’t know. Maybe Gene Deitch? Maybe Larry Harmon?
Or almost all. I’m at peace with there being a couple of the two-hundred-plus King Features Syndicate cartoons that I haven’t recently reviewed. But I always like at the end of a big project like this I like to think about what it means.
I can’t say this has prompted me to have a major critical revision of the 1960s cartoons. Or to push for one. The 1960s cartoons are mostly regarded as a cheap, hurried cash-in, of a quality ranging from mediocre to garbage. I’m warmer to them than that, but the conventional wisdom is near enough right. There are some cartoons that I’ll advance as “pretty good” or even “good”. More that are “interesting”. But like everyone knew going in, the theatrical shorts are better. The black-and-white shorts better still. I haven’t looked at the 1980-era Hanna-Barbera series to compare those. Might try them. I know late-70s Hanna-Barbera hasn’t got a high reputation. But it could make Saturday morning cartoons at least uniformly okay. None of that Testimonial Dinner bizarreness or that one where Popeye turns into a giraffe there. (All right, there’s the Superfriends where Zan and Jana are unable to outwit a defunct roller coaster. That was a bit slipshod.)
And yet those are two cartoons that leapt immediately to mind. The lure of the novel, or the exceptional, is hard to resist when you watch a lot of something. That’s no different here. Give me a bonkers premise or a plot that’s too incoherent to be dream-logic and I am fascinated. This is not an effect any studio ever tries for; probably you couldn’t manage it if you did. (Compare that one episode of Dexter’s Laboratory written by a seven-year-old. It was one of the most compelling episodes of a generally good show.) What chance does a merely well-made episode, like Myskery Melody, have against that? Yet that’s also a cartoon that leapt right to mind and that I will keep promoting while I can.
The King Features cartoons introduced some good trends. One is that they largely shed the plot of Popeye-and-Bluto/Brutus-compete-for-Olive-Oyl. There were some cartoons that used that frame, sometimes to good effect. But it was a story done four billion times already, especially in the 1950s shorts. Clearing it out opens up the universe to do a series of golfing jokes or driver-safety jokes instead. Another is expanding the cast of characters. Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre overflowed with neat characters. The King Features shorts finally animated the Sea Hag, and brought Poopdeck Pappy and Eugene the Jeep back to being major characters. It also gave some outings to lesser characters like Roughhouse, the Whiffle Hen/Bird, King Blozo, Castor Oyl, Toar, and the many vaguely defined relatives of Olive Oyl. Even footnotes like Ham Gravy got some scenes.
Not enough of them. The Sea Hag and Eugene the Jeep make the leap into major characters, as they should, because they’re endlessly fascinating. King Blozo almost makes it, but not quite. So do Alice the Goon and Professor Wotasnozzle. I’m glad they got the time they did, and wanting more is a good state to be in with them. Professor Wotasnozzle might be the biggest disappointment. He’s in a good spot to give Popeye some goofball super-science gimmick to deal with. Instead what we mostly see is him in a framing device. He sends Popeye to another era to do the same schtick without even a clear idea whether Popeye knows what’s going on.
The shorts give this sense of new ground breaking, of new possibility. There were far more characters, most of whom worked, and fresh stories available to tell. Even more settings. Many cartoons were set in Popeye’s Boring Suburban Home. But they weren’t required to be, the way so many of the 1950s Famous Studios seemed. Sometimes that setting was even part of the story, as in Coffee House, the Beatnik cartoon. Or, for a mixed benefit, the attempt to set the cartoons in India or China or such. This usually turned out so racist I refused to review the cartoon. One can see the charitable reading, that the cartoons are trying to be more ethnically diverse. This sort of nonwhite-people-written-by-very-white-people can be a well-intended stumble. It was endemic to 1960s and 1970s programming. Still not going to listen to Chinese Wimpy.
There’s also a sense of there being no grown-ups in the room. The shorts feel like they’re the story person’s idea, untouched by worry that they fit the Intellectual Property Use Guidelines. Often this freedom from supervision also seems to be freedom from a second draft. Especially if Jack Kinney’s or Larry Harmon’s studios produced it. But a lot of exciting, creative novelty comes from people who have skill in their craft and only casual supervision from the people paying for it. The shorts didn’t enjoy this as much as they might. The sense remains, in most of these shorts, that anything might happen. Popeye’s in caveman times. Olive Oyl has a pet tiger. Wimpy crosses the Whiffle Hen and becomes a werewolf. A living missile wants to kiss Popeye. Brutus builds a robot Eugene. Aliens come to Earth, disguised as mailboxes. Brutus magics away Popeye’s arms. Wimpy is a millionaire, twice. Alice the Goon is hypnotically compelled to make out with Popeye. Cheese wheels from the Moon hold Wimpy hostage. Swee’Pea is the focus of a revolution. I made up at least one of those; can you tell which ones?
All this new freedom and new ground and lack of restraint, though, is most often let down by the result. The animation can’t ever be as good as the theatricals, certainly. And given the circumstances it couldn’t be as good as the 1980 Hanna-Barbera era either. Every studio managed at least some interesting touches, sometimes in a simple clever edit or a move that surprised one. More often the letdown is in the story, or at least the editing. There were so many odd pauses or absent bits of narrative logic it was no longer worth mentioning, at some point. I don’t know how often I accused, especially, a Jack Kinney short of having a dream logic. Or planned to but cut it for being redundant. We had that, though. Someone with experience in how stories work can fill in gaps. But the intended audience of young children? How do they know enough about how stories work to understand that? (On the other hand, maybe they mind since they don’t know that Brutus’s promise to eat his weather prediction was not set up.)
To summarize my feelings for all this, then? Besides the powerful nostalgia I feel for cartoons I watched, and loved, uncritically when I was young and impressionable? It is that I saw so many times that this could be a really good cartoon, hidden underneath what is an okay cartoon. So a new project for when I win a billion-dollar Powerball is to to take like three dozen of these shorts, have someone do another two drafts of the story, and have them animated by people who have the time to draw all the characters in all the scenes they’re in. We’ll get at least a couple great cartoons from that.
I have for today the last of the 1960s Popeye cartoons that King Features has put up on their YouTube channel. Or so I thought. Every source I can find says there were 220 of these short cartoons made, over a course of days and at a cost of hundreds of dollars per cartoon. King Features uploaded them four at a time into 22-minute “episodes”, and has 55 of them. And yet when I mentioned the Gerald Ray-produced The Last Resort last week, I couldn’t find where I had reviewed it in any of these essays. (I had an earlier review, from 2014, that I let stand.) I have no explanation for this.
I figure, if I can find the spoons, to go through the episodes King Features still has up and see if I overlooked that one, and any other shorts, somehow. A possible complication is that King Features has withdrawn seven of its episodes, and thus 28 cartoons. I don’t know why. My guess in the absence of actual knowledge is someone noticed there was something objectionable in one or more cartoons of the set. I would be happy to hear from someone who knew, but doubt I will.s
So for cartoons that are not missing? Here’s the last of the Jack Kinney-produced shorts. The story’s credited to Raymond Jacobs, and the animation direction to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. From 1960 for the last(?) time, it is the Weather Watchers. Let’s weather.
Oh did I ever want my reviewing project here to end on a strong cartoon. Something I could spill over with good things to talk about. That’s more fun than even snarking is. But what we have is another of those Jack Kinney productions that makes more sense the less closely you’re watching. Like, tune out and come back to the next scene and you can rationalize how Brutus and Popeye got here and why. But go from what’s on-screen and you have a bunch of leaps of logic.
This is another in the Popeye-and-Bluto/Brutus-Compete-For-A-Job shorts. This time Popeye starts out with the job nice and secure and Brutus schemes to steal it, a variation not done much. I can’t think of another short with that setup. This time around Popeye works for the weather bureau, relying on the corns on his feet or a spin of his wheel-of-fortune for his forecasts. And his forecasts are terrible, or at least he gets two wrong in a row. The first time he’s wrong is enough to get a complaint from Brutus, who’s also asking about openings at the weather bureau. The rain, against a forecast of “fair and sunny” weather, is enough for Olive Oyl to give Popeye something like notice. He forecasts “fair and sunny” again, and Brutus sabotages this by seeding clouds.
With her new hat spoiled, Olive Oyl fires Popeye and hires Brutus. Popeye discovers the moth balls used to seed the clouds that something’s up, and figures it must be Brutus since who else is in the story? Well, Wimpy is, as the slightly goofy TV weatherman. The pop culture of that era tells me weather reporters of that era were goofy performers. The shift to professional meteorologists came later. But Wimpy never interacts with anybody that we see, so, Brutus is the safe and correct bet. Popeye sabotages Brutus’s forecast of sunshine, and Olive Oyl gives Brutus twenty years less chance to prove himself than she gave Popeye. Brutus turns on Olive Oyl, grabbing her by the neck, and Popeye rushes in, saving the day. As a punch line, Popeye, restored to his forecasting job, says tomorrow will be “Sunny as [Olive’s] smile, fair as [her] complexion, and warm as [her] ever-loving’ heart.” As it starts to rain, Popeye declares, “Women, phooey!” and starts singing about how ’cause he ate his spinach he’s Popeye the weatherman.
The plot summary, I imagine, sounds fine to you too. The sequence of events is what makes sense for a story about Popeye as a weather forecaster. It’s in the connective tissue of plotting that it falls down. We can take as implicit that Brutus did promise he’d eat his forecast if it were wrong. But Olive Oyl talks about how “Yes, I fell for your mothball gag”, a gag she hasn’t been seen to learn about. Heck, a gag that even Popeye has only assumed happened. Popeye sabotaging Brutus’s weather is correct, but not justified. He doesn’t know Brutus did anything. (This short suggests Brutus is a stranger to Olive Oyl, at least, and surely Popeye.) Also his sabotage is weird: dump a gigantic can of spinach into a water tank and blow up the water tank so we get spinach rain? And this when Popeye doesn’t even eat spinach himself, unless that too is off-screen, despite what we get in his not-finished closing couplet.
Get the premise and take any scene and you can imagine the scene before it which sets it up. But the scene that sets it up is never in the short. Once again we have something that makes more sense the less you pay attention. It gives that odd dream-narrative tone so common to the Kinney-produced shorts. I enjoy some of that. Dream logic makes the story feel fresher and more surprising. But it keeps me from calling this a good cartoon. It’s a first draft of a good cartoon, that’s all.
And with that, that’s all for my King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoon reviews! Until I find ones that I overlooked, at least. I would love to tell you what my plan is for the next thing to take my review-day slot. I haven’t decided, though. I’m open to suggestions, particularly if they’re ones that have reasonably stable web locations. Or I can just review that Beetle Bailey half-hour special they made for CBS in like 1989 and forgot to air. We’ll see.
I wrote a version of this as a comment on the Son of Stuck Funky blog, the web’s premiere source for remembering things about Funky Winkerbean, but you know? I’m still bothered so I’m going to write more.
Tom Batiuk’s Funky Winkerbean opened this week with Crazy Harry bringing over a bunch of tapes of Lisa Moore. Lisa Moore died, reader time, in 2008. It was a big story, where she responded to the news her breast cancer had returned by recording videotape messages for her daughter and then dying. The dying may seem like an extreme reaction. It seemed the best way to escape her husband, Les Moore, the most insufferable person on the comics page. It hasn’t worked, as Les Moore wrote a book about her dying and turned it into a graphic novel and an annual fun-run and a failed made-for-TV movie and a completed made-for-theaters movie and the whole of his personality except for being snide to acquaintances.
A couple years back Les Moore loaned the suspiciously many videotapes to Crazy Harry for digitization. And today, years after finishing the project and I thought returning the tapes, he came over with a bunch of the Lisa Moore tapes. What’s got me angry is a line that I might have ignored if I had more patience with the comic strip.
Why does Crazy Harry explain that “Donna said I had to get rid of my VHS tapes”? Yes, yes, I know, because she was tired of them cluttering up the basement or whatever. But Tom Batiuk decided that Harry’s wife was tired of the clutter. Why? What does that explanation do that, oh, “I was organizing my VHS tapes and noticed I still had some” would not? Or “your father asked about a couple of these tapes, which are more precious to him than are his daughter, his current wife Not-Lisa, or the Academy Award won by the woman who played Lisa in the movie about Lisa’s Death”?
Because it fits a pattern and it’s a subtly annoying one. It’s the same role that most all the male characters have been through, where their mother made them get rid of their comic books. Or their wife made them get rid of their superhero stuff. The current era of Funky Winkerbean sees a lot of characters passively accepting the indignities of life, yes, as see Lisa Moore’s whole acceptance of death. Why is it the only time a women in this strip take an active role, it’s the off-screen decision that the man in her life has to give up a hobby?
The one time I can think of when the woman didn’t make the off-screen decision to make one of the player-characters give up a hobby was a story a couple weeks ago. Funky Winkerbean’s wife decided they were going to go to a estate-planning seminar. That’s a reasonable and grown-up thing to do, yes. It’s also something she forced him to do, and he was a total Les Moore about the experience. (The Son of Stuck Funky folks, who have an uncanny ability to find old plots, also found where Funky and Mrs Funk went to an estate planner five years ago. I’m tolerant of comic strips repeating themselves — it’s baked into the genre — but I do want the new iteration to at least be pleasant.)
Why can’t Crazy Harry decide he’s got too many hobbies and VHS tape collecting isn’t bringing him joy anymore? Why can’t Crazy Harry notice he’s got stuff he doesn’t need and doesn’t want? Why does Donna have to be the heavy? Also, why did Lisa Moore have more hours of screen time than Regis Philbin did? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.
We’re now up to the last of the Gerald Ray-produced King Features Popeye cartoons. We don’t get a story credit for this short. We do get a director, at least, Tom McDonald. He was also director for The Last Resort, The Big Sneeze, Jeopardy Sheriff, and Egypt Us. Here from 1960 is Baby Phase. Yes, the title has nothing to do with the cartoon besides that it’s got Swee’Pea in it.
Ah, the dream story. Everyone’s favorite way of having a bunch of wild stuff happen that would break the reality of the setting, right? For example there’s no way that in the “real” Popeye universe you could have Swee’Pea so dominated by … juggling.
As that’s the starting point here. Swee’Pea’s got a book about How to Juggle and it turns out to be excellent guidance. In no time he’s juggling random household objects from the top of a chimney, and only dropping some of them on Popeye. Popeye puts Swee’Pea safely inside the house and scolds him for this dangerous stuff. That’s shown with a nice bit of foreshortening, matched by Popeye picking up the book in the camera’s direction. It always stands out when a studio moves the plane of action.
And then, reading, Popeye falls asleep, our cue that none of the stuff to follow counts. Does that matter? I’m not sure. Whenever Popeye has a cartoon where he’s protecting the oblivious innocent — usually a runaway Swee’Pea, sometimes a sleepwalking or hypnotized Olive Oyl — the innocent is always safe. If we know how cartoons work we know that already. All that spotting this for a dream gives us is a built-in explanation for gaps in the story. How the circus is nothing but Swee’Pea, for example, or that Swee’pea’s signed a 99-year contract. The way Swee’Pea keeps finding himself in what should be more preposterously dangerous scenarios. These now become a natural nightmare progression where everything is as bad as it could be and somehow gets worse. But I’m not sure this is meant to be dream-logic as opposed to these cartoons not having the time to write a natural escalation into the story.
Popeye bobbles his spinach, which seems like the cue to viewers who missed it that this isn’t real. It’s a moment played for extra tension or a laugh in a couple of cartoons, mostly Fleischer-era theatricals. It could have been a setup for Swee’Pea to eat the spinach and save the day for the falling Popeye. But it didn’t go that way, instead waking Popeye up and having him feed spinach to Swee’Pea as the way to help him be the world’s greatest juggler. Changes of heart are nice, and Popeye supporting his kid’s ambitions is great.
It’s all okay enough, and there are a couple nice bits, like the ringmaster reassuring Popeye that they can get another juggler. I’d have liked to either commit to the reality of Swee’Pea in the circus or have the dream-peril be greater. As it is, the ending seems like just avoiding “Popeye eats his spinach and saves the day”, and where’s the fun in that?
The earliest impression that Mutt and Jeff made on me was its ending. In June 1983 it startled the young me by being a comic strip that had been around since four years before the invention of mud by stopping, a thing I somehow hadn’t realized could happen. Past that I knew it had been around since before my grandfather’s day, and that it was a genially pleasant joke-a-day comic.
Today I understand more of its significance. Bud Fisher was, particularly, a pioneer in the comic strip, as opposed to a single panel that does the joke. And Mutt and Jeff particularly was a pioneer in the daily comic strip, as opposed to the Sunday pages that could sprawl over a whole broadsheet’s page.
It was a pioneer in other ways, too, in phenomenally successful merchandising. And then in animation: Bud Fisher licensed the strip to the Barré studio in 1916 and they made something like three hundred shorts for Fox Film Corporation. Many of them are lost, as you’d expect or fear from century-old film footage. But dozens are not, and that gets to this point.
Mauricio Alvarado is running a Kickstarter, with a goal of funding a high-quality scan of several doen available shorts. This as part of restoring the shorts, and preparing a limited-edition Blu-Ray disc for the shorts. Restoring, and making available, early animation history like this is a great project. I regret I’m not in a position to support it financially right now, but I can at least support with my small voice. If you love silent cartoons, or think you might someday, please consider this.
Jack Kinney provides the story for one of these cartoons, for the last time in this progress through the King Features Syndicate shorts of the 60s. There’s one more Jack Kinney-produced cartoon, though. And the animation direction — as the other Kinney short will be — is credited to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman, names I’ll be sorry to see the end of. Here from 1960 is Popeye’s Pep-Up Emporium.
Years ago the Flophouse podcasters talked about common mistakes of bad movies. One was explaining the wrong things, over-explaining the simple setup and not giving enough screen time to the counterintuitive implications. This short starts with a pretty long advertisement for Popeye’s Pep-Up Emporium, the gym where he promises to help with any body type. There’ve been theatrical shorts where Popeye runs a gym (Vim, Vigor, and Vitaliky and Gym Jam particularly), and they got the idea established much faster.
Spending so much time setting it up isn’t necessarily wrong. The advertisement sets the tone, sure. And it lets the short toss in a couple of jokes, admittedly at things like Brutus’s very fat body. We might try to be a little less body-shaming today, but the jokes are set up well enough. Having the commercial at the start also sets up that there’ll be another commercial made during the short, giving the cartoon what little plot structure it has.
Again I don’t fault the short for mostly being a bunch of spot jokes. Gymnasiums are good for a string of disconnected jokes. The cartoon comes close to that, with stunts like Olive Oyl getting tied up in knots after a little bending. Or Wimpy pulling a table toward himself and pushing it away again. Here we do have what’s got to be a Kinney Classic animation error. When the table’s nearby he chews in the air in front of a pile of hamburgers. Someone has to have been meant to draw a hamburger falling off the pile into his mouth, but too late for that now. Maybe for the remastered Special Editions.
So we get to the commercial, done live in a gymnasium, a transmitting challenge especially for 1960 that I’m glad I don’t have to master. Think of the audio quality. A butterfly lands on Popeye’s dead weights, and he drops the extra load through the floor, bringing an irate Brutus up and into the short. Thing is, Brutus is right to be angry. The — let’s call them 2000-pound dead weights — just crashed through his ceiling. And this after a commercial body-shaming him.
But the parts the cast is in requires Brutus to be the villain. So he lecherously tries to get Olive Oyl out of that … wall thingy she’s trapped in. He’s stomping on Popeye’s head while he does this, so Popeye pulls out the spinach and there we go. If you look at the Popeye-Brutus interactions this is pulling on the spinach way too early. It’s only justified by Popeye knowing the cartoon is almost over. I know, we don’t need much justification. Popeye and Brutus have a history we’re supposed to take ambiguously seriously. And the guy is stomping on Popeye’s head. And anyone watching a lot of Popeye cartoons comes to wonder why Popeye doesn’t pull out his spinach at the start of the trouble. (A problem endemic to most every show with a super-power-up gimmick.) Maybe if Brutus has been part of the class, and ever more trouble, then things would have balanced better.
Though I started my essay talking about mistakes of bad movies, I don’t think this is a bad short. It’s got the usual weaknesses of the King Features Popeye cartoons, including the drifting narrative of so many Jack Kinney-produced shorts. It’s got a good setup, though, and good jokes along the way. The worst it does is take such extreme narrative economy, to get Popeye to eat his spinach, that the writers seem not to have noticed Popeye doesn’t need to have eaten spinach here. Olive Oyl getting fed up waiting for rescue and eating spinach herself is a good solid ending. They could have got there with a better use of Brutus.
I do like looking at my readership figures, once a month, as it’s a convenient way for me to think that I should be more popular. It also lets me lay out what my plans are for the coming month. This plan is always that I’m going to keep recapping the plots in the story strips, since that’s always the most popular thing I post. Let me start with that, come to think of it. My schedule for the coming weeks is to describe the goings-on in:
- Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant (9th of August)
- Joe Staton, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy (16th of August)
- Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley (23rd of August)
- Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail (30th of August)
- Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth (37th of August)
Going to be a fun month. The Dick Tracy-to-Mary Worth swing is a bunch of strips people are often asking Google about. And, you know, people have been hopping mad about Mary Worth lately, and we’re getting more Wilbur Weston in, my readership prospects are good.
To the specifics, though. There were, WordPress says, 4,727 page views here in July. That’s just five fewer than there were in June. This is below the twelve-month running mean of 5,082.3 views per month, although that figure’s skewed a bit by the spike of readers in April. It is above the running median of 4,585 views per month, suggesting a bit of general growth overall.
There were 2,700 recorded unique visitors, again down a bit from June, but in line with the averages. The running mean for the twelve months leading up to July saw 2,714.6 unique visitors each month. The running median was 2,616.5.
There were 100 likes given around here in July, a second suspiciously round number. This is the first one that looks a bit sad, as it’s below the mean of 154.1 and median of 154.5 likes given in a month on average. And the number of comments — 26 — was similarly way below the running mean of 56.5 and median of 51.5. The implication is that people may see my writings more as something to read than as something to engage with. And that’s not bad, really, as I’ve struggled to engage with things myself lately. Hi, every WordPress blog I’m subscribed to but have left comments in as recently as never.
Despite the lower numbers of likes and comments, stuff got read a good bit around here. These are the posts from July with the greatest number of views, in descending order:
- What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? Who’s writing Gil Thorp now? April – July 2022
- What’s Going On In Judge Parker? Who’s drawing Judge Parker now? May – July 2022
- Statistics June: How Much People Wish I Could Have Done Something More About Mary Worth Last Month
- Maybe I’ll Get Into Corporate Logo Design
- In Which I Expect Light Shenanigans With Scattered Tomfoolery
I do expect a Gil Thorp surge for a couple months now, while new author Henry Barajas establishes things like that Gil Thorp flies now and has an unsettled home life.
81 countries or things as good as countries sent me readers in July, down-ish from June’s 82. 20 of them got a single page view, though, up from 16. Here’s the roster:
|Bosnia & Herzegovina||3|
|Hong Kong SAR China||2|
|Trinidad & Tobago||2|
|United Arab Emirates||2|
|Congo – Kinshasa||1|
Kuwait has given me a single view for three months in a row now. No other country has been a single-view country more than one month in a row. Greenland has resumed not being a country that looks at me at all.
WordPress calculates that I posted 17,264 words in July, an average 556.9 per posting. This is down a little and brings my year-to-date average to 563 words per posting. I’m at 119,411 words posted for the year, as of the start of August.
Between the development of the lunar rovers and the start of August I’ve had 307,659 page views here, from a recorded 174,357 unique visitors. Who’ll be number 175,000? I don’t know. Probably someone from Greenland.
If you’d like your chance at being that reader from Greenland, though, good luck! The best route to reading my essays is to add the RSS feed for my essays to your reader. If you don’t have a reader, but you do have a WordPress account, you can click the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button on the upper right corner of this page. If you don’t have a WordPress account, you can use the box beneath that to get uncorrected and typeo-ridden posts e-mailed to you the moment they’re published. Or you can just click on a page that looks good and read that. Whatever’s brought you here to read this you could do again tomorrow. And maybe the rest of this month as I finally run out of 1960s Popeye cartoons to watch. I know, I’m baffled that could happen too.
Way, way, back, when I started reviewing the King Features Popeye cartoons of the 60s I skipped this bundle of cartoons. I had said none of these cartoons interested me enough. Well, I’m running out of 60s Popeyes to review, and I’ve built up a tolerance for not-interesting cartoons. I think I can say something about them now.
So this is another cartoon produced by Larry Harmon. You know what that means: it’s the future crew of Filmation. The story’s credited to Charles Shows and the direction to Paul Fennell. From 1960 here’s Hoppy Jalopy.
There’s obvious affects the tiny budget, in money and time, have on these shorts. There have been good animation bits, but never a scene that captures the imagination like overflowed in the 30s and filled a bunch of the 40s cartoons. The scope of the plots also diminishes. Popeye cartoons never have big casts, but they could at least give exits to the other competitors in the car race, or not introduce anyone but Popeye and Bluto/Brutus. That they were introduced, but not excused from the story, must reflect a lack of time to think the story through and rewrite it to a smooth finish.
But the subtler effect is to give the cartoon this weird, formalistic structure. Popeye and Brutus are racing, fine, of course they do. Is anyone else racing? Why not? Who cares what happens to them if they aren’t main cast? Olive Oyl’s scooped up in Brutus’s trunk, a thing she could only avoid by trying in any way. Why doesn’t she try in any way? Because it’s a Popeye cartoon, what is she doing in it if she isn’t abducted by Brutus? (Or being Popeye’s cheerleader, as in Swimmer Take All or Hot Air Aces.)
I know this is the result of not having the animation cells to spare, to have Olive Oyl try and get away. But the effect is seeing things happen because they’re the things supposed to happen in a cartoon like this. And, in that regard, it’s fascinating. I am not proposing that the team which would, eventually, give us the animated adventures of Gilligan and the Skipper in outer space was experimenting with the audience’s concept of narrative. I mean that they ended up, somehow, creating a cartoon that works fine if you watch it while distracted and becomes odd if you pay attention.
I know I watched this — every King Features — cartoon a lot when I was a kid. I don’t remember ever wondering about why anything was happening. Yes, part of that is that the target age for this cartoon is not renowned for critiquing stories. But I wonder if it’s also that the roles of Popeye and Brutus and Olive Oyl are clear enough that as long as everyone is doing roughly what makes sense, the whole cartoon does. Or at least it looks enough like a cartoon that makes sense to pass.
I am, to my amazement, close to the end of writing something about (almost all) the King Features Popeye cartoons of the 1960s. Unless I’ve messed up my notes, this is my last Gene Deitch cartoon. So, sad to say, I have no story credits to give you. I can just suggest we look at 1960’s Seeing Double.
Among the things I like about the Gene Deitch cartoons is their ambition in story structure. In particular, they’re comfortable keeping stuff secret from the characters and from the audience. It suggests trust from Deitch (and the other creators of the cartoon). I’m not sure whether they trusted the kids would wait to have the plot revealed, or whether they trusted kids will watch Popeye even if they don’t understand it. It makes them stand out against cartoons with more linear plots and explained motives.
Here we establish that Olive Oyl wants a $2,000 mink stole Popeye can’t nearly afford. And then we cut away to a bunch of gangsters. It’s not clear either party knows of the other’s existence. The head gangster, doing an Edward G Robinson impression, has a new robot duplicate of Popeye. I’m not sure the duplicate is meant to look like Popeye. I get the feeling they just made something that worked and it happened to be a short guy in sailor suit with a corncob pipe. You know, the way all robots of the early 60s had corncob pipes.
Robot Popeye puts on a good indestructible show, marching through walls and punching through safes. Based on eyewitness reports the cops toss Popeye in jail. Olive Oyl cries how it’s all her fault, forcing Popeye to rob the bank to buy a mink stole, and we finally learn why that scene was even in the cartoon. It’s odd that Olive Oyl should think Popeye could do something underhanded like rob a non-crooked bank. But Olive Oyl — like all the humans save Popeye in the comic strip — is venal, and can’t fully believe in a person who is not. When another Robot Popeye robbery is reported Popeye’s had enough of this impersonator. Rather than pause to note his unshakeable alibi, he breaks out of jail, punching through the walls just like the robot does.
Then there’s the confusing element here. Somehow Popeye ropes the gangsters’ car. We haven’t seen him have any reason to even know there are gangsters. My guess is the story ran long, and something had to be cut, so they went with cutting the bit where Popeye learned what the audience already knew. I guess that’s the best choice. It’s a bold shortcut to take, though, if you suppose that a skeptical grown-up might be watching. (The gangsters also go from flying out of a car to falling off a building, which suggests some scene or other got lost.)
When I reviewed Potent Lotion, another Deitch cartoon that opens with unexplained events, I wondered about casting Brutus as the head gangster. Now that we have an original character cast as the head gangster I wonder why not Brutus. This shows how I can’t be satisfied. But I am a poor amateur critic, and I have to use the few tools I have. One is to ask, how would the story change if some element were different? If the gangster were Brutus, then the robot’s resemblance to Popeye could not be coincidence. I don’t see where that would affect the cartoon much. It would even have explained why Popeye nabs the head gangster, as it’s usually safe to pick Brutus as the culprit. My best guess is they wanted to do an Edward G Robinson character, since that’s always a fun voice, and that’s that.
Still, if we have run out of Gene Deitch Popeye cartoons, I’m glad to go out on one that I enjoy so.
It does not. Today’s King Features Popeye is another Jack Kinney-produced short. The story’s by Joe Siracusa and Cliff Millsap. Both are new names around here, and the Internet Movie Database lists this as the only writing credit of any kind for both. Cliff Milsap was also editor for about two dozen of these shorts and that’s all IMDB knows about him. Joe Siracusa has more of a filmography, although nearly all of it as editor or composer or music editor, all the way up to the 80s G.I.Joe and Transformers. He was also drummer for Spike Jones from 1946 through 1952. Animation direction is credited to our old friend Eddie Rehberg. From 1960 here’s Popeye’s Corn-Certo.
This short has the feel of one of the theatrical Popeye cartoons. It’s a return to the plot line where Popeye and Brutus compete in showing off their expertise. Eventually Brutus incapacitates Popeye and tries making off with Olive Oyl. Popeye eats his spinach, we get some quick fighting, happy ending. The specific of competing by musical instruments calls to mind 1948’s Symphony in Spinach.
There are some structural differences from a theatrical version of this plot. The major one is Popeye and Brutus don’t take turns showing off. Popeye gets several instruments in a row to play the “3rd movement from the 2nd Pizzicato by Mozarella, the big cheese of the musical world”, which sounds like the Popeye the Sailor Man theme. (I like the choice. I imagine it’s for budget reasons. But it also plays as tweaking the artifice of the premise.) That seems like an improvement. It lets us get a bunch of Brutus-sabotages-an-unaware-Popeye jokes in a row. And it doesn’t require Popeye to sabotage Brutus or to find so many ways Brutus’s playing can go wrong. I’m not sure that would work for every challenge cartoon like this, but it works here.
And the short offers several good little bits. The performing contest being introduced as though it were a boxing match, for example. Or Popeye getting a couple of muttered interjections in, such as saying “Man the lifeboats! I sprung a leak!” or “I should’ve played `Over the Waves`” when his flute produces water. That sort of throwaway joke could have been a muttered 30s gag and fit right in. It’s a good energy to invoke. There’s even a gorgeous throwaway bit. When Popeye says he’s beginning to smell a rat we see a delighted Brutus smiling at the camera and pointing to himself. It’s playful, in a way the best Popeye cartoons are. I got good feelings from watching this.
Given how well this works I don’t know why Siracusa and Millsap didn’t write more shorts. Maybe they didn’t enjoy the writing. Maybe they saw a chance to adapt Symphony in Spinach but didn’t see another theatrical short they were interested in. Too bad. The writing is strong enough to make a good cartoon within the studio’s constraints.
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.
I did my best to work out the baffling plot point that Helen Moss, longtime teacher at Santa Rosa Community College, had to leave after her onetime crush Ian Cameron told her to stop being a jerk to his wife. I’m still not confident I have the reason clear, but I offered what I had. And people wanted to know! As I look over what the most popular June 2022-dated postings were here, the last month, my Mary Worth plot recap tops the list. Here’s the five most popular new articles from June:
- What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Why did Helen Moss have to leave? April – June 2022
- Popeye Now Being Drawn By Someone Younger Than Popeye
- What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Why does The Phantom have an Eden? April – June 2022
- Judge Parker and The Phantom look odd because Mike Manley isn’t drawing them
- Also Here’s One of My Dumber Giggles for the Week
Mind, the most popular thing I had of the entire month was an October 2020 post where I admitted finally getting this one Far Side. People always like hearing when someone else was baffled by a comic strip. It’s one of Gary Larson’s many gifts to us all. Anyway my favorite of the last month remains the resolve to eat Cheese Idaho.
Still, the comic strip talk is always going to be my most popular thing here. Were I to shut down the rest of the blog, that’s the part that would go last. So here’s my plan for what to talk about this coming month, and when:
- Terry Beatty’s Rex Morgan, M.D. (5 July)
- Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp (12 July)
- Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker (19 July)
- Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop (26 July)
- Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays) (33 July)
Meanwhile, I still like to keep track of how popular my slightly popular blog is, and how that’s changing. And I share that because somehow that’s usually a well-liked feature too. In June 2022, according to WordPress, I had 4,732 page views here, which is below the running mean of 5,034.2 views for the twelve months leading up to June. It’s above the running median of 4,449 page views, though. These came from 2,742 unique visitors, which is above both the running mean of 2,696.7 and running median of 2,547.5. So, hey, more visitors, all of whom get tired of me faster! That’s a something.
There were 143 likes given to anything at all over the course of June, which is a little below both the running mean of 153.3 and median of 154.5. And there were 40 comments, which seems like more than I remember, but is below the mean of 56.7 and median of 53, again both of which seem like more than I remember. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.
There were 82 countries, our country-like entities, to send me any page views in June. That’s up from May’s figure of 75, if you like. 16 of them sent only a single page view, down from May’s 17. None of these countries was Greenland. I know, I’m feeling it too. Here’s what countries it was:
|Bosnia & Herzegovina||3|
|United Arab Emirates||3|
|Hong Kong SAR China||2|
|Trinidad & Tobago||1|
Kazakhstan has been a single-view country for three months running now, even though I’d think Kazakhstan has other things to do than check in on my a very slight bit. Kuwait’s been a single-view country two months in a row now, although I guess maybe they have fewer things to do? Montenegro is also on its third month giving me a single view per month. I don’t know how to much to expect they have to do.
WordPress figures I posted 18,738 words in June, my most talkative month this year. It’s an average 624.6 words per posting, and brings my average for the year up to 564 words per post. This may be too many words. It brings me to 102,147 words for the year 2022, so far. Between the Broadway debut of the musical 1776 and the start of July, I’ve posted 3,437 things to this blog. They’ve attracted a total of something like 302,932 views from 171,984 visitors.
If you’d like to read these posts regularly, I’m flattered. The best route is probably to add the RSS feed for my essays to your reader. If you don’t have a reader, but you do have a WordPress account, you can click the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button on the upper right corner of this page. If you don’t have a WordPress account, you can use the box beneath that to get posts e-mailed to you the moment they’re published and before I’ve corrected some embarrassing typos. And if none of that works for you, eh, I suppose you know your business. Carry on with what seems reasonable. Thank you.
This week takes us back to 1960 and a cartoon with a baffling title. It comes from the Jack Kinney studios. The story’s by Gerald Nevius and the animation direction by Volus Jones. Here’s a short titled, for some reason, Uncivil War.
I don’t get the title at all. I expected it to be maybe a historical short, but more likely something where Popeye and Brutus have to share the housekeeping. “Popeye instructing Swee’Pea in good driving habits” would have been my maybe fourth guess after “Popeye fights with a squirrel”.
Instead, we’ve got a safe-driving short. The idea seems oddly pitched for the audience, which would be mostly kids a decade away from driving. There were plenty of theatrical shorts pushing safe-driving messages, such as the excellent 1950 Goofy short Motor Mania, directed by some guy name of Jack Kinney. But that’s aimed at a general audience where some of the people are driving home from the theater. Also, the jokes were bigger, bolder. The jokes in “Uncivil War” are more mundane, more educational. There’s a preposterous pileup of cars, caused by Popeye stopping to read the signs too carefully, but that’s about all. The cartoon might have had more surreal jokes if it were just a short about Olive Oyl learning to drive or Popeye trying out his new car. It has a curious shift in structure. It starts out looking like Brutus is trying to woo Olive Oyl with his cool car and Popeye proves himself superior by being a more thoughtful driver. But then that evaporates and we get instead a string of jokes where someone drives badly and then the rest of the cast calls them stupid.
A choice I think I like here is that Brutus isn’t always the bad driver here. (Nor is Olive Oyl, a welcome avoiding of stereotype.) Everyone shuffles the roles of being the good and the problem driver. It helps spread out the laugh lines. It also conveys a subtler message that everyone is a problem driver in some way or another. I can’t imagine that many kids watching this came away thinking of how just being a Good character, like Popeye, doesn’t mean everything you do is right. But it is the sort of lesson one should have. It feels like an inefficient way to do it, is all.
I’d love to know why the Kinney studios chose to make this cartoon, of all the premises they could. Were they thinking of great how-to-drive shorts of the past, including Motor Mania? Was it some sense that they should have some cartoons with socially constructive messages? And how did “Uncivil War” get attached to it as a title? Would like to be able to give you an answer.
So the next King Features 1960s Popeye in turn is Popeye de Leon, a Jack Kinney-produced short, and I don’t want to do it. It’s Popeye telling the story of his ancestor Popeye de Leon who came to Florida to find the Fountain of Youth. That’s mostly an okay Kinney-style tone poem of oddly timed dialogue and plot fragments. But it also features Popeye de Leon beating up (off-screen) the “Injuns” who’re shooting arrows at him, and has Olive-Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha as the local Indian woman, with Mae Questel trying to do something that’s a Generic Accent plus a Southern White Belle accent and I’m not being paid to deal with this. Besides, there’s a better Popeye Fountain of Youth plot going on in the vintage Thimble Theatre comics on Comics Kingdom right now. Read that instead.
So instead I’d like to say some kind words for the Max Fleischer cartoons channel on YouTube. They’ve been doing wonderful work in getting new, amazingly clear scans of Fleischer-produced cartoons. These have mostly been Koko the Clown cartoons, with some Talkartoons, and a couple of Color Classics and other miscellaneous pieces.
To date the only Popeye they have is a Popular Science short explaining how to make cartoons. It’s got footage of the making of Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp, and also of the device they use to put the cartoons against three-dimensional backgrounds. I imagine without knowing that this is because Warner Brothers has released quite good, high-quality prints of all the Fleischer Studios Popeye cartoons on DVD, and has got many of the Famous Studios shorts as video-on-demand discs too.
The Max Fleischer Cartoons channel is not doing the sort of full high-quality restorations that, say, Warner Brothers could. This is more very good scans from 35mm prints. Even that, though, is a huge step for many of these shorts. The sound (where available) is greatly improved and there’s so many details that are now visible now the cartoons are almost new.
Here’s the Talkartoons that Max Fleischer Cartoons has rescanned, along with my own reviews of the cartoons as based on whatever video I could find on the Internet a couple years ago:
- Noah’s Lark. And my thoughts.
- Up To Mars. And my thoughts.
- Twenty Legs Under The Sea. And my thoughts.
- Jack and the Beanstalk. And my thoughts.
- Teacher’s Pest. And my thoughts.
- The Robot. And my thoughts.
A related channel, but with wider scope, is Not An Animation Historian’s, again on YouTube. This channel has many more studios and more decades of work. This includes a number of Fleischer cartoons, more Popeye, Betty Boop, and more obscure characters like Willie Whopper, Flip the Frog, and the human Tom and Jerry. Also some television cartoons, such as Clutch Cargo and Crusader Rabbit.
Folks going in to any of these should remember there’s racist and sexist presentations in some of these cartoons. Some of them are clearly warned about, such as by being in a playlist described as “banned cartoons’ or a title including “uncensored”. But there are many that just lurk ready to spoil an otherwise good time. Which is how I got to this point to start with.
This week brings us back to Gene Deitch-made cartoons. So, as traditional, I don’t have more detailed credits than that. The Internet Movie Database credits Stepán Konícek for music, although I have to say a lot of it seems like stock background. In any event, from 1961, here’s Spoil Sport.
There is something fascinating in these 1961 Gene Deitch-made shorts. They have felt more ambitious, bigger in scope, than most of the King Features 60s cartoons. This is a case in point. Popeye disappoints Olive Oyl with his new scooter being one of those little foot-powered toys you see in cartoons and Back To The Future. Brutus thrills her with his new sportscar. She goes riding with him, that goes badly, Popeye rescues her. It fits a particular style of Popeye-and-Brutus-compete cartoon, often done in theatrical cartoons. Making it about a great car versus … not … is also evocative of the 1936 short The Spinach Roadster, a solidly fun one.
I think it’s unfair to call this a remake of The Spinach Roadster. But it’s riffing on the same melody. There’s no competing with the earlier cartoon for animation smoothness or detail. The short makes some wise choices to compensate. There’s the magazine pictures Olive Oyl’s looking at to start the short. Or her long wardrobe of identical dresses that she needs to pick from. And, in the most impressive animation choice, highlighting the danger of going too fast on this mountain road with a bit of parallax scrolling, showing the cliff’s edge and the valley far below. This last is a particularly good use of the limited animation budget.
There are shortcomings. Brutus’s sports car jumps over Popeye in a way that looks like a bizarre animation error. It’s easy to imagine the 1930s version of this, where it’s clear this is done on purpose to set up Popeye’s evaluation that “that’s not a car, it’s a grasshopper!” But Popeye’s scooter faling into an open manhole, and popping back up without his movement being interrupted? That’s a joke that plays as well as the Fleischers would have done.
As Brutus drives up the mountain he’s going too fast for the road width. That’s given; he’s a cad and a villain, at heart. But they don’t crash off the road until after Olive Oyl grabs hold of Brutus’s head. She does that a bunch this short, including when Popeye’s trying to rescue her. Later, her scarf gets in his face so he drives the scooter off the cliff. That’s all within the bounds of normal carton character choices, doing things that make the situation worse. A thing missing, that would have been there in the theatrical version of this, is Brutus’s heel turn. He doesn’t try grabbing at Olive Oyl and forcing her to snuggle or whatever it is he thinks he’s doing. My guess is this reflects some rule about how villains can treat women in made-for-TV cartoons rather than limits on time. It does cause a shift in the blame for the ultimate mess, though. It’s not one that spoils the cartoon. Brutus still gets to be the heel, punching out a Popeye who’s rescuing him from a mountain peak. And essential to Olive Oyl’s character is that she’s high-maintenance. I just note how it changes the impression of who to blame here. Could be that Olive Oyl is a more nervous passenger than Brutus was a driver, and if she didn’t grab his head they wouldn’t have gone off the edge.
Another point is this is a well-edited cartoon. Most of these 60s shorts have indifferent pacing and timing. Here, each joke or plot point moves right to the next quickly. Some of these shorts have dialogue where each line sounds like an isolated island in the middle of the ocean. It’s jolting to hear the characters talking to each other so. The only long, slow piece is Popeye pedalling his scooter up all four loops of that mountain road, and that’s a shot that’s funnier the longer it goes on.
I haven’t done a systematic study. My impression is that I’ve enjoyed these 1961 Deitch cartoons, on average, more than any other bunch of these shorts. I’d love to know if the shorts had more time, or money, or less pressure, or what that’s given them an edge.
For the second cartoon in this bundle, King Features offered the full credits. Which is odd since this is a Gene Deitch-made cartoon; apart from his name and William Snyder’s we don’t get any credits. The Internet Movie Database offers no insight about who offered the story or animation for 1961’s Disguise The Limit.
I have mentioned mentioned I have no idea how King Features Syndicate chose what cartoons to bundle up where in their YouTube channel. There must have been some deliberation to put two Popeye-the-detective shorts next to one another. I don’t know whether the lack of a third reflects their not having another Popeye-the-detective short. (I do find that Paramount Cartoon Studios made a 1960 short with Disguise The Limit as title, but as far as I know the only common elements are voice actors. There’s also episodes of Courageous Cat And Minute Mouse, Kwicky Koala, Darkwing Duck, and That’s So Raven with the title.)
The introduction sets up another cartoon of Popeye and Brutus competing over a job. In this case, a gorilla’s escaped the city zoo, and they called a detective agency, as one will. Apart from Brutus flirting with Olive Oyl about his plans for the reward money we weren’t told existed, we don’t get that. Instead, once things get going, it’s a mistaken-identity farce. Popeye-and-Brutus competing is an always solid premise. But a good madcap mistaken-identity farce holds a more special place for me.
Brutus and Popeye put on gorilla costumes to go to the zoo and catch the gorilla, as one will. Olive Oyl insists Popeye should dress as a female gorilla, something achieved by putting on a hat “with ribbons yet”. It’s silly, yes, but it also makes the mistaken-identity stuff possible. It almost reads as a joke about how cartoon design treats female as a declension from the male, marked by accessories like hats and perfume. I don’t know that this joke was intended. But I’m amused by it even if it wasn’t put in on purpose.
I like the idea of this cartoon a good bit. Whether it succeeds has to depend on your patience for how everybody gets confused about which gorilla is which. Brutus punching Popeye’s hat off and it happening to land on the actual gorilla makes enough sense for a cartoon for me. Reasonable people can disagree. I’d like the action to have been a little faster, and maybe for one or two more rounds of the characters losing track of who’s a gorilla and who’s in a costume. Maybe if Brutus’s gorilla outfit looked like the others and he wore some prop. But either of these might have made the short too complicated for the intended audience. (Although every time I watch Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July I realize I’m not young enough to understand Winterbolt’s scheming anymore.) Or just demanded too much screen time.
The short has a couple beats that sound like that classic old Popeye muttering, but promoted to front-line dialogue. Like, Popeye planning, if the reward money turns out to exist, to “buy a new hat, I suppose”. Or after noticing the gorilla “bent the bars like they were butter” declaring “We’ll look for a gorilla with butterfingers”. The response doesn’t make sense except as riffing on some already funny words. I like that sort of dialogue, though, and want to encourage cartoons that have it.
King Features has chopped off some or all of the credits the last couple shorts. This was a particularly severe case, with even the title card lost. It’s only the title of the collection on King Features’s YouTube page that makes it clear we’re starting on Private Eye Popeye. The Internet Movie Database tells me this is a 1960 Jack Kinney-produced short, with story by Raymond Jacobs and direction by Rudy Larriva. With that established, let’s watch.
My first watch of this, I hadn’t looked up the credits. I wondered if it might be a Gene Deitch short. The nice moody opening pan across the waterfront, with the music too soft for me to notice first time through, seemed suggestive. And little bits of not-necessary but fun flourishes, like Popeye poking his cleaning rag through his magnifying glass, or the title bar identifying Olive Oyl as a private eyess, seemed like Deitch’s touch. Shows what I know, even after all this time.
A leftover Jimmy Durante caricature claiming to be the police chief assigns Popeye and Olive Oyl to catch diamond smugglers. It’s Brutus and the Sea Hag, of course. Popeye wisely calls on Eugene the Jeep to find the plot. This gets a clever bit of Eugene spelling out ‘DIAMONDS’ with his tail, a message Our Heroes can’t interpret. Brutus locks Popeye in the hold, and hits on Olive Oyl, who hits back. Popeye finds his way into one of those giant deck tubas that ships have in cartoons and silent movies, and holds a gun on Brutus. This feels out of character, as much as it makes sense for “a private eye”. Anyway, the Sea Hag steals the gun and Brutus steals Popeye’s helicopter.
The big action scene here is Popeye clinging to the helicopter while Brutus flies it. The helicopter breaks up and Brutus and Popeye with one propeller each try to grind the other’s propeller to nothing. This is another thing that made me think Gene Deitch: the action is very much what the 1930s theatrical version of this cartoon might be. It’s got that blend of action and danger and absurdity. Popeye eats his spinach, granting super-powers to his propeller blade, and sends Brutus to the sharks below. To be eaten, if we take the text literally, another moment that feels out of character. The Sea Hag’s still loose, but Olive grabs the gun, accidentally shooting down a jar of diamond-encrusted pickles to knock out the Sea Hag. That sounds like gibberish but all the story pieces hold together.
It’s a strongly story-driven cartoon, especially for a Jack Kinney production. I think of his shorts as being more mood pieces. This strong a narrative I’d expect from Paramount or Gene Deitch. It’s a mostly good blend that they have going here. Not sure I like the guns, or the suggestion Brutus has been killed. And the music is the usual for Kinney, a random shuffle of stock cues mixed at the wrong level. But the whole is a successful short. You can see the version of this that might have been made in, oh, 1938, without feeling too bad that it wasn’t.
I’d been meaning to point to Daily Cartoonist’s recent article that Popeye Sunday-strip creator Hy Eisman was recovering from a medical procedure. That was why the comic had been in repeats. And then all that got upstaged by news this morning. Not anything bad about Eisman, mind you, other than that he is retiring after a long career in comics that, among other things, saw him bring two comic strips to their centennials (Katzenjammer Kids and Popeye/Thimble Theatre). Something potentially great for Popeye the comic strip.
Randy Milholland is taking over the Sunday comic strip, starting this coming Sunday. Milholland was (I think) the most prolific contributor to the Popeye’s Cartoon Club limited-edition comic strip, back in 2019-2020. And I know he’s been lobbying to take over the comic strip, which has been Sunday-only ever since Bobby London got fired in the early 90s.
I’m happy for this news. First because I’m happy when a comic strip gets a new creative team rather than going into perpetual repeats or, worse, cancellation. And you all know how I feel about Popeye. I wanted to be the astronaut who drew Popeye when I grew up. At age seven I overestimated how much society needed Popeye to be drawn and also misunderstood how astronauts best spend their time. But also Milholland seems a great choice from the cartoonists who worked on Popeye’s Cartoon Club. I’d enjoyed the energy he brought, and the blend of zany and sentimental strips. He also brings an encyclopedic if not terrifying knowledge of the Popeye universe. If there’s anybody who’s going to draw a story based on how Davey Jones, of locker fame, is literally Popeye’s uncle, it’s him.
Also, unless I’ve missed someone, Milholland will be only the second credited creator of the comic strip Popeye younger than the actual character Popeye. Bobby London, who drew the strip from 1986 to 1992, was born in 1950, but otherwise? Hy Eisman was born in 1927; Bud Sagendorf in 1915. Ralph Stein was born in 1909, Bela Zaboly in 1910, and Doc Winner in 1885. Elzie Segar, of course, was born before he drew his comic strip (I checked) or, in 1929, debuted Popeye. It’s an odd state of affairs, but, I mean, it’s 2022. There are no not-odd states of affairs anymore.
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.
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.
King Features’s YouTube channel again cuts off most of the credits for this week’s short. And yet, turning to the Internet Movie Database, I get a little more information than I usually have for a Gene Deitch-produced short. The direction is by Zeljko Kanceljack, the IMDB says. I don’t know how they know. Nevertheless, here fresh from 1961, is Intellectual Interlude. It’s got a nice, exciting title card.
Is Popeye smart? It’s not a question that allows for a definitive answer. The Thimble Theatre universe is set up so he will always be as smart as the plot requires. When Segar introduced him he seemed expert on sailing, as one would hope, if naive in other areas. He quickly picked up a Columbo-like ability to spot the evildoer even if he didn’t know what evil was doing. Often he’s clever, rigging together some funny gadget to fix the problem of the moment. But he’s usually portrayed as ignorant (a different thing from not-smart), and often as uninterested in changing that. This cartoon starts with a common portrayal of that: Olive Oyl loved the movie Sophisticated Ladies and Popeye couldn’t be paid to care about it. She pushes him to get some adult education.
In the second surprise of the cartoon — the first was that the title card fed into the opening scene — Brutus is not the teacher. There’s a normal teacher from outside the Popeye universe here to give him the dunce cap. This leads to another teacher, a chemist who gets Wotasnozzle’s voice. He’s working on some potion, as chemists always are, with the final ingredient of intellectual spinach. All he needs is the test case, someone not allergic to spinach. Who does that sound like?
So this is a dream cartoon; we learn at the end that everything from Popeye getting the dunce cap is a fantasy. Did you suspect it? I didn’t, particularly. Super-Intelligent Popeye seems like something within the normal bounds of his universe’s antics. After a montage of newspaper headlines that I bet were kind to the animation budget we get some spy antics. Secret agents in helicopter 13-K abduct Popeye and demand he work for them. They’ve also got Olive Oyl, to make sure he goes along with it. When they dangle Popeye and Olive Oyl off a cliff, Popeye pops some spinach out of his chest. It’s the first time in a Gene Deitch cartoon I remember him carrying spinach on him, rather than depending on the environment. (The potion really did make him smarter!) We get the boing sound effect from the Gene Deich Tom and Jerry cartoons and it’s only when Popeye’s punched off the cliff to an infinite fall that he wakes up. Also somehow he and Olive Oyl had the same dream.
I didn’t notice any of the usual tip-offs that a story’s become imaginary. It didn’t even have Popeye facing too titanic a problem to wrap up. I mean, he’s Popeye and he’s just eaten spinach. He could crash onto the ground below, pull himself out of the Popeye-shaped hole and shake his head. Have him shake his head at that blow and reveal the super-smarts have worn off and we’ve resolved it all well. I don’t see why Deitch didn’t do that, and I’m sorry not to be able to ask him. (If he would remember.)
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 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?
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.
We’re back to the Jack Kinney studios for a Popeye cartoon featuring a dragon. No, not Popeye And The Dragon, although there’s some resemblance in dragons there. No, this one is a completely different 1960 Jack Kinney-produced cartoon about Popeye and a dragon. This one is Popeye and the Polite Dragon.
This one has story by Joe Grant and Walter Schmidt and animation direction credited to Rudy Larriva. Producer is, of course, Jack Kinney. Let’s watch, then compare notes.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Jack Kinney studios found a great premise that they did as little as they could with. All right, but it’s so. Popeye adopts a prissy dragon. How can you not at least look at that story and see what it’s about?
OK, so it’s technically not Popeye, but his great-great-grandpappy who looks just like him and also eats spinach and fights the evil Brutus. Lop off a couple seconds at the beginning and end and you have the cartoon where Popeye adopts a dragon.
It’s possible that, in a moment of sloppiness, the studio forgot this was a framed story. There’s bits where Jackson Beck steps in as the narrator, when nominally the cartoon is Popeye telling a “dragon story” to Swee’Pea. I know, it’s hard to imagine sloppiness in a Jack Kinney cartoon, but there it is.
So desperate mother Darlene Dragon leaves infant Percy on Popeye’s doorstep. (Popeyes are always discovering foundlings on their doorsteps.) He takes up the child and is surprised that he talks, somewhat posh, despite being an adorable infant. Later, Percy grows larger than the house, so Popeye sends him out in the world with a can of spinach to make his way. Percy’s way turns out to be into the Elite Dragon Inn, a trap set by dragon exterminator Black Brutus. Popeye, missing his son, finds Brutus and gets thrown in the cage with Percy. He eats Percy’s spinach and rallies the dragon’s fire to burn Brutus out of town. For a Jack Kinney cartoon that’s a pretty solid, well-motivated plot.
For all that stuff happens for good reasons the cartoon still feels underwritten. I understand there’s not the time for fully-developed character arcs. But then at the climax, after the spinach-eating, Popeye tries to rally Percy’s courage? Initiative? Pride? Something, to get him to breathe enough fire to get them out of this fix. That’s a good resolution to Percy’s quest for self-actualization or whatever. It’s also the first moment we get an idea that Percy wasn’t embracing his dragon self. Or whatever the issue was. I understand, Percy’s introduced with that name, and with that Odie Cologne voice. We’re supposed to think of The Reluctant Dragon. With that outside information we have a full storyline, but with what’s in the text?
It’s not like allusion is an unfair way to build stories. Especially when we’re constrained for time or space. I mean, a Looney Tunes cartoon draws the mad scientist as Peter Lorre and we understand his deal right away. But that’s about setting up the mad scientist character. It’s not about his whole business. These feelings may reflect that there’s a lot in this cartoon designed to appeal to me. Popeye. Dragons. A Reluctant Dragon type. Popeye stating his thesis that you should proudly be whatever you are. It’s a story I want done well and I notice where this isn’t put together right.
A couple stray observations. Popeye takes a couple books off the bookshelves. Other books on the background include stuff by Volus, or from Larriva Publishing, or an author named Kinney. They’ve used this bookshelf before and I would swear I mentioned it at the time, but I can’t find that. The cartoon’s title promises a polite dragon, but all we get evidence of is “educated”. And, if — as the joke at the end suggests — we’re supposed to take this as having literally happened … you know, Popeye’s great-great-grandpappy doesn’t seem to have any kids besides Percy. Are we to assume that the Jack Kinney version of Popeye is, at least partially, a dragon? Because that would be cool.
It’s rare, but now and then this blog gets noticed. Usually it’s someone more popular than me linking to one of the images from my story strip recaps. So, turns out the 10th of April was one of those days. More mysterious is that it was someone in Finland doing it: that day I got 3,405 page views, a number that’s not far off my usual monthly total. This all came from 109 unique visitors, a figure that’s on the high side, but not outrageously so.
Also baffling is I can’t figure what everyone in Finland was looking at. I don’t mean literally everyone in Finland; Finland has a population of something like 5,500,000 people and 3,405 page views isn’t enough. Even if we suppose each page view was shared by a thousand people that’s still only about three-fifths of the population. But it’s still a lot all at once. It wasn’t any of my posts, so it must have been an image. But which one? So if you were one of the three-fifths of the Finland population who looked at something from my blog on this past 10th of April, could you leave a comment? I’m just curious what everyone was looking for.
The effect, anyway, is to give me a weird, distorted readership spike in time to replace the one in April 2021 that’s been distorting my twelve-month running averages. WordPress logged 8,350 page views around here, the second-greatest monthly total on my record. As you’d expect that’s well above the 5,167.9 running mean and 4,585 running median. If we take the Finland spike out, the month turns out to be close to the twelve-month running mean. WordPress figures there were 3,090 unique visitors, which is close to in line with the running mean of 3,028.5 and running median of 2,616.5 visitors.
Likes and comments continue to dwindle out of existence. There were 133 likes given to things in April, and 42 comments. The mean for the twelve months leading up to April was 154.8 likes and 56.1 comments. The median was 154.5 likes and 53 comments.
So here’s the five most popular posts from April. Stuff from earlier than April was more popular than even the top position, yes. But you don’t need to know that around Easter people find my post about which Paas tablets are which color egg. I am annoyed that the color gnomon I used — the Coke Zero can — got redesigned, though.
- MiSTed: Safety First (part 1 of 16)
- What’s Going On In The Phantom (Sundays)? Why is the Sunday Phantom illegible now? January – April 2022
- What’s Going On In Mary Worth? What is this ‘school management’ thing? January – April 2021
- What’s Going On In Rex Morgan? Why is there a superhero in Rex Morgan? January – April 2022
- Statistics Saturday: When Does Palm Sunday Happen?
This is the first time in ages I remember my most popular thing not being comic strip news. That’s sure to change for May, since my schedule for story comic recaps is:
- Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers’s Alley Oop (10 May)
- Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom (Weekdays) (17 May)
- Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant (24 May)
- Joe Staton, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy (31 May)
- Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley (7 June)
I’m aware people really, really want to see The Phantom die already. Again, though, Man Who Cannot Die.
So even though Finland sent me like 3,250 more page views than usual in a month, it still wasn’t the country to send me the greatest number of page views. The United States was, as it ever is. Here’s the roster of readership by country.
|United Arab Emirates||9|
|Hong Kong SAR China||7|
|Trinidad & Tobago||1 (*)|
That’s 81 countries altogether, same as March, with 17 of them single-view countries. That’s up from March’s 13. China, Nepal, and Trinidad & Tobago are the only countries to have also sent a single page view in March. No countries are on a three-month streak. I am surprised to have seven page views from Russia, and three from Ukraine. I would have thought people in both countries have anything else to think about than my nonsense.
WordPress figures I published 16,407 words in April, which is almost suspiciously in line with the rest of the year. It’s the great formalism of that March Pairwise Brackety Contest Thing, must be. That and my decision to stop listing every single incident in the story strips in favor of summarizing plots. This all brings me to 66,248 words published for the year, and an average of 552 words per posting.
Between the events of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the start of May, I’ve published 3,376 posts here. They’ve gathered 293,822 page views from 166,414 unique visitors, although have left most of those gathering dust in the linen closet.
If you’d like to be a regular reader, please be one. The RSS feed for essays is at this link, and if you need an RSS reader sign up for a free Dreamwidth account. You can add RSS feeds to your Reading page there. If you’ve got a WordPress account, you can click the “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” button at the upper right corner of this page. There’s also a box to have posts e-mailed as they’re published and before I can edit my typos. Thank you for being here and here’s hoping this is a good month ahead.
Jack Kinney steps up to provide our cartoon this week. The story to 1960s Popeye’s Fixit Shop is credited to Ralph Wright, and animation direction to Hugh Frasier. Let’s watch, and then think about the heck we just saw.
There’s times I think I hypnotize myself into believing a cartoon is good because it feels weird. This is one of those. It’s got a tone and pacing so off that it feels a little alien. And when you’ve seen a lot of something, it’s easy to conflate being alien with being good. This cartoon reminded me of Popeye’s Car Wash. That has a story credited to Harvey Toombs, though.
This is another rivalry cartoon, with Popeye and Brutus both working repair shops at 120 Cartoon Street. There’s a funny pan down the buildings to see the history of dueling signs and the cobweb-encrusted proprietors. Great job establishing the backstory without even needing animation.
For a couple minutes the cartoon is about Olive Oyl wanting the heap of parts that used to be a telephone put back together. I don’t know if I wanted an explanation for how the phone broke. It doesn’t matter, no, but there was room for her to say she regrets taking it to the elephant parade or something. Brutus magically fixing the phone by swapping it for Popeye’s is a good premise. Olive Oyl gets to commit Brutus to fixing the broken phone in front of them and then that whole premise drops.
The other premise is the City Hall clock needs repairs if Santa Claus is ever going to visit the town anymore. Popeye has the job, but Brutus poaches it, and the rest of the short is them fighting inside the clock. That’s also a good premise. I’m curious whether they have these two repair premises because they couldn’t develop either of them into a full short, so went with what they had? I could also imagine they wanted to end with Olive Oyl eating the spinach, and needed some reason for Olive Oyl to be there at all. That would explain having her come in as customer. That explanation doesn’t satisfy me, though. She could’ve been Popeye’s assistant, or the person at City Hall pointing them to the clock, or something. I feel more confident that they didn’t have five minutes’ worth of clock-repair jokes.
A clock interior — like a factory interior, or a symphony orchestra — is almost a guarantee of a good fight. The background carries so much structure that the action almost can’t fail. It’s fun if the characters mess up the works; it’s fun if the characters can’t, and get messed up themselves. Yes, this would have been stunning and wonderful if it were done by the Fleischers in 1939, using real-life sets for the backgrounds. For the TV-budget pittance available here? It gets the idea across.
Olive Oyl eats the spinach this time, an event that’s rarer than I had thought (though this list is incomplete). Even more rare if you consider she usually eats it because Popeye can’t hit a woman even when she’s the antagonist. I’m aware of what the cartoon doesn’t do well. Mostly in pacing, or in missed lines or odd sound cues. Wimpy’s snoring-eating dialogue aggravates me in some way I can’t make precise, too. I still enjoy the whole.