60s Popeye: Popeye the Ugly Ducklin, a good outing for the Goons


So, yes, this is not Sunday. You might wonder why I’m doing another King Features Popeye cartoon review so soon. Mostly, I’m feeling very overloaded, and very worried about what the week ahead will bring, and I need stuff that’s easy and even fun to write. Watching questionably good cartoons that I loved as a child? That’s right up my alley. I’m not giving up on the comic strip plot recaps, or something long-form for Thursday nights, nor Statistics Saturday, but for right now I’m taking the other days more easy.

Today’s cartoon is another Jack Kinney joint. Story’s by Ed Nofziger. Animation directors our friends Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. I remember this team from Out Of This World, which took a great premise and was not, and Shoot the Chutes, a sky-diving contest. Here, we have Popeye the Ugly Ducklin.

We start with what looks like Swee’Pea asking for a fairy story. Instead he’s asking what Popeye was like as a kid. Same structure, although it does open to Popeye telling a fairy tale that has reason to cast him in a role. Popeye denies he was strong and handsome as a kid. Well, denies he was handsome, anyway. And he proves it with a picture in the family album, which he has right there. I don’t know who was keeping this family album since Popeye was an orphink right up until he found his Pappy.

Anyway, we get one of those few cartoons showing Young Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus. They’re playing school and shunning Popeye as somehow the ugly one. After being mocked enough, he runs away, landing eventually on Goon Island. This is an interesting riff on Popeye’s father being captive on Goon Island, in one of the Fleischer cartoons. Popeye’s been harassed even by the sea creatures on his way there. The Goons, ugly themselves, show him nothing but kindness, though.

Then some scenes of his growing up, reading books like The Wizard of Goon or playing goonball. Incidentally, if I’m reading things right The Wizard of Oz — the original book — was in the public domain by 1960. Why wasn’t there a Popeye version of this? Also, I notice the boat in the background of the goonball game is the Sea Hag. I’m not sure what that signifies. Back in Strange Things Are Happening the Sea Hag had henchgoons, of course, but different cartoon, different continuity, perhaps.

Kid Popeye dancing the Sailor's Hornpipe, while two Goons play flute and cello for him.
Not answered: is Alice the Goon one of the Goons who raised Popeye? Or was she in his age cohort? It seems like something that affects their relationship, whatever way it turns out.

There’s a nicely done growing-up montage of Popeye eating spinach at the table. Then it’s time to return “home” for some reason, so they give him a song and a pipe and the chance to grab a whale. Grown-up Olive Oyl is still a teacher, only now she finds Popeye cute. Grown-up brutus is still a lousy student, and hasn’t improved his bullying game any. A can of spinach later and Popeye is punching Brutus through the school, a pretty fun stunt, before finally knocking him to Goon Island. It’s supposed to see if the Goons can teach Brutus a lesson. I suppose we have to conclude they didn’t. And we close on the bare end of Popeye’s little rhyming couplet, starting at “Cause I eats me spinach”. I don’t know why not the full thing.

It’s all an okay origin story, sure. I like Robert Altman’s movie more, but this one is a lot zippier. It hasn’t got the snappy moral of The Ugly Duckling, although I’m not sure The Ugly Duckling has that snappy a moral either. Um. I guess something about how a thing you find ugly, you might just be holding to inappropriate standards. Which is a good thing to remind snarky Internet critics.

60s Popeye: Frozen Feuds to warm the Goonish heart


This week’s is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story’s by Eddie Rehberg, who also did the direction. And layout. It suggests possibly a story that reflects an individual vision. Or a disaster as a writer is pressed to direct, or vice-versa. (Or, perhaps, a disaster but because a writer wanted the experience of directing.) Let’s see how Frozen Feuds works out.

Elzie Segar liked creating weird animals for Thimble Theatre. Two and a half of them stuck in the pop culture. The half is the Whiffle Hen, who’s mostly remembered by people who want to show off they remember what Popeye’s first line in the comic strip was. Eugene the Jeep is the big success. And the last is Alice the Goon. She got introduced as a terrifying minion to the Sea Hag, then defanged a good bit when it was revealed she was a guh guh guh girl. Goons got one appearance in the Fleischer-era cartoons, and somehow didn’t rate more mentions. Alice got her first animated treatment in the 60s cartoons and I’m curious now whether this was the first-produced cartoon with her.

It’s a fair introduction to her. Goons may be fearsome-looking creatures, and in Goonland they’re quite the menace. But Alice is gentle, even genial. It’s the kind of clash between appearance and personality that can really drive a story. Also about 80% of Harvey Comics protagonists. That said: does she need so much introduction? I don’t remember that she needed much setup in other appearances. She just was, and we accepted that she looked strange. On the other hand, if you have a good character why not give them a rollout?

(Yes, I remember Goon With The Wind, although that was produced by Gene Deitch. And it’s a different design for Goons. If any of them are Alice it doesn’t show.)

The story feels like it drifted between the original idea and completion. Starting out with a Vaguely Claghorn-like senator promising to rid Alaska of the critter ruining their tourist trade. If you accept the hypothesis that a strange humanoid cryptid would hurt the tourism industry. It’s an interesting premise, though: 1960 was just before the Bigfoot legend really caught on. But it was several years after the Abominable Snowman legend got big enough for, like, Sir Edmund Hillary to explore whether there might be a Yeti in the Himalayas.

Popeye, making finger-gun poses, walks past Alice the Goon. Alice is sprawled out on the ground, one arm on her hips, holding a rose in her mouth, and looking hopefully at Popeye.
Look, fine, if you want my DeviantArt account you can have my DeviantArt account, just stop creeping on my DeviantArt account.

Olive Oyl gets a good long earwormy song telling the legend too. It seems seems to make the Senator’s speech (to who?) unnecessary. But then we finally swing into action and get an Alice sighting. Popeye saying that’s just Wimpy, who ducked out after writing a stack of IOUs. Olive Oyl asking how come she’s turned white, then? So Popeye’s off to find Alice.

Which is then where we turn from a cartoon about a menace to a goof. Olive Oyl wants the Goon’s hat. Alice is smitten with Popeye and tries to get his attention. He misses her wholly, until she finally tosses a note tied around a rock at him. Oh, and now Popeye can understand Alice and arranges a trade, his picture for her hat. Olive Oyl’s thrilled with the hat. Popeye’s picture is actually pictures of him on TV. Alice sings us out of the cartoon. The Senator’s promise goes unresolved.

It’s an odd shift and I wonder what motivated it. A serious search for an exotic creature is fine. A goofball search for an exotic creatures is fine. Why patch them together? Did Rehberg start out writing one way and find there wasn’t enough story, then try the other? Really, if the Senator’s introduction were cut out the cartoon would flow with a reasonable if dreamy logic, and there’d be some more time for Alice flirting with Popeye. Was Rehberg just too fond of the Claghorne pastiche to cut that?

Once again I’d love to know more of how these cartoons were made.

Some nice animation bits I didn’t have a good place to mention: when Olive Oyl sings her song, she gets her foot caught in a spitoon and tromps around in that. She slides when she steps with that foot. It’s a touch you never see done in cheap made-for-tv cartoons like this. And later, when Olive Oyl tells of her horror at seeing the Goon, we see her head from front-on. Her head’s swinging clockwise and counterclockwise, while her mouth stays fixed. It’s eerie and unnatural and I believe that’s a deliberate creepy wrongness to it.