Popeye’s Island Adventures ditched me this week so here’s another Popeye birthday with the Jeep


So, there hasn’t been a new Popeye’s Island Adventures uploaded since that one for Popeye’s birthday. I have not the faintest what this signifies, or even if it’s anything more than “the person who approves these cartoons before posting them had a vacation week coming”. It throws me off, though. I’d been expecting something to review. For a wonder I’ve got stuff to post sketched out for nearly a week ahead. But today? No, all I have for today is the conceptual fragment “the largest-ever spill of working fluid from the Shrinkatorium, a volume estimated at nearly four tablespoons” and it’s possible I might build that into something, but it’s not there yet. (I also think I should do more with “Muppet Babies Kids”, but at least I was able to put that idea somewhere it did some good.)

Well. King Features’s Popeye account posts stuff besides these weird new Flash(?)-animated two-minute shorts. They’ve also been posting stuff from the King Features archives. So here’s one from the 1960s run, that I picked out because I didn’t have the time to watch a half-hour episode of the 70s-80s Hanna-Barbera run, nor of the late 80s Popeye and Son. It’s from 1960, one of the mass of 800 billion cartoons they made in ten minutes: Jeep Is Jeep.

The cartoon was animated by Paramount Cartoon, their Famous Studios, and for that matter the former Fleischer Studios. The credited animators were Morey Reden, Isadore Klein, and William B Pattengill. Reden had done a couple of Pluto shorts for Disney, moved over to Famous Studios in time for, like, The Anvil Chorus Girl, and would go on to animate stuff like Beetle Bailey and Milton the Monster before getting into the Hanna-Barbera circuit. Klein was an animator some in the 40s, then moved into story for a long while for Famous Studios (he’s also credited with the story here), and then back into animation. Pattengill was also a career Famous Studios artist, starting with (it looks to me) the Little Lulu cartoons, Herman and Katnip, and Popeye. He did also work on the 1973 Charlotte’s Web. And Seymour Kneitel directed, like, everything the Fleischer or Famous Studios ever put out.

Toward the end of the Famous Studios run the Popeye cartoons were getting pretty dire, boring things with mediocre animation. But among the 1960s King Features cartoons, mediocre animation looked pretty good. And they knew the characters and settings well.

Very well, at that. The short is almost made up of scraps of other cartoons. I’m not counting the mention that it’s Popeye’s birthday, although that makes a nice link for me to last week’s cartoon. Also apparently Popeye’s birthday is in April, or the present is arriving quite early or late. But Popeye getting a mysterious box which contains Eugene? And a note that explains it all? Fleischer studios did that in 1940, in Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep. Swee’Pea gets out of babysitter Popeye’s care and Eugene the Jeep leads him in a rescue? That was Popeye With The Jeep, from June 1938. Yes, Eugene appeared in a cartoon before he got “presented”. Just roll with it. Popeye has to keep performing to keep Swee’Pea from crying? I Likes Babies and Infinks, 1937.

So this cartoon isn’t an improvement on any of those. Knew that going in. There’s some good stuff here. One is getting Eugene the Jeep back in action. For whatever reason the Famous Studios cartoons never used Eugene. For all the mistakes of the King Features run, they got back interesting characters who’d been forgotten after the Fleischer Studios closed up (Eugene, Poopdeck Pappy, Goons), or that somehow never got used at all (the Sea Hag, the Whiffle Hen, Roughhouse). He’s a bit more angular here, and his patterning is simplified, but what the heck, it works for me. Eugene here is a gift from “the Maharaja of Pasha”, a character I think was made up for the short and that shows how hard they worked on “foreign” names back then.

Eugene the Jeep has traditionally been from Africa; I’m curious why he’s from India now. Or, I guess, they just establish he got to India, without quite saying the Jeep is an Indian animal now. All right; no problem with Eugene having a life before he meets Popeye. But I’m curious if the shift to India reflected some pop-cultural idea of India as a land of mysticism and magic. Or if they just had that great “Maharaja of Pasha” joke ready to go and were going to use it. Or if they couldn’t think of a joke African name. I’m sure a circa 1960 joke African name would have aged well.

The jokes about Eugene’s magic seem reused, even if I’m not sure he actually did make traffic vanish in an earlier short. I notice Popeye gets hit by the same two cars that Eugene made vanish. So it’s comforting to know Eugene didn’t banish them to the cornfield, he just moved them like two blocks away instead. Eugene walking through a wall and Popeye chagrinned that he can’t do that too was done before, along with mutterings about why he can’t do that too.

Popeye punches a locomotive into oblivion. It’s a move he’s made before. Really seems like he would have had an easier time grabbing Swee’Pea and running. But we need some action. Also Swee’Pea riding Eugene like a horse is adorable.

Eugene’s ability to teleport gets set up properly, but doesn’t come into play. And that muddies one of the few moments of animation style here. Popeye teleporting around the room searching for Swee’Pea should be a good, cheap way to show frantic energy. But if we’ve just had Eugene teleporting with the same style? I’m sure this never bothered me as a kid; today, it seems a misstep. At least Popeye needed to move around with a swooshing noise instead of the bell chime. His walking through walls at least pays off with a joke. And it gets used for a nice bit where Eugene walks at an angle toward the camera, a rare and welcome moment of characters not just walking perpendicular to the camera. The characters crossing the street is a similarly welcome, not-quite-perspective movement.


Well, if Popeye’s Island Adventures comes back, I’ll review them at essays available on this link. If it doesn’t, I’ll do something else.

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Popeye’s Island Adventures: Popeye gets a birthday without Shorty for once


King Features Syndicate has clearly decided to try reintroducing Popeye to the popular culture for the 90th anniversary of his debut and 100th anniversary of the Thimble Theatre comic strip he debuted in and took over. Part of this is a cute weekly comic feature, drawn by a host of different artists, called Popeye’s Cartoon Club. Part of this is surely this whole Island Adventures project. This week’s cartoon, Popeye’s Birthday, suggests that the two-minute shorts started publishing a few weeks late. The cartoon just missed the 90th anniversary of the character’s debut. (I don’t know whether Popeye has a canonically established birth date. I would imagine if he has, then it’s been contradicted several times. His debut date is as good a choice as we can have.)

After last week’s honestly baffling cartoon this was a comfortably straightforward story. Olive Oyl organizes a surprise birthday party for Popeye. Bluto tries to crash it. Along the way, Eugene has to delay Popeye from stumbling into the party before it’s ready. Everybody’s doing things for reasons that make sense.

So here’s something I noticed about Bluto trying to crash the party: nobody even knows he’s doing it. That Olive Oyl is able to hang Bluto as a piñata by accident is absurd in a way that I like a little bit more each time I think about it. Later, he tries to grab Popeye’s spinach(?) cake with a fishing line, and just swipes the garbage instead. Nobody cares. In principle, I like the subtle ridiculousness of his schemes failing so badly he goes unnoticed. But it does mean the first time Olive Oyl or Popeye see him is when he falls on the cake. And that’s a thing he wasn’t trying to do.

This is another good bit of situational irony. But it makes Popeye’s and Olive Oyl’s retribution disproportionate. It feels unfair, at least unless you suppose Popeye knows when someone deserves it. Which, yes, Popeye does. One of the earliest Thimble Theatre stories with Popeye has him slugging the bad guy every time he’s on panel, with no in-character justification beyond a Columbo-like awareness that this is the bad guy. Hm. Maybe I’m the one interrogating this text from the wrong perspective.

I like how Eugene’s best idea for distracting Popeye is to shove him into a chair and start juggling. And the off-screen escalation of the juggling that still bores the Sailor Kid. Bluto’s fantasy that a big can of spinach will let him turn into a giant and chase Popeye is a cute, odd bit of kid logic. Although I guess it’s not out of line with what happened to Bluto’s tooth. (It’s reusing the walk cycle from Scramble For The Egg and I would have sworn at least one more cartoon, too. The same banana model’s being reused, too.)

It’s nagging at me how much Popeye’s been a reactive character the last few storylines. In each case it’s understandable. You can’t throw much of a surprise birthday party for someone and have them be the character who drives the story, unless the story is them spoiling the surprise. But not every short has to have every character doing everything. Even if there were more than two minutes for it.

Is the project to reintroduce Popeye working? I don’t know. My love noticed at the mall this weekend a small child wearing a winter jacket with Olive Oyl and Eugene the Jeep on it. And one of the contestants had to guess the price of a can of spinach ($1.29) on The Price Is Right today. So that’s something. Meanwhile I keep watching Popeye’s Island Adventures, and leaving my thoughts about them at this link.

Popeye’s Island Adventures: Bluto and his teeth get some attention, also spinach


It’s happened before that Bluto has been the viewpoint character for a Popeye cartoon. At least to start things in action. Focus usually returns to Bluto. This week’s Popeye’s Island Adventure might be the most that Bluto has been the protagonist for a cartoon. I say ‘might’ because I remember basically three scenes from the late-70s Hanna-Barbera run. And all I’ve seen of Popeye and Son is that sometimes it was playing, silently, on the TV in the kids corner of the Popeye’s Fried Chicken in Singapore. (There was the one Popeye’s, and it was in Changi Airport.) But let me just assert that Can’t Handle The Tooth is the most Bluto-focused cartoon, and let people correct me.

My first thought about this was the cartoon’s a mess. The second was that fluffy was going to need like four pass-throughs to follow it. I did too, really. The storyline’s still messy, but I don’t think it’s hopeless. The short needs time, though. Incidents keep happening, in a sequence that feels a bit like a dream, or like a kid attempting to tell a story. A bit more screen time would help non-kids like me follow along.

I’d have gotten some of the time from the cartoon’s start. Bluto digging into Popeye’s ship is a reasonable thing for him to do. But the action only starts when Bluto tries opening an errant can of spinach. That’s at least ten seconds of stuff we didn’t really need established. Bluto trying to open the can is decent stuff.

Half a minute in, Bluto finally has a loose tooth. Trying to get it fully loose, and having every attempt fail in stranger ways: that’s the short’s focus. I like the silent-movie-approach of tying a string to a door and how that would have failed even if Popeye had gone through the door. And I like that this sets off a briefly-glimpsed side plot where Popeye can’t catch an errant spinach can. That premise could have been a short on its own, too. It might yet be. (Maybe not. Perhaps something that’s amusing in brief glimpses in the margins of the short would be boring if it were the primary focus. At least I’ve heard of that dynamic happening. But I’m a nerd, so deep down, I believe that anything funny can only be way more funny if you do a lot of it.)

The strangest interlude is with Eugene the Jeep. It’s a moment that feels like a frustration dream. Bluto figures biting into an apple will loosen the tooth; Eugene magically swipes the apples. He even turns a bunch of apples into a baked pie. I’m not sure how I feel about Eugene’s shift to magic-assisted gluttony, but there we are. Olive Oyl stepping out in a welding mask, with a torch and pliers, is another bizarre moment. I guess she has reasons for it, as who doesn’t fix a wobbly table in the sand by applying flame and pulling things?

And then it gets really weird. It’s not new that spinach should do wondrous things for entities besides Popeye. Nor is it new that it works on inanimate objects. When a bit of spinach falls on Bluto’s finally-free tooth … it … becomes gigantic? I don’t get how that follows from the usual spinach superpowers, and I missed why Bluto, Popeye, and the tooth end up in this giant rolling ball. Popeye ends up falling on Olive’s repaired table, another showing where the Sailor Kid’s fairly hapless. Bluto ends up in the water, and loses his gigantified tooth. It’s not the first time I’ve felt bad for Bluto at the end of a cartoon, although this one feels particularly unfair to him.

I’ve watched the cartoon many times over now, so I have a fair idea what’s happened in it. I’m still struggling with why these particular things should have happened. I think it spent too much time establishing Bluto’s loose tooth, and squeezing out plot time from the attempt to pull it. More time for the failed attempts, I think, would have rewarded the short greatly. It might never make sense that Bluto’s tooth turns gigantic. But more time to process the events could have made it feel less tiring.

This is the cartoon that leaves me with the question: do teeth float?

This and my other reviews of Popeye’s Island Adventures cartoons should be here.

Popeye’s Island Adventures battles a kraken but only has two minutes for it


I continue not to know anything about the production of these Popeye’s Island Adventure cartoons. There’s stuff we can infer, but only about the tools used to make them. Who’s writing them, who’s drawing them, who’s designing the figures for the computers to animate? In what order they’re being finished? I assume roughly in the order they’re released, although I’d be surprised if a cartoon were never bumped ahead or back a week for the reasons.

Well, here’s the seventh of the new run of cartoons. It’s titled A Kraken Good Race, and the title does promise both kraken and race.

The story’s stronger this week. The cartoon’s the best, I think, since Scramble For The Egg. Eugene sets Popeye and Bluto on a boat race; Bluto tries to cheat, and it doesn’t work. Solid, straightforward idea that can be completed in two minutes and be coherent.

The action’s efficiently done. It leaves space for personality, though. The scene starts with Olive Oyl carving a wood sculpture of Eugene. Why? Just to do it, and that’s enough. Eugene encourages Popeye and Bluto to race to an island mostly to get them out of his hair for a while. It’s curious to see Eugene acting as the grown-up here, or at least the peacemaker. But it doesn’t feel out of place, at least to me. Bluto’s entrance capsizes Eugene’s pool ring; that’s enough reason for Eugene to want to quiet things down.

There’s a good bit of escalation in Bluto’s attempts at cheating. He tries drilling into Popeye’s boat; Olive Oyl uses the hole in the anchor to beat that. Bluto tries harpooning Popeye’s boat; Popeye shifts his own speed up from “some kind of cat I guess” to “spinach” and rips the muzzle off Bluto’s own gun. (I don’t quarrel with the slow speed being ‘tortoise’ and the fastest speed being ‘spinach’, but I would like the middle speed to either be ‘hare’, matching tortoise, or more clearly a cheetah or similar fast cat. I’m not sure what is meant.) Then Bluto deploys the kraken, although all we ever see is one giant tentacle. Still, good third attempt there.

Popeye pops open a can, and we get the new record for spinach-induced body horror this series as his arm turns into a kraken-y tentacle. I like that, as fun and appropriate. I can imagine people not finding this quite so merry. Popeye doesn’t fight the kraken so much as arm-wrestle it. I like this, for being silly but reasonable. I’m not reading the YouTube comments to see how many people are upset there wasn’t more punching. The kraken’s left a hole in the boat, but Olive plugs it up with the muzzle of Bluto’s harpoon gun. That’s a moment that impressed me. It gives the story that little bit extra structure, and a bit more strength.

Popeye uses his kraken-tentacle arm to propel the boat to the island. This is a great success, and builds up a tidal wave to come crashing down on the island and Eugene. And there’s another bit of good story structure: Eugene proposed this race because he’s chagrinned at getting soaked by Bluto. He ends the cartoon chagrinned at getting soaked by Popeye. It’s a good beat to close on.

My impression has been that these cartoons have been getting better. I’m curious whether this follows from the creators getting more experienced at what does and doesn’t work. Or whether there’s several writing teams and one of them better fits my tastes. Well, I like the overall direction this is going. Is there any other important measure?


And for however long I keep watching Popeye’s Island Adventures, the reviews should be here.

Popeye’s Island Adventure offers a sloppy Toast to Popeye


The sixth of the Popeye’s Island Adventures continued the experimenting with format and story structure. Does this mean I’m happy? Have you ever seen evidence that I know how to be happy? Let’s watch A Toast To Popeye.

Rube Goldberg machines are one of those things that got lodged so well in the pop culture that nobody even knows where they came from. They were comic strips, originally. At least comic panels. They’re shaggy dog stories, with a punch line of some trivial task, like the buttering of toast, done in as roundabout way as possible. Are they funny? Tastes vary. I think they do well in animation, where the camera can guide the eye. Where a long continuous shot can give the action a sense of inevitability, the way a good farce will. They do well also when the contraption has as many parts as possible, but each individual part is just enough to accomplish its task. It takes tight design. It takes sharp editing. And it takes time; the more pieces in the contraption, the better the result.

So these are all problems working against this Island Adventure. There’s still only two minutes of animation; apparently the extra ten seconds last week was a concession to the need to carry so much story. The device Olive Oyl whips up to make and butter toast isn’t a bad idea. It does have the flaw of arbitrariness in it: once the balloon’s heated up, what makes it carry the toast over to the butter knife and the conveyor belt? No particular reason, just that if it didn’t, the machine wouldn’t succeed. What causes the mechanical arms to butter and spread jam on the toast just as the toast passes, rather than a moment before or after the bread goes by? No particular reason, just that if it didn’t, the machine wouldn’t succeed. So the device is a decent idea, but it doesn’t convince me. It’s not as funny as it ought to be. It could be fixed easily; put up a couple of rails, so the balloon has a direction imposed on it, and the machine would work.

And this is reflected in the story. There’s a good enough setup here: Swee’Pea needs a snack after the popcorn’s gone, and nothing but toast will do. Why not fruits? Why not gelatin? No particular reason, just that if it would, the cartoon wouldn’t have anything to do.. Swee’Pea could want something hot, but he can’t say so. Popeye happens to see Swee’Pea’s machine in shadow at a moment she’s holding her arms up and weirdly still. Why then? No particular reason, just that if he didn’t, the cartoon wouldn’t have anything to do. The story structure is all right, but it doesn’t convince me. It’s not as funny as it ought to be.

Coincidences are fine in storytelling. They’re usually taken better if the coincidence creates a problem rather than resolves it. But this is a case where the story has finished, and then remembers that Popeye hasn’t been in the short at all and he ought to do something. If there were a few more seconds, I’d have Popeye established on his boat, doing something, early on. Then return to him finishing the task and looking back on shore as Olive Oyl is doing her fist-bumps. This is still as coincidental a reason for Popeye to look just then, but it wouldn’t be a surprise that Popeye was in the short at all. And it might look more to Popeye like Olive Oyl was fighting some kind of robot monster.

And there is very little Popeye. At about the one-minute mark I was wondering if they were doing without him altogether, and getting ready to applaud their courage. I’m sure there have been Popeye cartoons with even less Popeye in them. (Probably Wimmin Is A Myskery, which is mostly Olive Oyl’s dream about her and Popeye’s four sons, who in later cartoons would be transferred over to nephew status.) But, no; the story just needed Popeye not to be there, until he could show up and not actually help anything. (There’s also no Bluto, the first time he’s been absent from one of these shorts. But as little as Popeye has to add to the proceedings, what could Bluto offer?)

While I wasn’t convinced by the story logic, there’s still important stuff I did like here. The first is that the direction’s getting better. The editing wasn’t as jumpy as it had been, and the camera movements all have clear purposes. The swiping of the lizard’s tongue is nice and funny to watch. I found it funny to have Olive Oyl pop out of a cake, holding another cake that the lizard pops out of, holding yet another cake. The hungry lizard’s reappearance at the end is a good closing. I like Swee’Pea swatting at his sandcastle while Olive Oyl goes looking for food; it’s something to do during a slow stretch. I like the strange, bachelor-making-a-sad-dinner attempt of Olive to just put a pear on a slice of bread and serve that as food. And, really, the more I write about this the more I like the short. I just can’t help feeling there’s an arbitrariness in the machinery, and the story logic, that keeps me from being convinced.


And I’ve finally put together a tag for this series. All the stuff I’ve written about Popeye’s Island Adventures should be here.

Popeye’s Island Adventures finally has Swee’Pea in it


The still picture underneath the closing music of all the Popeye’s Island Adventures has included Swee’Pea. Through the first four of these shorts, though, he hadn’t appeared. That changes now. This week’s cartoon, episode 5, is aptly named Swee’Pea Arrives.

I don’t remember as a kid wondering where Swee’Pea came from. In the comic strip he was left on Popeye’s doorstep, and only now do I think to wonder if E C Segar might have been riffing on Gasoline Alley. If I ever have some time I’ll read the sequence and see if that’s sustainable. In the Robert Altman movie, he’s left in a deliberately swapped basket for Popeye to take. I don’t think the cartoons ever addressed the topic. Anyway, it’s all variations on a theme: Swee’Pea is a foundling, and Popeye and Olive Oyl care for him. And that’s reestablished this cartoon, with Swee’Pea dropping from a plane to arrive in Popeye and Olive Oyl’s care.

It’s after that that we get a mess. If you’re giving a character an introduction story you need them to do something relevant, fair enough. But this is … just … what? Last week’s Scramble for the Egg was a good step up. It had a clear, coherent story and I thought that signalled a step up in quality for these cartoons. This one’s disappointing.

Popeye grilling spinach-burgers is a fine idea. A hungry Bluto seeing them and wanting to swipe some is also a good idea. It risks the problem Road Runner cartoons have, though. If the villain’s motivation is that he’s hungry, well, is that really villainous? Especially when the villain succeeding would be, at most, petty theft. You can’t fault the Road Runner for refusing to be eaten. But Popeye can look like a jerk for wanting a fifth burger. Moral shading can make for good stories. It’s a lot of difficulty to put into a two-minute pantomime cartoon.

Bluto costumes himself in a haz-mat suit, spinning a tale of spinach being toxic. And Popeye falls for it, as though we lived in a world in which poorly-inspected foodstuffs could carry health hazards. That’s a good enough starting point. It just comes halfway through the cartoon’s run time. And then for some reason Swee’Pea understands the No-Blutos sign. And recognizes Bluto inside the haz-mat suit. And decides to take action. And knows the remaining spinach burger will give him the fighting prowess to do something about it. And … why? Why any of these?

The logic of the cartoon would be stronger if it hadn’t spent its time introducing Swee’Pea. At least then the only mystery would be how Swee’Pea recognized Bluto in the haz-mat suit. Maybe a scene could have given Swee’Pea the hint. … Alternatively, if Swee’Pea weren’t in this at all, but Eugene the Jeep were, then recognizing Bluto would make sense. I’m curious if this did start as a Eugene script and then get changed because Eugene’s gotten so much to do already. (This does remind me of the Robert Altman movie, and how Swee’Pea got Eugene’s part and supernatural abilities.)

But then dropping Swee’Pea would lose the first minute, which is a bunch of nice scenes of Popeye and Olive Oyl with the kid. And it has some nice bits of direction, too, including some first-person shots. And, y’know, happy people playing. The editing of the cartoon felt too tight, too fast for me. But again all the camera moves made sense, and focused on the line of action appropriately. I don’t care for the animation style where a character holds something and then there’s a fast swish to move whatever needed to be moved. But that’s my tastes rather than a moral failing of the artists.

It’s the second week in a row that Popeye doesn’t eat his spinach. And it’s, I think, the first time another character does instead. Again, I’m glad that they’re not using too rigid a plot frame here. It does make Popeye again a passive character in his own adventures, though. He’s needed to put a spinach burger on the grill, and to catch the falling Swee’Pea, and that’s it. Swee’Pea even blows Popeye’s pipe at the end.

I’ve called this a two-minute short. The first four cartoons were. But this one ran long: two minutes, ten seconds. Ten seconds might not seem like much, but it’s an appreciable fraction of the original run time. Maybe they’re pushing to see if they can do fuller-length cartoons. Maybe it reflects the needs of the storyline. There’s two plots here, adopting Swee’Pea and Bluto scheming. Maybe there aren’t ten seconds you could cut from this without leaving the cartoon completely incoherent.

There’s still no credits. But the last twenty seconds of the video are pictures of the cast, and the encouragement to subscribe to the channel. For the first time this week those last twenty seconds have some band singing. It’s not the old Popeye the Sailor Man song, but it is a pretty catchy one that circles the same idea. I don’t know why they’re using a different song either, but, nice to have.

Several YouTube commenters asked where’s Wimpy. Wimpy’s a great character, mooching with an almost fae folk-like indifference to the mortals his schemes set in motion. You could make a series just out of him. He isn’t in the still underneath the closing music here, and I haven’t seen hints he’ll be in the cast. I’m curious whether there’s any plans to use him.

I Guess I’m Just Reviewing Popeye’s Island Adventures Now


And then a couple days ago I noticed another in the Popeye’s Island Adventures series of two-minute direct-to-the-web cartoons featuring Young Popeye and cast. If they’re going to keep giving me something to write about, all right. I’ll go on writing. The only thing I’ve ever learned about blogging is that if you stumble into something, you probably should keep doing it. It’s just weird to be doing a weekly Tuesday review of something that’s actually a current thing. Even if it is based on a thing that premiered when Woodrow Wilson was technically president.

Anyway, this is Episode 4, Scramble For The Egg.

I’m rather happy with this cartoon. It’s the first one that’s gotten, to my tastes, all the important pieces together. There’s a clear storyline: Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto each trying to take possession of an egg. There’s solid jokes: Popeye befuddled by daydreaming of a dog hatching out of the egg, at least until the dog has a can of spinach too. There’s even personality. You can try telling me I’m wrong to be delighted by Bluto’s joy in imagining bonding with a pet alligator. You’ll be wrong. There’s a logical resolution, too: of course none of the rivals get the egg, and it rolls into the possession of the uninvolved Eugene the Jeep.

I’m also much happier with the direction. For the first time this series the camera movements all make sense. There’s good reason to pan over to the right and back again. It’s even got the first fight-cloud of the series. Some of the commenters claim it’s the first fight period. I think they’re being too restrictive about the term ‘fight’. And the storyline doesn’t need dialogue, so that the lack of characters doing anything but making grunting noises doesn’t stand out.

Not for the first time I’d like more information about just who’s making these cartoons, and why. The story and direction are measurably better this time around. I’m curious whether it’s a lucky combination of creative staff or whether the team making these is getting better with experience.

Eugene the Jeep’s magic powers continue to be “any old thing”. It does inspire the question of, if he can make chocolate eggs, why does he need eggs? Maybe having the egg around reminded him he could be eating chocolate eggs now. It feels a bit weird to have the egg — which Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto all assumed would hatch — get eaten. But the story does need to end with the egg in nobody’s possession, so it’s either get eaten or hatch.

Popeye doesn’t eat his spinach this time. Well, he can’t, or he’d win the egg, against the needs of story logic. There was something weirdly exciting in older Popeye cartoons that subverted or entirely avoided the spinach scene. I’m glad that whoever’s paying for these new cartoons allows that Popeye doesn’t have to gulp down a can of spinach every short. It gives each story more room. I’m more confident about this series after this one.

And Then There’s Another New Popeye Cartoon, Which I Can Maybe Have An Opinion About


I’m still figuring to write up some thoughts about the whole Stan Freberg show given the recent listen. I just haven’t had time. So I’ll go for something that ought to be quicker.

I’d noticed a third of the Popeye’s Island Adventures cartoons come out and, hey, it’s only two minutes. That should be easy enough to think about.

Once again there aren’t any credits I can find. I only know the title — Feeling Blue — because of how it’s captioned on the YouTube page.

Eugene the Jeep has another, even bigger role this short than the past two. So I appreciate their attempting to cater to me. I’m curious if this is coincidence, or if the writers like Eugene’s plot-bearing potential. Or if it’s easier to write a mute character in cartoons that have to be dialogue-free. Could be any of this.

There’s no Olive Oyl this short either. Nor is there really a fight between Popeye and Bluto. I’m glad that these cartoons apparently aren’t obliged to have Olive Oyl or, presumably, anyone but Popeye in every short. It can help storywriting to have a template, but it’s a bad idea to include stuff only because the template demands it.

It’s a bit of a weird story. Eugene plants blue spinach(?) in Popeye’s garden. I like the start, partly because it’s cute to see Eugene being unrealistically impatient for his spinach to grow. Partly because it evokes the Pink Panther and the Naked Guy battling over whether the house will be painted pink or blue, or any of the other two-visions cartoons they did. That might be coincidence. (Surely coincidence is that Eugene and Pink are both, basically, mute characters.)

Then it gets weird: the blue spinach grows giantic, and Popeye has some weird allergic reaction to it and ends up with a blue nose. He eats spinach to cure himself, which mostly makes sense when you consider what spinach has done for him in the past, including bringing him back from disintegration. This time it misfire and makes him balloon up to a gigantic blue Popeye who scares Bluto off and … you know, what the heck am I watching? Because this is kind of weird. Not as weird as that 1960s Popeye where he tries to fix a faucet and accidentally floods the world, but still, kind of weird. Eugene fixes things with a banana peel and some Jeep magic and makes a smoothie. Fair enough solution and punch line and … you know, what the heck am I watching?

I should say, I’m not angry at the cartoon or anything. I’m entertained. It’s likable enough. But something in it feels less true to the things I love in Popeye than, say, the snowball-fight episode did. I’m not going to say they’re doing it wrong, or even wrong for me. Like, if I complain I don’t know the rules of Eugene’s magic here? Why would blue spinach turn Popeye blue? Why would eating regular spinach make Popeye blimp out? … Well, I learn what his magic does by seeing him do things. And what possible mechanism for the blimping out could make sense? I accepted his abilities to forecast the future; why not to conjure a pitcher of water into existence?

But I feel uneasy yet. Maybe it’s over things that the animators work out with experience. Maybe it’s over things I need to come and appreciate for this version of Popeye. I think it’s a misstep to have Popeye be the reactive, almost passive, figure in his cartoon, as much as I like to see Eugene driving the action. Mind, that is a problem with almost every cartoon Popeye has ever shared with an animal, going back to the 30s. And I don’t mean to be an Old about this. These cartoons aren’t the ones I grew up loving, and that’s all right. Those cartoons are still available, and don’t seem to be working for a new audience. Worth trying something with a different tone.

Yes, I caught the cameo of the white sailor’s garb that Popeye got put in because the War was on and the national defense needed Popeye to be less interesting. Cute bit.

So It Turns Out There’s More New Popeye Cartoons


After that first Popeye’s Island Adventures cartoon came out I did check back the week or two after. I didn’t see any follow-up, so supposed it was just on some schedule I didn’t understand. Or that the project had its start and then was drifting. This happens. I remember in the early 2000s when they made a couple of Flash cartoons for Mystery Science Theater 3000 and then stopped just as I was getting comfortable with Tom Servo’s new voice. (I’m a bit curious what became of those, and kind of suspect they’re lost to the ages. I think there were four different cartoons?)

But it looks more likely that I just misunderstood things. There’s at least two new cartoons out and, what the heck. Watching cartoons is a comfortable thing to write about. So here’s Episode 2, A Fistful of Snowballs.

The story is that Popeye and Olive Oyl get into a snowball war with Bluto. I like this more than I did the first one. The story is better-formed. It’s not so linear as the previous one. That seems like it’s going to be important for this series. The characters don’t really speak, so we can’t be charmed by their dialogue any. And it’s much harder to establish a character without speech. We’re forced to fall back on what they do. So the more that they try different approaches the better. There’s still room for bits of personality, even without dialogue or much story, though. One touch I did like was Popeye making a squinty eye for his snowman, for example.

The snowball-fight setup works better for the Young Popeye redesign too. It’s better scaled to kid characters. Not that I couldn’t imagine a great snowball-fight cartoon with the regular versions. But it’s something easy to figure kids getting into.

I’m, of course, an easy touch for Eugene the Jeep so I’m glad to see him be relevant to the plot. And that he gets a bit of mischief in, kicking snow in Popeye’s face. (Which is another bit of personality that can be done without dialogue.) I’m curious what a new viewer makes of Eugene’s vanishing, if they don’t know about the magical abilities of the Jeep. I suppose it’s not going to confuse anyone. Eugene was shown last cartoon floating in the air. And he goes back to floating right after the scene where he vanishes. So being able to disappear fits into that. I tend to think viewers need less stuff explained than creators fear, and that you can usually drop exposition if you need to save time. But does Eugene make sense if you don’t know anything about the character?

Two cartoons in and we get the first joke on opening the can of spinach. That it’s frozen makes sense, though it also makes the spinach look particularly dreadful to taste. And then on the second watch it made me feel cold for Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto, who’re still dressed as if it’s a summertime cartoon. But I always feel a little chilly.

Still don’t see why they aren’t using the Sammy Lerner I’m-Popeye-the-Sailor-Man tune. Not using it does make me believe more strongly that this whole project is about protecting some kind of rights to use Popeye more than anything else. But it might also be something where the budget is just too low to accommodate the real song. We might get a better idea as the project develops.

Without Committing To What I’m Going To Be Doing This Coming Week


If I were to make up a story about Rankin/Bass having created a Christmas special built around the song I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, and claim that it was suppressed for being so weird and crazypants and indistinctly sexy that even the 70s couldn’t put up with it … how many of you would back me up? I’m not asking for the level of, like, making fan art. But would you insist on social media that oh, yeah, there was totally a crazypants sequence where Mommy’s brought to the North Pole for what is a sanitized, Love Boat-but-a-cartoon version of a swingers party where there might not be anything you can actually say is racy but it’s still like forty times the entendres that a kids’ animated special should have? Just doing a quick little headcount is all.

Today’s Baffling Distraction In A Rankin/Bass Animation


Sorry, it’s the time of year I can’t do anything because I’m busy watching Rankin/Bass animated specials again. Today’s distraction: noticing in The Year Without A Santa Claus, and the scene where Santa talks about “by my charts and maps!” So he stands over by his charts and maps. From this I learn that Santa uses the Mercator projection for his work. Defensible given how much navigation work he has to do, certainly. Although I would have expected him to use something centered on the North Pole, you know, his entire base of operations, which is located at one of the only two points in the world that can’t be rendered on a Mercator map. And yes, I know what you’re thinking: what about a transverse Mercator projection? Nuh-uh, thank you, who here is watching the special instead of whatever it was I was supposed to be doing today? Exactly.

Statistics Saturday: Questions Raised By Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials


Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials Questions Raised
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 14
Frosty the Snowman 8
Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town 4
The Year Without A Santa Claus 18
Rudolph’s Shiny New Year 34
The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow 4
The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus 3
Jack Frost N/A [ No one has settled the question of whether it is a Christmas special ]
Frosty’s Winter Wonderland 64
Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July 7
Pinocchio’s Christmas 11
The Little Drummer Boy, Book II 3
Nestor, The long-Eared Christmas Donkey 5
`Twas The Night Before Christmas 20
The Leprechauns’ Christmas Gold 8
Cricket On The Hearth 4
The Little Drummer Boy, Book I 5
The Stingiest Man In Town 15
Santa, Baby! 6

Reference: Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race, David Scott, Alexei Leonov, Christine Toomey.

Yes, I Am Aware Of The New Popeye Cartoon And Have Thoughts About It


So earlier this week Comics Kingdom sent me an e-mail. I assume they sent it to other people too. It just had that tone to it. It said King Features was “excited to announce” the launch of Popeye’s Island Adventures. It’s part of an effort to bring Popeye back into the pop culture. They say it’s with “a fresh update on the original characters and storyline”.

All right, then. I’m game. Stand near me for about twenty minutes and you’ll work out that I’m a Popeye fan. And I’m sad that he hasn’t got much of a place in the public consciousness these days besides weird appearances on T-shirts sold at kiosks on the Jersey Shore. I’m not sure why he hasn’t had much traction since, well, the live-action movie came out. It’s easy to complain that Popeye’s just this dumb violent character, but, c’mon. Other cartoons get away with punching. And dumb is a matter of context. Give a character interesting things to do and they’re interesting. And Popeye has this forthrightness and moral clarity that I still think admirable.

So let’s see what King Features is doing with the character now. Episode one, Follow The Spinach.

It was maybe halfway into the two-minute cartoon that I realized, oh, they’re not just being drawn to look young. This is supposed to be some adventures of a Young Popeye and company. All right. I’m not sure if this is what it takes to appeal to a new generation. But, I also like variants on established character sets and I don’t think there’s been a “young Popeye” series before. At least not an important one. I’ll give that a try.

I’m glad to see Eugene the Jeep. Eugene’s the top of the many weird, interesting creatures in the Popeye universe. (Cartoons and comic strips.) Only sad point is he doesn’t really have anything to do with the story; he tickles Bluto’s feet and that’s all?

The short feels oddly paced to me. The story’s thin, but a two minute cartoon doesn’t have time for a deep plot. Still, it has Popeye eating his spinach at the halfway point in the cartoon. I’m more comfortable with it as the climax. You know, after Popeye’s had all he can stands and can’t stands no more. However, he’s also got to have time to do things, so maybe this couldn’t be pushed any later in the short. It puts more work on the introductory minute, though.

More time would help, surely. But that would surely be more expensive, and I can’t imagine there’s a huge budget for making Popeye cartoons in 2018. It shows in a couple ways. The voices, particularly. Reducing all the characters to little grunting noises avoids the problem of dubbing for different language-speakers. (This is proven by the variety of languages already in the YouTube comments. Also from this I learn I can tell when someone is whining about “political correctness” in Spanish.) But it requires either simpler plots or demands more elaborate expository artwork. I mean, try to explain the Jeep’s powers using only pictograms. Plus a lot of what’s fun about Popeye is listening to him talk. I’m not sure how long I would enjoy listening to Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto grunting at each other.

It’s got a fair bit of the stuff I like Popeye cartoons for. Particularly the feats of ridiculous exaggeration, as when the spinach-charged Popeye spins his ears into helicopter propellers. Or Popeye, skateboarding across the sand, picking up a train of bicycle, washing machine, walrus, and donkey.

The animation looks, to me, like a Flash game. That is, it looks cheap, to me. But if it weren’t cheap the short wouldn’t exist at all, so, fine. I thought the scene cuts were too quick, spoiling the comic effect of some shots. Why have Popeye haul a bicycle, washing machine, walrus, and donkey through the sand if there’s barely the time to see it? Also, in what seems like the exact opposite gripe, that the camera panned too slowly when a character moved quickly, such as when Popeye leaps into the tree at about 0:23. But, for example, I didn’t get why the spinach on Bluto’s fishing rod kept moving when Bluto set the reel down. That the reel was still spinning I didn’t catch until a repeat view. This is all probably stuff the animators (not credited in the video, by the way, nor on the YouTube page caption) will get the hang of with experience.

I’m not sure what I think of the character designs, or the choice to make this Young Popeye. It does give a pretext to quietly drop Popeye’s pipe. If that’s the compromise that gets us Popeye cartoons without protest from well-meaning people, all right. His blowing a bosun’s whistle is a decent replacement. That, based on the YouTube comments, this infuriates the sort of person who complains about SJW’s makes the substitution a double bonus. And Eugene’s cute. I hope he gets to be in a cartoon soon.

So, I’m glad to see King Features trying to make new Popeye cartoons. I’ll here for new ones.

Betty Boop with Henry: the lone cartoon pairing


I maybe have been beating the Henry drum loudly the last couple weeks. On the other hand, when else would I have an audience for this? And Roy Kassinger asked if I had ever reviewed the animated cartoon with Betty Boop and Henry. I hadn’t, so, what better time than now to do it? Maybe last week, then.

This cartoon originally debuted the 22nd of November, 1935. It was the 47th of the Betty Boop line of cartoons, which took the place of the Talkartoons after that series wrapped up.

So, some context. In 1933 the Fleischers launched the Popeye cartoon series, for good reason. Popular comic strips already had a long history of being adapted into animated cartoons. Popeye’s debut was officially in a Betty Boop cartoon. Her presence is a slight thing — she shows up for a musical number in the midst of the action. But it did mean the studio could work out whether Popeye was adaptable to cartoons in a way with minimum risk of failure.

Popeye was a brilliant success, of course. So there’s little else to do but try to repeat the trick. And here we get to Henry. The character had been around three years. The comic strip proper was around about one year when the Flesichers made this short. It was popular, sensibly enough. Henry as a character is clever but lazy, kind but a bit selfish, pleasure-seeking but not hedonist, with a bit of hard-luck about him. He fits in the line of characters like the Little Tramp, Mickey Mouse, or Dagwood Bumstead. It’s easy to like him. And, William Foster notes, was decades ahead of the curve in presenting non-white characters with dignity. There’s great reason to try him out.

There wasn’t a Henry series to follow this. I can’t call that an injustice. The short is pleasant enough. But there’s just not much there. Henry watches Betty Boop’s pet store while she’s out, makes a mess of things, and then re-catches the birds he’d let out. That’s not much of a plot, but it is something. It should have been plenty for the Fleischers. A Fleischer specialty is characters doing a simple thing in complicated ways. They had just months earlier introduced Grampy to the Betty Boop series. His entire point was thinking up Rube Goldberg contraptions to play music or turn the apartment building into a roller coaster or something. And Henry accidentally messing up something and fixing it in some ingenious complicated way would be a natural.

Here, though? The only clever thing he does is drop birdseed on his head to attract birds. And he does that a lot. There’s cute business, like, dancing with Pudgy, or setting two lovebirds together. But that’s a cute sideline, not action. (And the scene with the monkey ought to be funny, and then you remember pet stores would sell monkeys back then, and that’s awful and depressing.) Heck, the opening scene — Henry appearing to walk a plank between mountains, revealed to be a billboard — was clever, at least, with a nice reveal of what’s going on. What if the whole short had been like that? If it had been three minutes of earning animals’ trust and cleaning them or feeding them in silly ways, maybe Henry could have gone to series.

Maybe. One problem with Henry’s cast of characters is that he doesn’t have antagonists. I guess there’s a bully, and he has a teacher he’s afraid of, and his parents will make him take a bath or something. But that’s all a very gentle menace. Popeye comes from, in the comic strip, an action-adventure background. It’s natural to have a big-bad villain there. Popeye and the villain fighting for Olive Oyl gives stories an obvious point. And a reason for something exciting to happen on-screen.

It also helped that Popeye had stuff to say. In the comic strip Henry was mute, much as that distresses me when he’s put on the phone. But presumably he could speak; we just don’t see him doing so. (Apparently in the comic books he spoke as normal.) Popeye, in the comic strip, had personality from his first line. It’s easy to write stuff that’s definitely what Popeye might say and to rule out things he would not. Not his mangled speech; that’s just a marker. “I am what I am and that’s all what I am” is a declaration of character. When he talked in the cartoon it made sense. But Henry? What’s a Henry-esque turn of phrase? Henry’s voice actor — I guess Ann Rothschild, if I’m inferring things from Wikipedia right — tries. But Henry hasn’t got anything to say that shows character.

I could be wrong, though. Little Lulu has a protagonist who’s got that similar pleasant, soft, antagonist-free place as Henry does. And she was adapted into a successful enough string of cartoons by Fleischer Studios successor Famous Studios. And then changed into Little Audrey, when Famous Studios dropped the Little Lulu license. I don’t count myself a fan of them, but each was a successful enough series. Maybe this was a good idea hobbled by a bad first attempt.

What I Learned Watching The Popeye Two-Reelers


My love wondered something when I wrote up thoughts about Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor. That was the first of the two-reelers and, by popular acclaim, the best. I opened the question of whether popular acclaim was right. My love wanted to know if I thought one of the others was actually best. I hadn’t meant anything that certain. I wanted to look at the three two-reelers and see what I thought now.

And, having watched the alternatives recently, and with some time to reflect on each … yeah. I agree with what everybody says about the two-reelers. Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor is the best of the set.

That’s not to say any of them are bad. They’re all good-to-great cartoons. And they each have particular strengths. Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves particularly has the virtue of being a really good, really representative Popeye cartoon. That is, all the things that are good about your general one-reel Popeye cartoon are present in Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. It’s got a nice casual plot. It’s got some amusing weird nonsense. (Why would Popeye have a boat that turns into a plane? Why not, if it gets him into the story sooner?) It’s got great little mutterings by Jack Mercer, Popeye’s voice actor.

And Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp has both a tightly-crafted plot and demonstrates that Popeye can play a part while still being himself. It’s great to see Popeye playing a role; peculiarly, he doesn’t do more of that. Even in the one-reelers they might have Popeye meet William Tell or Rip Van Winkle or something. But he wouldn’t play these parts. He would play a part, in some of the incredibly many shorts King Features churned out for television in the early 60s. There’s some of those that have fair enough premises. (Popeye as the starring role in The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere? All right. In a gender-swapped Snow White? Eh, why not?) But the 60s shorts, when they succeed, do so by … being all weird and crazy rather than good.

But Sindbad the Sailor has something more. If I have to say precisely what I would have to credit mood. It doesn’t have much business, and it’s slow about that business. But it’s not boring, and the result is that the cartoon feels epic. There is an argument that Popeye is a superhero. I’m not sure I agree. But he does have many superheroic traits, like extraordinary abilities used for the protection of the needy. A superheroic figure, though, needs an epic setting to match. Sindbad claims his island is on the back of a whale. We see that massive island, if not the whale. It’s presented convincingly. Maybe it is worthwhile starting the short with twenty minutes of introductory songs.

I’d also like to compare the four clip cartoons made of these. But two of them were basically inaccessible. Popeye’s Premiere was certainly the better of the two I could review. It’s got more of the original cartoon, the most important thing. And the framing device for the clips even logically fits the original short. Aladdin was originally presented as the movie whose script Olive Oyl was writing. To see it actually made? Good sense. In comparison Big Bad Sindbad is a merely competent clip cartoon. It’s got an acceptable reason for the clips to be shown, and has maybe more original footage than Popeye’s Premiere did. But it’s a very short cartoon, with barely any of the original. Without the time to set a mood of big, epic things happening the clips are just — nothing.

If I find the other two clip cartoons — Popeye Makes A Movie and Spinach Packin’ Popeye — online I may come back for a proper review. Shall let you know.


And for the sake of convenience here’s my posts on this subject.

The two-reelers:

The clip cartoons made from the two-reelers:

Next week: Not a Popeye two-reeler cartoon.

The Popeye Two-Reelers Used: Popeye’s Premiere, Given A New Look


When I set out reviewing the two-reel Popeye cartoons I figured I could make six weeks of cartoon-discussion out of them. One week for each cartoon, and one week for each clip carton that reused that footage. This went wrong when it turned out I can’t find an online copy of the two cartoons made out of Popeye The Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. I was ready to declare that the clip made of Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp was also not online. I am very nearly correct in this. The only copy I can find is this Dailymotion video. It’s truncated. It’s, for some reason, flipped horizontally. And it makes me (at least) watch an irritating advertisement every five minutes. And then watch the advertisement again, just in case I wasn’t fed up yet. Well, mutilated is better than not at all. Roughly.

Popeye’s Premiere was released the 23rd of March, 1949. This makes it the first of the clip cartoons based on the two-reelers. It was still over a decade after the original cartoon was in theaters. So we can’t accuse Famous Studios of boring people with cartoons fresh in their memories. And I can at least describe the action.

The framing device for the clip cartoon is … that they’re showing the cartoon. Apparently, Olive Oyl’s script made it through a tortured development process. The setting is the premiere of the movie, with Popeye and Olive Oyl as stars. Dailymotion’s copy truncates their arrival at the theater, and cuts right to Popeye-the-actor nervously waiting for the premiere. And then it starts. Popeye’s very excited by the action. And he seems to be confused about the difference between stuff happening to him and stuff happening to the character he played.

This is a long clip cartoon. It’s about eleven minutes total, putting it at twice the length of the average Popeye cartoon. And most of that is reused footage, spoiling my earlier conjectures about how much new content they maybe had to have for a clip cartoon. As I make it out the original footage is:

  • The first 21 seconds of this clipped version, plus however much animation came before that; maybe a minute total.
  • Popeye getting too excited at the action, from about 1:09 to 1:16 in the DailyMotion version.
  • Popeye getting too excited again and being shushed, from about 2:45 to 2:50 in this version.
  • Popeye-the-actor breaking the fourth wall and defying logic by throwing spinach into the scene of Popeye-as-Aladdin on-screen, about 8:20 to 8:26.
  • Popeye and Olive Oyl cheering on Aladdin, about 9:15 to 9:22.
  • The close, from 10:00 through to the end, about 35 seconds.

Add all that together and it can’t be more than two minutes. The original Aladdin short was enormous — 21 minutes — and the clipped version is still nine minutes long. Big Bad Sindbad shrank sixteen minutes of cartoon down to two and a half minutes of fighting, plus framing devices. This gives the viewer a fair chance at understanding the original two-reeler and what was interesting about it.

Although they will find it less interesting. They re-recorded, I believe, all the audio for the Aladdin clips. Which is reasonable. They don’t want old music, particularly, highlighting where they edited things down. Much of the dialogue is preserved straight from Aladdin and that’s great. But where they do change the dialogue it’s almost all for the worse. It’s for economy of time, I suppose.

But it also drains personality from the short. For example: in the original, when the Vizier gets the lamp, the Genie is shocked, and is whipped into compliance with the Vizier’s orders. Here, he’s shocked but falls in line fast. It’s quicker, but it’s not so interesting. In the original, Aladdin eats four (count ’em!) cans of spinach, each of the last three powering up to fight a new menace. Here, there’s just one extra can of spinach. That’s to fight the dragon, the coolest-looking of the menaces. But there’s not much of that fight either. The sword-fight with the disappearing Vizier shrinks to almost nothing. The baffling conclusion of the Vizier turning into a fish is gone. It’s economical. You get the whole storyline down. But is it fun?

Even the new music for the clipped segments is … fine enough. But it only incidentally fits any of the action. The original finishes off — like many Fleischer Studios Popeye cartoons — with the action scored to The Stars and Strips Forever. Famous Studios used The Stars and Strips Forever rarely, maybe never. That’s fine; that’s a style choice. But what do they have in its place? I watched this cartoon a half-hour ago; I have no recollection of the melody now. The only point where the new cartoon improves on the old is in the next-to-the-last bit of new footage, as Olive-Oyl-the-Actor calls for Popeye to give ’em the old onesie-twosie, moments before Olive-Oyl-the-Princess calls for Popeye to give ’em the old onesie-twosie.

So this clip cartoon is a fascinating one, especially compared to Big Bad Sindbad. This is a better clip cartoon, in that it shows more of the original cartoon. And it put more effort into the extracted cartoon. The re-recorded dialogue preserves most of what’s good about the original cartoon. And it puts Jackson Beck’s voice in for the Vizier’s; the touch of Bluto helps. It feels to me like more of an effort is being made to have the resulting cartoon be good. I appreciate that.

The Popeye Two-Reelers: Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp


For the fifth week of my reviews of the three Popeye two-reelers we get to the last, and longest: Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp. It’s got four credited animators: David Tendlar, Nicholas Tafuri, William Sturm, and Reuben Grossman. Tendlar animated everything the Fleischers and Famous Sudios ever did, and then went on to Terrytoons, Filmation, and Hanna-Barbera. Tafuri first animated for the Fleischers in 1934 with the Popeye cartoon The Two-Alarm Fire. He’d stick around until Famous Studios closed. Sturm did a number of Popeye cartoons and then went off to Jam Handy Films; if you’ve seen the Handy Studio’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer you’ve seen more of his work. Grossman seems to have this as his first animation credit. He’d do some more Fleischer/Famous Studios work through 1945. Then he seems to disappear until the late 50s, doing TV animation for Felix the Cat, Linus the Lion-Hearted, and The Mighty Hercules.

It premiered the 7th of April, 1939, more than a year after Popeye met Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves, and about eight months before the studios’ first feature-length movie, Gulliver’s Travels. It’s more than a year since Disney shocked everybody with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. And it’s about ten months before Disney would release their second feature-length movie, Pinocchio. I offer this for context about what long-form animation was like.

Now. The best print I can find of the short is on YouTube and therefore subject to vanishing at any moment. I suspect it’s just ripped from the Popeye DVDs released last decade and that when some copyright-holder notices they’ll file a claim. The original short is in the public domain and that’s on Archive.org, so should stick around forever. I’ll include that too, but the prints on Archive.org are the horribly faded ones that you found on every public-domain videotape in the 90s. So they’ll be around, but look like used chewing gum.

And a small content warning. The short’s set in Cartoon Arabia. There are some minor characters who’re black and drawn in that “Hey! African people sure have lips, don’t they?” style. Blink and you miss it, but, how do I know when you’re going to blink? There’s also a quick bit where a character salaam-ing make the first wordplay joke you’d think of.

And here is an Archive.org link for a more stable copy of the short.


The cartoon opens with a framing device. Olive Oyl’s writing treatments for Surprise Pictures. Why?

Well, so they have a punch line for the end of the cartoon, sure. It sets up for a joke so obvious (“if it’s a good picture, it’s a Surprise”) that Wikipedia’s fooled into thinking it’s in the short. The joke hanging, unresolved, for twenty minutes makes it much funnier than it would have been in a one-reeler version of this cartoon. But … so what? What would we lose if the framing device were chopped off?

I’m not just padding my word count. The choice to frame the cartoon action was made for reasons. But what? SCTV demonstrated the brilliance of framing everything as a movie-of-the-week production. You could write only the parts of the sketch that you liked. Skip the boring stuff and the audience can follow along. As a draft movie script Olive Oyl has an even bigger advantage. If some part of the story doesn’t make sense (“But why does the Vizier turn into a fish?”) that’s fine. It’s something they’ll iron out in rewrites. But apart from the one intertitle, at about 4:10 in, the short doesn’t do that. And the intertitle, that great silent-movie innovation explaining the stuff that couldn’t be conveyed by expression, action, and the audience having a lick of sense, could have been in an unframed short anyway.

So what does the framing get us? And the best answer I can see is that it gives a reason for Popeye to be playing the character of Aladdin. Popeye had by this point done 69 cartoons, but always as Popeye. Perhaps they didn’t realize that he could be Popeye inhabiting another role.

Which is an historical irony. In the earliest years of Thimble Theatre — long before Popeye made the strip interesting, and even before it became a serial adventure strip — Segar cast the strip as, well, a nightly theatrical production. The framing device was that Olive Oyl, Ham Gravy, et al were characters. They’d be set up with a card about today, Olive’s the wife of Ham (or whatever) and here’s the evil mortgage-holder, and then they’d do the joke. Next day, here Olive’s the attractive waitress and Ham and some other character are customers and all that. It’s a cute pretext and if some web comic isn’t using that, they should. But for daily jokes it’s way too much overhead. It would work better for serial storylines and maybe that’s how Thimble Theatre transitioned into being a serial-story comic. I don’t know; I haven’t read examples of the strip in its transition.

You see an (unintentional?) echo of this in the way Popeye shorts start with the basic characters but scramble their relationships. Here Popeye and Olive Oyl are all but married and Bluto threatens to break them up. Here Popeye and Bluto are old friends and they’re enchanted when they meet this waitress. Here Popeye and Wimpy are roommates and Olive Oyl tries to invite Popeye over for lunch. But they’re always Popeye and Olive Oyl and Bluto and Wimpy. To date, only Bluto’s arguable roles as Sindbad and Abu Hassan have had him as an actor playing a part.

It seems a strange lack of faith in the characters that they’d let Popeye play Aladdin only with an excuse. I think they could have gotten away with it had they skipped the framing and just had everyone say of course Popeye is Aladdin. But I have the advantage of hindsight; nobody could know what the cartoon would play like before it was made. And I grew up watching Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol and its spinoff series The Famous Adventures of Mister Magoo. I had the idea of cartoon characters playing other roles presented in a good, accessible way early on. It’s hard to say whether Mister Magoo was more born to play Ebeneezer Scrooge, Victor Frankenstein, Don Quixote, or Puck.

And there’s more reason to be sad they didn’t try an unframed story. Leslie Cabarga, in The Fleischer Story, mentions that while preparing their first feature-length film the studio considered having Popeye play Lemuel Gulliver. I don’t know why they didn’t go with that; possibly it was fear that Popeye as a character would be too weird for a feature-length movie. Would that have been a better movie? With everything else the same but the more charismatic Popeye at its center? … Probably. And “casting” Popeye would have made the rest of the story different.

So that’s eight hundred words on the short they didn’t make. What about the one they did?

Well, for one, it’s a short made without the three-dimensional set-back process that Sindbad the Sailor and Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves used. Why not? It can’t be that the process was getting too expensive; they were using it for pretty near every regular short, both color and black-and-white, at the time. Possibly they couldn’t think of a good place to use the process. Except, like, they already had a cave set built for Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. Why not have the magic lantern be in that cave, alongside jewels left over from Sindbad the Sailor? They were apparently considering it. FleischerStudios.com has a 1939 Popular Science short about how animation works that shows off scenes from the making of this short. It includes, about 3:45 in, footage of the setback process being used for Aladdin. It shows off a nice three-dimensional castle and a reappearance by the Rokh from Sindbad. No idea why that was cut; perhaps they felt the sequence too long or too discursive. Or maybe the setback scene was staged for Popular Science with sets and cells they happened to have around. (I’m not sure that Olive Oyl is drawn, in the Rokh’s claws, as the Princess rather than as she was dressed in Sindbad.) Maybe the Fleischers felt that pulling out the three-dimensional sets would break the “reality” of the Aladdin story being a movie. Maybe Surprise Pictures didn’t go in for location shooting.

It’s also made without Bluto, or a character who looks like Bluto. This makes more sense. The evil Vizier — I guess he’s just called the Villain here — needs to suggest cunning and devious wit. The one scene where he’d really need it, coaxing Aladdin into the Secret Cave, is disposed of in a title card. But the character has to be believable in his scheming. Bluto has might to him, but scheming? Not so much. Wimpy — another missing character — could scheme very well. But his schemes are devoted to more petty grifts. Swiping free food? Sure. Killing Aladdin, stealing the kingdom, and marrying Olive Oyl? Too mean, and too much work, for him. Of the regular Popeye characters the only one who’s really got the combination of cunning and evil and ambition for the role would be the Sea Hag. That would be some interesting casting. But it’d be hard to do the marrying-the-princess story in 1939. And the Sea Hag never got animated by the Fleischers (or Famous Studios), sorry to say. Maybe Poopdeck Pappy could have done the role but that would also have complicated the story.

It seems to me like Wimpy could have been cast as the Genie. Don’t know why they didn’t. I guess they better liked their impression of That Guy I Keep Thinking Is Ed Wynn But Isn’t. You know. I’m having no luck pinning down who I do mean.

More exceptional stuff about this short. Unlike the other two-reelers the villain isn’t introduced with a song. Or gets a song at all; only Popeye does, the right solid “What Can I Do For You”. There’s no long lazy introduction to the scenery, either. It’s all introduced quickly, with the story moving along at a steady, solid clip. And the characters finally get to have dialogue. I mean, they say stuff that’s got personality and that’s reliably funny. It’s even playful, teasing the fourth wall (Popeye’s riff about having never made love in Technicolor before) or the short’s continuity (the new lap exchanged for the old being a flashlight).

This is the longest Popeye short, and his longest appearance in theaters until Robert Altman’s work. 21 minutes in all. I don’t blame TV syndication for not showing it too often. It also makes three two-reelers. Among them all, that’s just under 55 minutes of stories, all from the 1001 Arabian Nights, or at least adjacent to them. It’s got me wondering why they didn’t make another two-reeler cartoon, set up some framing device, and then release it as a Popeye motion picture. Add another twenty-minute short on and you have something near enough the length of the movie they did release, Gulliver’s Travels (76 minutes) and Mister Bug Goes To Town (78 minutes).

In the climax — and it’s a fantastic climax — Popeye eats four cans of spinach. I believe that’s the most he eats in any short; the only possible ties are clip cartoons where a bunch of his daring-escapes get featured. It’s a great climax, four rallies of the Popeye-the-Sailor-Man theme in slightly higher keys, followed by a really long rendition of The Stars And Stripes Forever. A lot of action. A lot of great action. It also set a record for Coolest Looking Dragon That Gets Disappointingly Instantly Foiled which stood until Rankin/Bass’s 1985 adaption of L Frank Baum’s The Life And Adventures of Santa Claus.

There may, inexplicably, have been no three-dimensional footage for this short. There’s still great moments. The long zoom into the Secret Cave is one. The Princess’s diamond sparkling so brightly that it forms a spotlight, and panning out to Aladdin on his horse, is another. Often Fleischer cartoons have a sort of rambling, jazzy quality, where it feels like they didn’t work out the storyline much before filming. And that’s great for giving a cartoon a spontaneous, out-of-control feeling. But this one is well-crafted. Consider the moment where the Vizier, having lost the lamp, sits miserably at a table sipping coffee, while Aladdin as the prince zooms past. In a moment this scene tells everything about that the Vizier was doing, and how his understanding of everything has changed, and it sets him back into action, all the while that Aladdin’s storyline is moving toward romancing the Princess. It’s tight, efficient writing that doesn’t feel like it’s forcing the plot along. It’s a foreshadowing of the Superman cartoons the studio would make in the 1940s, in being these beautiful and, generally, well-scripted and awesome affairs.

The Popeye Two-Reelers Reused: Two I Can’t Show You


I had a great idea going here. I’d show one of the two-reeler Popeye cartoons, and then show its reincarnation as a one-reeler clip cartoon. I’m foiled here. Not because Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves wasn’t used for a clip cartoon. Because I can’t find a copy of the clip cartoon online. I’m surprised and baffled by this. I could accept it somehow not having fallen into the same public-domain existence that so many other Famous Studios cartoons did. But to just evaporate altogether?

Ah well. And that’s particularly bad as there’s two clip cartoons based on Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. One I remember with confidence so let me talk about that. It’s Popeye Makes A Movie. This was released the 11th of August, 1950, or over two years before Big Bad Sindbad. That it is so much earlier may be why Popeye has the full complement of four nephews in it. By 1952 there were cutbacks.

The premise is … well, right there in the title. Popeye’s explicitly an actor here, and he’s making a movie about fighting Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. Is it supposed to be the two-reeler movie actually released in the 1930s? Oh, who cares. If you have fun doing that, go ahead, but there’s just no fitting it all into one continuity. But Popeye’s an actor here, and he brings his nephews to watch a day of filming. And that’s the framework on which the clips are hung. There’s some of Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy walking through the desert. There’s the bandit raid on the city, at which point the nephews get confused between fact and fiction and start punching Abu Hassan or maybe Bluto.

That seems to me a fair way to break up the clips. It’s a more interesting one than in Big Bad Sindbad, when the surviving nephews asked Popeye whether he got killed. That now there’s two clip cartoons that break up the clipping mid-action, where it’s not really needed, makes me wonder. Remember my wondering if there a production rule about how much of the cartoon could be recycled footage? I can’t time the clips from Popeye Makes A Movie, but the clips from Big Bad Sindbad were suspiciously close to 50% of the runtime. Now I wonder if there was a production rule about how long reused footage could be without some new footage.

The interruption also lets the clip cartoon go right to Popeye in Abu Hassan’s cage. It gets to the point where Popeye’s captured and lowered into the shark pit. Here the nephews again forget they’re watching some pretend action, and toss Popeye a can of spinach. This would seem to produce a continuity error in the movie being made. If we take the two-reeler as the produced movie, then, they must have done reshoots when the nephews were safely away from the studio.

It’s a fair enough premise. Gives a reason to show clips. If you’re alert enough to the realities of film production to question whether they’d film a walking-in-the-desert scene, a raid-on-a-city scene, and a battle-in-a-cave scene on the same day, well, shut up and go play outside. All right.


The other clip cartoon with Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves I remember more vaguely. But it’s interesting in that it’s also a clip cartoon for Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor. And it, too, isn’t available online that I can find. It’s Spinach Packin’ Popeye, originally released the 21st of July, 1944. The name is a riff on Pistol-Packin’ Mama. That’s an inescapably popular and catchy song which made up about two-fifths of all sound during World War II. (If you look at the posters on the wall at R K Maroon’s office in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, you’ll see a card for a Pistol-Packin’ Possum, another riff on the song.) I know, I know, you think — from movies and TV shows — that it was Glenn Miller’s version of American Patrol. No. It’s just easier for modern productions to record dialogue over an instrumental. In reality, between the 14th of October, 1943 and the 26th of March 1944, not a single sound that wasn’t Pistol-Packin’ Mama was produced domestically, and it stayed popular with soldiers until the USO performers curled up into helpless little balls pleading, “no … no … no more requests”.

The premise for this clip cartoon is more boring. Popeye goes to a scheduled boxing match with Bluto after donating blood. The weakened sailor gets knocked out. Olive Oyl declares she’s finished with this weakling. Popeye tries to argue he is not a weakling, and shows his photo album to prove it. The album has pictures(?) from Sindbad the Sailor and Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. These come to life to show the clips, a device used in earlier clip cartoons too. None of this convinces Olive Oyl, but that’s all right, since his being knocked out was all a dream anyway.

Gathering around the photo album is a dull way to introduce clips. But it’s the sort of dull that doesn’t get in the way of the action either. I suspect it’s the clip-show equivalent of, in prose, tagging speech with “Name said”. It’s just invisible. I know I had to read the plot summary to have any memory of what the framing device was, and even the still frames on that Popeye Wikia didn’t help me much. The title card looks great, at least.

But there again is that breaking up of clips into at least two segments. This encourages my thinking that there was some production rule here. One might wonder why this cartoon featured two of the two-reelers and not more recent footage. A sufficient answer there is that they’d have had to be too recent footage. This was, if Wikipedia has the production schedules right, only the fifth color one-reeler Popeye cartoon. Popeye’s first one-reel color outing, Her Honor The Mare, was released the 26th of November, 1943. A snarky cartoon series of today might have characters flashing back to the stuff they aired last week. I can’t imagine getting away with that in theatrical shorts of the 40s.

I would have sworn there were other Popeye shorts that used “weakness after blood donation” as a premise for showing clips. Actually researching this suggests indicates I’m just wrong. I’m a touch surprised that Popeye, given his general moral-upstandingness, wasn’t shown to donate blood more. But it’s hard to figure a joke line to follow that. People getting Popeye’s blood and going on to feats of impossikible strength is obvious, but they’d do that from just eating spinach at his direction. (Which, come to think of it, is another storyline I don’t think they used.) Maybe they were working around guidelines about how to present the effects of blood transfusion. Maybe it just never occurred to anyone.

The Popeye Two-Reelers: Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves


Today my subject is the second of the two-reeler Popeye cartoons. Its original release was the 26th of November, 1937. This is one day short of a year after the previous two-reeler, Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor. The credited animators are Willard Bowski, Geroge Germanetti, and Orestes Calpini, all of whom worked on Sindbad.

So, ah, this short. You see what the title is. I’m not quite sure that I need to warn people about its content. It’s got a lot of characters meant to be Arabian. And it was drawn in the 1930s. I don’t think there’s ethnic stereotypes direct enough to be offensive. But there’s stuff close enough to leave me uncomfortable. Most of it comes to Popeye being a surprisingly bad traveller, grumbling that he can’t read the menu or stuff like that.

This short opens gorgeously. One of the Fleischer’s greatest technical tricks was the setback camera. It let them use real, three-dimensional models as backdrop to animation. They used it to good effect. They had a knack for making models that looked like animated backgrounds. It — and a multiplane camera — get used for the opening credits. It’s almost a dare to the Disney studios, challenging them as masters of animation. Disney would respond by releasing Snow White and the Seven Dwarves the next month. So, yeah, Disney won the year. But it was a close one.

Still. As much as the setback camera got shown off in Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor, here it gets used. I lost track of how many backgrounds are three-dimensional settings. But it seems less showy to me. The setback seems to be used only to make the camera moves more interesting. It strikes me as being like the difference between a technology demonstration and a mature use of the technology.

As with Sindbad the short opens with the heavy, looking like Bluto playing a part, singing about himself. It’s not as long or as catchy a song as Sindbad’s bragging song. It’s not bad. But Sindbad had a nice call-and-response bit, and call-and-response songs are always more fun. Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy get on screen much sooner than in Sindbad. They’re even given something of a reason to encounter Abu Hassan, with Popeye and Wimpy the Coast Guard (huh?) troops responding to the worldwide (huh?) distress call. Popeye’s boat turning into an airplane is as loopy a thing as the logic for his involvement. And I love the way this gets treated. It’s casual and confident, sure that the audience will buy all this. (Does the ship-plane crashing count as another shipwreck for Popeye?)

I’m impressed by how well this cartoon is put together. It’s got a clear plot. But it’s still got plenty of time for amusing sidelights. And many great little asides by Jack Mercer as Popeye.

Yet it still seems lesser than Sindbad. I’m not sure what it’s missing. It might be in the efficient, quick way that this cartoon gets to work. Sindbad opens with a lot of atmosphere. It luxuriates in the vastness of Sindbad’s island. It builds slowly. It gives this impression of hugeness.

Forty Thieves has a great, vast desert. A good-looking city. The cave of the Forty Thieves, too. But I don’t feel the same epic scale to this. Maybe the editing is too sharp and the story progression too efficient. The short has a few moments that feel it. Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy in the incredible distance walking across the desert by night and day, particularly. But that doesn’t last long. The short has plenty of stuff happening. But it feels more like a regular (if good) Popeye cartoon running longer, instead of something different in kind.

Once again it’s surprisingly long for Popeye to meet the heavy. Popeye doesn’t face Abu Hassan until about 8:40 in. That’s 40 seconds sooner than Popeye met Sindbad, in a carton that’s a full minute longer. It’s still longer than the average Popeye cartoon just for them to be on-screen together. Their first fight is funnier than Popeye’s meeting with Sindbad. There’s something delightful and childlike about Abu Hassan stealing Popeye’s belt. Popeye swiping his long underwear right back is a perfect topper.

As I watch it, and re-watch it, I’m left wondering why I don’t like it as much as Sindbad. The animation’s at least as good. The plotting may be stronger. The dialogue is much better. A lot of the best bits are Jack Mercer muttering whatever popped into his head. But so much of what he thought of was great. Seriously, Popeye slamming uselessly against the solid wall of the Forty Thieves’ cave and declaring “it’s giving way”? Perfect. He’s got many other great lines too; listen to any random fifteen-second bit and there’ll be something you like. The biggest story weakness is how little Wimpy adds to the proceedings. His pursuit of a duck in Sindbad had a clear story to it. Here, he’s just here. But even he gets a great blink-and-you-miss-it joke in snagging some chicken while chained to a post.

There’s less direct interaction between the animated characters and the real, setback backgrounds. Nothing like Sindbad picking up a handful of gems and letting them drop. The most dramatic is Popeye and all coming up to a traffic signal in the desert, and that’s nothing but them watching a thing change. But there’s also much more real background. The final battle between Popeye and Abu Hassan feels slight. Possibly it’s diffused too much by Popeye having to get past the Forty Thieves first. I am aware that last time around I thought there could be a battle between Popeye and all the animal residents of Sindbad’s island. And this time I get a battle between Popeye and all the Forty Thieves and I’m still not satisfied. Somehow, despite it being a nice big battle. Maybe Popeye needed to use the twisker punch again.

Something you notice in the Thimble Theatre comic strip is that Popeye spends a lot of time in the desert for a sailor. Possibly Segar thought that irresistibly funny a setup. And now here we are in the second of the two-reelers, and he’s wandering the desert. And I can’t help remembering that the 1980s version of Popeye — the G.I.Joe cartoon’s Shipwreck — was also first encountered in the desert. There’s something deep going on here.

The Popeye Two-Reelers Reused: Big Bad Sindbad


So if there’s any genre of story that modern pop culture has rejected it’s the clip show. The last time I remember it defended was on a Saturday Night Live hosted by whoever played the non-Tina-Yothers sister on Family Ties. She notes that clip shows were great, since as an actor you got paid for a whole show and only had to do five minutes’ work. They would let anyone get a little bit ahead of the content hole. They were probably more more tolerated before the rise of home recording. I think of the burial notice for clip shows, at least in the sorts of nerdly pop culture I like, being that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Riker has a case of poisoning that can only be cured by watching clips of the first two seasons of Next Generation. That episode has an overblown reputation as the worst thing modern Star Trek has ever produced. Even if you can’t stand a clip show, for crying out loud, modern Star Trek also did a Lwuxana Troi/Ferengi Comedy cross-over episode. And the Enterprise episode where Trip Tucker got wrist-pregnancy from a holodeck.

And as I say, clip shows used to be more tolerated. Certainly more common. The first Popeye cartoon released after last week’s topic, Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor, was itself a clip cartoon, I’m In The Army Now. And all the Fleischer two-reeler cartoons were themselves reused, later on, in the Famous Studios days. And I wanted to take a moment to look at one of these.

Big Bad Sindbad was released the 12th of December, 1952. So probably the original was out of any theaters. They could be forgiven for supposing most of the audience wouldn’t remember the action or animation well. The credited animators, for the new stuff, were Tom Johnson and William Henning. The director for the new stuff was Seymour Kneitel. Kneitel worked at the Fleischer studios forever. He ran its incarnation as Famous Studios forever too. So if you watch a lot of Popeye cartoons you see that name a lot. And he married Max Fleischer’s daughter. One imagines this made Thanksgiving more exciting after Paramount Studios fired Max Fleischer and keept Kneitel around. I can’t say from personal knowledge.

So. When I watched this cartoon, as a youngster, I was always excited and disappointed. The exciting part is the two-and-a-half-minutes of footage from Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor. Even my young untrained eye, that was also perfectly happy to watch the Filmation series of Tom and Jerry cartoons, recognized that as something special. It was just too good.

And it affected the surroundings. Popeye by this time was usually dressed in all white, an outfit he got during World War II and didn’t shake for decades. Except this. I suppose to not confuse kids, Popeye in the present-day framing story wears his classic original black-and-white-era outfit. Somehow even that just looks better.

The disappointing stuff, of course, was that it wasn’t the whole two-reeler. You got just a tiny slice of the cartoon that was really interesting, patched into a cartoon that’s already quite short. The version at archive.org runs five minutes, two seconds. And half a minute of that is credits.

Disappointing to me, now, is that none of the story of the original gets included. The original two-reeler hasn’t got much of a story to start with, but at least it has something. Here, all that’s excerpted is a couple minutes of Sindbad and Popeye punching each other. The catchy songs are missing. There’s no Boola, no Rokh, nothing. Even Wimpy only appears for a split-second. There’s no panning across any of the three-dimensional sets. One would almost think the Famous Studios ashamed by how much the old stuff would outclass their current animation. (So far as I know the Famous Studios never used the setback tabletop technique.)

And it’s not as if they couldn’t have found time. The framing device is an adequate one. Popeye takes his three then-surviving nephews [*] to a nautical museum; okay, that makes sense as a thing he might do. They encounter three exhibits, the first two of them used to deliver correctly formed jokes, the third to let Popeye tell a story. Putting aside whether George Washington can be considered a sailor, that’s all okay enough. It’s a character who has a reason to be telling this story to people who have a reason to listen.

[*] Yes, Popeye started out with four nephews. The story goes that Max Fleischer wanted to one-up Donald Duck’s nephews. But the nephews first appeared as Popeye’s imaginary children in a dream. And as Famous Studios wore on, the four nephews dropped to three, and eventually to two. The story there goes that this was to save animation cost on characters who were already visually identical and voiced by the same actor (who was already on staff and performing Popeye’s lines) to start with. This seems hard to believe, but then, why else drop one of them?

Anyway, once all that’s out of the way they could run as much of the original cartoon as they liked. Why so little? I suppose because they needed the clip cartoon to run at least five minutes. But that time after that was wasted. A shame; that makes it a little too obvious that the cartoon’s there to satisfy a contratual obligation to produce technically new animated product. A bit more story would have helped. Or if they don’t want the short to have more time, let the nephews ask impudent questions that Popeye answers. “Gee, Uncle Popeye / Did you / Get Killed?” is an adequate start but only just. At least they showed my favorite gag from the original, Sindbad knocking an endless supply of maritime stuff out of Popeye.

Though now I wonder; was there some requirement that reused material be no more than 50 percent of the cartoon? That there were pretty near two and a half minutes of old footage in a five-minute cartoon is suggestive. But it could also be coincidence. There’s more of Popeye and Sindbad facing off that they might theoretically have used, even without having to include something of Boola or the Rokh or the lions or all that.

I’m not surprised they re-recorded the voices from the two-reeler footage. Probably the original sound elements were lost and all they had was the final mix that, among other things, had the hard-to-edit-around tune of The Stars And Stripes Forever on it. I am surprised they changed Olive’s line of encouragement to “give him the ol’ onesey-twosie” from “give him the ol’ twisker punch”. Were they afraid the “twisker punch” was too slangy a term?

Wikipedia notes this as one of only two theatrical cartoons to have both Popeye’s Nephews and Wimpy in the action. The other is Popeye Makes A Movie, another clip-show cartoon using footage from the two-reelers. This short is one of six with Popeye’s Nephews and Bluto, if you count Sindbad as Bluto playing a role. Use this information only for good purposes.

Next week: back to the actual two-reelers.

The Popeye Two-Reelers: Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor


When the world and I were young, Popeye the Sailor Man hadn’t quite left pop culture. He still got an hour each weekday on WNEW to show off all the theatrical releases plus the King Features Syndicate cartoons of the 60s. I loved them all. I had that problem of the young of not understanding that some cartoons were rather bad. But I did understand that some cartoons were better. Usually the older ones. The ones with the ship doors that slid closed were almost all better than the King Features Syndicate cartoons. And even then, I knew there were some transcendant cartoons, ones that were so much better than anything else ever done. I only ever found three of them. This is because three were all they made. I want to look at them each in turn, now.

Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor was released the 27th of November, 1936. It’s the first of the three two-reel cartoons. It has three credited animators, Willard Bowsky, George Germanetti, and Edward Nolan. Uncredited animators include Orestes Calpini and Lillian Friedman. Bowsky’s familiar from the Talkartoons series. He has shorts like Swing You Sinners! and Mysterious Mose and The Betty Boop Limited to his name. George Germanetti and Edward Nolan haven’t got credits for any Talkartoons. Neither have Orestes Calpini nor Lillian Friedman.

Friedman was (so far as is known) the first woman ever hired as an animator in United States animation. She worked on some Color Classics, Hunky and Spunky, as well as a bunch of Betty Boop cartoons. Wikipedia credits her for animating the two-headed giant and Popeye’s “twisker” punch. Calpini would animate about a jillion Famous Studios cartoons in the 40s, and be the uncredited animator for a bunch of shorts. Among them are Cartoons Ain’t Human, a fantastic short in which Popeye becomes an animator; and several of the Superman shorts.

The dominant motif of this cartoon is size. It is full of bigness. The cartoon is large in running time: it runs 16 and a quarter minutes before the video ends, and it still has a few seconds to go. (This cartoon, like all the 30s Popeyes, is in the public domain. This is great for accessibility. But what you can access is often a lousy print or cut in weird ways. This was the best version I found.) That’s three times the length of some other theatrical Popeye shorts. (Granted, the shortest of shorts, but still.)

It’s on a big island, that Sindbad claims to be atop a big whale. Its inhabitants are big; the lions (big cats) are small denizens. Boola isn’t just a two-headed giant; he’s two, maybe two and a half times Popeye’s size. The Rokh is so enormous he barely fits in frame. His takeoff makes me think of footage of World War II-era super-bombers. That’s only more amazing considering the cartoon was made five years before that was a pressing concern. It starts with a long braggadocio song. It’s three and a half minutes of Sindbad singing of how he’s the most remarkable extra-ordinary fellow. It has a purpose, besides being catchy. It also sets up all the minor bosses Popeye has to beat up before coming to the main battle. But then we get another minute of Popeye singing his own bragging song. That’s a more familiar one, the full long version of the Popeye the Sailor Man song, and always good to hear. Still, it means the cartoon’s plot doesn’t even set in until five and a quarter minutes in.

Did you notice that, while watching? … Well, maybe. It’s easy to get restless when the movie expects you to be awestruck. It demands attention. If you’re letting it run while also checking social media, then that first third of the cartoon is wasted. If you are watching, well, then you see what is some astounding animation. The backgrounds start out gorgeous, and then almost immediately leap past gorgeous into three-dimensional beauty. Fleischer Studios arguably topped Disney’s multiplane camera. They used a camera that could film real-life, movable sets, on which the characters would interact. Cartoons on a real-life background is as old as cartoons are. But cartoons on a movable, three-dimensional background? And a backdrop that isn’t “real”, but designed to look like the pictures do? That’s stunning then. It’s still stunning now. Just to make sure audiences were stunned then, Sindbad picks up a pile of “real” jewels and lets them fall through his fingers, about 2:25 in. By then, complaining about the bareness of the plot — considering its length — seems petty.

Also stunning, but more subtly, is the Rokh’s flight. It is hard to animate flight so that it looks realistic. It is hard to animate big things moving slowly so that it looks realistic. But here, in the Rokh attacking Popeye’s ship, we get an enormous bird slowly circling and then finally striking, and none of the motion looks false. I wonder if it was rotoscoped from footage of a real bird’s circling. I’ve also been trying to work out whether the bird’s three turns are all unique animation. I have the suspicion that it’s all the same single turn cycle, but with camera movement added so that it looks different. But that speculation I make just because it had to be hard to get it looking that good the one time; three times would be far harder. If I were directing, I’d look for ways to reduce the technical challenges here, and that seems like one of the few possible ways.

Still the cartoon makes some mistakes. Not just that it’s 9 minutes, 25 seconds before Popeye and Sindbad are even in the same frame. There’s reasons it takes them that long to meet. (And how long antagonists spend directly facing each other is basically irrelevant to how good a story is. Until it’s pointed out, do you even notice in The Wrath of Khan that Kirk and Khan are never in the same room?) They’re littler things. The one that bugged me as a kid, and still bugs me today, is when Popeye asks who Sindbad is. This gets a quick reprise of Sindbad’s “most remarkable, extraordinary fellow” song. But with none of the island residents actually singing “Sindbad, the sailor”. The animals all mouth it, twice, but the actual answer to Popeye’s reasonable question is omitted. Maybe the Fleischers figured the audience would be singing along? (And there’s some animation the cartoon definitely reuses. At the end, they do cry out “Popeye, the sailor”.

And here’s a subtler one: why is Wimpy in this cartoon? Well, there’s an obvious reason. J Wellington Wimpy is this wonderful character. He might well have taken over the Thimble Theatre comic strip if Popeye hadn’t secured his position in charge of the strip first. Just the other day my love and I were discussing his character. Whether he is actually a mooch with refined, intellectual inclinations. Whether he affects that persona as part of his eternal petty scamming. He can add this subtle, otherworldly bit of nonsense to any story he’s in. He can offer this surreal moment of drifting into and out of frame, in search of hamburger. It’s reminiscent of the way Harpo Marx would crash through a plot scene and crash back out again, without the now-awkward part where Harpo is chasing down terrified women.

So that’s a great setup. Wimpy trying futilely to catch a duck? Perfect running gag. It’s used that way just the once, though, interrupting Popeye’s and Sindbad’s first encounter. Popeye even asks “how did you get in here?”. And then that bit ends, with Wimpy no more part of the story.

But I could be wrong to call that short use of Wimpy a mistake. I’m trying to think of another moment where Wimpy could wander through without spoiling the flow of action. He can wander through a tense moment fine; the distraction is great when it’s two people glaring at each other. But to drift through actual punching? That would flow weird.

Something I’m not at all sure was a mistake: Sindbad’s island is filled to the brim with good-looking monsters. Big (of course) cats, serpents, dragons, gorillas, vultures, all that. This seems like a setup for a battle royale of Popeye lost inside a massive fight cloud. He’d done that before, in cartoons where he was washed, shipwrecked, onto a jungle island. (For as good a sailor as we’d like to think he is, Popeye opens a lot of cartoons shipwrecked. But, he does survive those shipwrecks, so that’s some skills.) Maybe the animators thought that would be too difficult to animate. Maybe it was too difficult to fit into the storyline; would such an all-animals battle royale come after Boola, after the Rokh, after Sindbad? It seems to me Popeye’s previous battle-royale wins were after he’d eaten his spinach; that’s got to come as he’s had enough with Sindbad. So maybe there’s just not a good time for the dragons and all to get into the action.

I am disappointed these figures didn’t turn up in other cartoons. I suppose the Popeye cartoons were moving away from being able to support talking animals or mythical creatures in them. At least except creatures that came from inside the comic strip, like Eugene the Jeep and Alice the Goon. (And even they got only a few appearances.) I think some of the dragons appeared in Betty Boop cartoons like Betty Boop in Blunderland. Maybe the characters — almost all of whom look interesting — got work in other Fleischer series, ones without recurring characters.

As with the Talkartoons series, the main dialogue is pretty bland stuff. Functional, but not that interesting. The characters have asides, though, and those range between good and great. For my money, the best is Popeye declaring that Sindbad “you can push me just so far”. But there’s plenty to choose from. My favorite throwaway gag is Sindbad beating up Popeye, who stays in place while a heap of nautical equipment falls out of his clothing. It reminds me again of the Harpo Marx bit where all the stolen cutlery in the world falls out of his sleeves, one spoon at a time. But again, there’s all sorts of funny little throwaway gags in this short. Enjoy the buffet.

The short was nominated for an Academy Award for best cartoon. It was the Fleischer Studios’ first nomination. They lost, to Disney’s The Country Cousin, a version of the Aesop’s Fable about the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse. Disney studios won the Academy Award for Cartoons every time it got awarded in the 1930s. Fleischer Studios would never win an Oscar, though it would get nominated four times. Its successor Famous Studios wouldn’t even get nominated. Animation historian Jerry Beck found lists of cartoons considered but not nominated, and Famous Studios, and Popeye, got considered, at least.

Popular acclaim has it that this was the best of the Popeye two-reelers. But then, what does everybody who takes cartoons as a subject worth thinking about know that I don’t?


Also hey, it turns out this is my 2,001st post around here. I’m as surprised by that fact as you are.

Here’s What I Thought About All The Talkartoons I Watched


One last post before, I imagine, I retire the Talkartoons tag. I want to make it that little bit easier for people to find all the various cartoons, so, here’s a heaping pile of links to each of the shorts that I reviewed. Not included are the handful of cartoons that are lost, or that were lost until recently and can’t be seen by normal ordinary mortals like me.

Next week, I start a shorter-term, limited-scope project: looking at the two-reel Popeye cartoons, those lush full-color 1930s beauties. And I do have a plan for something after that project finishes. Thanks for letting me explain pop culture references of 1932 to you all!


The Fleischer Studio’s Talkartoons, 1929 – 1932

  1. Noah’s Lark
  2. Marriage Wows (Not reviewed; pretty near a lost cartoon, with only the UCLA film library having nitrate elements for it.)
  3. Radio Riot
  4. Hot Dog
  5. Fire Bugs
  6. Wise Flies
  7. Dizzy Dishes
  8. Barnacle Bill
  9. Swing You Sinners!
  10. Grand Uproar
  11. Sky Scraping
  12. Up to Mars
  13. Accordion Joe (Not reviewed; the UCLA film library claims they have a copy, but they haven’t given me any chance to see it, because they’re biased against absolutely uncredentialed amateur reviewers who never even ask to see it.)
  14. Mysterious Mose
  15. Ace of Spades (Not reviewed; the cartoon, long lost, was recovered in a cave in Borneo and is available only by special inquiry in the basement when the clock strikes midnight.)
  16. Tree Saps
  17. Teacher’s Pest
  18. The Cow’s Husband
  19. The Bum Bandit
  20. The Male Man
  21. Twenty Legs Under the Sea
  22. Silly Scandals
  23. The Herring Murder Case
  24. Bimbo’s Initiation
  25. Bimbo’s Express
  26. Minding the Baby
  27. In the Shade of the Old Apple Sauce (Lost cartoon; if found please keep in a cool, dry place and contact responsible authorities, in case there are any.)
  28. Mask-A-Raid
  29. Jack and the Beanstalk
  30. Dizzy Red Riding Hood
  31. Any Rags?
  32. Boop-Oop-a-Doop
  33. The Robot
  34. Minnie the Moocher
  35. Swim or Sink
  36. Crazy Town
  37. The Dancing Fool
  38. Chess-Nuts
  39. A Hunting We Will Go
  40. Hide and Seek
  41. Admission Free
  42. The Betty Boop Limited

What Did I Learn From Watching Nearly Every Talkartoon?


I spent much of the last year watching about one Talkartoon per week. The series was the Fleischer Studios’ first major project in sound cartoons. It ran just under three years before giving way to a Betty Boop series. What do I take away from it?

First, I appreciate just how fast animation technique was developing then. Not so much in sound, really, although yes, there is that. But apart from audio fidelity I can’t say that the last Talkartoons were much better at using sound than the first ones. There’s foley effects to match important stuff on screen in both Radio Riot and in Admission Free. There’s music riffs dropped down, usually because the lyric of the original song references something on-screen. There’s pauses in the action for characters to start singing, early cartoons and end. I’m not sure they got any better at using sound. Character dialogue, for example, started out nonexistent and stayed pretty well near it.

But in the visual side of animation, the ability to draw a thing moving in funny ways? The cartoons grew amazingly. The first few were distinctly 1920s style, with high-contrast black images on white backgrounds. Soon there were greys. By the end the cartoons had these great shades that, if they weren’t color to start with, at least evoked color. Characters stopped moving in these little chunks where they do a thing, stop, and start doing another thing. Instead action flows together. They learned how to rotoscope action in greyscale so it fits the cartoons.

And the Fleischers showed off how much they could do with the camera angle changing mid-scene. Bimbo’s Initiation is a great example, especially for that extremely long continuous shot of Bimbo running away. But there’s examples all over. Including, in The Betty Boop Limited, a bit of perspective shot that foreshadows the Fleischer’s multi-plane camera work of later years. And all that in under three years. It’s an aspect of the development of animation that gets forgotten under the stories of sound and of Technicolor.

Also surprising: Bimbo had a personality! Two personalities, really, and character variants to match. One, the standard, is this generically pleasant guy who reacts to things, and somehow that became the only Bimbo we know. But the other is more inventive, more active. He’s not quite wild enough to be a screwball character. But you can see it from there, which is a noteworthy step for your generic early-30s inkblot character. I understand his becoming a secondary character to Betty Boop, and then getting knocked back to the minors by Popeye. But couldn’t the more interesting version have shown up more?

And another surprise: Betty Boop really didn’t have a personality! At least, she got a lot of parts, yes. But she gets top billing in these cartoons pretty fast considering how little she has to do with the action. It’s left me more curious about why Betty Boop rose to stardom. It’s easy to see why Popeye took over the Thimble Theatre comic strip once he showed up; he was always saying and doing something a hundred times more interesting than the entities around him. But Betty Boop? She sings, fine. She’s an object of attention. But apart from The Bum Bandit, where she’s not Betty Boop, she hasn’t had a really good part. She’s just the star because … she’s the star? It’s all on charisma, I suppose.

I was delighted to find in Fire Bugsan early example of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2 being the cartoon soundtrack. And I was amused to find characters reappearing in new roles: Old King Cole switching from being the creepy bad guy to just being the engineer. Bimbo’s little brother Aloysius becoming any old annoying brat they needed around. Now that I’m primed to notice reused characters I’m curious what the Fleischer Studios Day Players group looks like.

I was also delighted to learn about the recording career of Frank Crumit. At least to learn he had like 480 billion songs all of which sound like old-time cartoon music. Most of them aren’t too problematic, but, yeah, that was the not-delightful part. I knew the Delaware Lackawanna Song (“Where Do You Work-A John”) almost wholly from its appearance in Mask-a-Raid, and on finally looking up the lyrics had a nasty surprise. That’s been the way with the bits we might charitably say reflect how society has changed from the early 30s. Or how we might say, ethnic or racist jokes that sometimes don’t crash the whole cartoon. They are there. There’s more than I’d like. But apart from Mask-A-Raid none of the cartoons (that survive) have depended on ethnic jokes. And they’ve avoided being nastier than, oh, those Indians make these war whoops. I don’t like it, but we’ve seen much worse. Worse is, yeah, where the sexual-assault subtext of Betty Boop cartoons lunges out of the text, grabs you by the nose, and smacks you across the face. Somebody get the poor woman pantyhose that stay in place.

Has this project changed my mind about anything substantial? Hard to say. I’ve always liked black-and-white cartoons, even primitive ones like Noah’s Lark. I had not before seen Swing You Sinners!, itself a minor sin as it’s fantastic. But to find a music-heavy 30s Fleischer cartoon is right up my alley? That’s not exactly catching anyone off-guard with a fast-breaking Zontar story. I appreciate Bimbo a bit more than I did before. And I have new questions about the Fleischer studios, particularly weird cartoons like The Robot or Hide and Seek that seem anachronistic.

Mostly, it’s given me a chance to look closely at a thing I already liked and see new aspects of it. That’s worthwhile even if it hasn’t changed my mind about the cartoons.

The 42nd and Final Talkartoon: The Betty Boop Limited


And now, the last of my Talkartoon shorts until sometime next year when I get bored and decide to do a rewatch. This was originally released the 1st of July, 1932. Its credited animators are Willard Bowsky and Thomas Bonfiglio. They’ve been teamed before, on the 21st cartoon, Twenty Legs Under The Sea and in the 31st, Any Rags?. How they missed the 41st is anybody’s guess.

The Talkartoon series, I suppose, started out as a way to feature a song, but have the framing cartoon be a bit more than setting up to follow the bouncing ball. Over the series’ run, Bimbo and then Betty Boop stumbled into beings as characters and the songs grew less important. And now here, for the last of the Talkartoons, it’s a lot of singing. The framing device is ripped from — I’m not sure the proper little genre name. I’ll call it the Gold Diggers of Broadway genre. Specifically it’s ripped from about the second and third reels of these movies, where — having introduced the long-struggling and the young-up-and-coming performers and their prospective marriage-grade partners, the story comes to a stop so a bunch of vaudeville performers can do their acts for posterity and for the last time. (Since, well, if someone’s seen your trick-sneezing act on film they don’t have to go to the last vaudeville theater in town to see you do it live, right?) So it’s basically a bunch of musical bits that could be strung together in any order, and done as long as it takes to fill out the short.

Betty Boop’s song is a version of Max Rich and Mack Gordon’s Ain’tcha? and I’m glad to have that established. I was having trouble figuring out just what it was supposed to be. The act most interesting to me was Koko the Clown’s soft-shoe. It’s a nice, smooth, fluid movement. It got me wondering if it might be rotoscoped. I don’t feel expert enough to call it that, not without supporting evidence. But there’s something in the way his shoulders move, and in this slight shift in the plane that his feet are in. It suggests to me movement studied from film.

There’s an inexplicably tiny cat who wanders in several times to start singing Silver Threads Among The Gold, or as it’s actually known, “Darling, I am growing older”. It’s a good running gag. I think I’ve seen it in other shorts, possibly from other studios, and I’m wondering if this is a first or earliest instance of it. (Hey, some cartoon had to be the first to use Franz Liszt, too.) But why such a tiny cat? I understand if it’s meant to be a kid running out and getting chased off stage, but the cat seems small even for that.

The short offers two solid choices for old-fashioned animated body horror. There’s Betty Boop and the whole gang getting sheared in half by the train tunnel about 5:15 in. There’s the cow getting hit by the train at about 5:40 and recovering well, at least that first time. (The train also looks to me like a detailed, grey-washed cutout, maybe even a picture, moving across frame, rather than cel animation. If it is, it evokes the way silent Koko the Clown cartoons would use stop-motion on regular pictures to, say, animate his being drawn into existence.)

I’m not sure there’s a blink-and-you-miss-it joke. Maybe the steps into the train car being a giraffe’s neck. Maybe the train blowing its nose after being fueled up. Also nice to see that Old King Cole recovered from his death and all that and went into the railroad business. And amongst the long-haired musicians (a variation of the one from Fire Bugs? Maybe? I’m not convinced) is a clearly moonlighting Mickey Mouse, right about 4:35 in.

It’s easy to say cartoons fall apart at the end. It’s hard to come up with a good solid punch line that resolves the storyline. This one has several weird ending problems. First is the kangaroo trying to get to what I had assumed was the bathroom: apparently it’s a phone booth instead? All right, I’ll allow it, although did phones even work on trains that weren’t in stations back then? And it’s more of a peanut vending machine than a phone? I follow each whimsical-step here. It just seems like a lot of steps in a row.

But the bigger one. The train hurdles toward the camera and smashes into it, for one last round of the tiny cat singing “Darling, I am growing older”, at about 5:35. But the short keeps going after that? It’s for some good jokes, including the first cow-smashing bit. And the railroad switch-operator business. (And check out that perspective shot at about 5:55 as he lurches over in his bathtub.) And the train worming its way through that tangle of rail lines is great. But why wasn’t the smash into camera and “Darling, I am growing older” the final bit in the short? It would be such a stronger conclusion to the cartoon, and to the series.

The 41st Talkartoon: Admission Free, a cartoon that jumps the tracks


I am almost out of Talkartoons to have opinions about. Don’t think I’m not just as worried by this as you are. Today’s was originally released the 10th of June, 1932. Its credited animators are Rudolph Eggeman — familiar already from The Cow’s Husband and A Hunting We Will Go — and Thomas Johnson, a new name. The Internet Movie Database doesn’t list any earlier cartoons from Johnson, but he’d go on to a number of great cartoons like Betty in Blunderland or It’s The Natural Thing To Do. Also some of those faintly sad cartoons where it’s the 50s and Popeye lives in the suburbs and is outsmarted by a gopher or something.

There’s a short cartoon-Indians joke early on in the short. There’s also a bit that reads like it’s maybe some kind of joke on Italians. I may be being oversensitive on that point, but the soundtrack during it is “Where Do You Work-A, John”, which rouses my worries.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been disappointed in an arcade cartoon. Even the ones that are just a frame for showing clips of earlier cartoons capture my fancy, somehow. Maybe part is the sense that you can just dip into anything and move on to something else engages me. It seems to engage animators too, possibly because this is a framing device that lets them just use the good parts of a joke.

I forget if this is the first Talkartoon that’s had not just the “Sweet Betty” song but the introductory title where Betty smiles and winks at us. Talkartoons were about to end and get replaced, production-wise, by the Betty Boop series anyway. Despite the title and her appearance to start things off, she doesn’t have much to do this short. Koko appears, yes, but Bimbo really guides most of the action. And pretty well, too. Stuff like how he slides his pennies down his shirt and then transfers them to his pocket may not have a specific joke. But it’s the sort of action that makes a character more interesting and endearing.

During the part where the monkey watched the fight movie I got to wondering: did animators ever think of this framing device as a way to burn off ideas they only had one or two scenes for? Rather than waste a premise or try to pad two minute’s worth of cartoon into a whole reel? Or to test out characters for their own cartoons? As far as I can tell, no. They just weren’t cautious in that way back then, it seems. And they had little fear of jamming together two or more unrelated cartoons with barely any transition.

Which is just what happens here, somehow. There’s a transition point, yes, Bimbo chasing a rabbit target out of the shooting gallery and into the woods. But somehow the short runs out of arcade jokes and turns into a hunting cartoon. Also jumps from nighttime in the city to daytime in the forest. It’s not a bad hunting short, mind, and the bullet at about 5:20 sneering at the rabbit with the declaration, “go chase yourself” is one of the few funny bits of dialogue from this series. Really all the action with the rabbit is good. As far as I know they didn’t try more with this character, which is a pity. The squirrels are a nice pairing too. But why this change in theme?

The arcade left plenty of room for little jokes you go back and notice. And it starts with a joke that almost gets lost in the digitization. So my blink-and-you-miss-it joke for the week is right up front. The chaser lights around the Penny Arcade sign drip off and run around the whole frame. It’s what’s going on when that weird tinkly sound comes in over the music. Some of the movie or attraction signs are fun, too. I mean, “Oh You Queenie”? “They Forgot To Pull The Shade”? If I hadn’t seen machines with names about like that I’d think they were being too silly. And it’s not a joke at all but I’m startled by the “Play Soccer!” mechanical attraction every time I notice it.

Not sure if that’s a mouse taunting Bimbo at about 4:36. The ears seem too large and floppy, and the tail seems big, but what else could it be?

Bimbo’s brother makes a cameo at about 1:07, in case anyone worried what’s become of him.

The 40th Talkartoon: Hide and Seek, A Cartoon I Need An Answer For


This Talkartoon comes to me as a mystery. I realized while writing this that I couldn’t find it on the archive.org list of Betty Boop cartoons. This is because it has no Betty Boop in it. It’s also not listed under Talkartoons, but the archive.org roster of “subject: talkartoons” doesn’t have any of the 1932 shorts. I could only find one copy of it online, on YouTube; I just hope that it doesn’t go missing before you read these words. Wikipedia says this short was released the 26th of May, 1932. Leonard Maltin’s Of Mice And Magic agrees. I will provisionally accept that as true. But I’d like someone who has primary documentation to confirm because this is a weird one.

Also a mild content warning. The cartoon ends up in China. Not for long. Just long enough for a Chinese man to perform a quick wedding.

So. Yeah. This was allegedly released just about a month after A Hunting We Will Go. The 26th of May, 1932. Is anyone else not buying that? Because this cartoon would make so much more sense if it were released in 1930 instead. Let’s consider:

  • What the heck is with Bimbo? He looks like he did in 1930 and early 1931, before his character had really stabilized and he’d settled on the basic-black look.
  • Where’s Betty Boop? The romantic lead here looks strikingly like a prototype Betty Boop. But at this point why have a Proto-Betty Boop? These aren’t the days of Barnacle Bill or The Bum Bandit. Why not have Betty Boop appear and tie the cartoon to the studio’s clearest star?
  • It’s directed like a silent cartoon. Some of this is the backgrounds. They’ve got this limited use of grey that looks much more like what the studio did just after the transition from paper to full cel animation than what it was doing, say, in last week’s cartoon. Some of this is in framing shots. There’s a lot of use of setting the action inside a circle, against a black backdrop. We saw this all the time in 1930. These days? Not so much.
  • The sound is just awful. Granted some of this is the quality of the print that whoever uploaded this to YouTube uses. But I think it’s something in the source material. There’s no good dialogue even by the standards of a Fleischer cartoon. There’s not many good sound cues. There’s a title card song that seems to have nothing to do with the short. There’s just nothing.
  • There’s just one credited animator, Roland Crandall. This is the first and only Talkartoon that Crandall’s got a credit for. But he did a lot of work for the Betty Boop version of Snow White, and he’d be the animation director for the Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels.

So what if this cartoon has been mis-dated, and it was actually released in late May 1930? That would reduce an otherwise strikingly long gap between Fire Bugs (the 5th of May) and Wise Flies (the 14th of July, 1930). The character designs would make more sense. So would the direction. Also the big part the motorcycle has in coming to life. That has the feel to me of a spot joke that kept growing as it turned out the motorcycle was interesting. The style of the backgrounds makes more sense too, as does the use of a not-Betty-Boop for a Bimbo cartoon.

And yet.

There is the copyright date on the title card. The Proto-Betty-Boop is a weird figure, but any weirder than in The Robot — also a 1932 release? And also one with the white-model Bimbo? And the circles of action on a black background?

Apart from one Koko the Clown short, all the Internet Movie Database’s work for Crandall is dated from 1932 through his retirement (from animation) in 1941. And if a 5-May-to-14-July gap in 1930 is implausibly long, then how do I answer the 29-April-to-10-June gap that relocating Hide and Seek to that year would create?

All right, perhaps. It’s still weird. I wonder if Hide and Seek weren’t finished much earlier but not released until some scheduling issue demanded it. Also whether The Robot might have had a similar fate.

So I turn this over to people who know how to access primary documentation: the heck’s the deal here? Huh? You know?


There’s little information about this cartoon online. So I’m going to run out my column here with what happens. This is for the benefit of people trying to figure out what the heck happened after this mysterious cartoon vanishes from YouTube and the whole Internet.

The plot: A kidnapper grabs Proto-Betty Boop. Bimbo and his motorcycle give chase, pursuing him into a mountain and down into Hell. They’re captured by a demon. The motorcycle rescues Bimbo and Proto-Betty, and they make it to a happy ending.

And here’s a more detailed list of incidents, as opposed to just the plot. The title card opens with a tune about you being a detective called in to solve a hold-up and ultimately hypothesizing you’d have to say your prayers. The short opens in a bank where Proto-Betty Boop withdraws a bag of money. A lurking crook whom I thought was Bimbo at first cackles and follows. Bimbo, a cop working one of those traffic island signals you see in 1920s and 1930s shorts, notices the crook. The traffic signal picks up the crook’s card (“I. Grabber, Kidnaper [sic], office 66 Snake St”).

Proto-Betty strolls out of the bank, past I Grabber’s storefront (it even lists him as proprietor). She walks past his open trap door. Grabber pulls a rope out of the trap door and walks behind Betty. This ultimately pulls a goat up behind them. He grabs Proto-Betty and ties her atop the goat.

Bimbo spots this, and takes out three giant links of sausage, which he fashions into a motorcycle. He pursues Grabber up an impossibly steep mountain. Bimbo’s motorcycle can’t manage the incline until it sneaks back into town for a drink from the “Tea Shoppe” speakeasy. Thus fortified it’s able to drive uphill and, at that, through a boulder.

The two chase through an Old Man Of The Mountain rock face and to the smouldering volcanic crater up top. There they race around the cone in the center of the volcano, until the ground level drops down as an elevator. They arrive in Hell’s Kitchen. Grabber and the goat are taken by a giant demonic hand and put into an iron stove. Bimbo and Proto-Betty are grabbed by a demonic hand and taunted by a devil who looks more like a hippopotamus than anything else. The hippo-devil puts them in an icebox.

Meanwhile Bimbo’s motorcycle, undetected, searches for everybody. He finds the stove, and Grabber and the goat baked into pies, where he leaves them. (Their intact heads poke out of these pies; leaving them like that is shocking.) The motorcycle breaks through the icebox and carries Bimbo and Proto-Betty onto a miniature golf course, a reminder that 1930 was when miniature golf was first, er, big. This hole — number 19 — has a dragon or alligator putting a tethered ball through a wooden half-pipe ramp and looks pretty fun, truth be told.

Bimbo, Proto-Betty, and the motorcycle fall through the 19th Hole, down the tunnel to China, 4000 miles below. They land in a Buddha(?) statue’s hands. From it emerges a minister, who marries Bimbo and Proto-Betty Man.

The 39th Talkartoon: A Hunting We Will Go


I’m down to the last four of the Talkartoon series and don’t go thinking that I’m not as worried as you all are what I’ll do when the sequence is done. But until then, what should I do except carry on as if there’s nothing to worry about?

This cartoon was originally released the 29th of April, 1932, so it’s the third of that month’s productions. The credited animators are Alfred Eugster and Rudolph Eggeman. Both have had credits before. Eugster was an animator for Grand Uproar, the once-lost Ace of Spades, The Bum Bandit, and The Herring Murder Case. Eggeman is credited for The Cow’s Husband.

I’d asked in The Cow’s Husband whether (American) bullfighting cartoons are always on the bull’s side. This short makes me wonder about cartoons about hunting, too. Surely they aren’t all on the hunted animal’s side. But the animal does seem to come out the better for the experience. This might be forced on the plots by the convention that these are humorous cartoons. This encourages the story to set the hunter out for basically trivial reasons, as here, where Bimbo and Koko are trying to impress Betty Boop. But if the hunt is for something trivial, then it’s too harsh to have the animal killed, and that means the animal has to come out better than the hunter does.

(It’s not impossible for the hunter to have good reasons and the cartoon to still be funny. On a vein not too different, there’s those Woody Woodpecker cartoons where Woody, or the wolf, or both are on the brink of starvation. It gives the cartoon a solid dramatic background that strengthens the joke. But I see the hunter as the non-ridiculous hero a lot less.)

So Betty Boop sets the cartoon in motion, singing of how she wants animal furs. And returns at the end, horrified that the animals have lost their fur. For this she gets top billing, which shows how little a star can do and still get away with it. The rest of the cartoon is Bimbo and Koko enacting spot jokes about incompetent hunters.

All the jokes here are okay. There’s only one that I find really good. That’s at about 3:15 when the deer(?) Koko’s shooting at grabs a pistol and shoots back. There’s a long bit, starting about 4:15, where an unspotted cat wants to get into the clam bake, and uses Koko’s bullets at spots, that’s clever enough. It didn’t seem like a fresh joke to me, but that might be my remembering watching this cartoon in ages past and knowing where the business all was going. Some folks might like Bimbo’s shooting at a lion only to produce a pride of lions better than I do, and I won’t say you’re wrong. Nor will I say you’re wrong if you like his shooting them all again with one bullet. It’s a joke I feel like I’ve seen before, but I also know I’ve seen it here before.

The story’s structured sensibly enough. It’s paced too steadily, too measured, for me though. Everything feels a bit slow and there’s no build to the story or tension or loopiness or action. You could probably swap the order of any of the hunting gags and make as good a short. There’s not any blink-and-you-miss-it jokes, not if you blink fast enough to spot the deer pulling his pistol out. Maybe Bimbo kissing the bear at about 5:18. Three’s also no really good body-horror jokes as long as you don’t find animals wearing their own fur as clothing horrifying. Some mice finally show up, in the parade at the end, about 6:50 in, at least.

There is some good animation crafting, though. As Bimbo’s slowly pursued by lions, around 3:45, there’s two levels of background. One’s the ground, moving as Bimbo walks. The other’s the sky, in perspective motionless. It adds some good depth to the scene. About 5:41 there’s a great split-screen image, Bimbo and Koko walking back with their furs. That’s some good camera work and the sort of thing you never see in cartoons.

But I have to rate this, overall, a dull cartoon. It’s all competently done, and crafted well enough that even if it ran in the late 30s it wouldn’t stand out as a primitive cartoon, the way (say) Dizzy Dishes might. Good to have reached that level of competence but that’s all it has.

The 38th Talkartoon: Chess-Nuts; could this be the end of Old King Cole?


Today’s Talkartoon is another from April of 1932. And it’s another animated by Shamus Culhane. The other animator was William Henning, who hasn’t been credited on a Talkartoon before. He did work on Swing You Sinners! though.

A word before we get to the action. The sexual-assault subtext that runs through a lot of Betty Boop cartoons is less subtexty this time around. I mean, the bad guy drags her into a bedroom at one point. And there’s lower-level stuff played for laughs, like Betty’s clothes coming off or an animal peeking up her dress. If you don’t want to deal with that, don’t worry. You’re not missing a significant cultural event. I’ll catch you next time.

Something you discover and rediscover a lot watching black-and-white cartoons: they’re not afraid to have real-world and cartoon interactions. They maybe have more the farther back you go, which seems opposite the way you’d expect. This short’s framed with footage of old guys playing chess. It’s not much interaction. And they do a common trick of using a still frame to animate over. But it’s still neat to see.

Some time ago these Talkartoons introduced this leering old guy that I wanted to identify as Old King Cole. I dropped it as I couldn’t think where I’d gotten that from. It must be this short; the song’s clear enough about who this is.

Framing the action as an anthropomorphized chess game is a fun idea. It doesn’t quite hold together logically, if someone would care about the logic of why the King would need his Queen to marry him. And it has some weird knock-on effects, like forcing Bimbo and Koko to go in white versions of their models. Given that Betty also wears a black dress it seems like it’d be easier if the three of them were the black pieces and Old King Cole in white. Maybe it’s so the resolution can be the white king Bimbo capturing the black queen Betty?

Anyway it’s a good excuse to have a lot of checkerboard patterns moving in perspective, which lets the animators show off what they can do. And there’s a wealth of the weird little mutable-world jokes that black-and-white cartoons get a reputation for: Bimbo’s crown reaching out and punching Old King Cole. A table reaching up to pull Betty’s dress back down. Betty dragging a window out of place. Old King Cole running into a door so hard he falls apart.

There’s a bunch of blink-and-you-miss-it jokes. Maybe you noticed about 1:48 where Bimbo’s hands fall off for a second. But did you notice about 3:50, when Old King Cole is carrying Betty off, that his feet keep slipping out of his shoes and dropping back in? Old King Cole’s falling-apart and reassembling after hitting the door about 3:15 is also done very quickly and underplayed. Plenty of choices here; I’d give the nod to the shoes business since I’ve seen this cartoon dozens of times over the last twenty years and only noticed it today.

Mice only appear once here, as Betty throws a vase through the wall and an adulterous mouse runs back home about 5:26. But then after the initial establishing scene Betty Boop doesn’t show up herself until about 2:45 in. The short is much more a Bimbo cartoon, and he’s actually an effective lead for it. Old King Cole skulks about in a nicely Snidely Whiplash-y manner. Bimbo plays well against him. Some ages ago I talked about Betty Boop’s short-lived boyfriend Fearless Fred. I suspected that Fred’s creation was because Bimbo couldn’t play the Hero role in a Spoof Victorian Melodrama. That Bimbo’s just too vague a person to have a good comeback to the Villain’s taunting. Maybe I was wrong; he holds his own here. But I stil can’t see Bimbo quite playing Fred’s role naturally, for all that he succeeds here.

The closing music tells us Old King Cole is dead and gone. I don’t remember his turning up in another cartoon. But never know; there’s no reason that he couldn’t.

The 37th Talkartoon: The Dancing Fool, The Rarest Kind Of Betty Boop Cartoon


This week’s Talkartoon is an unusual one. Not in content; in content it’s a dance party cartoon, with the characters ultimately playing to music until the Fleischer Studio meets the contractually obligated length. It’s rare in that I have absolutely no memory of this cartoon.

Backstory. In the 90s I got the eight-VHS Betty Boop: The Definitive Collection. It wasn’t complete, as I knew even back then. There are some lost Betty Boop cartoons, which nobody could be blamed for not including. There are some follow-the-bouncing-ball singalong cartoons which have Betty Boop and which didn’t make the cut. You can disagree with that editorial judgement but they did have to get the whole collection in with less than 16 hours of video. The live-action shorts with Betty Boop didn’t make the cut. This is an easily defended choice if your goal was to show all the Betty Boop cartoons. Anyway, the variety — and picture quality — of the cartoons was fantastic and I watched all the tapes a lot, even the ones with mostly boring late-run shorts.

And I have no memory of ever seeing this one. If the Internet Movie Database is to be believed, it was there, squeezed between Jack and the Beanstalk and the Screen Songs cartoon Let Me Call You Sweetheart. The first is easy to remember; I reviewed it just a couple weeks ago. The second is easier to remember than this; it includes live-action segments from Ethel Merman. I guess that’s sufficient reason to overlook it.

So this cartoon is credited to animators Seymour Kneitel and Bernard Wolf. Both are familiar hands at this point. It was released the 8th of April, 1932. I can’t find a version on archive.org, only YouTube. This is a version that has a clearer picture with less rasterization. But somehow the whole picture jumps around and sways a bit. I don’t know how. It’s close enough to the beat that I thought it might be an impressive technical bit by the Fleischers, to have the whole scene bounce in a way complementary to the characters’ motion. But it seems to be more some weirdly complicated bit of digitizing the cartoon.

As teased, I’m indifferent to this cartoon. It’s pleasant. It’s got some nice examples of the cartoon character trope of not falling before one notices one’s in the air. It’s got the nice doing-stuff-too-hard gag of Bimbo and Koko hauling their plank and paint all the way up a building and walking across several tall buildings to drop back down to ground level. It’s got some nice bits of business besides that too. Bimbo using his stubby tail as a paintbrush. The mice that pop up out of the windowsill about 3:37 to sing Betty Boop’s name. The mice at about 1:15 who come out ready to catch the falling Bimbo and whose work doesn’t even get noticed.

There’s two halves to the cartoon, one that’s just Bimbo and a weird-voiced Koko; and one that’s Betty and her entourage dancing. Betty took long enough to show up I wondered if she had only a cameo and that’s why I didn’t remember the cartoon from The Definitive Collection. There’s I suppose logic in going from the sign-painting stuff to the dance-party stuff. I wonder if they didn’t start out trying to do a window-washers or a sign-painters cartoon and stitched it to some dancing stuff when they ran out of jokes. Not that the first half isn’t amiable; there’s just not a lot going on.

I can’t pick out a favorite blink-and-you-miss-it joke. Maybe the mice with the rescue trampoline, since they’re underplayed so. Most everything else is very well-established and given time to register, especially later on as the short turns to a lot of dancing. There’s some nice, well-done animation here. I particularly like the tiger hopping out of the strips and dancing with those as partner. (I’m suspiciously easily amused by characters leaping out of their patterns or colors.)

I was more interested when I thought the background and everything bounced in time with the music.

The 36th Talkartoon: Crazy Town, a place to visit


So after that weirdness of two Talkartoons released the same day, the Fleischer Studios went to a more relaxed pace. They didn’t release the next short until the 25th of March, 1932. This one was animated by Shamus Culhane and David Tendlar. Culhane has had credits here before. Tendlar is a new credit. He doesn’t seem to have any other credits on the Talkartoon series either. But he’d stick around, staying with Fleischer and then Famous Studios until that was finally shut down, and then to Filmation and Hanna-Barbera. I’m tickled that he’s got a lot of credits for Superfriends cartoons; a lot of my impression of what superheroes should be like are basically “like the one where the Wonder Twins are outwitted by an abandoned roller coaster”. I’m not sure Tendlar had anything to do with that one, but he is credited on the episode where a mad scientist sends a Stupid Ray back in time to prevent modern humans from evolving, so he can rule a planet of Neanderthals, and the plan would have worked except some Superfriends were visiting Skylab, which was outside the effect’s reach? … I’m pretty sure I have that right, and it’s still wrong. Anyway, here’s a Talkartoon.

The short starts with a familiar song, “Hot-cha-cha” with a fresh set of lyrics. We saw it back in Dizzy Dishes, that introduced who we’d know as Betty Boop. And it’s got a nice title sequence of looking at a booklet and letting that open into the action. Live action-and-animation hybrids were common in the 20s, always startling to people who think Who Framed Roger Rabbit or possibly Mary Poppins invented the idea. The Fleischers built their main series in the 20s on this sort of thing and it’s good to see they hadn’t lost that yet.

I also can’t see a cartoonish, overstuffed trolley without thinking of Fontaine Fox’s long-running panel strip The Toonerville Trolley, and cursing myself for never buying the book collecting strips from that used book store back in Troy, New York, in the late 90s. I don’t think there’s any reference being made here. The trolley driver and the banana-eating guy at about 3:00 in look to me like Old King Cole, from Mask-A-Raid. But that might just be that skinny old white guys in these cartoons tend to blend together.

The short itself is a long string of spot jokes. Betty and Bimbo travel to Crazy Town, and as implied, everything’s silly there. Mostly everything gets a basic reversal. A fish waves around a pole and catches a man. At the barber shop waving the scissors over a head makes hair grow. Big animals make tiny squeaks and a suspicious mouse (at about 5:45) roars like a lion. There’s not a lot of deep thinking going into the story-building here. This goes deep; the short isn’t even decided on whether Bimbo is a screwball character doing wild stuff (like early on, when he plays the trolley’s contact pole like a bass), or a straight-man to whom things happen (as when he and Betty watch with terror the approach of the Vermin Supreme ’32 supporter wearing hats on his feet and a boot on his head), or someone who comes around to embrace the weirdness (as when he gets into the barber shop’s logic). Betty doesn’t do much except react to stuff this short, but it does mean she’s got a consistent viewpoint.

I don’t think I can name a blink-and-you-miss-it joke. Everything’s given about the time it needs. I can say the train station joke, with the station holding still and the city sliding behind it, catches my imagination. For its practical benefits, of course. But also because I think of how in a couple years the Fleischers would develop that set-back camera, which let them put animated stuff in front of real-world models that move. It’s always a stunning effect. It’s often the best part of a dull cartoon. And I think of what the city-moving-behind-the-station joke would look like with that effect.

The central song, “Foolish Facts”, wasn’t written for this cartoon. It looks like it should be credited to Frank Crumit. He was renowned for recordings of “Frankie and Johnnie” and “Abdul Abulbul Amir” and writing the fight song for Ohio State University. And he recorded titles that sound like the titles you’d make up about a phonograph star of around 1930, like “She Gives Them All The Ha-Ha-Ha”, “I Married The Bootlegger’s Daughter”, “Oh! Didn’t It Rain”, “There’s No One With Endurance Like The Man Who Sells Insurance”, and “The Prune Song”. Yes there’s a Top 100 Frank Crumit Songs album available on iTunes for only US$5.99. Warning, at least one of the “Foolish Facts” verses not used in this cartoon does one of those 1930s oh-ha-ha wives-are-the-worst-right-fellas jokes. But if you can take that I have to say that’s a good value for a heaping pile of songs that all sound kind of like old-time cartoon music.