60s Popeye: The Baby Contest (nb, ‘contest’ is a noun here, not a verb)


I had thought that all these Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced shorts were from 1961 anymore. Nope. This is a 1960 production. So as much as I did not understand how King Features’s YouTube page was bundling these shorts together, I now understand them even less. Or I don’t understand them more. Whichever. As usual for a Paramount-made cartoon, Seymour Kneitel’s listed as director. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Now to think something about The Baby Contest.

I have no idea where Brutus got this kid, either.

The title promises, and the cartoon gets around to, a string of contest jokes. A bunch of small stunts, the bad guy cheating to win all or most all of them, and then the good guy pulling out a last-second win. Here, the bad guy is Bully Boy, I guess. I think we only hear his name from the egg-rolling-race announcer. Also they have an egg-rolling-race announcer. Of course it’s Jackson Beck, who did this sort of narrator-type work for every old-time-radio show ever. It might confuse the casual viewer that Brutus is narrating the race. I don’t remember ever finding this confusing when I was a kid, though.

It takes its sweet time getting there, though. We don’t even get to the contest until two minutes in, and it’s another half-minute before the events start. The start of the cartoon’s filled instead with Swee’Pea moping. Olive Oyl and Popeye try to lift his spirits and that’s a reliable cartoon premise in itself.

Swee'Pea sits up in the living room, looking sad. Olive Oyl and Popeye watch; Popeye is pointing to Swee'Pea and in the midst of saying something.
“Ahoy, Swee’Pea! I knows ya is feelin’ the aliennagration of the atomiskized mod’rn sock-siety likes that, and ya has gots ta find yer own ways ta handle the crushing weights of existentikalistical dread an’ all, but I hopes ya will cornsider what’s almost allus worked fer me: polka!”

Wimpy introduces the contest as a best-two-of-three affair. The contest organizers are lucky only two babies entered. There’s three activities: a potato-sack race, an egg-rolling contest, and a crawling contest. The egg-rolling contest and the crawling contest look suspiciously similar. I’m surprised they didn’t swap the egg-rolling and the potato-sack race so the reused animation would be less obvious. I’m surprised they couldn’t think of a fourth and fifth event, but maybe the trouble is thinking of ones that would not need much new footage. I also wonder if only having the three events is why they spent so much time establishing Swee’Pea’s unhappiness.

We get the expected cheating on Brutus’s part (Bully Boy seems completely innocent) and counter-cheating on Popeye’s. At least in the potato-sack race. In the crawl, we see Popeye notice that Brutus is using a lollipop on a fishing rod to lure Swee’Pea away. It’s Bully Boy that Brutus brings in, though. The implication is that Popeye did something, but what? And when?

After losing, Brutus offers Wimpy a huge plate of hamburgers for the trophy. His plan fails, maybe because he tries in the open after all the contests have been judged. I mean, Wimpy is a supremely bribable judge. Two burgers before the start of the match and it wouldn’t even matter what the contest was. Also, Brutus is unaware that you can just buy trophies. Seriously. They’re cheaper than you’d think.

In this cartoon, Popeye does not eat spinach, but Swee’Pea does. Swee’Pea also gives a rhyming couplet to close things off.

Krazy Kat: The Stork Exchange


So, International Film Service and then Bray Productions took shots at adapting George Herriman’s great yet obscurant comic strip Krazy Kat to silent animation, with results that I would describe as successful cartoons but not really Krazy Kat. And yet a third series of cartoons based on the never-all-that-popular comic strip was created in the mid-to-late 1920s, still before the successful introduction of sound to motion pictures. This one ran at least 97 pictures, if Wikipedia’s filmography hasn’t got errors in it.

This installment, “The Stork Exchange”, was originally released the 17th of December, 1927, something you might have guessed from the Charles Lindbergh joke in it. I think it’s a reasonably solid silent cartoon: Krazy wanders into the Stork Factory where babies get made, is for faint reasons put in charge of it, and struggles to do so. To add to the historic interest this was a “lost” film, believed destroyed sometime around 1948 when its producer, Margaret J Winkler, disposed of old nitrocellulose-based film stock of stuff people weren’t watching anyway. A copy was found in 2004 at a British Film Institute archive.

The version I have embedded here, from YouTube, features a generic soundtrack featuring what sound to me like Les Paul-ish strumming around songs I can’t really name. The opening one I think of as “Mother Gooseland” because of a Betty Boop cartoon, and the closer seems to be “Listen To The Mockingbird”, for what that’s worth.

But as an adaptation of the comic strip? The example here doesn’t give much reason to think anyone involved with it knew there was a comic strip. Why even bother calling it Krazy Kat? The answer that seems obvious to me involves two facts. One: the first of this series of Krazy Kat cartoons, animated by Charles Mintz’s studios and distributed by M J Winkler, was released on the first of October, 1925. Two: “Felix Dopes It Out”, the last Felix the Cat cartoon distributed by Winkler, was released on the 15th of August, 1925, with the most successful silent cartoon star going to Educational Pictures from the week after that.

With that, suddenly, a lot of the cartoon makes more sense, starting with why there should be a third string of Krazy Kat cartoons at all, and then why they should be about a plucky character with a certain drive that I just don’t see in the comic strip character, and why they should embrace silent-cartoon conventions like everything in the world being animate or potentially so, and why something like the fable of storks bringing babies should bring someone to a cloud-based factory where raw ingredients are ground together into babies. As a Felix the Cat cartoon — well, I admit I’m not a connoisseur of Felix, and a more serious fan might have stronger feelings. But as a Felix cartoon this feels to me like a pretty decent installment, interesting and well-paced and even plotted better than the average silent. I wonder if Ignatz Mouse appears in any of the cartoons.