60s Popeye: Popeye’s Picnic, which is more about flat tires and butterflies


This time, we get back to the Jack Kinney studios, so it’s 1960 again. The story and the animation direction’s credited to Osmond Evans. Production and direction is given to Jack Kinney. Here’s Popeye’s Picnic.

There’s a kind of Popeye cartoon that I guess is maybe a Jack Kinney specialty. It’s one where there’s not so much a story as there is riffing around a particular scene. It’s a story mode that, at its best, feels like an improv exercise at work. By this I mean every character’s given one really strong beat that they’re going to focus on. Nobody else is going to try arguing them into paying attention to something else. These focuses can interact with each other. Or they might just stay what they are, with the scene bouncing between them. This is a kind of scene that you’ll either really like for its absurdity or hate for its plotlessness. Or possibly for characters being jerks in how they won’t listen to one another.

So here’s the focuses. Olive Oyl is obsessed with butterflies today and that’s fine; she’s fickle. Popeye is now very interested in the food they’ll have this picnic. Olive Oyl even says, “You say the sweetest things … but it’s always about food”. So he does, this short particularly. He’s also made a line of Dagwood sandwiches, none of which look like they’re stable enough to eat. I guess if Popeye needs an obsession for the short, food is a decent one, but it does feel like more of a Wimpy thing.

Not that the food matters much. On the way to the picnic they get a flat. While changing the tire Popeye gets himself caught in the wheel rim, something that always deeply unsettled me as a kid. I’m still not comfortable with it. He spends most of the short doubled over, trapped and trying to free himself, while Olive Oyl worries about her butterflies. She can’t see why Popeye is taking forever with this and suspects he doesn’t even care about butterflies.

Popeye's stuck, doubled over, inside a tire wheel, sitting up on his rump and holding a stick that can't help him get free. A skeptical-looking bull is running in and bumping against him.
I’m really bothered by Popeye being caught like that in the wheel thingy and also that I’m not sure what to call that wheel thingy.

That’s thin stuff even for a five minute cartoon, so we get a bull in, as a third party. That and the presence of a butterfly gives us enough characters for stuff to happen. The bull — who looks skeptical about his part in all this — chases Olive Oyl. She and Popeye get spun around some. She tries to run away. She does this great funny run up the side of a tree, too. Eventually the bull hits Popeye in the rear, knocking him free and into a spinach patch. I’m not sure if Popeye posed for that on purpose. It’s great thinking on Popeye’s part if he did. This gets Popeye and the bull racing toward each other in what’s sure to be a titanic collision, only for them to stop lest they crush the butterfly between them. Olive Oyl thanks the bull for stopping, and she’s holding his tail, although I’m not sure if her pulling his tail mattered. Everything’s happy, they all settle down to a picnic and that’s that.

The Eighteenth Talkartoon: The Cow’s Husband


This week’s Talkartoon is from the 13th of March, 1931. One of the credited animators was Shamus Culhane again. The other, Rudolf Eggeman, didn’t get listed in the credits for anything we’ve seen so far. And I don’t know much about him. The Early NY Animators blog has a tiny bit more, including attributions for some scenes in “Dizzy Dishes” and “Barnacle Bill”, plus cartoons I hope to get to. Early NY Animators found recollections of him working as far back as 1916, for the Pat Sullivan studio, but with the note that he had a reputation for crude and messy work. If Eggeman animated anything after 1932 they don’t know about it, and nor does the Internet Movie Database. (The IMDB doesn’t have anything from before 1930, when Eggeman joined Fleischer Studios, though.)

Do bullfighting cartoons always come down on the bull’s side? At least in the American tradition. I confess my deep ignorance of other countries’ animation patterns. I can’t offhand think of one, though, where the audience is clearly expected to be on the toreador’s side. Even when the bull is a big, menacing, unfriendly presence. I suppose the knowledge the bull would really be doomed however the fight goes makes him unavoidably sympathetic.

So this gives the cartoon some plotting trouble. You can have a sympathetic character be the toreador; Popeye, Bugs Bunny, and the Pink Panther did some great work in their bullfighting cartoons. But Bimbo’s a weaker character than any of them, even here where he’s doing the sorts of reality-warping gags that you’d get from screwball Daffy Duck. Take the bull, who’s naturally sympathetic to start with, and start his cartoon with a minute of teary farewells to his children and even his fly, and there’s no hope for Bimbo to actually star in his own short.

The teary farewell does give the first line of Talkartoons dialogue I remember making me laugh aloud though: the second child’s reassuring “Don’t worry, daddy, we’ll collect your insurance” is great. It makes more shocking the next child’s “never mind, Pop, momma’s gonna buy us a new daddy”. It feels like a joke from a more modern, cynical-edging-on-nihilistic cartoon. I didn’t like that; it felt like a shock-for-the-sake-of-shock joke, and I’m less fond of those these days. But that cynicism is of a piece with the end, and the bulls marching off unknowingly into the butcher’s.

So Eggeman had a reputation for sloppy work, albeit work that the Early NY Animators blog credits with good, funny expressions and movement. This makes for an interesting counterpoint because this cartoon features rotoscoping. Max Fleischer invented the rotoscope (the patent was issued 100 years ago this past 9th of October). It made the studio. Thanks to tracing the movement of a real figure they were able to make Koko the Clown move in more natural, believable ways in-between being melted into a blob of ink or stretched into a hammock or something. It’s still one of the indispensable tools for the animator. Every studio would use it when they had some movement they needed to get right. It’s at least intellectually part of the heritage of motion-capture animation.

The bull’s dance is rotoscoped. I’m curious who the original dancer was, but that’s probably lost to time. The animation suddenly bursting into this smooth, gracious ballet figure, though, still stands out. I haven’t got any idea who did the actual tracing and adaptation of the original movement to a bull’s body shape. Maybe it was Culhane, who did have a strong drafting hand.

The cartoon several times uses the gag of someone’s accessory going about its business while they do something else. That’s a Fleischer Studios staple. It’s also got a nice proper fight-cloud, that I don’t remember encountering in the Talkartoons before. I only spot mice once, a trio of them on the giraffe’s neck at about 6:38 in.

I like the logic of the parade reversing course after the cop warns they’re going the wrong way down the one-way street. But my favorite blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag is Bimbo and the bull staring one another down, nose to nose, until Bimbo’s nose comes off him and attaches to the bull. I was worried they’d repeat the joke, spoiling its whimsy, their next face-to-face showdown.