60s Popeye Watching: Irate Pirate


Irate Pirate is another of the Larry Harmon-produced line of 60s cartoons. Just looking at the title card I thought: well, “irate” and “pirate” only really rhyme when Popeye is saying that, and only some of the time even then, right? It’s all right to rely on an idiosyncratic thing of your title character, especially a character as generally swell as Popeye. But it’s symptomatic of this cartoon, where I ended up thinking more stray thoughts than actually watching the plot. Let’s see if you agree.

The cartoon’s competent enough. Everybody has a model and they stick, stiffly, to it. The story’s quite direct. There’s not really weird moments in it, either. So I’m left with stray thoughts while I watch. Here’s some of them.

  • Hey, it’s a cartoon where Popeye the Sailor is actually doing something with boats!
  • Though it is odd that we’re set up with a collapskible boat that we never see collapsking. Just un-collapsking. A button is a setup to have a button pressed repeatedly, at awkward moments.
  • “Ooh, Popeye! I just love that salty dialogue!” is definitely (at about 0:55) a line I did not understand when I was seven.
  • Olive Oyl asks what the one and only button is for. Popeye wants to stop her from pressing it, but he doesn’t want to stop her so much that he moves in any way.
  • So why does BrutusJolly Roger have a French accent this cartoon? Did it start out at one point as a New Orleans-set river-pirates thing and then that setting got dropped? Did they record the audio for this the same day, or near enough, to Mississippi Sissy? Was Jackson Beck just trying to add a little flavor to a dull part?
  • Popeye complains that Olive Oyl, atop the mast, is rollicking the boat. But since the animation doesn’t have her actually move, it looks like he’s the one rollicking the mast.
  • BrutusJolly Roger has a point about not wanting Olive Oyl to be on Popeye’s homemade tub rather than his own actual boat. Also I like Popeye’s indignant, “whaddaya mean homemade? I builded this boat meself!”
  • It’s really not until 2:51, when Olive Oyl’s finally tied up, that we see BrutusJolly Roger doing something villainous. If he did tie her up; we have to take it on trust that he had some part on it. There’s easily one chance in four that Olive Oyl spontaneously manifests ropes tying her up at about this part of a cartoon.
  • Olive Oyl hugging the top of a ship's mast, smiling and with her eyes closed.
    Well, glad Olive Oyl’s enjoying herself.
  • At about 3:30 Olive Oyl demands, “Don’t you dare hurt Popeye, you – you – pirate, you”. BrutusJolly Roger says, “Oh, I would not think of it” and immediately shoots his harpoon without explaining the apparent contradiction. Yeah, all he does is sink Popeye’s inflatable boat but I’d expected some mention of why he’s well, actually not hurting Popeye.
  • While handing from BrutusJolly Roger’s fishhook Popeye declares there’s “nothing like strained spinach to tickle the tonsils”, and when he eats it there’s this watery sound effect. What’s gone and strained his spinach? Is this supposed to be watery after Popeye was dunked in the sea? I guess that makes sense?
  • Those button noses on the ends of BrutusJolly Roger’s sharks given them a weirdly puppy-dog look.
  • BrutusJolly Roger’s boat starts out pretty sleek and modern, but as it goes on he seems to pick up older-style pirate accessories. Like, were they even still making cannonballs in 1960, apart from for historical reenactments? I honestly don’t know and don’t know how to look this one up.
  • After getting partly blown up by a cannonball that Popeye’s caught, lit, and passed back on, Olive Oyl declares “Let’s go ashore, sailing is so boring”. So she’s fed up with cartoons where all she does is get tied up by the Big Bad and urges Popeye on to doing something, too.

There’s probably some way to measure how much I’m buying into a cartoon by how many stray distracted thoughts like these that I have about it.

Some Things Which Are Not Alarming


But these are things that we do need alarms for as long as I am thinking about alarms.

First, we need a warning about putting things on tables. I have to preface this with a warning. I’m going to sound like a great big hypocrite. This is because I am a great one for putting things on tables. I come from a long line of people who put things on tables. Also footstools, bookshelves, chairs, slow-moving relatives, sofas, all kinds of things. We put things on any kind of reasonably horizontal-ish surface, and then putting some more things on top of that.

Look anywhere you like on my family tree and you’ll find stacked on it three magazines we figure to read someday and maybe an orange or a disused volleyball. Something in the greater orb family. On top of that is the cardboard box something was mailed to us in years ago and kept around just in case it could be used to mail something else. It will never be so used, because by that time it’s acquired too much sentimental value to just mail out like a piece of common boxery. Also by then it’s got four possibly expired credit cards, a sandwich baggie full of loose bolts and magic markers, plus an Underdog comic book, the broken-off wrist strap from a digital camera, and a block of lucite representing no clear purpose in it.

So please understand that it is not simply putting things on the table that I think needs an alarm. It is the placing of something that could get knocked off the edge of the table, that I’d like a warning system for. And here we have a problem. My love is the normal one in our relationship. I’m the one who, within the past week, has shared the cartoon where Mister Jinks acknowledges to Pixie and Dixie that he didn’t want to be transformed into a cow but he isn’t going to raise a fuss about it. (Mister Jinks is fibbing. He’s very cross, blaming them for his turning into a cow.)

My love therefore just puts, like, a can of soda down on the table. You know, anywhere that isn’t already covered by my stack of library books and unopened letters from the ham radio people and the DVD of Automan I bought two years ago and haven’t watched yet. Me, I feel uncomfortable with a soda can anywhere too near the edge. I define too near as “within three feet of a zone that could reach the edge of the table, if someone were to take a running start from at least twenty feet away, leap up, and attempt to tackle a Mello Yello Zero”. I would like the pop cans to be kept at least 28 feet away from all edges of the table, and surrounded by that little foam padding thing they use to wipe up chemical spills. And be watched over by a protective agency. I’m thinking mouse guards, dressed as Romans but carrying pikes because that would look great. They would be fully equipped with an antigravity mechanism to move the pop out of the way in case of flying tackles.

Obviously this scheme is impractical. Being 28 feet away from the dining room table would put the soda somewhere in the attic, possibly the roof of the house, depending on which side of the table we sit at. While this would prevent spills on the floor, it could cause spills on the beach gear, insulation, or squirrels casing the joint.

So I’m already the one in the wrong about whether “setting a can of pop on the table” is an alarming scenario. But furthermore, spilling a pop on the floor is maybe the best indoor place to spill it. The only thing that’s ever on the floor is our feet, which clean well, or the socks our feet are in, which also clean well, or the pile of computer cables topped with a bag of plush dolls that I got at an amusement park that I mean to give my nieces as presents and keep forgetting to do. Spilling something too near that pile on the floor might actually make me clean that nonsense up, which would be worth it. Spilling something on the floor is a boon to housecleaning altogether.

Spilling on the table? Now that’s a mess. That we have to deal with by getting the laptop computers out of the way, and maybe tablecloths, placemats, United MileagePlus reward catalogues going back to 2016, this packet of Splenda we snagged at a Tim Horton’s in Hamilton, Ontario, last summer, and four different hard drive cases, some three of which contain working hard drives that we use for backup backups. Getting all that cleared out ahead of the wave of spilled Mello Yello Zero is stressful. We should be placing our pop nearer the table edge just to make sure it spills in productive places instead.

I meant to have more things to be alarmed by but somehow ran out of space. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Muskels Shmuskels: all right, that’s a Popeye cartoon then


This week’s another Larry Harmon-produced Popeye cartoon, Muskels Shmuskels. I admire Jack Mercer’s ability to actually say that title out loud.

Once again I wonder about the writing of these shorts. This one’s credited to Charles Shows. Was he working for King Features or for Larry Harmon? The story feels much like those of Interrupted Lullaby or Goon With The Wind, both Gene Deitch-made cartoons which carry no writing credits. Something about the scenario being pretty well-worn, but the story basically coherent except that I’m not sure how we get from one situation to another. (How does Popeye, shot up from a cannon, end up bouncing up and down on an acrobat safety net right next to a high-dive tower?)

Imposing a quirky restriction on a character — they Must do this, they Must Not do that — can be a good way to generate stories. Particularly comic stories. Particularly comic stories where the setup’s been done a lot. By my count the Popeye-and-BlutoBrutus-fight-at-the-midway plot had been done at this point some 4,647 times, going back to the first-ever Popeye cartoon. But it’s a fair enough starting point, giving plenty of reason for Popeye and BlutoBrutus to show off feats of strength and get to punching each other.

So doing a midway cartoon, with Popeye under a compulsion to Not Fight, should be good. We can have the fun of Popeye finding ways to technically not break his promise. Or to sneak in a couple punches when Olive Oyl isn’t looking. Maybe to sneak in a full fight while keeping up the pretense when Olive is looking that he’s being innocent. Why it’s so important to Olive Oyl that Popeye not fight today is left underdeveloped, but that’s all right. The cartoon forgets that he is supposed to not be fighting. Like, why does Popeye figure he can just throw that great weight at Brutus at about 8:00? Right after Olive Oyl reminded him not to fight? It only parses if he throws the weight before Olive Oyl reminds him, but that’s not what he did.

It’s half-baked, which is something that kept bothering me this cartoon. Like, Brutus having set up a dumbbell weight that’s bolted to the ground, so no one can lift it? That makes sense as a setup: Brutus as a performer would want people to try it out and see how impossible his stunt is. But then how does Brutus lift the dumbbells? I suppose I’m being a bad audience in this, taking too literally the way the weights are bolted to the stage. But I don’t get how the showmanship is supposed to work if there’s no way Brutus could lift the weights either. (And in little half-baked moments: as the cartoon starts, do Olive Oyl and Popeye know who Brutus is or not? Popeye starts out, around 6:40, just calling him “Mister Strong Fella”, but Olive Oyl knows her name soon after. And Brutus knows Popeye’s name somehow.)

There’s stuff I do like. Brutus suggesting “a date for a late tête-à-tête” at about 6:25, which must have been fun for Jackson Beck to record. Popeye’s angry huffing and puffing right after. Its echo in Brutus puffing on a cigar at 10:55. That good old Larry Harmon Fight Cloud at about 10:30. And that moment of Fleischer-esque body mutability at about 10:42, when Popeye puffs his fist up into a great mitt to slam down on the high striker.

Still, it would have been so much more fun if they could have reliably remembered Popeye was supposed to not be fighting.

Popeye in another babysitting-Swee’Pea cartoon: Interrupted Lullaby


When I first watched this week’s cartoon, Interrupted Lullaby, I didn’t notice the credits. So I was trying to figure out what the deal is with the animation. Finally something in the motion, and something in the sound effects — I was watching it quietly — revealed. It’s a Gene Deitch cartoon. Normally, I like these, as the Gene Deitch style has a weirdness I enjoy. This time? Well.

So here’s a question I never fully articulated: why am I watching the 1960s King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons? The universal consensus is that they range from awful to god-awful, they were made for about $35 each, and none of them advanced the Popeye canon significantly. Why not cartoons that have some legacy, like the Fleischer or even the Famous Studios cartoons? Or, like, Popeye and Son, which tried to change the canonical center and maybe screwed things up but at least did it in an 80s way?

Partly, well, because I started doing this by accident and never really examined my decision. Partly comfort; I grew up watching these and while they may not be good, they have nostalgia’s soft pleasantness. The best reason to watch these and write about them is discovery, though. The cartoons were made under ridiculous constraints of time and budget and material. Working out how they got work done is interesting. And instructive to all of us trying to do stuff despite all the reasons we can’t.

Last week in discussing Goon with the Wind I noticed things that have to have cost money and time. Popeye and Olive Oyl in different outfits. An island of Goon-esque characters. Some slick moments of animation. Some good special effects. All that had to be paid for somewhere. … I do not know the production order of these cartoons, or whether anyone knows it. But, boy, do we have a candidate here for where the resources for that cartoon came from.

We start off, after all, with the cartoon failing to synchronize Popeye blowing his pipe in the opening credits. It’s a weirdly unnecessary stumble to the start. We get a couple repeats of the Popeye-the-sailor-man fanfare while reading in the Morning Star how Swee’Pea today “beanie [sic]” a millionaire, inheriting from “his late great granfather [sic]”. After staring at that for long enough, Popeye finally reads the news aloud. Later, Bluto or Brutus gets to see the paper for a fraction of a second; it’s like they misplaced a few seconds of establishing.

Swee'Pea on his bed, looking at Popeye reading from a book. Behind the curtain Bluto-or-Brutus lurks. There's a fly near Swee'Pea.
I guess it was that chocolate-colored-gold wrapping the chocolate. Maybe I’m overreacting to Popeye exaggerating what it was he brought. It kept me from noticing how weird Popeye’s arms are this whole cartoon anyway. I mean weird compared to the way Popeye’s arms normally look.

Swee’Pea being a millionaire, or thought to be one, isn’t a bad premise and I think the comic strip’s done that a few times. But all it serves for the plot here is a reason for Bluto or possibly Brutus to try kidnapping the kid. I guess we need the motivation but if all it amounts to is Swee’Pea’s given a box of “gold-wrapped” chocolates to eat? He could do that on fifteen hundred dollars.

There’s some good stuff here. Popeye beating up Bluto a couple times without even noticing it is a decent joke. Some of the scenes have actual depth to them, such as Popeye petting Swee’Pea’s back while a fly buzzes around and, behind the curtains, Bluto schemes to do them a mischief. Swee’Pea carefully reads out the letters s-p-i-n-a-c-h and takes the word to mean “Popeye”. Everything has actual backgrounds, rather than solid blocks of color.

But, gads. Nobody looks right, or even looks wrong in an interesting way. Mouth movements in limited animation are always going to be impressions of speech. But they looked really loose this time. I am not convinced that Jack Mercer read the line “That’s the first time I ever heard a fly say ‘OUCH’!” in one session, but why on earth would they have spliced in an “OUCH” from another cartoon? How did Popeye, tied up and trapped in a barrel, roll downstairs and pop out the storm cellar door?

This feels to me like a cartoon that didn’t get so much attention. The storyline is fine enough. I’d be interested in seeing money go to Swee’pea’s head, but that would be a different cartoon that they chose not to make. There are moments where they’re clearly saving budget, like holding on the newspaper for a good long time, or focusing on Swee’Pea eating chocolates instead of people around him talking. My impression is that the cartoon spends a little more time than, like, last week’s on this sort of animation cheat. Not enormously, but maybe enough to let them do nice things like Popeye’s circling around the Goon King last week.

I may be wrong. I don’t know any real detail of how these cartoons were made, including basic things like who did the writing. All I can do is make inferences, and wonder how they were made.

For someone fifty years from now wondering about these essays: Oh, I watch a cartoon, then watch it again, made a couple jibberish notes, and then the next day watch again while writing actual paragraphs. You know, about like you imagine. My budget is tight but I have never gone over it yet.

Popeye: Goon With The Wind, a cartoon in which the wind affects nothing


I guess I’ll do another couple King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons. Goon With The Wind turned up, just in the title credits, two things I like. First, a mention of the Goons, who’re one of Elzie Segar’s nice weird creations. They look big and monstrous and then somehow they end up being oddly likable. The second? Gene Deitch listed as the director. His style might not be yours, but it is mine. I expect animation that’s strange, a little impressionistic, and with sound effects that are … what, a reversed spring noise recorded in an echoey bathroom? Something surreal, anyway. I’m disappointed there’s not more animator credits to know who actually put pencil to paper here.

But that’s nothing I can do a thing about. So let’s watch Goon With The Wind.

We get Popeye and Olive Oyl outside their usual costumes this cartoon. And you know what that means: they won’t be able to afford animating the whole cartoon. So we get some obvious cheats, like looking close up at a boulder on top of Popeye’s cage instead of Popeye complaining about that. And we get some animation that just doesn’t work. The second time the Goon is pushing Popeye’s and Olive Oyl’s boat, for example (at about 18:14) it could not look less like the boat is actually moving. And I have no idea where the cage that drops on Popeye dropped from, or why.

But the animation budget gets thoughtfully used. When the characters are just talking, they move between extreme poses. It’s a good trick to make “standing around talking” resemble action. Jay Ward cartoons relied on this. There’s some wonderful little bits too, particularly Popeye circling, as if on skates, the Goon King at the wedding, around 21:19. There’s also a really good shower of sparkles at about 21:22, by the way; I recommend freezing the frame to look at that effect. There’s also some nice water effects, like at 18:19, as the Goon pushes the boat to the Goon island. There’s other, small bits that animate well, like at about 20:00 where Olive Oyl runs away from the Goon King, to be easily caught by the guard, whom Popeye slugs from inside his cage. Or about 21:50, Popeye setting down the still-tied-up Olive Oyl, who falls over in the sand without drawing attention otherwise.

The Goons get a new model for this cartoon. Well, these are called Goons from the Moon; maybe they’re different from the Earth Goons. I can see the resemblance to the original, Alice-the-Goon type Goon. The great long floppy nose, particularly, and that particularly Segar-ish fat lower arm. But this cartoon does away with their large size and broad shoulders and skinny lower bodies. Oh, and their furry hips look a lot like grass skirts now. And instead of speaking in pulsed vibrations, they talk in high-pitched English With Bad Pronouns. Here, I get uncomfortable. The character design, the bad speech, the plot — the Goons kidnapping Olive Oyl to serve as their Queen — evoke some blend of the Jungle Princess and the Mighty Whitey threads. But the cartoon avoided getting to “yipes” territory to my eyes. Possibly there was enough plot to keep me interested in where this is all going, and how it’ll get there.

This is the rare cartoon that starts with Popeye sailing and not ending up in a shipwreck. Olive Oyl is the one to notice that the boat is moving opposite the direction of the wind, which Popeye and the audience need explained to them. Good for Olive, who comes out pretty well this cartoon. It does re-invite the question: is Popeye is actually a good sailor? He gets shipwrecked or lost a lot. But a kidnapping can happen to anyone.

Popeye and Olive Oyl work pretty well togethere here. Olive Oyl is tempted, naturally, by the chance to be Queen of an island. But I imagine most of us would at least consider the possibility. Popeye has a good reason not to have a can of spinach on him. And Olive Oyl doesn’t screw around not getting his spinach. They act like they know how to get out of this kind of fix.

I’ve wondered about the writing for these shorts. Were the cartoons written by the animation team, or were they scripted and just sent off to whatever studio was up today? The story here feels stronger than usual and I’m curious whether that’s Deitch’s team’s doing, or just the luck of the draw.

Popeye goes Ski Jumping this time


We’ve finally got a break from Jack Kinney-directed episodes. This one’s … oh. Larry Harmon. You know, the with the crew that would go on to be Filmation. I mean, I like Filmation. They made a lot of the cartoons so deeply weird that they appealed to the young me. Who else would think to do a cartoon refresh of Gilligan’s Island by just moving everyone to a new planet? I don’t expect great animation. I’m happy if I can get a weird cartoon, though. So here’s Ski-Jump Champ, another 1960 piece.

This isn’t the first skiing cartoon from Popeye. It’s also not the first one where Jackson Beck plays Bluto as some wholly new character with a French accent. Maybe French-Canadian. Beck was apparently comfortable with that accent; he has it on a fair number of old-time radio characters too. Here he’s Gorgeous Pierre, greatest ski jumper in the world. I too wonder if that’s a riff on Gorgeous George, the 50s pro wrestler who’s the guy being riffed on in those cartoons where a pro wrestler has curly blond hair and a perfume bottle.

And it’s not even the first cartoon this month where the story is Popeye and Bluto Brutus Gorgeous Pierre doing stunts to win Olive Oyl’s affections. What makes this stand out mostly is the animation getting weird. Like, in the first scene Popeye’s right eye keeps doing this little fluttering that made me think they were accidentally opening it. No; it’s just that his eyebrow jumps between spots. Which is a mistake that curiously makes his face look much more alive and real than the animators wanted. So that’s worth talking about because it’s an animation error that makes the cartoon kind of better, somehow. It’s superior to Bluto Brutus Gorgeous Pierre using a jack to lift the end of a ski jump, which my eye keeps trying to parse as an optical illusion. And I have no idea what’s supposed to be happening about 3:04, when Popeye skis into the rope.

This all comes to a ski race because I guess they needed some structure for the back half of the cartoon. We see Bluto Brutus Gorgeous Pierre being all devious by going right after the race starter says to “go”, while Popeye stands around blinking. And here I realized I have mixed feelings about the character designs here. They’re very simple ones. Like, I look at them and think, “I could draw that,” which is a sign of a very simple character design. But simple isn’t the same as bad. I admire how they’re able to get Popeye and Olive Oyl and You-Know-Who drawn and recognizable with so few lines and as many as five colors.

Bluto, using a very long handle on a car jack, lifting up the end of a ski jump by its base. No two elements seem to be in reasonable places, relative to one another. The horizontal bar of the ski jump's posts seems to be at an angle, or else the ends of the posts are cut at an angle and one goes about six inches farther down than the other. It's all subtly disorienting in its composition and layout.
Artist’s challenge: find a vanishing point that could possibly apply here. Civil engineer’s challenge: how did this ski jump pass the state inspection when its foundation is just “sitting on top of the snow, with a jack underneath its one cross bar”?

We do get that cartoon-race motif where the villain would win easily if he didn’t keep stopping to sabotage the hero. In the last minute and a half the cartoon finally gets weird for weirdness’s sake. Gorgeous Pierre paints a tunnel into a tree. It’s a Coyote and Road Runner gag, except for being senseless. There’s a reason to take a tunnel through the mountain; why aim for the one tree on the hill because you think you can pass through it? That said, I apparently like this sort of nonsense because I didn’t think about that until the third time through. Another bit of nonsense I like is Popeye drinking spinach juice for whatever reason. I wonder if this is riffing on some commercial people in 1960 would remember. The cartoon ends with a fight cloud, and a small-pawed bear being roped into things. The bear gets to win the ski race. And Popeye declares “like Napoleon said, you can’t win them all” and spontaneously dons a Napoleon costume. Why? I have no idea.

By now, you know me. I found this a dull but okay cartoon through most of its length. I got more interested as the cartoon got more ridiculous. Also that bear was adorable and I reliably like the comic premise of the character who’s important but asleep through the whole thing. I will not call this a great one, since it isn’t. Popeye turning into Napoleon is a nice surprise, but it’s not the sort of joke which won’t wear out.

Some Kinds Of Jack-O-Lantern, With Such Warnings As Apply


Jack O’Lantern. The original and still classic. Carved by anyone who’s suspiciously vague about how they acquired a pumpkin.

Jack O’Lateen. Tall, triangular net of pumpkins mounted to the patio or house by a long yard, running fore-and-aft. Popular with coastal trick-or-treaters and people confident that their houses have little need to tack.

Jackal O’Lantern. Pumpkins carved by, or for use at events organized for, the local jackal community. Also welcome are hyenas, wolverines, and (per the famous 1712 Act of Parliament) “such badgers as are haveing a rotten daye ande do not wish to tallke aboutt-itt”. Honey badgers are customarily accepted, but this is a house rule, and should not be assumed.

Jonathan-O-Lantern. Jack’s grandfather, who’s swell and all but just a little bit formal in the way nobody has been since wearing hats stopped being a default.

Jake O’Lantern. Pumpkins which mean well but which are repeating jokes about Jake From State Farm or any other insurance-company commercial. Which is all fine except that you got it right away, and were a little amused, but they’re going to keep asking if you get it until you insist you’re riotously amused. Be ready for the trick: if you concede that you’re riotously amused for the sake of getting on with things, they will get smug about how they’re just that clever.

Jock-O-Lantern. Sports-themed pumpkin ready for a good workout session and good-spirited about it. Warning: is somehow sincerely disappointed that they never made that Hans and Franz movie.

Cyberlantern. The hardcore 1990s Internet-capable carving of a pumpkin. Features a device that, when you run it over a bar code printed in a Radio Shack catalogue, will take you to Radio Shack’s web site for that thing! Also if you want to watch a video, you can spend three hours downloading an update to something called a “codec” and then another two hours of downloading the video, which will let you see a postage stamp-sized frame of a movie, with ten short green horizontal lines on the picture, and then crash.

Jack-O-Lectern. Extremely worrying configuration of pumpkins in which they grow into something that a person urgently warning you about the Pagan Origins of Halloween stands behind.

Jeckle-Lantern. One of a pair of cartoon magpie pumpkins, possibly the one with the British accent. Maybe the Brooklyn one. Really fun to remember although if you go and actually pay attention you realize it’s mostly all right, really.

Jack-O-Lectern II. Further worrying configuration of pumpkins in which they grow into something that a person enthusiastically explains to you the Pagan Origins of Halloween stands behind.

Jack-y-Lantern. Carved in the style of that feminist newspaper that you could never figure out the publishing schedule of back in college. And that, you know, you took as being kind of flakes back in the day, but you’ve come to realize were right on all their major points about sexism and racism and ecological problems and the structures of companies and government and all that. And you’re starting to wonder if they had something about how it’s weird on Star Trek: The Next Generation people talked consistently about, like, Commander Riker and Mister Data and Counsellor Troi, but called the chief engineer just “Geordi”.

Jack-o-Lasers. Multiple thinly carved layers of internal shell allow this kind of carved pumpkin to amplify a single candle flame to the point it’s visible from the Moon. Or so they tell us, confident that we aren’t going up to the Moon to check these days.

Jack-O-Lectern III. An Internet-generated hoax. There is nothing you need do about this except shake your head at the folly of people who are not you, the lone person who never falls for dumb stuff.

Pterodactyl-Lantern. Great prehistoric flying pumpkins and they’re maybe even moving in packs! Flee to shelter!

Jack-O-Lectern IV. The most alarming possible configuration of pumpkins, in which they grow into something that a humorless STEM-type man debunking the Pagan Origins of Halloween stands behind.

Jack-O-Lanyard. A necklace-sized miniature lighted pumpkin perfect for going about to your work doing some tech stuff that nobody actually wants, but all the guys wear khakis and sometimes the group eats at Chili’s.

Popeye the Sailor: Washing Cars, Naturally


There’s times I wonder if I understood things wrong, and Jack Kinney made all the 60s King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons. Not so, though; we get just enough Larry Harmon cartoons to prove that. It does seem like each week is another Kinney cartoon, though. This one too. So, here’s Popeye’s Car Wash, plus some thoughts of my own.

Does anyone remember when Popeye sailed? Well, of course he did. There was that Jason-and-the-Golden-Fleece cartoon sometime ago. But it’s not like the 60s cartoons pioneered the idea that most of his cartoons were on land. Few of the comic strip adventures were built on him sailing either.

Popeye and BlutoBrutus running rival businesses has a long heritage, even back to the Fleischer cartoons. That’s a sound setup. The cartoon can do some joke about one person at his job, then the other, and then the two fight. The structure resists the cartoon being too monotonous.

Another small joy of the cartoon is the cars. If you can think of an American-made car that looks like something, it’s probably a late 50s car. Sure, you might mock them for ridiculous chrome details and hood ornaments and tail fins. But when you understand the historical context … eh, they’re still pretty funny. Add to that the bits of UPA design that every animation studio picked up, especially ones doing television-grade limited animation. You get the happy blend of something that stylizes well, drawn by people looking to stylize a thing. So if we’ve got a teal car that looks like a fish, good. Let’s see that. BlutoBrutus’s car wash also has the sort of mid-century architecture that really works for me.

It starts with Popeye sulking about how BlutoBrutus has taken all his business. It’s hard to see why, given that Popeye’s got a dumpier car wash place that charges 50% more than BlutoBrutus does. I like that the moment Popeye drops his prices to free he’s got a line of cars. I do not for a moment believe in Wimpy being so cross about anything as to declare how he ought to sue you. If Wimpy tells you he’s going to sue, it’s to embarrass you out of your declaration that you know he’s a mooch. He wants you to back away from you defaming him by calling him what he is. They don’t have the cast to have someone be the aggrieved customer. Olive Oyl should play the role but she’s committed otherwise.

There’s some great little bits of animation here. I like the flow of Popeye hard at work washing one side of the parade of cars. I also like Popeye, BlutoBrutus, and Olive Oyl chasing one another, in all permutations and at different gaps, around BlutoBrutus’s Beauty Bath. There’s even a moment where the animation and the music come together, as BlutoBrutus and Popeye trade punches at about 10:26.

A leering Brutus, with a neck that's as wide and even taller than his head.
Um. That’s … that’s not a correct amount of neck.

Not sure what’s the funnier bit of cheaping out on the animation: BlutoBrutus covering his mouth to call Popeye “sucker” at 6:55, or the bit of mud that just stays hovering in place while Popeye lowers his mouth at 7:20. There’s not much way to make sense of BlutoBrutus falling on and taking the place of the statue out frot of his car wash either.

So overall we’ve got a pretty successful cartoon here. Good to see.

Popeye Versus Another The Dragon


King Features’s description for this cartoon calls it a “Middle Ages – Time Machine gimmick”. They’re wrong. There were “time machine gimmick” cartoons. One of the King Features framing devices was Professor O G Wotasnozzle sending Popeye, and maybe others, into some other time. This one doesn’t. Rather like the Mississippi Sissy cartoon I looked at last week, it just starts in the setting. Bluto doesn’t appear at all, although the dragon gets the “Blow The Man Down” Bluto leitmotif.

So here, another Jack Kinney production, Popeye And The Dragon.

I’ve learned to have mixed feelings when one of these King Features cartoons starts with a weird setting. It’s great to be out of the Boring Suburbs. It means there’s a chance for some fresh jokes, or at least jokes in new skins. But if Popeye’s in a new outfit? The animators’ time went to designing that instead of, like, key frames. So I expect more intersting material with worse animation.

Can’t say I was wrong. I was a bit distracted by how much effort the cartoon went to not to show two characters interacting. Even interactions that should be just lining up the characters, like the Dragon blowing fire on Popeye or vice-versa, are more implied than shown. It’s not entirely like that. I’m amused, like I always am, by the Dragon repeatedly swatting away an attacking Popeye. I just feel like I can reconstruct the budgeting for this cartoon.

It’s a great start, too, plunging right into a Dragon rampaging through the castle. We even get two extras, which I guess is where they put the budget that would have gone into a second reaction shot for Wimpy. And for some reason Wimpy as the owner of an armor shop. Having an armor shop is a good solid idea, as is Popeye insisting on a stove instead. And that opens up a couple cute, underplayed jokes, like Popeye’s pants catching fire and Wimpy throwing water in his face. (Is this why he finishes the battle naked? His armor’s broken off and there’s nothing underneath?) Casting Wimpy as the proprietor suggests they ran out of characters. Properly, yeah, Geezil would make sense, but he’s got problems.

Large blue scaley dragon sitting back on his rump and smiling pretty widely, considering.
Really isn’t this dragon more of a big happy boy? Who could be upset with him, apart from all the rampaging and kidnapping and stuff? I wanted to get a shot of him actually kicking Popeye back but all I kept getting was the exact moment of the kick, which is mostly a set of explosion lines and Popeye half-invisible (a perfectly good animation effect) and I just could not get a screenshot actually showing Popeye and kicking dragon at once. I couldn’t swear in a court of law there is even a single frame of that and that it isn’t all the brain imagining there must be such a panel. So, good job on the animators if they did extract the animation so well that I think there’s stuff there that I can’t find.

There’s a bunch of jokes about charge cards here, just to remind you that this cartoon was made in 1960, when charge cards and pizza were inherently funny concepts. I like that Popeye has a Dragon Club card, though.

Another good bit is the horse Popeye rents. He’s got a nice sensible cowardice to him. It’s a bit hard to read his personality, since he’s got a single facial expression. But they’re at least trying to define him in body language and action alone. Popeye doesn’t even describe his action. That’s more trust being put in the drawings than I expect from this era.

Once again we get a slightly baffling ending that doesn’t make literal sense given the rest of the cartoon. Popeye wanting a spinach shoppe makes sense. The dragon working as cook makes sense too. Why Popeye’s the diner and Olive Oyl the waitstaff? I don’t know. They wanted him to go out eating a plate of spinach; they didn’t have time to work out how they got there.

Popeye: so why is this cartoon called Mississippi Sissy anyway?


For this week? It’s another 1960 Jack Kinney cartoon, Mississippi Sissy. I don’t care for the title, but only the “Mississippi” part has anything to do with the cartoon. Fun title card, too.

I’ve said how the original Thimble Theatre premise was that these characters were actors, who’d take on the role that fits the story. This faded out of the comic strip as it became a comic-adventure, even before Popeye came in to take it over. We had some trace of that in the cartoons, which were always comfortable starting with Popeye, Bluto, and Olive Oyl in different settings and different relationships. Mississippi Sissy embraces this. Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, and Wimpy are all in and playing parts in a riverboat melodrama. It all fits together well.

So we start out with Popeye strumming a banjo and narrating a story. I think he’s supposed to be singing it? That he starts with a rhyming couplet suggests that. But if he is supposed to sing nobody told Jack Mercer that. Or nobody had at least a temp track for the music to be. It’s usually a flaw in the cartoon if the viewer can’t tell whether something core is being done on purpose.

There’s a sloppiness to the whole cartoon. Of course there is. They didn’t have the time or budget to be careful. There’s plenty of animation glitches this cartoon, moments where Popeye’s pipe ends not particularly near his face, or where a character grabs something that isn’t near their hands or whatever. But here, it feels more like the cartoon is casual and relaxed about its business. I suppose that’s because I’m already enjoying the cartoon. You don’t complain about the mistakes in something that’s entertaining you.

Popeye at the cabin door. An angry Wimpy is holding a revolver at him while Olive Oyl holds Wimpy back.
I suppose it’s also weird to cast Wimpy as a person who’s done a thing and who, for that matter, is owed something. But again, who are you going to go with? Geezil would make character sense but … You know, there are reasons that Hy Eisman has ignored Geezil in his run of the Popeye comic strip. I’m not saying that you can’t use him, but I am saying, you want to go in more carefully than they were probably able to do in the 60s.

And there’s good stuff too. Particularly I’m impressed that the animation has Olive Oyl and Bluto drawn in perspective, rounding a corner. That’s more work than the usual trot from one side of the screen to the other. It’s clearly paid for by things like Olive Oyl holding the envelope noticeably in front of her mouth to speak, and that’s fine. It’s good priorities. No normal person will notice a scene of talking about a letter, however good the animation on it is. They will notice a good complex line of action as the camera zooms in. There’s also a nice bit where Popeye is pulling Olive Oyl out of the river, running up the anchor chain, and he pulls up the chain behind him. It would have been very easy to just have him run up the chain; lifting it as he moves make the cartoon look better.

There was an interesting design choice in making the story a riverboat melodrama. Who among the kid audience would know what was being spoofed? Heck, who as an adult would know that? What riverboat melodramas have you seen? Maybe your high school production of Show Boat, if that counts, and what? It’s a genre that exists entirely in parody, as best I can tell. (Periodic reminder that silent movie villains did not tie women to railroad tracks.) It doesn’t matter. The Popeye characters are cast well enough that the character types they represent are clear. Well, Wimpy as Olive Oyl’s father is a bit weird. But any choice for Olive Oyl’s father is going to be weird, unless you get into the obscure Thimble Theatre characters like, uh, her father Cole Oyl.

That the characters are playing to archetypes, even if we maybe don’t know what they are, does well at excusing the action. Taken literally, there’s no good reason for how Olive Oyl keeps changing her mind over whether Popeye should take the letter. Maybe in the kinds of story being spoofed here there’d be reasons for her to change her mind. Doesn’t matter. Fickleness is built into Olive Oyl’s character, as is Popeye’s willingness to put up with her nonsense.

It all comes together unreasonably well. It’s made one of the best of the 60s series that I’ve looked seriously at.

Popeye in Caves


The next of this block of 60s King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons is Caveman Capers. It’s produced by the Larry Harmon studios. So, you know, names like Hal Sutherland and Lou Scheimer who’d go on to give us Filmation. Going into the cartoon from that, I expected, if nothing else, all the characters to be faintly angular, and to move like they’re in a Flash web cartoon from about ten years ago. Let’s watch.

I would swear there are other Popeye-as-caveman cartoons out there. I’m not invested strongly enough in the question to look them up. But there’s a long record of caveman jokes in cartoon (and live-action movie) history. And, what the heck, we might as well try Popeye out in that setting. At minimum it gives us different props that he can play with.

We get a framing device on the action. I’m not sure why. Maybe they didn’t want to waste having designed a Popeye who’s squatting on legs one-third the length of his arms. Having a frame like this lets the cartoon paper over any gaps in the plot. But the cartoon doesn’t use that power.

Popeye squatting next to Olive Oyl and behind a picnic blanket. Popeye's legs are quite short.
Also, there’s three hamburgers, but only one slice of cake? Was Popeye guessing how many people would be on this picnic?

I so dislike Popeye explaining how Prehistorical Olive “was a striking beauty, so grandpappy struck her, as was the custom in that day”. I know the premise is just a stock Caveman Settings joke. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. I was thinking about skipping this cartoon altogether. Still not sure I shouldn’t have skipped it anyway. I guess Prehistorical Olive reacting like Krazy Kat hit with a brick makes it less bad. Her putting up with this a while and then telling Popeye and BlutoBrutus to settle this like gentlemen and fight it out makes it more silly.

What I do like here is the color scheme. The world is green- and blue-tinted, while the characters are a clear bright tan. It reads pretty well in color. I imagine it also looked good on black-and-white televisions. I also like Popeye hanging out with a dinosaur; it has a nice Alley Oop vibe. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t try making a Eugene-the-Jeep dinosaur. They can’t have thought that would confuse the premise too much, with kids expecting a Jeep dinosaur to be doing magic tricks or something, could they?

There’s some dialogue I like. Prehistorical Popeye asking BlutoBrutus when it’ll be his turn to hit and getting the answer “not yet”. Prehistorical Popeye declaring that he’s gonna “call this stuff spinach, cause it looks like spinach”.

There’s a nice little fight cloud between Popeye and BlutoBrutus at about 5:02. It looks to me like the same fight cloud from when Popeye fought Irving. But this requires redressing Popeye and drawing BlutoBrutus in place of the robot monster. Which is worth it, surely. Once you have the motion traced out for a Popeye-versus-big-bruiser fight cloud just painting in different clothes isn’t too much work. I’m sue that as a kid I’d never have noticed that, though.

I suspect they had no idea how to close this cartoon.

Popeye and, what the heck, a Giant Bluto


I’m skipping what would’ve been the next 1960s King Features Popeye cartoon. It’s not that the cartoon is dull. The cartoon would be Azteck Wreck. It has Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Eugene the Jeep tromping around Aztec ruins looking for gold, and being menaced by Bluto Only He’s Mexican. It hits all the plot beats reasonably enough and it actually has good backgrounds. And it opens with Eugene the Jeep riding in a jeep, which seems like a joke somehow. But I don’t feel like expressing an opinion about playing Bluto as a bandito and you know what? I don’t have to.

So instead? Popeye and the Spinach-Stalk. Once again it’s produced and directed by Jack Kinney. Not sure if King Features is just front-loading Kinney for these videos or whether he’s just responsible for that many cartoons.

Jackson Beck narrates. He wasn’t just Bluto’s (main) voice actor. He was also an announcer or narrator for about 85% of old-time radio shows. There are only two things weirder than hearing Bluto’s voice setting up a story, like this one. Those two things are Beck playing super-sleuth Philo Vance on radio, and Arthur Q Bryan — the voice of Elmer Fudd — playing a cop on Richard Diamond, Private Detective. This gives you a feel for how Beck sounded whenever he narrated. (He also did the narration for the Fleischer Superman cartoons.)

The Thimble Theatre characters slot smoothly into the fairy tale. Popeye makes a decent Jack, well-meaning but easily bamboozled. Olive, the Sea Hag, and Bluto are all well-placed and Eugene is a good substitue for the Goose That Lays The Golden Eggs. I guess shifting things from Olive selling off the family cow to trying to sell pies saves the trouble of designing a cow or making the cow’s fate something to worry about. Pies are easy to draw and can be funny too. Switching out magic beans for spinach, too, makes sense.

Olive Oyl, dressed as a cook, held in a giant hand while the other hand paints glue onto her back.
Oh yeah, I remember this as the image that launched the popular DeviantArt group “Tiny Women Glued To Things”.

Where things don’t make sense are little plot holes. Like, Popeye seems to sell one pie for a can of spinach, and all right, that’s a problem. But what about the rest? The giant Bluto has captured Olive Oyl; when, and how? Yeah, it doesn’t matter. It does allow some fun business of Olive Oyl protesting she can’t play the harp, and doesn’t really sing, and that going on until Bluto agrees. Popeye-as-Jack knows Eugene the Jeep by name; how? Like, was Eugene his and Olive’s pet that Bluto also abducted? Bluto demands to know what makes Popeye so tough, but all he’s seen at that point is Popeye talking big. Told that it’s spinach, why does Bluto feed Popeye spinach? It makes sense for Bluto’s hubris to lead to his downfall, but hubris usually works better when it’s built up.

I know that as a kid I never noticed any of this. There’s not a lot of time, and it’d be dumb wasting time on questions like “why does Bluto want Olive Oyl rather than someone else to make pies?” This is probably also why they set up the premise with a quick Jackson Beck narration rather than reusing the bit of Swee’Pea asking Popeye to tell him a story. It saves a good half-minute or so.

It’s hard to film a giant, even in illustration. It’s hard to compose a scene so you can really see the size. There’s a couple of angles on Giant Bluto that work, though, a good view pointing up that makes him look large. This particularly in Bluto doing his Fee-Fi-Fo-Fan rhyme, and then later as he’s running after the escaping heroes. It’s good seeing such moments done well.

Popeye has a weird game of Ping-Pong


Sports are a good base for a comedic cartoon. The characters playing something automatically gives them something to try doing. The rules give the plot something to struggle against. And since it really can’t ever matter who wins a sporting event, there’s a built-in absurdity to the proceedings. The smaller the sporting event, the better, for the comic baseline. So, Popeye and Bluto playing ping-pong? That’s a secure base, I’d think. After The Ball Went Over is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon from the 1960s heap.

In some of the King Features cartoons Popeye’s antagonist doesn’t get named. This reflected that time when they weren’t sure whether Bluto was a character created by their cartoonists or by Fleischer Studios/Paramount. Why else have Popeye call Bluto “Fatso”, “Fatty”, “Lover Boy”, “Blubber-head”, everything but his name? And then we finally get Olive Oyl calling him “Brutus”. Mystery partly solved.

Ping-Pong is a good sport for limited animation. You can use the same couple frames for a volley. And if you want the ball to do something weird, well, you draw a white circle and slide it around the frame. Combine that with the estimated 38 billion times that Popeye goes running off, in a Groucho Marx stoop, after the bouncing ball and you get a cartoon that must have come in under budget. This even with a bunch of scenes — a henhouse, the city sewers, the … dynamite shed — used for their own jokes.

This cartoon keeps trying to be bad. Particularly it just doesn’t have any story structure. Popeye and Brutus start a volley, some spot joke happens, and repeat. That shapelessness works fine for, like, Wile E Coyote. But Popeye cartoons are supposed to build in peril and tension until someone, usually Popeye, eats his spinach.

And then the cartoon skips that. It’s one of that small but noticeable set of spinach-less cartoons. And Popeye talks about that. Early on he talks to Olive Oyl about the absurdity of even having this contest, since if he’s in danger of losing he can just eat his spinach. In the end, he complains about needing a new writer who’ll put his spinach in the script. Popeye’s made cracks about being a cartoon character before. Most Fleischer cartoon characters were at least somewhat self-aware cartoon actors. But that had mostly gone fallow during the 50s.

And this attitude, Popeye barely committing to the premise that he’s in a ping-pong cartoon, elevates it. It’s exhausting to always have a character who won’t just be in the story. As an occasional thing, though? This time, at least, it works for me. I’m curious about the writing choices that went into this. I wonder if the writers decided they just didn’t have that many good ping-pong jokes after all, but needed something, and decided that having Popeye trying to no-sell the whole cartoon was the best way to be interesting about it. This would explain the oddness of Popeye, our putative hero, pulling stunts like replacing the ping-pong ball with an egg, or putting explosive into the ping-pong ball. That’s villain stuff; what’s Popeye doing acting like that? Other than, well, giving up on this.

If it was a choice to try saving a weak premise, it was a great one. At least for one cartoon. It makes forgivable much of the cartoon’s sloppiness, like … oh, the bit at about 21:40 where Popeye’s shown laughing without the sound. Or random bits of weirdness, like Brutus serving to the rallying cry of “Viva Zapata!”.

Maybe it is all just shoddily made. I won’t argue that it isn’t. But it is amiable in that shoddiness. I don’t want a lot of cartoons like this. If sometimes Popeye just isn’t going to take the cartoon’s takes seriously, though? I can go for that.

Popeye versus The Phantom. Not *that* The Phantom


Popeye fears only one thing: ghosts. He can’t punch ghosts. I believe this was said explicitly, maybe as far back as Elzie Segar’s run that created the character. There are other inconvenient things, like the Sea Hag, who can’t be hit as she is a woman. But ghosts hold a special terror.

Let’s watch Popeye and the Phantom, from 1960 and Jack Kinney’s directorial eye. Again, not that The Phanom.

The promising opening is of a dark and stormy night. And a newscaster with the news that The Phantom is loose. The warning is what I’d expect for a notorious criminal breaking loose. Maybe a lion escaping from the circus and hiding over at Tom and Jerry’s place. Instead(?) I guess it’s a ghost. I would think that The Phantom’s a ghost being worth a mention in the news flash. Maybe also that ghosts are provably real things that torment the living. I hope when the TV station came up for its license renewal, someone mentioned this failure to serve the public interest.

Maybe not though. When The Phantom does appear he’s really not menacing. He looks vaguely like a Harvey Comics character. I don’t think it’s just that he wears a hat that looks like a quickly-drawn hamburger. But it’s also that his haunting amounts to little, faintly comic stunts. Like, so little that Popeye is certainly not going to turn his head and look at them. Then we get a solid 50 seconds of Popeye ducking almost far enough to avoid the … ghostly boats and giant wooden shoes and cars that The Phantom is driving? And that goes on until Popeye declares this is geting embarrassing, I assume for the Phantom. Popeye’s handling it with such casual disinterest that embarrassment can’t possibly stick to him.

The Phantom swipes Popeye’s spinach, which isn’t bad on his part. We do then get a solid minute and 40 seconds of Popeye trying to grab his spinach back from the ghost, missing when the ghost dematerializes at the last second. There’s some good stuff here. Popeye gets some funny looks of exasperation. The comic timing of the Phantom bapping Popeye on the head with the mallet is good. Popeye waving his flag of surrender and the ghost appearing as a butler is fun too.

Structurally though it’s about the same as those too-many cartoons where Popeye can’t outwit an animal. I think it works better than, like, Popeye not outwitting a gopher. The gopher’s just trying to eat. The Phantom is messing with Popeye and Olive Oyl. And The Phantom can be ridiculous in ways an animal can’t.

And then we get Popeye declaring these are friendly ghosts, an adjective and a plural not supported in the text. Popeye invites The Phantom to a game of bridge. I know three things about bridge and the second of them is that it’s a four-person game. I guess we have to suppose there are more than one ghost bothering Popeye and Olive Oyl. We only see one at a time. I guess that checks out. But it would be clearer if we saw a second ghost, even if it were the same model. The baffling moments keep coming. In the last seconds of the cartoon Olive Oyl, having been bothered by this ghost or ghosts all night, and played bridge with them for hours, declares she doesn’t believe they’re real. Things brings on a new round of ghostly laughter from a bodiless mouth. All right.

I know these cartoons give the impression of being written and animated in less time than it takes to watch. At least they give the impression of being done on a single draft. This one has a lot of things that could be fixed with quick tweaks. A moment of seeing a second ghost, for example, at the end particularly. The news reporter talking about The Phantom Gang and saying that they’re ghosts. … Really, that alone would at least make the storyline make sense. It would take more plot surgery to fix where Popeye doesn’t do anything for the first two and a half minutes. But we could let that slide. They were making about 750 Popeye cartoons a month. It’s refreshing if he doesn’t drive the plot in all of them. And maybe a story is better if it has some rough edges.

Still, it’s a cute Phantom design. I suppose we never see him again, which is a tiny shame.

Popeye facing off against a very 1960 Robot


Is there a comic minigenre funnier than early-60s Old People complaining about The Beatles? Arguably, it is early-60s Old People trying to make fun of Elvis. Let’s watch Mueller’s Mad Monster. This is a Larry Harmon-produced cartoon; Paul Fennell directs.

There was a cartoon attitude popular in the 1950s and 60s that I grew up liking. Call it Cartoon Existentialism. This is where characters do some role, not because they have reason to. They just know they have this role and they’re going to play it. You see this in any of the little home-appliance animals in The Flintstones, who shrug that it’s a living. Or fairy tale stories starring, like, Huckleberry Hound, where the characters shrug that this blue dog is messing up their routine.

Mad Mueller is such a creature. He’s introduced as the mad scientist at a nice spooky storm-ridden castle. He’s building a monster because what else does a mad scientist do in such castles? It’s a robot because, what the heck. It’s 1960. That the cartoon is soaked in this attitude of “what else are we going to do” predisposes me to like it.

I still do. It’s barely an animated cartoon. As the monster Irving carries off Olive Oyl, Popeye lets off a fair bit of trash-talking and daring bragging. Almost anything as long as he doesn’t have to walk over there. I have days like that. There’s one real moment of life in the cartoon, around 9:09 as Popeye and Irving get into a good fight cloud. It’s fun and has a nice sound effect to it. We could wish there were more of it. But there is something that amuses me in the fight being such a short sequence so repeated. It’s almost an extraction of what makes a cartoon fight cloud.

There is a fair bit of dialogue. And it’s trying to be funny. Many of the jokes work for me, at least a bit. Mad Mueller telling the camera, “I push the little button. That looks like a good button,” for example. That really captures the Cartoon Existentialism of the piece.

The dialogue wants to be funny. So if you find something amusing in the idea of a Frankensteinian monster named Irving, you’re in good shape. If you like the idea that a spooky castle is in a neighborhood named Horrors Heights? Yeah, that works. Or this doesn’t do anything for you and the cartoon is wholly lost. I grant the premise that “Irving” is a funny name for a monster isn’t a strong joke. Or that Mueller can’t quite name Worcestershire sauce as he tries to whip up artificial spinach. Better, I think, is the casual way that Popeye speaks to Irving “as one monster to another”. Olive Oyl picks this up too, telling Mueller about how “your monster is beating up my monster”.

Popeye doesn’t have his spinach on him. Why? Well, so Olive Oyl and Mad Mueller have something to do in the end of the cartoon. Popeye smashes Irving to pieces and then rebuilds him. Why? Well, because you don’t want a mad scientist going around without a monster. Popeye rebuilds Irving into a figure who looks like Elvis Presley, Olive Oyl tells us. (I only see it about half the time.) Why? What else are you going to do? It’s a cartoon from 1960, you gotta do something.

Popeye’s Pet Store: wait, does he sell Magilla Gorilla here? Plus other riddles of the ages


I find a couple of things as I look through the 1960s King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons. There’s forgettable cartoons. There’s cartoons that aren’t good, but are at least bizarre. There’s cartoons that I like because they get weird in fun ways. And then there’s simple baffling cartoons. Popeye’s Pet Store, another Jack Kinney piece, is one of those.

New cartoon, new profession for Popeye. He’s not actually sailing, for some reason. But he’s not just puttering around the Boring Suburbs, which is usually a good sign. He’s running a pet store. I thought it looked like the one Magilla Gorilla lived in. No; it’s nothing like that. I’m just the fool for thinking every 60s cartoon city pet shop looks the same.

I call this a baffling cartoon. I think that when I was a kid I wouldn’t even notice. But, like: yes, it’s funny that Popeye should dust a goldfish. We don’t see him put the goldfish back in the water, though. It’s logical to suppose he puts it back, but, he started out doing something illogical. How do we know he hasn’t kept that up? We never see an aquarium, after all.

It makes sense, for the cartoon, that Popeye’s regular friends want pets. And it’s fine that Popeye shouldn’t have just what they want. That Olive Oyl should insist a chihuahua is the poodle she wants is funny. If you don’t agree, would you at least grant that’s the shape of a correctly formed joke? That a better cartoon would make it work? But then we get to Wimpy wanting a “hamburger hound”, whatever that is. And Popeye giving him an anteater? That’s just what Wimpy was thinking of? That Swee’Pea wants a cat, and Popeye, the pet store owner, hasn’t got any? But uses a bird in place? That’s baffling.

More than anything this reads like the setup for a Monty Python sketch. Several, really. Popeye giving a parrot(?) as a pussycat makes me think of the “Pet Conversons” sketch. Popeye not having any of the various animals people want makes me think of the Cheese Shop. Those are better sketches, yes, but it’s striking that good premises were just sitting there ready for at least a decade before more talented hands picked them up.

Finally we get Bluto in. He’s introduced growling that “I hate satisfied customers,” which is a nice weird line. He goes about to un-satisfy everyone and picks up a net. I guess he’s the city dogcatcher, although the cartoon isn’t explicit about that. I guess we’re supposed to read the net as shorthand for that. It’d help if he had, like, a badge or something. Even a line saying “as the city dogcatcher I can un-satisfy them”. The cartoon can’t be trying to save screen time. After the dogcatcher’s truck pulls up next to a spinach truck, Popeye — Popeye — says “Spinach, that’s what I need!” And then “Good ol’ spinach,” in case we don’t understand what can of leafy green stuff Popeye has just eaten while Popeye’s fanfare plays.

More baffling stuff. Bluto the dogcatcher-I-guess grabs everyone’s new pets. They’re upset. OK. Why are they upset with Popeye? Why call him a cheat? Why does the angry-mob noise not sound like any of King Features’ three voice actors are in it? (I’m curious if anyone knows what cartoon or sound effect library the sound at about 14:18 is from.)

Sitting in a jail car is Popeye in a dog costume, with a parrot on his shoulder, a blue anteater to the left, and a chihuahua sprawled out on its side next to them.
I do like Popeye’s pose in his hound dog costume. It’s carrying his personality. Make of the chihuahua’s pose and flirty eyes what you like.

Popeye has an Augie Doggie’s Daddy costume. All right. I don’t know what fursuit I would assume Popeye to have, so, Doggy Daddy will do. Why does Bluto grab him? Bluto was out to un-satisfy customers; who’s the customer here? It’s not that Bluto’s acting as regular dogcatcher; he gloats at 15:26 that “I’ll un-satisfy them”. And then in the dogcatcher’s van, Popeye reaches out to a spinach truck luckily nearby. I guess he’s one of those fursuiters who won’t remove his head while on stage no matter what? Also, Popeye can smell canned spinach? … Well, I’ll give him that. We’re talking Popeye.

Popeye fights Bluto while in costume. This has the odd thread that Bluto doesn’t actually know who he’s fighting. There’s also a quick funny moment at about 16:28, where Popeye runs across the screen, Bluto chomping down on his rear end. That’s a nice silly little extra bit. Anyway, a quick bit of fighting and everybody’s happy again, apart from Bluto who doesn’t count. All right.

This is definitely a cartoon to watch while you’re doing something else. The better I pay attention the more I notice things that don’t quite make sense. The storyline’s simple enough: Popeye gets his friends pets, Bluto steals the pets, Popeye gets the pets back. Why does it end up being harder to follow the more I watch?

Blinkin Beacon: Popeye keeps the lights on


I don’t draw many conclusions from the readership figures around here. But I know a few things. One is that people really want to read recaps of the story comics. Another is that they absolutely do not want to read about the 1960s King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons. So why am I reviewing some again? Because I’m not going to stop until I’ve made this blog a failure, that’s why. This week, it’s the Jack Kinney-directed Blinkin Beacon, fourth of a set of shorts some of which I’ll get to in future weeks.

I’ve learned to expect some things from these old cartoons looked at with adult eyes. That the music will cycle through four tunes, each of them three bars long. That the animation will be implied rather than shown. That the voice actors aren’t going to great lengths to differentiate characters. There are installments that break out of one or more of these, but I don’t remember one that broke out far enough to produce a really great cartoon.

I do expect the stories to be quite linear. Even a bit dull. This expectation gets beaten sometimes. Often enough that I stay interested in the series, even if I’m the only one who is. But Blinkin Beacon is one of them and I’ll try defending that claim.

The story starts in media res: the Sea Hag’s already kidnapped Swee’Pea and demands lighthousekeeper Popeye turn off the light. That’s surprising. It’s not a complicated setup, but for once, a thing has happened right away. The Sea Hag even has good reasons to want the light out. We learn why when we first see the Hag and the chained Swee’Pea. It’s a suspenseful opening. I grant it’s not a lot of suspense. But it stands out when the norm is for the villain to declare they’re going to do something and then do it.

Except the story doesn’t quite start in media res. It starts with Popeye looking to camera and saying he’s supposed to hear a knocking now. It’s not like Popeye hasn’t spoken to the camera before. But this feels different. It’s a playful comment about how he knows how this cartoon is going to play out. The tone is one that I associate with stuff like The Muppet Show, where the characters know they’re actors and don’t mind breaking the scene.

And it puts this playful energy on the cartoon. Even personality. At 20:22, the Sea Hag orders her vulture to drop the depth bombs on Popeye’s submarine. (The story’s a little absurd here.) Swee’Pea begs for mercy, crying out, “Do what you want with me, but spare good old honest Popeye the sailor”. It’s a melodramatic gesture. More precisely it’s the kind of thing I remember from spoofs of melodramas. It would fit in a Dudley Do-Right cartoon. It would fit in those Betty Boop cartoons with Fearless Fred. It’s certainly a much more interesting line, and line read, and animation of the line, than the story needed. Similarly, Popeye’s response to the Sea Hag’s demand that the lighthouse turn off is a note “No, no, a thousand times no”. Similarly melodramatic. I believe even cried out by Betty Boop to whoever her captor was that cartoon.

So I like this, and I think I’m reasonable in doing so. The story has more structure than usual. It’s got a healthy number of fun side bits, like Popeye supposing a message in a bottle “must be another light bill”. Or the Sea Hag listening to Music to Sink Ships By. Sea Hag addressing Popeye as “Poopsie-boy”. It of course has editing weirdness, like Swee’Pea asking “How mean can you get?”, interrupted by Popeye taking a look outside the lighthouse, and then the Sea Hag answering that “I enjoy being mean”. And a line that sure feels like it’s a reference to something forgotten since 1960, Captain Wimpy boasting how he’s sailed the seven seas, “or is it eight?”. And some animation weirdness, where Sea Hag’s vulture (Bernard, at least in the comic strip) is momentarily twins. Or the vulture just hovering nearby the open hatch of Popeye’s submarine instead of letting him have it, as per the Sea Hag’s direction. But it’s all cheery and silly stuff. It’s got more personality than I’d expected. I’m happy with the result.

Statistics Saturday: Tunes You Can’t Forget But Also Can’t Remember Well Enough To Identify


  • Doo. Doo. DOO. DOOOOO. Doodadoodadoo.
  • Dadada DAAA dedaDEDA daah.
  • Dada daah dum. Dadaa daaaah dum. Dadaaaa daaadaaaah dum dum.
  • Tum tedeedumde ta dum.
  • Dum dedalee DUM de da DUM.
  • Da de dum de dum de DA DA DUM dah de DUM dah de DUM.
  • Dadum. Dadehdum. DahDUM. DaDEHdadum.
  • DAAAA DAAAAAAH DUM-dededededah-dah-dah-DUM dededededah-dah-dah-DUM dededededah-dah-dah-DUM DEEE DUMM!
  • [ Theme to Chilly Willy cartoons ]
  • DAAAH de dum dah dum de dah dum dadaDEEDAAdum dee daaa dum dum.

Reference: The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones.

Popeye goes after the Golden Fleece


There’s four cartoons in this YouTube video that King Features Sydnicate posted. Last week I discussed Coffee House. The week before, I discussed The Billionaire. Also in this quartet is Dead-Eye Popeye. I’m not going to review that. If you want to watch Dead-Eye Popeye, go right ahead, from this link. Popeye as a Western sheriff. It’s a Larry Harmon-directed cartoon. It’s not a great cartoon. It’s not terrible. A week after you watch it last you’ll remember nothing from it. I watched it six days ago. I remember there was something amusing about Bluto and his identical brothers. I don’t remember what.

I’m interested instead in Golden-Type Fleece. It’s another Jack Kinney-directed cartoon. We saw him with the Coffee House last week. It promises at least stylish drawing, such as the title card’s illustration of the Argo. It also promises odd pauses in conversations. Be warned: there’s a bit here that’s been running through my head, nonstop, since 1978.

Once again Popeye’s telling Swee’Pea a tale. The King Features cartoons used this frame a lot. I don’t know why. I think I’d accept a cartoon where Popeye just played Jason of the Argo. Or playing Aladdin himself. But having a frame like this solves some narrative problems. The cartoon can patch any holes in story logic by having Popeye say “then later”. Maybe that’s all they needed. It reminds me of SCTV throwing a “coming soon” bumper around any spoof they only had partially finished.

And what’s left in the story is a bunch of Greek Mythology jokes. The normal Popeye cast gets to be Greek Mythology characters. Popeye as Jason is almost required, certainly. I guess Wimpy is then the only choice left to be the King who sends out Jason. (Who else could they use? Toar? Roughhouse? Castor Oyl?) The Sea Hag as the Queen is similarly forced. This may be an accident, but it does reflect a thing from the comic strip. In the comics the Sea Hag is kind of enamored of Wimpy. Or at least sees him as a way to crush Popeye. Wimpy certainly won’t turn away someone who thinks she can use him, too. And he is smart, or at least cunning, enough to stay ahead of her. It’s a great plot-generating relationship when the comic remembers it.

Bluto as every (male) antagonist — Jupiter, Neptune, a centaur — is forced on the plot. You could read the triple casting of Bluto as a comment on the whole Bluto/Brutus/Pluto/etc shenanigans. You couldn’t make that stick, though. Olive Oyl as a ticket taker who isn’t enamored of Jason/Popeye is a fun bit. It’s disappointing when she does kind of fall for him later. I don’t know whether the sirens are supposed to be Alice the Goon. She’s off-model if she is. But, I mean, look at Popeye’s hands this cartoon. Not for too long. I don’t know who the bird on the prow of Jason’s ship is. Researching this cartoon taught me the Argo had a plank of sacred wood with the power of speech. That’s neat and I don’t remember seeing that in any Ray Harryhausen-animated movie.

There are a fair bunch of funny pictures here. King Wimpy summoning Jason using semaphore flags, for example, on a pier with posts that I’m going to call Doric columns. There’s not enough scenes funny by themselves, though. I notice how often a scene is one character speaking, on a nearly featureless background. The animation looks like it came in on budget. The dialogue is more interesting. The characters in the story tend to talk in rhyming couplets. I don’t know why. I guess to make it sound faintly more like this is from an epic poem? But without being too complicated to write, or for kids to understand? But the rhyming isn’t done too rigorously. There’s good about this. It means Jupiter doesn’t need a complicated way to order a lightning bolt to “get back there!” He can just deliver the laugh line.

The plot, so far as there is one, is much more The Odyssey than it is Jason and the Argonauts. And each scene is just enough of a setting to hang jokes on. Look at the bit with the Lorelei Loons, “cousins to the Goons”. Mae Questel warbling “rock rock rock, rock-a-bye-sailor and a rock rock rock” is the bit that’s been going in my head for decades now. I know that some writer circa 1960 thought this was a great bit of snark about that awful racket his kids call music. I don’t care. The dumb bit works. It also inspires in Popeye some awesome weird facial expressions. One of them my love pointed out when I discussed Popeye’s weird face two weeks ago.

Popeye, both eyes bugged out and way open, hair making weird zigzags, and his mouth dangling open. His tongue's poked out and curled up and angled so it's under his eye.
That’s a nice wholesome look for Popeye the Sailor OH LORD HIS TONGUE GOES UNDERNEATH HIS EYE WHAT IS THIS STOP IT STOP IT NO IT’S NOT STOPPING ENOUGH STOP IT MORE!

There’s a lot of spinach eaten this cartoon, most of it off-screen. There’s only one can eaten while the viewer’s there. Jason says he ate a can right before punching Jupiter’s lightning bolts back. He’s said to have eaten two cans to cover his ears against the Loons. He says he’s going to eat spinach to deal with the Blutaur, but we don’t see that. Five cans would beat the record that Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp set, if we count spinach we’re told but not shown was eaten.

I like this cartoon. I’m not sure I can justify that like. Popeye as Jason is a good premise. And I like telling The Argonauts The Odyssey as a string of set pieces with dumb jokes attached. This includes sliding the Golden Fleece to the Golden Fleas Circus. It’s kind of a Dad Joke but, you know? Tell your Dad Jokes without apology. It’ll be all right.

But the cartoon is shoddy. Look at King Wimpy’s talk cycle. It’s some movement, yes, but it’s pointless, not bothering to be funny at any point. There’s a five-second stretch of showing nothing but water waves, while Jason’s off-camera, talking. It’s not even funny waves. Maybe all the animation budget was eaten up with designing new outfits for Wimpy, Popeye, and Olive Oyl, and coming up with a mer-man and a centaur design for Bluto. The music is the usual hit-shuffle-on-the-background-library. I know these cartoons wouldn’t get fresh orchestration for anything, but, like, couldn’t they have underscored the “I’m-Jason-the-sailor-man” to any of the instrumentals of the Popeye theme song they already had? Jack Mercer could sing along to that beat, or at least near enough.

So I like it. But I can see where this is so close to being a much better cartoon. At least it’s got that “rock rock rock, rock-a-bye-sailor and a rock rock rock” hook. You won’t forget that a week from now.

What was Bluto’s Ode to an Onion?


King Features made about 829 billion Popeye cartoons over the span of forty minutes in the early 60s. Most of them are forgettable. Some of them stick in my memory. Some of them have even kept some little toehold in pop culture. At least for those of us in the last cohort to grow up watching these cartoons in rerun on bored independent TV stations. It’s Coffee House. Oh, more Jack Kinney animation.

So what is cool? Lot of possible answers. Lot of different kinds of answers. Generally, we can say cool is “not the people grinding out animation product for 30-year-old intellectual properties down at the cartoon factory”. It has other aspects too. But there’s a microgenre of attempts to do a story based on what, honestly, square movie creators think cool is. I love them all.

Popeye, now, he started out cool. He had that great blend of kindness, resolve, and invincibility. By the 50s, he’d moved to the suburbs and got boring. The King Features cartoons shook that up a bit. He’d get into adventures going off to the Moon or chasing the Sea Hag or something. But a lot of them start, like this does, in the suburbs. Even if it is in a gorgeous Modern house. Still, Popeye was certainly losing his cool. Partly because we saw almost all his best stuff, repeated until it got dull. So Olive Oyl reinventing herself as a Beatnik has some metatextual truth to it. That has to be part of what gives this cartoon its hook.

Another part of its hook has to be when they all get to the coffee house and everybody is just chanting “cool, cool, cool, coooool”, with the occasional finger-snap. It’s such soothing, comfortable background noise. I don’t need background noise to sleep, but if I did, this wouldn’t be a bad choice.

Olive Oyl, wearing a loose green sweater and black leggings bunched up at the knees, with a beret and her hair in long, loose ends. She stands in front of a low, mid-century-modern record stand that has an octagonal plate on top of it.
Also, hey, we have that record cabinet! … And so you know what kind of hipster level cool I strive for? I’m in several competitive pinball leagues, and I’ve had an ironic record collection since the 1990s, before that was cool.

Also not a bad choice: Olive’s outfit as a Beatnik Girl. The traditional joke is asking what Popeye finds physically attractive about Olive Oyl. Something that’s his taste, of course. Beatnik Olive, though? That’s got to be more attractive to more people.

Bluto explodes into the scene, running Popeye down with a vehicle. It’s funny. It also happened in The Billionaire last week. I hadn’t realized this was such a motif of the King Features cartoons.

Bluto’s less dressed up to be a Beatnik. It opens the question of how much of this he’s really into, and how much is him trying to appeal to Olive Oyl’s current fascination. He doesn’t really break Beatnik character, not the way Olive Oyl does on declaring “it’s only you, Popeye”. But does Bluto even get into things sincerely? He recites a fantastically bad Ode To An Onion. Olive Oyl doesn’t know or care that it’s awful. How much of this is Bluto putting on an act?

Yeah, what the heck. Here’s the text to Bluto’s poem, Ode To An Onion.

O Onion, Onion
You are the gone-est
So green yet so honest

O Onion, Onion
Like, I dig you the mostest
O green and lovely hostess

Hip! Hip! Hip! And crazy-daisy
Like, your breath just leaves me hazy

O brave and noble Onion
Green stem and creamy bunion
Your personality is hallion

Live! Grow! Breathe!
O gracious scallion!

I truly admire the craft that went into writing that. Bluto’s toast “To art, the beauty of the soul” comes close to sounding like something too, and I like that.

Popeye, wisely, figures his best approach to this is to go along with the gag. And does the Sailor’s Hornpipe in the middle of the coffee house to exquisite awkwardness. Also to the same languid background music the rest of the scene had. It reads like someone in production forgot there was supposed to be music there. This hurts the cartoon, especially when the scene repeats after Popeye’s had his spinach power-up and does the same dance but this time is loved.

You have to love Popeye’s fighting technique of holding out his fist and letting Bluto run into it.

What do I know about cool? I’m the guy with multiple books about the history of containerized cargo. Look to someone else for good advice. My read on it, though? You’re cool if you have your Thing. And you’re not creepy about it. And you look like your Thing is comfortable and easy for you. Which brings to mind one of Popeye’s great quotes, trimmed down for the close of this cartoon: I am what I am and that’s all what I am.

Can 1960s Popeye be an ethical billionaire?


It’s been a month plus since the last Popeye’s Island Adventure. Maybe the series will resume. Maybe it’s done. I do not have the time to decide what to do with my Tuesday slot here. It’s somehow become a series-review day. I like that. It means once I decide what series to review I know what I’m writing. But what series? I don’t know, so I’m going to do a couple more of the 1960s King Feature Syndicate Popeyes to get myself some margin and decide later. This may prove a controversial choice. I can actually see the readership drop when the day’s post is a King Features Popeye cartoon. But, what the heck. If someone wants me to look at something they can nominate it to me.

So I’m going to do at least a couple more King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons. This from their “Classic Popeye” line on YouTube, since I expect those videos to stick around a while. I’m skipping their Episode Two since none of those four cartoons — Hoppy Jalopy, Popeye’s Pep-Up Emporium, Baby Phase, and Weather Watchers — interest me enough. I’m going straight to some of Episode Three. I’ll start by reviewing the last of the quartet, The Billionaire. Anyone who wants to peek at future weeks can figure out the other cartoons in this just by looking. I’m guessing, though, not a lot of people are going to check.

Parody’s a weird thing. The Millionaire was this (American) TV show that ran for a couple years in the 50s. Each week a strange reclusive multimillionaire gives someone a million dollars, on condition they never ask questions about where it comes from or why. Then we watch how this screws up their lives. I never saw an episode. I know it entirely from its parodies. SCTV did a fantastic one. I’m not sure if I saw it riffed on Saturday Night Live. (I may be thinking of their parody of The Continental, another 50s TV show I’ve only ever seen in imitation, including in a Popeye cartoon.) I’m not sure it wasn’t done in a Richie Rich comic book. And, then, there’s this spoof, starring Popeye.

It starts weird. The premise is that Popeye’s a multi-millionaire and he’s living in a mansion and he’s giving out money to his friends. It seems out of character for who Popeye is. And yet … …

Part of the premise of Thimble Theatre, when it started, was that these were plays. Like, you had the recurring cast, but they’d have different parts each adventure. Each day, in the earliest strips. The comic strip settled to a basically uniform continuity before even Popeye joined the cast. But this bit where these are characters playing parts, and the settings will vary, lasted into the cartoons. Usually that just plays into what the relationships are between Popeye, Bluto, and Olive Oyl at the start of the cartoon. Sometimes it plays into whether Popeye’s a sailor, a fitness instructor, or a short-order cook this cartoon. So Popeye as a multimillionaire benefactor shouldn’t be outside the cartoon ranges. I’m not sure why I feel like I need to argue myself into this. Maybe it’s that Popeye and Bluto and Olive Oyl usually have working-class positions. In the 50s they moved to the suburbs and the middle class and got boring. A rich Popeye seems untrue. I mean, yeah, there was the cartoon where Popeye ran for President, but that turned into working-class stuff like “can he bale hay” fast enough.

At the least, it’s weird. And weird should be expected: this is another Gene Deitch-directed cartoon. If you didn’t know, you might suspect something from the animation. The backgrounds, particularly. Look at the carpet and the chair in Popeye’s mansion, at about 17:46 of the cartoon. Try not to be distracted figuring out how Popeye’s holding that phone. I can’t do that pose comfortably, but I can do it.

As with From Way Out, the animation is loose with the character models. This is fine by me, since they’re drawn so expressively. Freeze the image at about 18:28. Popeye looks weird, not just because both eyes are open again. But it’s a scene. And Deitch’s team was doing what it could with the animation budget. Olive Oyl keeps moving, that scene. There’s no need for it, except to keep the picture from being boring.

So far as this cartoon makes sense it stops making sense at about 19:23. This is after Popeye’s given all his friends, plus Bluto Brutus, a million dollars. He’s decided to wear a costume as a sailor so he can secretly check on his friends. The cartoon immediately forgets this explanation. I don’t want to cast aspersions but I wonder if this was meant to save the cost of drawing a new walk cycle for Popeye.

Popeye’s surprised to see Olive Oyl doing exactly what she said she would do, getting a million-dollar makeover at the salon she either ran or bought. Wimpy’s bought a herd of cows so he can be forever in hamburgers. It’s not a deep character beat, although it is cute to have Wimpy discover he hasn’t the heart to slaughter them. It’s a pretty funny cow herd considering they’re the same cow photocopied many times. Good cow design. Again, freeze the video at about 20:09 and just look at how silly a picture that is.

Swee’Pea’s got a chocolate factory, and has a scheme to justify eating the entire output. I can’t say that’s wrong. I don’t know what Popeye imagined would happen. Bluto Brutus runs his car over Popeye, then backs up to punch him into a mailbox, such well-timed gratuitous violence that it’s a good laugh for me. Besides the chauffeur-driven car Bluto Brutus spent his million on buying all the spinach farms in the country and plowing them under. If you question whether a million dollars would let someone corner the spinach market and destroy it, well, this is why you and I were treated like that in middle school. It’s a weird cartoon. Roll with it.

So of course Bluto Brutus shoves some cash money down Popeye’s throat. And of course it’s good for a spinach power-up because something something spinach ink something and … huh? It’s a bunch of great facial expressions on the way to the story’s conclusion. I’m not saying to make Popeye’s face at 21:30 your new user icon for anything. I’m just saying you’ll stand out in a crowd with that.

Popeye's face, both eyes wide open, grinning goofily, with his neck extended and surrounded by a light pink glow.
My new LinkedIn picture.

Having eaten spinach-inked currency Popeye … see, it’s just weird. But we get some good violence against Bluto Brutus, and a fine bit of body horror where Popeye punches Bluto Brutus into a stack of coins. And then get an extra dose of body horror when Olive Oyl shows off her million-dollar makeover, and Popeye laughs, and she’s so furious the thing crumbles. This cartoon doesn’t reach the body-weirdness heights of It’s Magic, Charlie Brown, but it’s trying.

All that’s left is a wrap-up, Olive Oyl and company begging Popeye for one more chance and learning Popeye’s already given away his last million. It’s an efficient way to wrap up the cartoon, which was trying to hard to end Popeye didn’t even have a couplet to sing at the end. He just tells us he’s Popeye the sailor man.

It’s another cartoon where Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea have noticeably the same voice actor. Mae Questel also does the voice of Millionaire Popeye’s unseen secretary, in a performance that confuses just who’s talking and why. Jackson Beck, the voice of Bluto Brutus, does better as opening narrator Ichael-May Ants-Pay. Jackson Beck did a lot of this kind of narrator or announcer work for radio.

I’m happy with this cartoon. But I can see where a dreamily plotted spoof of a sixty-year-old tv show that may well exist only in parody form wouldn’t work for everyone. I still say they’re funny cow designs.

Still no new Island Adventures so here’s Popeye facing Biker Non-Mice From Mars


Popeye’s Island Adventures seems to be on hiatus, if it hasn’t shut down altogether. I figure I’ll close out the quartet of cartoons in the “Classic Popeye” video I’ve been going over. And then maybe do another Popeye cartoon bit for the couple weeks after that, since it would really help my life right now to have some writing ready a couple weeks ahead of time.

So. “Classic Popeye Episode 1”, the fourth cartoon. It’s another King Features Syndicate cartoon, From Way Out.

As a kid I knew what it meant if a cartoon was directed by Gene Deitch. It was one of those weird Tom and Jerrys. You know the ones I mean. Where the characters were on a different model, and the storyline moved in fits and starts, and the audio was recorded in the Perth Amboy YMCA men’s locker room. I know a lot of animation fans hate them. I didn’t, or at least I didn’t for long. I appreciated strange, off-beat takes on familiar things. I still do.

So when I saw this was among the Gene Deitch-directed Popeye cartoons I was happy. The cartoon might not be good in the way, like, Cartoons Ain’t Human is good. But it would be weird. It would have personality.

Popeye has encountered aliens before. I think this is the first time Popeye’s precipitated an alien invasion, though. A small invasion, granted. The animation’s too limited for it to be a full-scale invasion. And it isn’t exactly his fault. But, still. Taking the Martian Mauler for a kid and trying to play patty-cake with him? That’s pretty dumb stuff on Popeye’s part.

If I have one stereotype of the King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons it’s that every shot is three characters standing in a row on a flat background, with cutaways to one character having an emotion. This cartoon … has an amount of that, yes. But it hides it well. The characters move a lot, and they move in funny ways. They move even when there isn’t a particular joke to what they’re doing. There are little animated jokes, such as the Martian Mauler’s pants slowly dropping as Popeye and the group examine his stolen belt buckle. But there’s nice silly bits that don’t need to be there, like the way Popeye’s hat swirls around in the air after he’s fallen through the hole.

And characters move in big, expressive ways. Look at the scene of Popeye spanking the Martian Mauler at about 20:30. I would not be surprised if there’s only two or four frames, repeated, in this scene. But they’re good frames, each funny pictures. Look at Olive Oyl dodging the Martian Mauler’s reinforcements at about 21:20, including a neatly-posed scene about 21:24 where she’s looking away from the camera and still moving. Heck, look at the Martian Mauler’s joy in terrorizing the terribly square Popeye and Olive Oyl, at 19:47. Seriously, freeze the playback there. Even in that still picture there’s life.

You might reasonably complain that the characters float off-model. I mostly wouldn’t. Yes, Popeye looks just weird at, like, 18:30 where he’s collecting stuff that fell from the Space Magnet. Olive Oyl doesn’t look much better shortly after that. Or look at Popeye’s poses at about 20:26, right before he spanks the Martian. I don’t mind the characters drifting off their canonical model, though. They look off-model in that way you get when someone draws the character in a quick, energetic rush, and that’s usually a good look. I do not like both Popeye’s eyes being opened, though. I get the comic value in, like, once in a decade something being so shocking that both Popeye’s eyes open. Having that for a low-stakes thing like spanking an alien biker is just … nah, not for me.

I do like, though, the animation of Popeye rolling the Martians up into a giant ball, and particularly his spinning throw from about 22:16. It’s not smooth and graceful like you’d see if this were a Fleischer cartoon. But it’s a much better line of reasonably complicated action than you see in most of these 60s cartoons.

The cartoon ends at about 22:28, with the characters all lined up listening to the Martians crash off-camera into something. And then we get a wonderfully odd, awkward ten seconds of the characters looking at each other. I don’t know if the cartoon ran short or if they had thought there’d be time for another gag or what. It plays like Popeye needs time to think of a decent closing couplet to sing. I am irrationally pleased with this strange quiet, though.

For some reason the Professor who invented the magnetic telescope was not Professor O G Wotasnozzle. It’s not even the same voice characterization being used. (I don’t know if it’s the same actor; Wotasnozzle was yet another voice by Jack Mercer.) I don’t know why not. Wotasnozzle got a fair bit of screen time in the King Features Syndicate cartoons. But this is one of the earlier batch of the cartoons. Possibly they weren’t sure whether they could use Wotasnozzle. Wotasnozzle never appeared in the Fleischer or Famous studio cartoons. But he was introduced by Segar in the Sappo comic strip, which you’ll note is not Popeye. Wotasnozzle did join the Popeye comic strip, but I don’t know when.

The magnetic-telescope thing seemed oddly familiar and I was able to place it. I don’t know that this is the source, but one of the Fleischer Superman cartoons of the 1940s was The Magnetic Telescope. It looked … well, like a much classier, Art Deco version of the giant-horseshoe-on-a-stand that you get here. The 1940s mad scientist didn’t attract any biker Martians, of course, because juvenile delinquents weren’t invented until much farther into World War II.

I grant I may be a soft touch for Gene Deitch’s style. But I think this cartoon is better than the script for it would imply, and that’s thanks to strong animation.

Popeye’s Island Adventures has ditched me so here’s Young Eugene the Jeep instead


I have no idea whether the Popeye’s Island Adventures series has wrapped up for good. Or whether they’re just taking a break after publishing a 25th short cartoon. There was, like, a monthlong pause after the first time they put up a two-minute short, after all.

So for want of a better idea I’ll dig into their archive of 60s King Features Syndicate cartoons. These have gathered four cartoons per video. I don’t feel up to reviewing all four in one essay. Not while I’m stalling like this. The first of their YouTube videos bundled Hits and Missiles and Plumber’s Pipe Dream, both of which I’ve already discussed. So let me go to the third, Jeep Tale, which starts at 11:29 in the video. Oh, I like Eugene the Jeep. This is sure to be good.

Jeep Tale was directed by Jack Kinney, the same as Plumber’s Pipe Dream. And right away the title card makes me think of a thing I didn’t acknowledge enough in Plumber’s Pipe Dream: the title card is beautiful. It’s this nice abstract midcentury-styled thing. So is the long, low cabinet that Eugene hops past in the first scene. They’re attractive to look at, at least to someone of my aesthetics. The Jeeps’ treehouse is cute, and to make it a bit funnier, it has a TV antenna. The animation is limited to the point of disappearing altogether, yes. But the pictures are nice to look at. Sometimes absurdly nice: the rendering of Eugene the Jeep and his family makes them amazingly adorable, moreso than I remember them ever being in the comic strip or the Fleischer cartoons.

The cartoon’s frame is Swee’Pea asking Popeye to explain stuff. This was used several times in the King Features cartoons of the 60s. Usually it was Swee’Pea wanting a story. I understand its value as a framing device. For one, it lets the cartoonists use any story premise they have, regardless of whether it’s got anything to do with Popeye. For another, it means like half a minute or more of the five-minute cartoon can be stock animation. And this sets up a story which evokes The Tale of Peter Rabbit. It doesn’t get too close to the original story, but it does want the audience to think of Peter Rabbit.

If there’s one thing Famous Studios Popeye cartoons teach us, it’s that there’s no good Popeye cartoons where he’s facing down an animal. Popeye loses them all, and comes off looking a jerk for trying. (I will defend The Hungry Goat as a great cartoon. I love it. But it’s so much a Tex Avery cartoon that happens to have slotted Popeye in that the cartoon even calls itself out for not being Popeye enough. It reads much more as a stealth pilot for the goat character.) So seeing Popeye and a family of Jeeps living in his(?) yard seemed like a warning sign. No, though; the backstory Popeye isn’t facing down an animal. Bluto is. That’s a conflict I don’t remember from Famous Studios cartoons. And it’s a good one. We can root for the animal to come out on top without feeling like we’re double-crossing Popeye.

The story Popeye tells has got something of a storyline. Young Eugene refuses his Jeep lessons, while his sisters are well-behaved. I don’t know whether his sisters ever get a “canonical” appearance where they’re not part of a possibly fictional tale. Their names are Flipsy, Mipsy, and Tossytail, names sure to come up at 60s-Popeye-Trivia Night. The story more or less follows. Young Eugene goes off to make mischief at the Bad Farmer’s, and quickly gets in over his head. His mother saves him, distracting Bad Farmer Bluto. She hypnotizes Bad Farmer Bluto who goes bouncing off and accidentally threatening Young Eugene’s life … so Young Eugene teleports for the first time. There’s a bit of slack in the storyline but it basically hangs together. I get why this stuff happens and in this order, more or less.

Making the conflict Jeeps Versus Bluto is a pretty good choice. It’s a fresh angle and it avoids making Popeye the antagonist. Making it a Young Eugene who’s not really magical yet, too, keeps the conflict from being a blowout. The plot structure leaves Popeye nearly out of the cartoon. But Popeye as the narrator means he doesn’t seem to be out of action. Good Farmer Popeye stopping in to kibbutz helps give Popeye presence even if he doesn’t affect things any. I laughed at how the “tool shed” Eugene runs to is an ammunition dump. It’s preposterous in a way that’s maybe a little out of tone for the rest of the quite gentle story, but it works for me. The hypnotized Bluto muttering “jeep … jeep ow … jeep ow ow ow” as he bounces on his rear end through thistles is also making me laugh. I will insist this is because Jackson Beck is performing such a nothing line well, not because I’ll laugh at the dumbest stuff.

There’s some oddities in the animation. This besides the problem of working out whether the Jeeps’ treehouse is on Good Farmer Popeye or Bad Farmer Bluto’s property. There are, for example, a lot of scens which fade out instead of just cutting to something else going on in the scene. There are, in the first half of the cartoon, a lot of quite short shots. And, like, why the fade-out (at about 14:30 in the video) after Popeye tells of Eugene being locked in the cage just to Swee’Pea’s reaction of “Ooh, he was mean”? It seems like they were trying to save screen time. And then had 25 seconds for Eugene to fill time, doing a little magic and then dancing the Sailor’s Hornpipe. It’s cute — every moment of Eugene or his relative Jeeps is adorable — but why so much of it? And if Eugene is going to sing the Sailor’s Hornpipe would it have been too much trouble to have the soundtrack match?

Also so Eugene’s Mom can hypnotize people, but as far as I remember Eugene can’t? … Although I guess that fits with the story Popeye tells. Carry on, then.

1960s Popeye has Plumber’s Pipe Dream


I’m taking this week to build myself some margin in the Popeye’s Island Adventure series. I’m doing that by filling in a week with an older cartoon. This one, Plumber’s Pipe Dream, is part of the notorious 1960s series. In that, King Features made over two hundred short cartoons over the course of about three years to fill television with a heap of content. Doing this required hiring, like, everybody who could hold a pencil. This is a short that I thought King Features had on their official YouTube channel. They have a couple dozen of that run. So I’m posting a copy I can find. If you find it’s been removed, please let me know. I’ll try to find a replacement. It could be King Features will have added it to their official channel by that time.

This cartoon, at least, I can give credits for. It was made by Jack Kinney Productions. Jack Kinney worked for Disney in the Golden Age — he directed sequences in Pinocchio and Dumbo. And he worked for UPA Studios at its peak too. You could get that idea from the stylish title card. By 1960 he had his own studio doing television work, King Features cartoons among it.

This is not a good cartoon. It is one I enjoy watching. It’s weird that those go together. A strain in pop culture, especially on the Internet, celebrates bad stuff. It’s been celebrated so long that we can forget that this is a strange choice to make. What’s fun about a bad cartoon, or movie, or book, or story?

I think it’s something you have to grow into. You start out taking in stories (cartoons, movies, whatever) and accepting them as stories. Then you get to knowing stories well enough. You can tell good from bad, and maybe why some are good and some bad. Most of us then stick to the good stories, and live a happy life with our entertainment choices. But some of us, in what feels like a nerdy thing to do, break that. I think some of us get so obsessed with studying stories, and why they work and why they don’t, that we overthink it. Like, we notice that most good stories follow (sensible) rules. A genuinely bad story, though? That won’t follow rules. Or it follows a weird distorted idea of the rules. It surprises in a way that a well-made story can’t. The surprise and novelty is great if you’ve consumed so much of a particular kind of story that normal ones are boring. And it’s great for showing by its mistakes how good stories come together. And, yes, a good story that defies rules and breaks expectations is also cherished. But there’s probably more ways to make a bad story than a good one.

So how does this hypothesis matter to this cartoon?


We start with Olive Oyl having a leaky faucet. Good premise. Plumbing cartoons are usually fun. Leaking water gives things a sense of urgency, and that often builds comic energy well. Swee’Pea suggests having it fixed, something Olive Oyl never thought of, even though they have the same voice actor. Olive Oyl insisting she wouldn’t have thought of that, and looking up “plumbers” under “P as in Plop”, are a couple cute throwaway dialogue jokes. They’re not quite laugh lines, but at least they’re cheery.

Popeye’s the designated plumber, and mentions how this call roused him from a snooze. There’s a weird momentary fade to black at about 1:31, before we see Popeye’s face making some weird expressions. This turns out to be plot-important, but you only know that in retrospect. Popeye’s first attempt only makes the leak worse and he rushes to the basement to turn the water off. This by the way takes about as long as a whole Popeye’s Island Adventure does. So I appreciate how much story compression has to go into those shorts.

Popeye can’t remember which apartment he needs to turn off, so he breaks that pipe too. So he figures now he has to go to the water main and runs out to the city sewer. Here, given the direction to turn the wheel right he turns it back and forth until it breaks off, sending even more water loose. You have get to wondering whether Popeye was always this incompetent. Boring Suburban Popeye, the character he mutated into in cartoons of the 50s, had a lot of problems. (And yes, this is Popeye in the city. But it’s the way he acts when the cartoon makes him the owner of a boring home in a boring suburb.)

Now the apartment is flooding to the point it looks lost at sea. Popeye needs to get to the city mains before a J G Ballard novel can break out. He hails a taxi, that gets there on distinctly dry streets, and calls out, “The City Water Works!” The shocked driver asks, “It does?” and so help me that makes me laugh every time. This is because I am a nerd. That a phrase might have more than one meaning is always funny to both nerds and four-year-olds. Four-year-olds it makes sense. They’re delighting in the discovery of how language works. Nerds, I don’t know. Might be we so like having things explained and sensible that a sentence which resists mono-meaning is delightful.

Now the water comes, with the city streets flooding or flooding more. Popeye swims toward the water works, only to find the water’s risen so high that it threatens to extinguish the Statue of Liberty’s torch. You know, the torch that has never been a literal fire.

There’s some spinach floating by, that Popeye grabs happily and eats. He gets his power-up fanfare and … water squirts out of his muscle bulges. Well, he puddles to the drowned shutoff valve, which opens a drain, threatening to suck him down. And then what do you know but it’s all a dream, and he’s still getting another call from Olive Oyl. He rushes to Olive Oyl’s apartment and once again forgets to turn off the water. The end.

Lay out the storyline like that and it seems workable. Making a small problem ever-worse is a standard comic method. It’s standard because it works so well. And there are a bunch of funny little drawings. Popeye asleep in his chair looks weird, but in a funny way. The taxi driver has some nice bugged-out eyes when he sees the flood coming. There’s more nice casual jokes than I remembered were in this short. It isn’t quotable, but that’s because all the jokes depend on their context to be anything. And a cartoon doesn’t have to be quotable to be good.

But what’s bad. Mm. Well, little things. Every scene takes a few seconds longer than it needs. The music was done by hitting shuffle on the King Features 1960s Background Themes playlist. I’ll give them a pass on how much animation gets reused within this short. They had like $20 and a heap of Green Stamps for an animation budget, and as many as twelve minutes to draw the thing. But did a third of all the dialogue have to be Olive Oyl crying out “Heellllp” in an endless repeated chant? (I likely find this more annoying than other people because the same chant gets used in many of the 60s cartoons. I recognize it like I recognize the exact same gunshot sound effect in half of all the M-G-M Tom and Jerry cartoons.)

For the most part, this cartoon is boring. Or it’s annoying, when Olive Oyl is crying out “Heellllp” in a sound clip they used in every King Features Popeye. It’s going a bit loopy, with the speed and magnitude of the flooding. But it’s not until 3:55, it changes. This is when Popeye notices the Statue of Liberty is almost drowned. Now the cartoon is not only bad, but great bad. Making the flooding worse by fixing it? That’s a normal line of action. That’s the plot thread that you could make a good cartoon around. Making the flooding “Oh, and it’s going to extinguish the flame in the Statue of Liberty’s Torch”? That’s not a logical thought. The cartoon leaps into some surreal, dream-logic territory. It’s surprising and weird. The rules of plot logic that we’re used to fail and that’s thrilling. Plus there’s a nice alarmed look on the statue’s face.

That it’s all a dream is … eh. The cartoon could as easily have had the big drain open up and let the city dry. Making it all a dream retroactively excuses Popeye making dumb mistakes, at least. And it sets up the here-we-go-again punch line. The cartoon manages, at least for a while, to be a great bad cartoon.


Next week I should get back to Popeye’s Island Adventures with a fresh essay at this link. Now watch as King Features double-crosses me and doesn’t post a new cartoon this week. Well, I have 219 other 1960s cartoons to look at. Plus they’ve posted episodes from Popeye And Son. I can wait them out.

Popeye’s Island Adventures: Drone Drama


There were two minutes, seventeen seconds for this week’s cartoon. It’s hard telling any kind of story with so little time. This week, they impressed me with a story that’s densely plotted and interesting, without getting confusing. The 25th of these little animations is Drone Drama. It’s not an inspiring title. I can imagine it fitting into the King Features Syndicate cartoon run of the 60s. But do you remember the subject line I picked for this essay? No, and I say that before I’ve even written it. So I can give them a break.

We start with eleven seconds in Bluto’s Swamp. He’s making something sinister: one of those drones like you’d fly at the beach, only evil. Then we go to Popeye’s ship home. He and Olive Oyl are tending the spinach gardens. Swee’Pea is doing magic tricks with Eugene the Jeep. Routine enough.

Bluto sneaks up on Popeye’s ship home. He camouflages a can of bait as spinach and leaves it for Popeye as … bait. Despite Olive’s misgivings, Popeye takes the … bait. Bluto’s drone drops a cage on Popeye and Olive Oyl. Popeye opens the false spinach can and swallows the bait. This doesn’t get him any particular superpowers. It leaves me feeling queasy too.

Bluto flies, on is drone, up to the spinach garden. And at this point I realized how much I was liking this story. There’s some fun in the Young Bluto as a rival more than a villain, yes. But him doing actually villainous things is fun. And he’s got a good scheme here, one that’s using this drone invention well. Bluto uses the drone to drop a trap on Popeye and Olive Oyl, to get to the spinach garden, and even to scoop up the garden all around Swee’Pea and Eugene. And then to flee back to the swamp.

Swee’Pea and Eugene take action. Eugene vanishes, lest he spoil the plot by fixing the problem right away. Swee’Pea uses his saw to cut open Popeye’s cage. And this is something else I liked here. Swee’Pea can saw open the cage, but there needs to be a reason why he’d have a saw. So he’s practicing magic. And now this is all set up so it’s surprising but justified.

(Yes, yes, as illustrated Popeye and Olive Oyl would be able to get out of the cage if they stepped through the wide bars. I’m an easy audience. I’m willing to pretend the cage mesh is “really” too narrow to let them pass. It may not be more work to have the computer draw a fine-mesh cage rather than a sparse one. But it’s still hard to have a fine mesh cage and have the cartoon still read cleanly, especially to people watching on a phone. Give the animators a break.)

Popeye breaks out the emergency spinach reserve. Which was in a compartment covered by Swee’Pea and Eugene, by the way. In case you needed a reason why Bluto’s drone didn’t do anything about the hidden spinach reserve, there’s one. I’m not sure this is answering a potential objection to the storyline. It might have just been that “on top of the secret compartment” was the only good background available for Swee’Pea’s scenes. But it feels like it explains a problem someone overthinking the cartoon might have.

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee’Pea catch up with Bluto and the stolen spinach. Bluto urges them to bring it on, and I like his smug confidence. It seems odd when you realize he’s seen they have spinach with them. Olive eats her can, and does a Plastic Man-style arm-reach to grab the bag of spinach. It turns out Bluto’s hidden his drone in the spinach bag. It pops out with big spinny whirly blades of death. Once again I like this. Bluto’s anticipating Popeye and his bunch. It makes him a tougher menace, and so a stronger climax.

Swee’Pea eats his spinach and flies into the air as a … something that flies, anyway. He tears up the drone, and the spinach falls toward the swamp. Popeye doesn’t eat a can; he grabs some loose spinach when the bag spills open. He makes a giant fan of himself, and blows Bluto into the swap. Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea grab the spinach bag. And Eugene finally reappears, to slap cucumber slices on Bluto’s mud-covered face. Happy ending all around.

This is a lot of plot for 137 seconds. I’m impressed with how well it all works. Bluto’s got a good scheme in mind. And he even anticipates Popeye’s responses and figures what to do about them. I like this. It gives the plot a more complicated and interesting shape than the last few weeks have shown. And for as much as happens here it’s never confusing. I followed what characters were doing and why they were doing it. And even stuff that didn’t seem relevant, like Swee’Pea and Eugene’s hanging out, mattered to the story. It’s all well-crafted. Again I’m sorry we don’t get credits for these shorts. I’m curious to know. Has one of the writing teams figured out how to work within the constraints this series uses? Or do things sometimes just all fit together well?

I’m doing my best to review all these Popeye’s Island Adventures. Essays about them should be at this link. Next week, though, I plan to finally build myself a bit of buffer and review a much older cartoon. I hope you enjoy the change.

Popeye’s Island Adventures: Beach Ball Bonanza (no bonanza included)


While this, the 24th of the Popeye’s Island Adventures series, is titled Beach Ball Bonanza, readers should know there is no actual bonanza depicted, nor is there reason to expect one. There is a beach ball. I have no responsibility for these facts and so will not apologize for them.

The short faked me out some. I’m glad for that. From the start I thought it would be another one where Eugene sets up a contest to get Popeye and Bluto out of his hair. Or at least Popeye and Olive Oyl, which would be a change. So we start with Olive Oyl accidentally hitting their beach ball over to the cactus Eugene’s just planted. Popeye makes a good saving catch. When the relieved Eugene dusts some sand around the cactus’s base, it makes Popeye sneeze and burst the beachball on the cactus anyway. Basic but reliable setup. Usually the more times the story reverses whether the catastrophe will happen the better the joke.

Bluto sees his chance to swipe Popeye’s spinach. So he dresses up in a cactus costume, the better to sneak past them all undetected. This confused me the first time around, as, well, why sneak up to them just to sneak away to Popeye’s house? This shows how bad I am at spatial relations: Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Eugene’s cactus were between Bluto’s boat and Popeye’s house. So he has reason to sneak past them. Not answered: can’t Bluto just sail nearer to Popeye’s house? Maybe the reefs are too treacherous.

Bluto sneaks past the halfway point in the cartoon. He finally jumps up into Popeye’s garden, landing on a rake, which is one of those dumb laughs you certainly want. And now, finally, as Olive Oyl finishes repairing and re-inflating their beach ball, Popeye notices Bluto. The unexpected beach ball hit sends Popeye’s spinach flying loose, and Olive races to eat it before … I guess … it hits the ground and loses its potency? Spinach has always been a magic food, in the Popeye settings. This series has made it more explicitly so. If an opened can just has to be eaten right away that’s probably a good plot constraint to put on the series. Could add for some nice action. Or it may have just made for a better flow of action this short.

So, spinached up, Olive Oyl .. manifests the properties of a hang glider. A couple times now we’ve seen Popeye notice, say, a sponge and use the spinach powers to take on sponge properties. This was completely Olive acting on impulse. She carries Popeye over to his house in a scene that asks the question: was this really better than them just running over? It’s like a hundred feet away from where they started.

Popeye hasn’t got a can of spinach, but that’s all right, since the surprise gets Bluto stuck in a barrel. Like the rake, it’s a simple but reliable joke. Popeye attaches the air pump to the barrel’s tap, and setting up the beach ball explosion and repair pays off another plot dividend. The barrel explosion sends Bluto sailing into Eugene’s cactus, and we don’t need to wonder what happened to the spinach cans which were in the barrel. And, two minutes nine seconds in, we’re done.

It’s a fair enough short. It’s made me realize there are some stock situations, unique to this series, that I expect. And that the shorts can go against my expectations. That’s a good development.


Be with me next week as I try to review another of these Popeye’s Island Adventures. Essays about them should be at this link.

Popeye’s Island Adventures: Gone Fishing, as Olive saves the day


I need to invest less energy in coming up with subject lines for these little cartoon reviews. The urge is to come up with subject lines that invite the reader in. But for most of a post’s life I need it to be easy to figure out which cartoon a particular essay is about. Cartoon title and maybe a distinctive element is all that’s needed.

This week’s is the 23rd of the series, Gone Fishing. It starts that way at least.

I’ve always loved Popeye. That’s involved a lot of defending the cartoons against the complaint that they’re all the same formula. They’re quite diverse in structure, even if they nearly all share the Popeye-eats-spinach climax. Still, there is a formula. And it’s always thrilling when a cartoon breaks from that. The commonest break, it seems to me: someone else eats the can of spinach to save the day. Like, say, in this one.

The cartoon starts with Popeye and Bluto fishing. More, with actually catching fish. This felt anachronistic. It seems, to my uninformed eyes, that cartoons are likely enough to show characters fishing. But actually catching anything? As in, ripping animals out of their homes and suffocating them? That’s gotten perceived as too openly cruel to show. Our characters will still eat fish, of course. They’ll just leave the killing off-screen. Well, they’re all ones and zeroes imitating ink and paint anyway. They can’t feel it.

This builds into a natural little rivalry, Bluto and Popeye trying to out-catch the other, and I figured this would be the plot for the cartoon. It’s got some nice sound and, at about 0:32, even a rare screen split. I’m an easy touch for that sort of action-across-several-screens shot. They end up tied together in the water and from there stop being active parts of the plot, to my surprise.

So over to Olive Oyl, who’s made one of those Newton’s Cradles things of snail shells. One still has a snail, who reasonably takes her leave. The snail grabs a couple spinach leaves and scurries to the water, while Olive follows along. I’m not sure why Olive would. I get her accidentally bothering a live snail, but why chase after it? To apologize?

Our hero spots the stranded Bluto and Popeye, just in time for them to be menaced by a giant snail kraken. To let you in on how unperceptive I am: I wasn’t sure at first this was the spinach-transformed snail from seconds before. The snail seems to be overreacting to the offense. Still, Olive paddles into action, with a pretty cute “I’m watching you” finger-point. She surfs skillfully enough to tie up the snail-kraken’s tentacles, but there’s still the snail’s claws and screaming.

So Popeye opens his spinach and shoots the can at her. She gets your nice classic muscle bulge, flexy-long arms, and tosses the snail-kraken out of the cartoon. Then spins Popeye and Bluto free and tosses them into Popeye’s hammock, sending them each to their respective boats. Happy ending for everybody but, I’m going to guess, the episode of Shimmer and Shine that’s now about a snail-kraken somehow.

I like that Olive Oyl got something to do this cartoon. She’s always gotten the occasional chance to play the Popeye role, and I think this is her first turn in the Island Adventures cartoons. I think the music’s a bit better this week, too. I’ve never been really happy with the music on this cartoon series. It’s seemed a little too generic, like they had a stock library of tunes that are never really wrong for a short, but also never really right or distinctive. Or tied particularly to the action. This time, the music as we first saw Olive Oyl felt like a good change. I like having a different audio feeling for being on a different plot thread. Olive Oyl on the surfboard also gets more distinctive, with some brass instruments adding new energy.

It’s a bit surprising to notice how passive Popeye and Bluto are. But that is a danger of being the person-to-be-rescued. I get Popeye being reactive; even in the Fleischer cartoons he was mostly inclined to go about his business until bothered. Bluto going inert seems surprising. But cartoon fishing wire can be pretty tough stuff.

I’m doing my best to review all these Popeye’s Island Adventures. Essays about them should be at this link.

A Follow-Up Regarding A Harmless TV Show That I Act As If I’m All Superior To For Not Caring About


I did give in and start searching for Two Broke Girls on DuckDuckGo because, all right, in that way I am superior, so far as I know. Anyway I started out typing all right and then it turned into Two Stupid Dogs, and that left me fondly vaguely remembering that early-90s cartoon. And I see absolutely no reason to go checking back on this fondly-vaguely-remembered early-90s cartoon because I’m absolutely sure there’s nothing about it that’s, in fact, embarrassingly sexist, or homophobic, or racist, or showing off the start of some trend that would become really bad in animation in the following twenty years, or highlighting the straight-from-the-id work of someone we now publicly acknowledge to be creepy and evil. Nope! That could not possibly ever have happened!

Maybe This Will Be The Silly Post That Lowers My Average word Count


So then why didn’t they ever make a goofy pure-comedy prequel series where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are, like, in kindergarden or something? It can’t just have been because they couldn’t think of a title for the series, right? Or did they make it and I just didn’t hear because I don’t hear about things anymore?

(Thanks for sticking with me to see last week’s promise fulfilled. That promise did not include successfully picking a fight with Go-Bots fans so it’s all right that I failed. Please check back next week when I test whether I’ll write shorter posts if I make the typeface in my text editor larger so I fool myself into thinking I’ve written long enough already.)