60s Popeye: Seer-ring is Believer-ring, which isn’t about Wimpy offering to pay somehow?


This week’s King Features Popeye cartoon puts us back in the capable, if dull, hands of Paramount Cartoon Studios. Seymour Kneitel’s the director, with animation by I Klein, Jack Ehret, and Dick Hall. The story’s credited to I Klein. Here’s 1960’s Seer-ring Is Believer-Ring.

The sparse information that Popeye The Sailorpedia has for this cartoon does not say it was adapted from a comic strip or comic book story. I suppose it wasn’t, then. There is this feel, though. The cartoon introduces a new menace, Evil-Eye. I initially wrote him as a new “villain” because he’s coded as one. The name, sure. His being generically ethnic. Olive Oyl even calls him “a foreign-looking gentleman”. But his actions?

As presented, after all, all he’s really trying to do is get back the magic ring that Olive Oyl’s gotten. And Popeye slugs him for it. Evil-Eye escalates to hypnotizing Popeye and Olive Oyl. That is a heck of an escalation, although it’s also the clearly safe thing to do when you’re trying to get around Popeye. Evil-Eye would have presented himself better if he’d asked for the ring openly, though. You don’t need a ring of foretelling to know flirting with Olive Oyl in front of Popeye ends badly for you.

The ending feels unsatisfactory. It feels truncated in a way that I associate with the Bud Sagendorf comics, which would end when Sagendorf felt he’d shuffled the pieces around enough, never mind if anything was resolved. The setup’s decent. Evil-Eye, whose ring can foretell anything except how he’s going to lose it, loses it in a sidewalk vendor’s box. Olive Oyl picks it up and has amazing visions. Popeye doesn’t believe she can see the future. Sailors are, by reputation, a notoriously un-superstitious bunch, after all. But even her foreseeing Wimpy offering to treat everyone at Roughhouse’s Diner doesn’t convince Popeye. Also, what the heck is Wimpy doing offering to treat everyone to anything, ever? Possibly he figures he needs to do a little bit of paying-you-Tuesday in order to keep his line of credit open? It’s still a weird offer.

So Evil-Eye tries to swipe the ring off Olive Oyl’s hand by flirting with her, and that goes wrong, a scene not foreseen by Olive Oyl. Wonder how she missed Popeye acting jealous. Popeye spins him out of the picture. Evil-Eye zaps both with his hypnotic … evil eye … but that doesn’t stop the unconscious Popeye from pulling out his spinach and clobbering him. This sends the ring rolling off into the sewer and Evil-Eye has to fish for it. Also … maybe because of this? … Olive Oyl and Popeye wake up. Neither of them seems to remember Evil-Eye, or her ring. They just walk past and Popeye cracks a joke about Evil-Eye.

This may be another case where I’m too old to understand the plot. Maybe a kid is faster to accept the idea that of course part of Evil-Eye’s hypnosis is suppressing your recollection that he was even there. Or the thing he was interested in getting for you. It doesn’t seem like asking too much from the premise.

Popeye is staring huge-eyed, into the camera. In front of him, Olive Oyl has stretched out her hand and she's delighted by Evil-Eye holding her wrist and calling her 'Ninotchka' and trying to grab the ring off her hand.
[ Record scratch ] “Yup, tha’s me! I bets youze is won’nering how I gotsk meself into this sit’chee’ation.”

Evil-Eye is voiced of course by Jackson Beck. So is the ring seller. There’s an interesting bit in Olive Oyl’s visions of the future, in that Mae Questel tries to do the voices of Popeye and Wimpy and Evil-Eye. Her version of Popeye seems to land somewhere near the Sea Hag. Her Evil-Eye sounded closer to Swee’Pea than anything else. Her Wimpy didn’t evoke any particular character to me. It’s interesting we get yet another reference to Roughhouse without actually seeing him. Roughhouse is becoming the Boba Fett of this series, building up a lot of reputation without doing anything.

So far as I know this is the only appearance of Evil-Eye. That’s a shame. He seems to have more going for him than the usual one-shot villain. Not so much as the hypnotist from Nix On Hypnotricks, but still, he seems like he could have done more.

The art here strongly embraces a flatter, UPA-influenced style. Evil-Eye and the ring seller are much more deliberately limited characters than our regulars are. I’m curious how much of that was Paramount’s animators wanting the artistic challenge of the newer style and how much was just budgetary. It looks most distinctive when Evil-Eye is nearly done spinning about 10:02, and he’s represented with a simple slide back and forth under the camera. It suggests spinning without making any literal sense as a spin. That’s a neat effect to have.

Really would like an explanation of what Wimpy is doing offering to treat anyone, though. He has that wad of bills that would seem to show his sincerity. Maybe he’s figuring to coax them to Roughhouse’s and then dump the check on them? Something’s not working with that part of the story anyway.

60s Popeye: Old Salt Tale (the New Salt Tale’s bogged down in construction)


It’s back to Jack Kinney studios for this week’s King Features Popeye cartoon. The story is by Ed Nofziger, who’s done a bunch of fairy tale adaptations before. Animation direction is credited to Hugh Fraser. Here’s 1960’s Old Salt Tale.

We start out with Olive Oyl prancing in the ocean, and Popeye and Swee’Pea enjoying the beach. So, I too expected a beach cartoon. Nope; this is just a frame for another tell-Swee’Pea-a-story short. In this, about why the sea is salty. For a punch line we learn Swee’Pea knows the answer. It suggests Swee’Pea is asking just to show he knows more than Popeye does. Swee’Pea will go far in being a STEM-type know-it-all nerd jerk.

The explanation Popeye gives is … not quite a fairy tale. I mean, it’s a version of any of a couple North European folk tales about why the sea is salt. It gets a fair bit afield of any of these versions. But that is how a folk tale should work, isn’t it?

In the adapted story a shipwrecked (again!) Popeye lands on the Sea Hag’s island. She’s enslaved the Goons and Popeye will have none of that. (I guess none of these are really the Sea Hag or Popeye, but, c’mon.) He has his last can of spinach at a surprisingly early part in the cartoon, just 2:14 in, and tosses the Sea Hag into the … sea. The Goons reward him with a grinder that can make anything, if asked politely, and he sets off for home. His house turns out not to be the one from Little Olive Riding Hood but you see where I got confused. After grinding some spinach and presents, Popeye sets out. The Sea Hag sneaks in and steals the grinder and, impolitely demanding gold, gets an endless supply of salt instead.

The magic grinder spraying a stream of salt at the Sea Hag. The stream's just reached her, and she has her arms raised, so the Sea Hag looks as though she's being tickled.
Tickle tickle tickle! Tickle tickle tickle!

It’s good casting. Popeye doing a heroic deed and getting a magic reward makes sense. Having the magic thing come from the Goons does too. He has to save somebody with a supernatural element and that’s going to be the Goons, the Jeeps, or make something up. (Yes, I see the Popeye Super-Fan out there pointing out there’s Whiffle Birds. Give it time.) Goons, which by now in the Popeye universe are lumbering but harmless giants? Good fit. Sea Hag as the villain is also good, and better for a supernatural story than Brutus could be.

I feel dissatisfied, though. I think the trouble is that Popeye never discovers the Sea Hag’s theft. She gets her comeuppance, yes, but as the magic grinder’s doing. She is, by rights, the protagonist. But the first part of the story is Popeye’s viewpoint, so she can’t quite manage that. Shifting or ambiguous viewpoint characters can work, but it takes a really good story to do that. This isn’t tight enough to manage that.

Also Popeye, who is “always polite”, asks the grinder to make him some spinach. He never says thank you! I don’t remember if this bothered me as a kid, but it does feel like something that would.

60s Popeye: Weight for Me and a cartoon that’s aged without a single flaw


We have another Gene Deitch-directed cartoon here. So the only credits I have are that the animation was by Halas and Batchelor. No idea about story credits and all. The producer is Producer William L Snyder.

There’s a content warning, though, as you maybe guessed from the title. And as you maybe inferred from the screen grab YouTube uses for its previews. If it gives the same preview to everyone, I mean. The premise is, Olive Oyl is fat! And Popeye wants to fix here! So there’s a bunch of fat-phobia and body-shaming going on here. If you don’t need that, and you don’t want to see Popeye being casually ugly, you’re absolutely right. We’ll meet back up in a week.

For those who can put up with that, or want to see how this plays out, here’s Weight For Me, another cartoon from 1960.

Popeye and Brutus are back from six months at sea! And while they were away, Olive Oyl was so lonesome that she overate, and now she’s fat. It’s that most startling of thing to see thirty years into a franchise: a new premise. Where was this when Famous Studios was gradually whittling down the number of Popeye’s nephews all through the 50s?

It’s obvious the cartoon has to be about losing weight, then. It’s not quite required that Olive Oyl end the cartoon skinny again. (The other resolution would be that after a lot of diet and exercise she and Popeye end up enormous.) But is required that she try. Brutus likes the fat Olive Oyl, though. It’s presented with this interesting energy, as though even he didn’t realize he was going to like her being fat. And this sets up what should be a crackling good conflict. Popeye trying to make Olive Oyl skinny versus Brutus trying to make her even fatter.

Where it goes wrong is that word, make. Popeye never asks Olive Oyl if she wants to be thin again, or if she wants any help. Brutus never asks Olive Oyl if she’s happy being fat. You can argue Olive Oyl clearly wishes she were thin, but thinks trying is hopeless. You can argue that Olive Oyl finds being fat more comfortable. Certainly having ambiguous feelings about it is natural and normal. Olive Oyl’s fickleness works here to make her more psychologically realistic than normal.

Brutus offering a big box of chocolates to an extremely overweight Olive Oyl. The sofa they're sitting on is buckling under her weight.
You might think it sexist that the sofa is crumpling under Olive Oyl’s weight, when there’s no chance she’s heavier than Brutus. But this is because a guy can be five times as overweight as a woman before suffering the same sorts of social penalties.

But gads, the worst thing about being fat? Other than how doctors will blame your weight for any ailment, including Covid-19, a broken arm, and seven cop bullets in your back? Meddlers telling you how to stop being fat.

So Popeye starts out really ugly here. And he never gets better, as he keeps putting Olive Oyl through exercises after she says she doesn’t want to. Brutus never asks Olive Oyl what she wants either. But he at least does invite her to a malt shop or to a steak dinner and she accepts. She might be eating for emotionally unhealthy reasons but she’s at least asked.

There was, a decade-plus ago, a web site article that asked whether the Famous Studios animators were on Bluto’s side. It listed all sorts of plots where Popeye’s more clearly the jerk. This one fits that tradition.

Apart from that, though? … It’s a well-done cartoon, is part of the thing. The animation’s decent limited-animation work. It hasn’t got as much small movement as Potent Lotion. I assume that’s because everybody’s energy was put into drawing Olive Oyl to a strange model sheet. But it does have small filigrees of movement. When getting off the ship, for example, Brutus quickly welds Popeye by a chain to the ship’s deck. And Popeye uses his pipe to free himself. It’s nothing needed for the story; it just makes the cartoon better.

Popeye has assembled a bunch of weight loss machines; the enormous Olive Oyl is caught in the one that wraps a belt around your waist, or in her case her rump, to shake around. There's also a machine with rollers on arms that go up and down, and another semicircular machine with several small long cylindrical rollers. In the foreground is what looks like a three-part foldable cot with a record turntable hanging off the side.
Very disappointed we did not get to see how that sectioned cot with a vertically-slung record turntable was supposed to lose anybody weight.

Popeye also brings in a fun-looking bunch of weight-loss machines. That thing with the strap that goes around your waist and shakes you, for example. And a bunch that didn’t get to be cartoon-and-sitcom famous. This thing with two rollers that go up and down looks amusing, whatever its scam was supposed to be. I have no idea what the thing Olive Oyl ends up trapped on is, the little thing that looks like a dangerous hot dog roller. It looks like fun, though.

We end with Brutus resigned to “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”. He’s reading How To Reduce and is on the hip belt thing. Everyone laughs. It’s unusual for everyone to end on the same page and laughing about it. It’s appealing to see. I’m just sad it comes after a lot of Popeye being a jerk.

60s Popeye: Potent Lotion, when ‘Popeye Punch’ was just sitting there ready for the naming


This week I’ve got another Popeye cartoon directed by Gene Deitch. So there’s no information about story credits or specific animators or anything. Just his bunch in Czechoslovakia. Sorry. Here’s Potent Lotion, a title that seems like it should be a rhyme yet isn’t.

This is a weird cartoon. I know, a Gene Deitch cartoon turning out weird? Who imagined that? The core of the weirdness is that this is quite a well-made cartoon. The characters are all pretty angular, but that’s not a bad thing. The cartoon looks fresher than the usual. I think it’s the movement. The characters move like paper doll silhouette puppets, with discrete joints. Or like a Flash animation from about 2006.

Certainly the animation, while limited, does more than it needs. Everyone moves with their whole bodies. Brutus’s face clearly moves under his mask, when anyone would accept just not seeing anything there. When several characters are in a walk (or run) cycle, like the henchmen or the two cops, they’re out of phase, so it looks like there’s more movement than there really is. Or when Brutus is splitting up the loot. His hand reaches into the bag, and pushes the bag down. It’s an extra bit of life.

And it’s got a strong plot. Popeye gets a bottle of shaving lotion, and a telegram from Olive Oyl to meet her. Everyone he passes on the way punches him. It’s a mystery until we see Brutus and his henchmen robbing a bank. The cops are more interested in punching Popeye than chasing the robbers. Popeye works out it’s the aftershave that’s made him so punchable. He finds the gang’s hideout and in the end drops enough Punch Lotion on Brutus’s head to break up the gang. There’s more to the story but that’s the important stuff.

It’s well-organized, too. Even in the little things. Like, Popeye signs for the delivery package; he doesn’t sign for the telegram. First time through I noted that as a discrepancy. But then he comes back around, when he finds the gang’s hideout, and says he forgot to sign for the telegram. The henchman uses the chance to say he’ll get a slip of paper, and gets Brutus instead. Everybody’s being smart.

Two cops punching Popeye. One has hit him in the head so hard Popeye's smashed down to about half-height.
All Popeye said was “of course Black lives matter”, but he would go on to ask why the cops have chemical warfare weapons banned by the Geneva Convention.

So I can’t pin down just what about the cartoon feels off to me. I want to say it’s Brutus’s setup of robbing a bank, with a plan only incidentally involving Popeye. But that can’t be right. We’ve had any number of cartoons where Brutus is an actual villain. Even ones where he’s a bank-robber or other desperado. Those are usually set in Old Western towns, though, or in Yukon Gold Strike towns or things like that. And they usually have the setup where Bluto/Brutus hasn’t met Popeye when the action starts. Maybe that’s the weird thing. He’s not usually in Anytown USA and aware of Popeye and still scheming against society rather than against Popeye. Or maybe it’s that usually, once the cartoon starts, Brutus/Bluto focuses on besting Popeye. It’s rare that he treats Popeye as a feature of the landscape.

It’s also a bit weird that after eating his spinach — sorry, Brutus’s spinach. Still, it’s common enough for Popeye to eat environmentally-provided spinach — Popeye just uses the chance to break his bonds. He pours Punch Lotion on Brutus to get the gang to slug him. This is a good plan, yes. It’s just surprising to see Popeye resort to his smarts first and his fists second.

My reservations are weird, idiosyncratic, and not that important. This is a cartoon worth watching, and it’s one that shows even in the dire circumstances of 60s television animation, with characters who had already been wrung through three decades and hundreds of cartoons, there’s still good cartoons to make.

60s Popeye: Paper Pasting Pandemonium, but a polite pandemonium


We’re back to the Jack Kinney studios this week. The story is again by Ed Nofziger. The director is Rudy Larriva, whom you remember from those 1960s Warner Brothers cartoons that looked all weird and had six bars of background music, repeated endlessly. King Features paid for a little more music. There’s one unusual bit of music that stood out. It’s this sort of marching-music from when Popeye i sgetting to work. From 1960 here’s Paper Pasting Pandemonium then.

To believe in this premise we have to suppose Olive Oyl has a circle of friends besides Popeye and Brutus. All right, I suppose we can allow that. She’s spoken of going off to garden parties and there’s probably been a cotillion or something too. We also have the setup that she’s just decided, an hour before the party, that she wants her house re-wallpapered. I understand the narrative point of a deadline. And that Olive Oyl is somewhat fickle. It seems like a bad plan to me.

Still, Popeye and Brutus competing to wallpaper a room should be a good setup. The Platonic ideal of this cartoon exists, after all, in that Pink Panther cartoon where Pink and Big Nosed Naked Guy competitively paint a room. Still, the Pink Panther series remade the premise and got some good other cartoons out. And I’d have sworn there was a version of this in the Popeye series too, but I can’t track it down. (I thought there was one where Popeye and Bluto/Brutus/* were each building half of a building while sabotaging the other’s half? Am I just kidding myself?) There’s abundant room for physical comedy, too. Anyone can have an accident anytime, by their own clumsiness or because someone else sets them up.

That I’m talking about better versions of this cartoon tells you my dissatisfaction. And it’s a vague one. There’s no point where I can say a particular joke is wrong. It’s just not funny enough. It feels like a first draft. For example: Brutus gets a roll of paper stuck on his head, and it looks like antlers, so he charges Popeye like a bull. Good start. Why don’t we get more of Popeye as a toreador? The wallpaper sheets are a natural cape.

Brutus standing in front of wallpaper that's several days' worth of the Popeye daily comic strip.
I remember as a kid thinking it would be great to have comic strips for wallpaper. But I thought it wasn’t practical, because lining up strips between sheets would be hard. Also I couldn’t think of any comic strip page I’d want to re-read over and over every day. This is really weird since as a teenager and young adult I’d be a fan of hard science fiction and that’s all about reading the same twelve books that hit you Just Right and being unhappy with every book that isn’t exactly the same as those and also angry at everyone who points out those books are really not good and psychic powers aren’t hard science even if you say they’re the result of scientific breeding.

Yes, I spotted that the paste came in a sack labelled “Kinney Goo”. The comic strips pasted to the wall are, of course, from the comic strip. The Popeye Wikia dates them to when Tom Sims and Bela Zaboly were drawing Thimble Theatre. This is an era that’s not much collected; Zaboly and Sims worked on the daily strips together until December 1954, and the Sunday strips until 1959.

Popeye finally eats his spinach (soundlessly), and spends a sequence of tossing paper on the walls that seems like it takes more than the one minute he has to paper the room. It doens’t; it takes thirty seconds of screen time. That’s still a lot of screen time. It comes out as this bizarre criss-cross of unmatched patterns that, yeah, I kinda like. It harmonizes with the UPA-inspired backgrounds from the start, where the color and the outline of Olive’s furniture never matched up anyway. Her guests love it, of course, because this is a 1960 cartoon so the guests Olive Oyl wants to impress are — you snickering yet? — beatniks!

It’s all okay. I suspect the limited animation is really sinking this one. Good slapstick gimmicks like getting stuck to things needs to show frustrated movement. Throwing a colored rectangle over Brutus’s face isn’t enough.

60s Popeye: Tiger Burger, which you can go ahead and join in progress


I came pretty near noping out of another King Features Popeye cartoon this week. I’m not saying you’re wrong if you do. Tiger Burger, another from the Jack Kinney studios, has a story by Cal Howard and animation direction by Harvey Toombs.

It is set in “Darkest Injia”. This is bad. But the use of “Injia”, as though Popeye’s quirky pronunciation were the “correct” thing, cut the bad down a little. The start of the cartoon is all like that. If you want to get to the part of the cartoon that doesn’t need excuses? Start from about 19:30 and proceed from there. My embedded link will be the whole cartoon, though.

So. Yeah. The first two and a half minutes of this are stuff you have to rationalize to keep watching. It bottoms out about 18:08 when we get the sign “You are now entering Puka-Puka, Fastest Growing Slums In Kasha County” which ugh. This is undercut, not swiftly enough, by going to the sign for the Optimists Club. If this cartoon were aimed at adults, this could be a wry comment on the misery of society. And how some people refuse to acknowledge that, a thing both good and bad. The cartoon is not thinking deep enough to get away with that. Not 60 years on, anyway.

The village of Puka-Puka doesn’t look great either. Not crazy about Popeye wondering about the native hospitality, but at least he does address everyone as “sir”. The cop that Popeye talks to is given a British accent and puffs a Churchill-class cigar, icons that are … oh, a bunch to unpack. They do seem to me to be things that would, to a white middle-class American audience of 1960, signify “civilized” and “respectable”, so there’s that. If the cop had been Jackson Beck trying to do Apu I might have dropped this whole series never to touch it again.

Anyway, all this — all this — is to establish that Popeye and Wimpy are hunting Gonga the man-eating tiger. (Yeah, I see the reference.) Gonga’s given a big build-up as “the most vicious, cruel, meanest, low-down, ferocious, good-for-nothing, low-down, fiendish man-eating tiger in all of Injia”. We don’t see a lot of Gonga’s fiendishness. He just yoinks Wimpy off of their turtle. But since Wimpy’s been whining the whole cartoon about wanting to eat hamburgers it’s hard not being on Gonga’s side.

A tiger has one paw wrapped around Wimpy's shoulder, and looks at the camera, with one eye drooping. Wimpy, both eyes open just a tiny bit, is holding up one finger while looking off-camera and apparently whispering.
Look, let them have their time together.

Monomania usually works great for comic characters. And Wimpy is almost the definition of a monomaniacal comic character. I’m not sure why it doesn’t work here. Possibly because there’s so much of him talking hamburgers with nothing else going on. Wimpy can’t interrupt the action with his little thing if his little thing is all the action.

It’s hard to sell me on a Popeye-hunts-an-animal cartoon. While he’s far from consistent, his “always be kind to children and dumb animals” philosophy is a great statement of goals. There’d be some respectability in the plot if he were protecting the village from a menace. I guess that’s the point of the cop’s declaration of Gonga’s wickedness. But Popeye and Wimpy didn’t know about this tiger going in. And we didn’t see Gonga doing anything particularly wicked. So it’s hard to get past the impression Popeye’s being a jerk here.

There’s a couple bits that try to salvage the cartoon. Popeye challenging Gonga to “come out and fights like a man” and Gonga calling back, “come in and fight like a tiger”. Popeye answering how he didn’t come to India to eat hamburgers which, yeah, I wouldn’t. Or the wacky choice to have Popeye and Wimpy riding on a turtle, rather than an elephant. It seems to have been done for the silliness of a howdah on a turtle. And to let the cartoon stop on a joke about how turtles are slow. And if we just stick to that the cartoon is all right. But it’s not much salvage and it comes after a lousy start.

Statistics Saturday: Disney Direct-To-Video Sequels By Whether They Rate Roman or Arabic Numerals


Roman Numeral Arabic Numeral Neither
Pocahontas II Lilo and Stich 2 Aladdin
The Little Mermaid II Brother Bear 2 Beauty and the Beast
The Lion King II The Lion King 1½ Aladdin (again)
Cinderella III The Fox and the Hound 2 Beauty and the Beast (again)
Cinderella II An Extremely Goofy Movie
Lady and the Tramp II The Little Mermaid
Mulan II Tangled
101 Dalmatians II Atlantis
Tarzan II
Bambi II
Hunchback of Notre Dame II

Not listed: Mickey’s Twice Upon A Christmas because it is a Wikipedia prank and does not exist.

Reference: Joseph Henry: The Rise of an American Scientist, Albert E Moyer.

60s Popeye: Swee’Pea Soup plus a cartoon I noped out of


So if things continued in their ordinary course, the next cartoon would have been Two-Faced Paleface. Produced by Larry Harmon, directed by Paul Fennell, written by Charles Shows. The title had me wary because Popeye does not have a good track record with American Indian characters. The story starts with Popeye mining for gold, and finding some. Brutus horns in on this, pretending to be an Indian.

Popeye protests it can’t be Indian land, “we just discovered gold here”. This would be a good, witty, dark comment on American history if I thought they meant it. But, you know? I don’t like Brutus dressing up as “Big Chief Pain-in-the-neck” of the Cha-cha-cha Indian Tribe. I don’t like Popeye joining in. And you know? I’m not going to do it. You want 600 words from me about this? I want $25 minimum. I’m on PayPal.


So let me get that taste out of my mouth by going to the next one on my schedule. This is 1960’s Swee’Pea Soup, directed by Gene Deitch. There’s no other credits, so I can’t tell you who did the story, which I quite like. Or the animation, which is a delight for being this limited. Also, we get not one but two special guest stars.

We start in media res, rare for any children’s cartoon of the era but especially for Popeye. The mob demands the removal of King Blozo. They want someone lovable, like Swee’Pea. King Blozo is another long-time Thimble Theatre character, and a great one. He rules a land that’s usually called Spinachovina. He’s really not up to the job, and would do something else if he was any good at that. He spends most of his time worrying about how bad everything is. His only solace (not seen this cartoon) is reading the funny papers. This may sound basic, but, you know? A character doesn’t need depth to be good. He needs to commit to his bit.

Popeye, seen from behind, scratching his chin while King Blozo walks in circles, hunched over and worry-worry-worrying.
And here’s a rare angle for seeing Popeye. This is a very characteristic pose for King Blozo, though, and you do get a good handle on who he is just from looking at that.

Blozo summons his mad scientist, Professor O G Wotasnozzle, to make him as lovable as Swee’pea is. Wotasnozzle intuits the way to do it is to make Swee’Pea soup, and kidnaps the child. This is a weird turn for Wotasnozzle, who was mischievous but not villainous when created for Sappo (Elzie Segar’s non-Popeye gig). Possibly the story writer wanted to keep the cast to known characters, and Watsnozzle had to contort to fit the part.

We get some action, we get Popeye captured under Wotasnozzle’s giant boot device. We get the mob throwing spinach that contrives its way into Popeye’s mouth. (It’s normal to have a small drain that funnels water directly into your basement.) Popeye launches the double-decker pot of Swee’Pea soup into the air, and Swee’Pea falls into Blozo’s arms. Swee’pea’s approval confers popularity on Blozo and everything can be peaceful and happy again.

This is a lot of story. And, daft as it is, it all hangs together. There’s a neat bit of storytelling that all the trouble in it comes from innocent motives. Swee’Pea brings the kingdom to rebellion just by paying a friendly visit. Blozo, a character almost as innocent as Swee’Pea, causes Swee’Pea’s kidnapping with the unobjectionable order to “make me lovable”.

I would like to know if this is a condensation of a story that ran in the comic books or the daily strip. It’s heavily plotted for a five-and-a-half-minute cartoon. It doesn’t waste time introducing characters. It has changes of fortune and a solid mix of drama and comedy. If this is all Gene Deitch or his writers, they deserve credit for doing something quite good with the form. If they condensed an original story, I’m curious what the original story was like.

King Blozo standing on the balcony of his castle, surrounded by a mob. Blozo has Swee'Pea in his arms and the two are rubbing heads together happy; this is making the mob very happy.
So a happy ending all around. And it is a great touch that they rubbed their heads against each other. It’s more animation than the scene requires and that’s gratifying to see.

The animation, too, is nicely done. It’s expressive and it’s all a little more fluid than mere needs of the story demand. Look how Popeye’s stance changes, at about 0:55, as he guesses the People are looking for a new king. He scratches his head, he pats his chest, he leans his head forward, he moves one arm down and the other up. It makes Popeye’s thinking better-shown. Look at how Blozo, walking in circles about 1:50, starts circling the opposite direction. None of this is essential. It makes the cartoon more fully animated, though. I imagine this is the budgetary advantage of animating in Eastern Europe. They can afford more pencils.

Even if the animation were worse, though, the story would likely win me over. If more of the shorts were like this the series would have a respectable reputation.

60s Popeye: Spare Dat Tree and where it lost me


We’re back with Jack Kinney studios this week. The story is again by Ed Nofziger. That usually signals some genial weirdness. The animation director is Ken Hultgren. Don’t have a large enough sample to say what to expect there. I was on edge when I saw the spelling of “dat”, but I suppose they were trying to approximate how Popeye would say “that”. The title’s referencing a poem and song — “Woodman, Spare that Tree!” — published by George Pope Morris in 1837. I only know it from the occasional cartoon that references it, and a song adaptation that Phil Harris did.

With that all introduced, here’s Spare Dat Tree.

I believe I’ve adequately documented how I was a weird kid. I was in fact as many as three weird kids stacked on top of each other. I do remember something weird about this cartoon bothering me as a kid. It bothers me today.

The cartoon starts at Popeye’s Boring Suburb House. We’re saved from that by it being a Swee’Pea “tell me a story” frame. In this, a nature story, Popeye’s the forest ranger and protects two monarch trees, each five thousand years old. Brutus — a Brutus, the cartoon notes, as if it were an occupation — comes to chop down the trees. Eventually Popeye gets to eating some spinach … some wood spinach, that I guess is its wild counterpart(?) … and punches him to the state capitol, in Poland.

The trees are presented with faces, and voices, done by Jack Mercer and Mae Questel. It would be a cute riff on Popeye and Olive Oyl’s voices if I thought it was a choice. The cartoons only had three voice actors. And there is this strange dreamy circularity to their dialogue. Especially the Queen Tree’s asking the King if it hurts and the King answering variations of “only when I laugh”. Little exchanges, though, like the Queen Tree fussing about how cute Ranger Popeye is, share that light dreaminess. Also the Queen Tree telling the King to get back down here, once he’d been blown into the air, and his wearily agreeing to comply.

It’s a small thing but Ranger Popeye spends a lot of this cartoon squinting angrily. It’s a good look.

Scene showing Brutus having burrowed underground, and having dug open a tunnel wide enough to chop the subterranean trunk of the King Tree.
By the way I was surprised to see that Jack Mercer’s credited for the old male tree’s voice since I did not expect him to do that good a job sounding different. But then I remember he was tagged to do a lot of old-man voices for Paramount cartoons. Still, this tree put me in mind of Allen Swift’s portrayal of Simon Bar Sinister, which maybe better shows you how long it’s been since I watched Underdog.

What bothered me as a kid, and bothers me today, is after Brutus goes underground to cut the King Tree. (And that’s a good loophole-joke way around “no logging on these grounds”.) Brutus succeeds! He cuts the tree the whole way through. And I knew there was no coming back from that. I would accept the trees talking with Popeye and maybe Brutus. I accept unquestioningly Popeye’s spinach-induced super-strength. Also the tree trunk going a good eight feet underground instead of being roots. But that all the tree needs is to be set back in its hole?

Every story depends to some extent on suspending disbelief. Many of these are small things, like stories reaching a clear resolution. Or they’re things that we accept if we’re taking in the story at all, like how spinach makes Popeye even more super-strong for a while. Why was “the giant talking tree just needs to be set back in the ground again” too much ask of me? I don’t know.

I’m sure if Popeye had fed the tree spinach then I’d have accepted it. That would have made good sense.

60s Popeye: Frozen Feuds to warm the Goonish heart


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

60s Popeye: Crystal Ball Brawl and a World Series winner


We’re back to another Larry Harmon cartoon this week. The director is again Paul Fennell, and the story by Charles Shows. Here’s 1960’s Crystal Ball Brawl.

You know the difference between the comic strip Popeye and the cartoon adaptation? Yes, yes, that BrutusBluto wasn’t an important figure in the comic strip. Not until the cartoons made him prominent. But the big thing in the comic strip is how much of its stories are driven by avarice. Not Popeye; he’s above greed. But he’s about the only one. Maybe Eugene the Jeep also avoids the struggle for wealth and status. But otherwise, everybody down to Swee’Pea will sell out Popeye for a bit of gold. For the most part, the cartoons avoid that. There’s some cartoons with a Macguffin of a gold mine or whatnot, but that won’t set Olive Oyl against Popeye.

So this cartoon teases a full embrace of the avaricious plot. Popeye’s magical uncle Abra-Ka-Dabra has died. The estate includes a crystal ball which Wimpy quickly discovers is giving stock tips. Also the forecast that The Bums will beat Boston in the World Series next week. Wimpy immediately acts on that and has a late-50s midsized convertible almost before Popeye and Olive Oyl have learned the premise. This is really on-brand for Wimpy. The current Thimble Theatre reruns on Comics Kingdom have been about Wimpy figuring out what he can do with the Sea Hag’s magic flute.

Brutus learns what’s up, finally, 3:11 into a five-and-a-half-minute cartoon. And here we threaten to get a good multi-party conflict going. Wimpy, Olive Oyl, and Brutus each trying to get the crystal ball, and Popeye trying to be the sane moral center? That would work.

We don’t get it, and that’s a disappointment. Brutus and Popeye fight for the crystal ball and that’s fine. Wimpy makes a couple attempts to get the crystal ball, but there’s no hint he’s keeping it to himself. He’s just securing it for its rightful owner. You know. Wimpy, the respectable, upstanding person who isn’t working a selfish angle. Olive Oyl forgets to even be in the cartoon. It’s all adequately played out. It spends way too long (about twenty seconds) on Brutus pranking Wimpy and Popeye into running into each other. But I would accept an argument that the joke is so basic that it only works if the buildup is very short or excessively long.

Wimpy, having delivered the telegram, holds his arms together and tries to look pleading and sad. Meanwhile Popeye's passed out, fallen over, nad has stars circling over his head.
Popeye’s less startled by inheriting his uncle’s estate than he is by Wimpy holding down a job.

The cartoon ends with, theoretically, the world changed: the crystal ball is there and working fine and Popeye has it. Of course it’ll never be seen or heard from again, but it’s interesting they don’t have the crystal ball get smashed or lost or lose its powers. Wimpy ends the cartoon still wealthy, too. Brutus ends the cartoon sitting on a cloud, asking “What did I did wrong?” in a weird French or French-Canadian accent. Why? No idea. I did entertain the possibility that for some unspeakable reason they grabbed an audio clip from a cartoon where Bluto has a French/French-Canadian accent. A quick review of Alpine For You and of Klondike Casanova didn’t seem to have it. I was looking for other cartoons where Bluto was, like, a logger when I realized this was not a good use of my time. It would still be baffling to pull a line from a decade-old cartoon when Beck is recording for the rest of this cartoon anyway. Maybe Jackson Beck was just having fun with a dull line.

And another tiny bit: Dead Uncle Abra-Ka-Dabra’s estate is being handled by Loophope McGraw, Attorney at Law. Popeye and Olive Oyl get the news that next month Loophole McGraw will be elected governor. Did the writer just not noticing he already used the funny name? Or should we suppose McGraw has used the crystal ball long enough to guide his own run for office? But is honest enough not to steal it? Not sure.

60s Popeye: Uranium on the Cranium, because Popeye cartoons are where you say things like ‘cranium’


We’re back to a Larry Harmon-produced cartoon this week. The director on record is Paul Fennell and the story is by the ever-reliable Charles Shows. Back to 1960 and Uranium on the Cranium.

My first problem with this cartoon is that I know the history of Popeye too well. There’s a better version of this cartoon. Of course there is; by the time we reached this cartoon there were … I don’t know, three hundred Popeye shorts out there? A lot of premise was covered. But the Fleischer Stealin’ Ain’t Honest covers a lot of the same territory, including BlutoBrutus stealing the map through a periscope and racing to an island. Between the 1940 predecessor and this 1960 version the gold mine has turned into a uranium mine. That’s nice and timely. Updating the Macguffin doesn’t affect things any, of course. But it’s curious we don’t see any use of radioactive materials as magic, capable of any sort of weird fun story event. Or at least giant glowing monsters. Yes, I know uranium doens’t really do that. Who could possibly care?

The most interesting change is Brutus putting on a gorilla suit to mess with Popeye. This is a danged good idea. Popeye has an aversion to beating up “dumb aminals”. He’s not as consistent with this as we’d wish from our heroes. But it takes more to get him to beat up a gorilla than to beat up Brutus. A good costume shop would let Brutus get away with murder.

A gorilla facing off against Brutus, who's left the head off of his own gorilla costume.
Well, you got me: this one isn’t from my DeviantArt account anyway.

Of course there ends up being a real gorilla in the mix, and Popeye thinks the real gorilla is Brutus and then Brutus thinks the real gorilla is Popeye stealing his gimmick. That’s a fair enough use of the gimmick. It seems like it could have been better.

There’s a writing tick that I noticed here and now I’m curious whether it’s a Harmon-studios specialty. That’s one of forming a joke by repeating a word, maybe in different contexts. Asked if he’s sure nobody can see the map at sea, Popeye says, “Sure I’m sure.” Shown the Geiger counter, Olive Oyl says, “I can hardly wait for the buzzer to buzz”. As Brutus ties her up Olive Oyl tells Brutus “you are a crooked crook!” Brutus answers “this mine is mine, all mine!” Any one of these is unremarkable. They even fit the language pattern of Popeye’s immortal declarations about how he yam what he yam and that’s all what he yam. Or how he’s had all the can stands, he can’t stands no more. I suspect if I were more intersted in the cartoon I wouldn’t notice these things. But there you go.

60s Popeye: Shoot the Chutes, a Popeye cartoon they made in the 60s


We’re back with Jack Kinney’s gang today. Shoot the Chutes, the name, refers to the golden-age-of-amusement-parks ride in which you in a big boat go down a sloped waterfall to a big splash. Many amusement parks today have revivals of this. So of course it’s a cartoon about parachute jumping, which is a correct pun. The story is by Ed Nofziger, and the direction by Volus Jones and Ed Friedman, the team we saw going Out oF the World last week. So here’s Shoot the Chutes.

Last week, I thought we had a great premise poorly used. Here, we have a more mundane premise, Popeye and Brutus at a parachute-jumping contest. I want to say it’s also poorly used, but something holds me back.

I will not try to convince anyone this is a good cartoon. It hasn’t got enough delightful moments to be good. And it’s got too much that’s annoying. Most annoying in this is Olive Oyl brattishly demanding that Popeye win her the parachuting trophy. But out of that come bits that seem smarter than that. Like, Olive Oyl’s cheerleading chants. “Trophy, trophy, rah rah rah! Gimme that trophy or I’ll sock you in the jaw!” does not make Olive Oyl seem like a pleasant person. But it is a silly chant for a ridiculous demand. Similarly, “Yakkety Yack! Snik snak! Win that trophy or get the axe!” is goofy. The same happens when Olive Oyl gets tired of waiting for Brutus and Popeye to finish falling and declares “hurry up with that trophy!” It’s a funny demand, and makes the stakes on this tournament ridiculous.

What doesn’t work is that even if a character is supposed to be ridiculously bratty, she’s still being bratty. Working a bit better is Popeye and Brutus quipping their whole way through the parachute drop. I like Brutus swinging the parachute upside-down and then declaring, “Hey! I’m losing!”

So the best interpretation I can put on this is that Nofziger spruced up a stock plot by the characters not taking it at all seriously. Done well, this is great. It depends on the audience knowing the characters well, and knowing the storyline well. But it turns the experience into something I’ve dubbed Cartoon Existentialism. People who know they’re doing these things because what else are they going to do? The Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the 50s and early 60s let this creep in quite well. See any short where, like, Snagglepuss wanders into the story of the Three Little Pigs or something.

Cartoony vulture on the end of a flagpole imitating Popeye's walk cycle.
Oh, yeah, I don’t know where this vulture is from, but I like them. Bringing a little spoof of Popeye’s walk is the kind of touch we need.

Here? It’s not so good. Olive Oyl being obnoxious ironically is still Olive Oyl being obnoxious. Popeye quipping his way through a perilous scenario is an inherent part of his character. It’s only a bit less so for Brutus. After The Ball Went Over, another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon, does this much better. The characters know they’re going through a scenario because they have to do something and if their hearts aren’t in it, they’re at least being weird.

Also, while I can credit Nofziger with sprucing up the stock plot, he also made the stock plot. They’d done flying cartoons before, albeit in the black-and-white era, like Pest Pilot and I Never Changes My Altitude. Why not use some of their plot ingenuity?

The animation’s basically fine. All those seconds with Brutus swinging his parachute side to side seems like it saved the budget. The music was made by hitting shuffle. I don’t know who contestants 1 through 11 were.

60s Popeye: Out Of This World and it’d be nice if it were


We’re back to the Jack Kinney studios for 60s Popeye this week. Once again the story is from Ed Nofziger, who’s given us some great fairy tale riffs and some general weirdness. The directors are Volus Jones and Ed Friedman, new names to me. So let’s have some thoughts about 1960’s Out Of This World.

First, I have to amend an earlier entry. While reviewing Invisible Popeye, with a better premise than execution, I wrote “it’s better than Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus doing their usual routine in a Suburban Boring house that also has computer buttons. Which, you’ll trust me, they could do”. Perhaps they could. But I was thinking specifically of this cartoon, in which they do not. There’s no Brutus here. There’s just the disembodied voice of Jackson Beck. We do have Swee’Pea, though. And we have Suburban Boring, but in The Future. Invisible Popeye at least gets weird.

It’s another O G Wotasnozzle cartoon. And another where he uses his time machine to send Popeye to a novel setting. Eventually. This cartoon runs five minutes, 41 seconds not counting the closing credits, which King Features has chopped off here. One minute 43 seconds of that is credits and the generic footage of Wotasnozzle deciding to send Popeye somewhere in time. “What the heck,” the great inventor thinks, “he’s probably just sitting at home listening to his theme on the Dixieland station”. So that’s why Popeye’s sent to either the year 2500 or 2500 years into the future. The framing device almost explains why everybody’s in the future, and lets the cartoon be one-fifth stock footage.

Also Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea are in the future too? Or Popeye hangs with their Future counterparts? Wotasnozzle says he sends Popeye somewhere by pot luck, so how are Olive Oyl and Swee’pea there? Popeye doesn’t seem thrown by the strange world of The Future. There’s a bit where water flows to the ceiling and he complains about something going wrong with the gravity. But that makes equal sense for either 20th or 25th Century Popeye to observe.

This is a standard circa-1960s view of The Future. Flying cars. Flying lounge chairs. Tourist space rockets to the Moon. Skyscrapers built into helter-skelter slides. Swee’Pea is splitting atoms and getting neutrons all over the rug. The ambiguously defined family of Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee’Pea eat roast beef pills and soup-and-salad-crystals and all. It seems like they have to eat a lot of pills. Maybe they’re eating their trail mix?

Establishing shot of a City of the Future, with one apartment tower that's surrounded by a spiral walkway, and mousehole-shaped entrances all along its length. Other buildings have a similar style and the place is arranged without clear communal flow.
Hey, it’s the John F Kennedy tower back in Troy, New York! I loved the look of that building. … Do you suppose anyone lives in that Grandma’s Weird 50s Table Lamp in the background?

And, yeah, you don’t watch cartoons like this for The Future. You watch them for The Present, spoofed by its placement in future trappings. And obviously a cartoon that has four minutes for all its business can’t compare to The Jetsons, still in the future when this was made. So we can look at what parts of The Present of 1960 the cartoon thought worth spoofing?

Well, the home. I read the place as suburban, but just because it seems boring. I guess it’s meant to be the City of Tomorrow. And then the road trip. Particularly the trip done by either bus or train. (I guess a five-minute rest stop is more a bus than a train thing, especially by 1960. I know train stops at eateries used to be a thing. I’ve been in the room while parts of The Harvey Girls were on TV.) It’s a fair premise, but there’s nothing done with it. Swee’Pea gathers asteroids. Why not go to a roadside attraction? You have a perfectly good chance to show, I don’t know, the largest robot cog this side of the asteroid belt and don’t use it?

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee'Pea emerge from the rocket ship. They each wear small propellers above their heads, attached by poles to a mechanism strapped to their chests, to float around.
Oh sure, you laugh. But you also laughed at that Segway guy when he said they were going to re-engineer whole cities to cope with how that gadget changed civilization and who’s laughing now?

Then we get the Moon as a quaint, rustic tourist destination. The Upper Peninsula to Earth’s Michigan. There’s a similar notion in Futurama, where the Moon is part backwater, part tacky tourist trap. Arthur C Clarke’s novel Rendezvous with Rama has a line about how in the politics of the solar system, the Moon was a suburb of Earth and always would be. (I don’t remember it being clear what that meant exactly.) I am sure neither is responding to this cartoon. The idea is too sparsely entered.

We get a joke about the rustic moon offering old-fashioned stuff like the cars, gas stations, and airplanes of 1960. “Our present is, to the future, the past” isn’t a deep observation, but it is the sort of observation a kid in the target audience would appreciate.

So as seems to happen a lot, I like the characters, and I like the premise. I just don’t like that nothing happens, and that the premise isn’t used well. If I could wish any Popeye-related product into existence, though, a Popeye Of The future comic might be it.

60s Popeye: neat meet with the Track Meet Cheat


… I’m a little surprised that wasn’t the actual title of this short. We’re back to Larry Harmon productions for the cartoon this week. It’s another short directed by Paul Fennell, with story by Charles Shows. Let’s take a moment to watch Track Meet Cheat. The moment takes about five and a half minutes, with credits.

So the cartoon is animated as I’d expect from the future Filmation team. The characters are angular; Brutus is almost a triangle. The movement well-defined or stiff, depending on how good a mood you’re in. The story is … now that’s interesting.

If you watch this when you’re seven years old, or if you watch it while distracted, the story makes good solid sense. Brutus is showing off at the extremely thin stadium. Popeye has enough of this, and challenges him to the track-and-field events. Popeye does great but Brutus cheats until Popeye has enough, spinach, fight, triumph, end.

The thing is that’s not quite what we see. Like, Brutus is showing off, yeah, but he’s also there to put on a show. If we take his ballyhoo in earnest, he is setting world records. And we don’t actually see Popeye challenge him, nor Brutus accept the challenge. If we didn’t know the series we could see this as a relentless heckler spoiling the show. Connective tissue is missing.

It’s not just skipped steps in setting up the story. There are anomalies in motivation all over. For example, in tossing the ball-and-chain, Brutus makes a good impressive throw. Then he runs out and catches it. It’s an impressive stunt, but it spoils the throw as an athletic performance. Popeye does a high jump by tying balloons to himself; how is that supposed to impress the judges? Brutus hands Popeye a bomb, which explodes, and then Brutus wonders where the guy he just blew up went. Why?

Picture of Brutus looking up, nervous, and holding a small consumer-grade circa 1960 camera.
Brutus looks like he’s only now realizing the horror that setting a bomb in Popeye’s hand would actually be. That or he’s sorry he doesn’t have a Polaroid.

If you’re a kid watching this, there’s no trouble. These things just happen because it makes sense for the scene. You know Brutus and Popeye act like this because that’s what they’re doing. If you watch while distracted there’s no problem. You, having learned how narratives work, imagine a connective tissue that makes sense. There’s a hole that swallows up Popeye’s pole, when he tries to vault? Brutus probably dug that to sabotage his opponent.

So there’s a curious anomaly here. The cartoon makes perfect sense, unless you’re an adult paying attention to it.

I’m not saying it’s bad. The stunts are nice, many of the jokes work for me. I love any chance for Popeye to do that angry chimney-puffing on his pipe. Wimpy hawking spinach burgers is a more interesting way to get the spinach than just pulling out a can would be. Wimpy not wanting anyone to actually eat the spinach burgers makes his participation an existentialist absurdity. Or just painting a joke onto an already non-sequitur plot element. It’s just a cartoon that works better if you don’t scrutinize it.

60s Popeye: Scairdy Cat


This week’s 60s Popeye cartoon is another one made by Paramount/Famous Studios. For a change, Jack Mercer doesn’t have a hand in the story. The story’s by Joseph Gottleib instead. The director is again Seymour Kneitel. So here’s Scairdy Cat.

I may sound like I’m slighting the cartoon to put so little focus on the story. It’s a decently organized story. Brutus finds a potion to induce cowardice in someone, and he sees this as his chance to crush Popeye. Sensible work there. He sprays Popeye with the fear gas, using the chance to throw away Popeye’s spinach. Again, good thinking there, Brutus. And he humiliates Popeye in front of Olive Oyl, which, again, good work. Brutus slamming the door shut causes the spinach can to roll into Popeye’s hands. It makes the structure better tragedy: Brutus causes his own undoing. It does mean Popeye doesn’t really have anything to do with his own story, but that’s all right. The story hangs together sensibly throughout.

What caught my interest was — knowing this was a Famous Studios short — the first scene. The establishing shot of the library. The building itself is rendered in three colors, as I make it out, including the shading used. Granted a library of this vintage might have a marble front, and not need many colors, but that’s still sparse. The whole scene, counting the background, is five. It’s a deeply stylized, UPA-style rendition of the building.

This continues throughout the short. Brutus’s kitchen is a (speckled) mustard yellow surface, with a red quadrilateral for a stovetop and two white rectangles for cabinets and counter. Olive Oyl’s living room is a similar mustard yellow expanse, with a white box, a purple chair and a purple wall hanging in the background. Many of these details are even lineless, or nearly so.

UPA-style rendering of a PUBLIC LIBRARY, a great marble building, done with extremely flat coloring and what look like hand-drawn lines for the steps and columns and windows.
Maybe my librarian friends can help. Would your books that contain actual working witche’s spells to alter people’s moods be in general circulation or would they be in special reserve?

The UPA style, with its flattened shapes and colors and great abstraction of space, isn’t one I cared for as a kid. I liked lush, photorealistic watercolored backgrounds where possible. These days, I better understand the appeal. Not just why animators would want to depict something with as little drawing as possible, but why they’d admire doing that.

Famous Studios was, usually, not a visually inventive studio. It’s easy to read its greatest animation as things left over from Max and Dave Fleischer. For much of their history they drew things in a basic, photo-realistic, functional style. This isn’t a bad thing. I understand the animators wanting, sometimes, to try a stylistic experiment, though.

Famous Studios had done this before. There’s some cartoons from late in the theatrical run of Popeye, such as Parlez-Vous Woo or Spooky Swabs, with a similar style. Later in the 60s the studio would become much more experimental, as animators like Shamus Culhane and Ralph Bakshi were put in charge for short whiles. It’s not that they couldn’t do more innovative work; it’s that they only sometimes took the chance.


And some stray thoughts. Brutus finds the Fear Gas recipe on page 13 of Ye Olde Reliable Witche’s Cook Book. I like the Olde Thyming of that title. Page 13 is the left-hand side of the page. I think that’s an extra subtle joke, mostly because the surplus ‘e’ in Witche’s convinces me they were looking for chances to do that.

Brutus tests the Fear Gas potion on himself. This seems dangerous. If the cartoon had a higher budget he probably would’ve had a cat to test on and send running from a mouse.

When he’s first Fear Gassed, Popeye grows a nice yellow streak up his back. And then the word ‘YELLOW’ appears across in what seems like too similar a shade. But I remember this seemingly-low-contrast color choice reading cleanly enough on the black-and-white TV of my youth. So to sum up, there is no excuse for any web site to have light grey text on a dark grey background.

The Fear Gas works on Popeye, the first time, for only a couple minutes. This doesn’t seem like enough time to make him, as the spell promises, your slave. Or does Popeye just metabolize fear that quickly? I think he might just metabolize fear very quickly.

On the bellies of dragons


I was reading the IMDB page about Disney’s 1941 movie The Reluctant Dragon and found this trivia:

Portions of this film had to be redone because of objections by the Hays Office. The dragon was originally drawn with a navel which had to removed before the film could be passed.

Now I wish to believe the Hayes Office was sending many snippy letters explaining that as dragons hatch from eggs they have no biological need for belly buttons. And the Disney Office writing back that dragons are made up and can have belly buttons if we choose. I want to think they were arguing, by typewriter, for months. I decide to believe Ward Kimball sent the Hayes Office a most sarcastic drawing of a dragon mom nursing dragon toddlers. I choose to believe that the great-grandchildren of the people in this dispute are still angry at the other side. I shall not be accepting any evidence to the contrary. Thank you.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Trojan Horse and what it can teach us


Popeye’s Trojan Horse is another Jack Kinney cartoon. Story by Ed Nofziger. The director’s Ken Hultgren, whom so far we’ve only seen in Jingle Jangle Jungle, another Nofziger story. Let’s watch.

This is framed, again, as a tell-me-a-story cartoon. Ed Nofziger did something similar with Little Olive Riding Hood and Hamburger Fishing. Why is there a frame, though? A frame lets you put the characters in a weird position without explaining why, but, is that needed? At least for Popeye? Do we get anything that wouldn’t be served by Jackson Beck narrating that “this story takes place in the time of the Ancient Greeks”? Do we need any explanation for the weirdness? Nofziger’s Swee’Pea Through The Looking Glass just let the action “really” happen, for example.

There is something having Popeye and Swee’Pea as frame offers, though. A bit of it was done in Hamburger Fishing. They can comment on the story. Several times over the action pauses so that Swee’Pea can snark about the action. I’m interested in the choice. It offers some story benefits. Popeye declaring “then, they went and — ” is as good a transition as you need to let anything happen. Stock footage of Popeye and Swee’Pea talking saves the animation budget, too.

Trojan horse, that resembles Gumby's pal Pokey, kicking its hindleg at a castle's tower. Brutus is atop the tower waving his hand angrily.
So one of the fun things I did instead of useful stuff this week was look up historical interpretations of the Trojan Horse. It’s fascinating, really, that we stay interested in a story about people so foolish that they would invite death into their homes — strangling the person who correctly warns them of the danger — because it was so very pleasant to imagine that the destruction so imminent for so long had just … gone away. Also I love that the pose here so clearly reads as Brutus demanding the Horse quit that, and the Horse acting all innocent, like, “Quit what?”

Having the characters watch and snark on a story is part of a respectable enough tradition too. It runs loosely from the Greek Chorus through, like, that bit in A Midsummer Night’s Dream where Hippolyta and all can not believe Nick Bottom’s play, to Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Muppet Show and their many influences. (Mystery Science Theater 3000 is near but just outside this lineage, for my purposes. I’m looking at texts that contain their own riffing. MST3K depends on adding jokes to something by a different writer.) When it’s done well, it adds to a story you were already interested in, often with commentary about the artifice of story and the demands of narrative logic. When it’s done badly, it’s any of those Pearls Before Swine strips that are seven panels filled wall-to-wall with text for a pun, followed by the characters insulting the cartoonist for writing that.

So a thing about Popeye is he’s always been kind of self-riffing. The definitive thing about the Fleischer Studios character is his mumbled, improvisational jokes about the story. This self-aware tradition faded, but never left the character. When Brutus asks “what is this?” and Spartan Popeye punches him, then says, “This horse is a gift, o Prince! … Never look a gift horse in the mouth!”, it’s not a strange moment. It’s completely in-character.

Does it add anything for Swee’pea to comment that “history was never like this”? I’m not sure. The Trojan Horse story does well at being absurd. But I try to remember what I thought as a kid, among the intended audience for this. Did I register that it was absurd for Trojan Brutus to be huddling up in a Generic Medieval Castle complete with moat and drawbridge? I think I registered it was weird there was a sawfish in the moat. Shouldn’t that be alligators or at least sharks? But a castle right out of my Fisher-Price Play Family Castle #993 set? I don’t remember that registering. Swee’Pea’s line may be more than just the writer worrying there’s a space for a joke here.

Popeye riding through the sea on the back of a large shiny grey dolphin; both have smug grins on their face.
Additionally, I am delighted that Popeye got a pool toy from the Tuesday Morning store to swim him to Troy!

Given that we have a frame, though, it saw good use. Each of the cuts back to Popeye and Swee’Pea comes at a reasonable moment, and gets a decent joke. The main storyline goes along at a good pace. I like Popeye’s Trojan Horse being built with several modes including “buck”. All I wonder is why Spartan Popeye wanted his horse to look like Gumpy’s pal Pokey?

60s Popeye: returning to the Aladdin’s Lamp


It’s another Paramount/Famous Studios-produced 60s Popeye today. The title, Aladdin’s Lamp, is a mix of expectations. Toss in a genie and you have an excuse to do any crazy idea that couldn’t fit into a reasonable story. But for the seasoned Popeye-watcher there’s knowledge. Whatever they do must pale before the Fleischer Studio’s two-reeler Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp. There’s just not the time or budget to do anything that ambitious. The story’s by Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer, as usual for Famous Studios work. The director’s Seymour Kneitel again. Let’s take a few minutes to see Aladdin’s Lamp.

I’m sure that she isn’t the most common villain. But it does seem like the Sea Hag gets to be the antagonist for a lot of these 60s Popeye cartoons. There’s good reasons to use her. After 250 cartoons, the depths of Bluto/Brutus’s character may have been exhausted. Or at least gotten boring. Sea Hag lets the writers pull in magic, to send stories going weird directions. And there’s the good plot dynamic that Popeye can’t hit a woman even if she is the Sea Hag.

We open on Sea Hag, who happens to wonder what happened to Aladdin’s Lamp. Turns out right then Olive Oyl bought it. Think how lucky the cartoon was that the Sea Hag didn’t look up the lamp two days earlier. Sea Hag steals the lamp, using a great big horseshoe magnet, because she respects cartoon conventions. Popeye’s off in pursuit.

Sea Hag summons the Genie, who looks faintly like they were going for Jeeves and who talks with Wimpy’s voice but cleaned up. Sea Hag starts making wishes, something we see from a nice three-quarters view with her right hand making great sweeping motions. I recognize this animation from Voo-Doo To You Too. Well, it helps the cartoons come in on budget. The genie turns various ship equipment into treasures. This seems great since doesn’t need the ship’s equipment as ship’s equipment.

On a ship's deck, a ghostly pink genie holds up his arms, having just shrunk Popeye to about the size of his foot. In the background a wooden barrel is now 14 karat gold.
Popeye: “I wish this sort of thing would stop happening to me! … Saaaaaay!”

Popeye races in. Sea Hag orders the genie back in the lamp. She feeds Popeye a line about her love of antiques getting ahead of her. She uses this distraction to rub the lamp and orders: “Quick, Genie; ‘fore he can get the spinach from his blouse// Shrink Popeye down to the size of a mouse”. I have questions. Yeah, the dictionary insists it’s fair to call what Popeye wears a “blouse”.

So why order the genie into the lamp and then back out again? It seems like this gives Popeye the information about there even being a genie, which I expected to come back to bite the Sea Hag. Maybe she panicked. Also, why shrink Popeye to the size of a mouse? Why not wish him to outer Mongolia or something? Sea Hag did cast her wishes, for treasure and for Popeye’s shrinking, in rhymes. Is that part of the rule? I can’t blame her not having a rhyme for “outer Mongolia” off the top of her head. I suppose she could wish to have a rhyme for “outer Mongolia”, but that’s a bootstrapping problem. Also, how large are the Sea Hag’s mice? Is she not distinguishing between mice and rats, and has she still got somewhat large rats?

Popeye rolls with being small pretty well: he ties the Sea Hag’s dress into a knothole. Uses that diversion to grab the magic lamp. Here’s where I figured he’d start making wishes. He’s been coming up with rhyming couplets, at this point, for 28 years. He can do anything as long as he ends it “… Popeye the Sailor Man! [ toot toot! ]” Not so, though. Sea Hag catches in a can which, of course, is a not-quite-empty spinach can. His spinach can, he says, even though he hasn’t pulled out a can this cartoon. Maybe it’s from an earlier adventure.

The spinach returns him to normal size, like you’d expect. And next time Sea Hag summons the genie, he’s ready with an office-cooler water bottle(?) to catch, cork, and toss away the genie. Being tossed into the sea breaks the spell that transformed the Sea Hag’s ship’s equipment into treasure, for the reasons. And she goes swimming off after the genie. Since that takes her and the genie out of frame, it’s done.

Popeye gleefully has the ghostly pink genie caught in a large glass jug and is about to cork it.
So, you’re a genie. Is moving from that small brass lamp to this big glass bottle a step up, because there’s space, or a step down, because there’s no privacy? Discuss. (Before taking this screen grab I hadn’t noticed the shadow of the ship’s mast here. It’s a good detail to put on the background. It doesn’t really cost more to paint it this way and it makes the ship look more real.)

Popeye brings the lamp home, triumphant, and of course his work was in vain. Olive Oyl has a new lamp, one that — get this — is also a coffee grinder! The joke is adequate, but I do admire how ugly this new lamp is.

I still like the premise. Maybe I’m an easy touch for genie stories. I’m disappointed by what’s done with it. I don’t think just because it’s lesser than the two-reel cartoon was. (Also I’m amused that in writing up the two-reel cartoon I wondered whether the Sea Hag might be a fitting villain.) Not enough magic, or not enough wild magic for me. Shrinking Popeye is a good bit of business, but I feel like the Sea Hag could do that herself. Why not trap Popeye in the lamp, or give him some other reality-breaking problem to punch his way through? The genie acting as a valet is a decent character. Why not a set of quick gags of Popeye going up against the genie and being dismissed with a snap? The premise is almost pure play; why not play more?

60s Popeye: Sure, I heard of a Sheepish Sheep-Herder


This week’s King Features Popeye takes us back to Larry Harmon’s studio. So, you know, the future Filmation crew. The story is by Charles Shows, of Muskels Shmuskels, of Foola-Foola Bird, and of Childhood Daze. The director here, as in the three already mentioned, is Paul Fennell. Here’s Sheepish Sheep-Herder.

So, first continuity error: Popeye isn’t a sheepish character. He might go reluctantly into something if he doesn’t see why it’s his business, but that’s not sheepish.

Popeye’s interrupted watching his Western show by Olive Oyl, bringing a telegram that I guess Western Onion trusted her with. Poopdeck Pappy needs help with rustlers. Plus, hey, Poopdeck Pappy! He disappeared after Fleischer Studios became Famous Studios, to fit Paramount’s vision of their cartoons being “not so interesting”. (There were a couple cartoons in 1952 and 1953 with him, one a cameo, one disappointing, and one a remake of Goonland too racist to put on TV.) King Features, though, was glad to use everything they had a trademark on.

Popeye heads out, in the engine of a small train; is it his? Anyway, Pappy meets him with a shotgun. Pappy is, as traditional, a twin to Popeye, except with a beard. And, here, a red cap. And, another continuity error: Poopdeck Pappy is also never sheepish.

Poopdeck Pappy, clean-shaven so he looks like Popeye, standing in cave with both eyes half-opened and looking off-screen. He's supposed to look devious, but the pose could also be read as sultry.
Sultry, yes, I’ll grant you Poopdeck Pappy is sultry sometimes. But not sheepish.

Brutus comes in, wearing a long coat, to swipe some sheep and I am childishly delighted that his plan is “sneak sheep out under his trenchcoat”. It’s the joke you’d make if you were a podcast host joking about the premise. The sheep are cute in this vaguely UPA style tool. Brutus goes in with a helicopter, too, having abandoned the trenchcoat plan because … I don’t know. This one outright fails.

Brutus orders Popeye out of town at gunpoint. Popeye uses the countdown to twist the gun barrel and, in a joke I like, ends up pointing it at himself and getting blasted anyway. He asks what he did wrong. It’s not only a good cartoon joke; it’s a joke building on decades of confident cartoon protagonists twisting the barrels of hunters’ guns.

Poopdeck Pappy, shaving, overhears the gunshots. Did you notice that he’s shaving? Because that’s important. But it’s also a good plant for what’s to come, and I imagine seven-year-olds who figure this out feel really clever. Anyway Brutus has tied up Popeye and shoots at his feet until he hops off the cliff. This seems like extra work to go to throw him off a cliff. But, confident he’ll never see Popeye again, who walks in but Popeye? In a red hat this time. Did you notice it was a red hat? … Not that it would be bizarre if Popeye were to be back on top of the cliff. That kind of thing happens in cartoons.

Brutus ties up Pappy with a stick of lit dynamite, and runs off. Popeye runs in, extinguishes the fuse and frees Pappy, and doesn’t say anything to his father. Nor does his father say anything back. I’m surprised by how much the animators are trusting the audience to follow what’s going on. I don’t think they’re wrong to, but I’d expected a reassurance line to emphasize that Pappy looks like Popeye now.

Oyl family reunion; Castor Oyl, Nana Oil, and less familiar relations are standing around. Popeye: 'I don't understands it. How can you be related to these people not look like any of 'em?' Olive Oyl: "I think there's a family resemblance.' Popeye: 'Resemblance sure, but why ain't ya all identical? Takes me family, f'rinstance! I yam the spittin' image of e'ryone in me family. If ya compares me to Pappy, or even me great grandpappy Patcheye we is practically clones o'each other. [ Pictures of Poopdeck Pappy and Patcheye, who look like redraws of Popeye ] Even peoples what marries into the family, like me dear old Ma or sainted Granny. Sure, they looked diff'rent before [ pictures of Popeye's mother and granmother, normal-looking figures ] but after gettin' hitched in, they started lookin' jus' like the rest of us. That's how you know they is family! That's how family works!' [ Pictures of Popeye's mom and grandmom, who look like redraws of Popeye.] Olive Oyl: 'I suddenly don't mind that we've never gotten married.' Popeye: 'It's just as well. This old world can only handle so much beauty.'
Popeye’s Cartoon Club made a reappearance this week, with a bunch of strips from Randy Milholland. This one, from the 30th of May, talks a little about everybody in the Popeye clan looking like Popeye. By the way members of the Oyl family include her brothers Castor and Crude Oyl, her parents Cole Oyl and Nana Oyl [ “Banana Oil” was a slangy way to call something “nonsense” in the 1920s ], Castor’s estranged wife Cylinda Oyl; nieces Diesel Oyl (we’ll see her) and Violet Oyl; uncles Otto Oyl and Lubry Kent Oyl. And, when Bobby London was doing his thing, a sultry blonde cousin Sutra Oyl and corporate-magnate Standard Oyl. Wikipedia figures “Violet Oyl” is a play on “volatile oils”. I guess maybe that’s what they were going for? It’s a tough name, anyway.

Brutus, not having heard the dynamite explode, goes into the mine where he had tied up Pappy. I admit I’m cowardly around fireworks and such. My college summer job was in a nitrocellulose plant. Still, I would not go in to investigate a stick of dynamite that isn’t exploded yet. Popeye appears to encourage him to go in and look, which makes good cartoon logic but: why would you do that, Brutus? Think out what things could follow from the information you have. How many of them are good for you?

Going on inside is Pappy re-lighting the dynamite so it’ll go off when Brutus arrives. And he walks past Brutus, again raising the question whether Brutus is paying attention to what he’s looking at. The blast throws him out the cave, and on seeing two Popeyes he goes bouncing off the cliff. He’s caught by what seems like an excessively deep tree root, right where a sheep can kick him over and over.

This is a pleasant cartoon. Solid enough story. Between the trenchcoat, Popeye asking “what did I do wrong” at twisting Brutus’s gunbarrel, and the way we get into the duplicate Popeye stuff, there’s decent comedy here.

The animation is pretty solid. Not so solid that, like, we ever see a character’s legs when they walk. We instead pull tighter in while the figure bounces up and down. But we do get tight focus on people’s faces, which gives us something to look at. Also to wonder at how everybody’s leaning so far over all the time. Their backs have to hurt so. It’s not a great cartoon; there’s not a moment of great delightful surprise to it. But it’s pretty good throughout.

60s Popeye: Go see Sea Serpent, you’ll see it and serpent, I love it


Never mind the subject line. I was referencing this one Saturday Night Live bit from 1989 where they were really laying it on that Gene Shalit guy. They had him say, “Go see Sea of Love, you’ll see it and love it!” For some reason, my brain has decided this is one of the most important things I could ever remember.

Anyway I had good feelings going into this week’s cartoon, Sea Serpent. First, I’m a fan of sea serpents. I support the work they’ve been doing. Second, this is another Famous Studios production. The story’s by Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Director Seymor Kneitel. I could expect the cartoon to be competent in writing and animation. And how did those expectations pan out?

Olive Oyl’s a reporter, a promising start. I wanted to say it’s a new role for her, but I have the nagging feeling there was some Famous Studios cartoon with the same gimmick. I can’t place it, though. The gag of Olive Oyl’s typewriter barrel flying loose and having to be put back in place is standard, but I always like it. Popeye’s expositional lump that he never gets to see her since she took this job seems at odds with her anticipating her first assignment.

Editor Mr Byline — Jackson Beck, showing that he’s got range — sends her to Loch Ness on rumors there’s a Monster there. This reminds us that newspapers used to have travel budgets for their staff. Loch Ness seems like a far place to send a new reporter, especially on rumors. Maybe it’s not the Loch Ness in Scotland, though. Could be it’s a local lake that happens to share the name. This would be consistent with Brutus not affecting any kind of accent, and charging $10 an hour and $5 per picture for visitors.

Popeye protests he’s never seen a sea serpent, and you know, I think that’s right. He’s seen Jeeps, Goons, whiffle hens, and The Rokh, but a sea serpent? … Oh, wait, he has encountered a sea serpent too. Well, the serpent wasn’t the main menace. Maybe it slipped Popeye’s mind. Anyway Popeye agrees to take Olive Oyl to Loch Ness. If this is the one in Scotland, then he managed a long sailing expedition without getting shipwrecked, so his day’s looking up.

Brutus is tour guide, answering my notes’ question about why he wasn’t the newspaper editor. He’s got a nice fake Loch Ness Monster but business is awful, and he sees in Olive Oyl one really good mark. She ought to be counted as a loss leader, good press bringing in good business. But maybe Brutus has been at this a while and knows the attraction is tapped out.

Olive Oyl buys everything Brutus presents. Popeye uses his Columbo-like powers to tell right away who the bad guy is. Granted, if he just guesses “It’s Brutus” he’s going to be right … I think all the time? For the King Features cartoons anyway. But Popeye’s buying none of it, so Brutus kicks him into … the cave where he left the fake Monster foot. Olive Oyl won’t believe Popeye’s discovery and insists he made it, in seconds, without tools or raw materials. In fairness to Olive Oyl, the rules about what a character can and can’t do with a few seconds of work are vague. Especially when it could be Popeye’s eaten his spinach.

Brutus has more evidence: a sea serpent egg. This turns out to be a rock, which is not a pun here. Popeye learns that it’s a rock by Brutus dropping it on his head. This ruins a perfectly good rock. Can’t be easy finding egg-shaped rocks that size. Brutus must be readying to burn the Loch down for the insurance money.

Olive Oyl scolding Popeye, who's smugly holding his hand up to a green door. The green door is the chest panel of a Godzilla-like sea monster. There's a control panel of circles and an analog meter hanging in the center of the black void within the sea monster.
Olive Oyl is having absolutely none of Popeye’s claim that with vacuum tubes you get a warmer, better-rounded analog sea-monster roar.

Brutus has got a great centerpiece, though. An actual remote-control robot sea serpent. Or, well, off-brand Godzilla anyway. This is a heck of an up-front expense for his Loch Ness Monster tour thing. I too am surprised Loch-zilla is not drawing crowds. As it rises from the waters, Popeye races in so fast he doesn’t have time to have his eyes colored white. (Look at about 10:16, a rare, and trivial, animation error for Famous Studios.) Popeye sees the remote control, then swims out to take local control of Loch-zilla. With the creature storming out of control, Brutus out-runs Olive Oyl out of there, and Popeye laughs at all this.

Popeye explains how all this was done. This makes Olive Oyl angry, because she’s a person and that’s how people work. Popeye shrugs it off, saying he came for the laughs and this was funny! The end.

The conclusion’s a little weird. Never mind that Popeye never eats spinach, or comes near it. The end feels unresolved. After confident dismissing of a sea serpent as a possibility, and debunking Brutus’s hoax, it feels like comic logic requires an actual sea serpent. Or at least Olive Oyl getting some final line in. I wonder if they ran out of time for that.

Besides the unfinished resolution, this is about what I expect from a Famous Studios-made cartoon of the era. The story’s quite sensible, if a bit plodding. The animation’s solid, never doing anything great but never being bad. It has a couple of nice small touches, including the camera looking over characters’ shoulders. I’m always impressed when this era of cartoons lines up the characters in anything besides a plane parallel to the screen.

Really it’s all satisfactory. I would like more sea serpent, is all.

60s Popeye: Little Olive Riding Hood, I’m gonna keep my sheep suit on


Fun fact: Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’s “Little Red Riding Hood” is my go-to song for karaoke night. This is because you can do an okay job on it if you can only hit one note, and that’s all I can do. There’s no guessing what note I will hit, but I can keep to it all right.

This week’s 60s Popeye episode is Little Olive Riding Hood. The title gives me expectations. So do the credits. The story’s from Ed Nofziger, who also did the story for Swee’Pea Thru The Looking Glass and Hamburger Fishing, besides other cartoons not obviously based on fairy tales. (And fairy-tale adjacent things, like the Alice stories.) Animation Direction is credit to Harvey Toombs, who directed Hamburger Fishing and several other cartoons I’ve already gone over. Coffee House, for example, the Beatnik episode. We’ll see more of him. As you’d guess if you’ve been around here, this is all a Jack Kinney production.

We start in Popeye’s Boring Suburban Home again. Telling Swee’Pea a story is the framing device. Sometimes Swee’Pea demands a story. This time, he’s happy Popeye is telling one.

The cartoon starts off well. Fairy tales are a pretty good starting point for a Popeye cartoon, especially one like this that has to be done quick and cheap. The audience knowing the fairy tale plot takes the burden of plotting a story off the cartoon. They can riff around scenes and still have something which makes sense. … And, yet, somehow, it all falls apart anyway.

So Olive Oyl is the Riding Hood, Wimpy her sick grandmother, the Sea Hag the wolf, and Popeye the brave woodchopper or whoever the other guy is in the Little Red Riding Hood story. It’s decent casting, although I wonder again why not Brutus. Maybe Kinney Studios wasn’t sure that Brutus was available? Or maybe they just felt BlutoBrutus was worn out. Or maybe too much physical menace for the cartoon.

There’s good stuff early on. Introducing the characters, for example. The Sea Hag crashing into Wimpy’s house and mourning she’s gotta get those brakes fixed. Wimpy sitting up at the table, knife and fork at the ready, licking his lips and wanting ham-[pause]-burgers. Or after this, the Sea Hag sitting up exactly in imitation of Wimpy’s pose, with his hat on her head. While Wimpy is off in the forest sitting on a tree stump.

But we get to Little Olive Riding Hood encountering the Sea Hag, and doing the-better-to-eat-hamburgers-with bit. The Sea Hag jumps on Olive Oyl, and … why? Because the narrative of the original fairy tale requires it, sure. But we don’t get a hint Olive Oyl wasn’t going to give her Wimpy’s hamburgers, not yet. We get a fight, or at least the camera shaking around and zooming in and out while the uptempo music plays. This brings Popeye back to Wimpy’s house to fight. This even though Popeye can’t hit a woman even if she is the Sea Hag. But since we never see him doing anything, we can’t say he’s hitting anybody either. Maybe he’s just punching the tree he dragged into the house a lot.

Olive Oyl, dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, stands before a dining table. Seated at it is the Sea Hag, wearing Wimpy's hat, and holding up knife and fork.
Thanks for coming out to support Thimble Theatre Improv Night everyone, it’s your support that keeps spontaneous comedy alive.

Wimpy joins in the off-camera action, and the bounciest picnic basket in the world goes out the house a couple times. Finally Popeye catches it and declares the hamburgers ain’t for free, and ain’t for no stealing witch. So sure the Sea Hag shouldn’t get the hamburgers, but why not Wimpy? Riding Olive said she was taking the burgers to a sick friend who was in Wimpy’s house. If Popeye saw through Wimpy’s scam shouldn’t he have said something about it so dumb Olds like me aren’t confused?

Wimpy’s promise to pay for the burgers later is implicitly turned down, and he and Sea Hag go off to try Roughhouse’s. This yet another mention of Roughhouse and his cafe without his appearance. The King Features animators are really sure we’re going to recognize and be interested in Roughhouse when he finally appears. I don’t want to deflate their hype but all he is just “a guy who hates Wimpy but falls for his scams”. He’s basically Geezil without the uncomfortable Jewish coding.

The notion of paying for the burgers comes up again, with Popeye offering to buy some, but not getting to. And Olive Oyl eats her burgers, declaring how she loves them especially when they are paid for. It’s the punch line for a joke not set up. With the coda, in the frame, of Swee’Pea now declaring he’s hungry and wants hamburgers. You know, the way it’s funny that someone who hears a story about a particular food might decide they’d like to eat that food.

It’s weird that I can’t say the ending is bad. Just that it doesn’t fit the start. It’s close to fitting, though. Add a line about Popeye figuring out that Wimpy isn’t really sick. Drop the talk about paying for burgers. Then, yeah, you’ve got a fairy-tale riff that hangs together. It seems like it’d be easier to not write the broken version of this. What happened?

There remain great mysteries in the making of these cartoons.

In which I talk back to the clickbait


I am sorry, YouTube clickbait promising the “top ten moments of Transformers The Movie (1986)”, but that would be the entirety of Transformers The Movie (1986). Though I have not seen Transformers The Movie (1986) since college I am certain it is exactly as awesome as I remember and has no segments that are now really embarrassing or painful.

OK, Wheelie was bad. But otherwise every bit of Transformers The Movie (1986) was the greatest thing humanity has ever done, not excepting the extinction of smallpox, Voyager’s “Pale Blue Dot” photograph, and every scene where a Simpsons character gives a false name.

60s Popeye: Not much, What’s News with yous?


A bit of fun business ahead of things. Fred Grandinetti was kind enough to let me know about an essay he wrote regarding the King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoons. Grandinetti offers some information about the technical aspects of production, things like budgets and how the cartoons were received. Received by audiences, that is; they always attracted negligible interest from critics. Grandinetti also discusses the six studios which got the work, and reviews their characteristic styles. It’s a much higher-level view than what I’m doing here, but the person out there who is interested in the 60s Popeye cartoons is likely to enjoy that.


Now to the regular stuff. It’s another Famous Studios-animated Popeye cartoon this week. Once again Seymour Kneitel is credited for story and for direction. My expectation was that the cartoon would be professionally made, with everybody on model and the movement reasonably smooth, even if the story was a bit dull. So how foiled were my expectations? Let’s watch.

We start with Popeye in the desert again. He spends a lot of time in the desert for a sailor. But he and Olive Oyl are taking over the Puddleburg Splash, newspaper for the laziest town in the world. The cartoon’s set in the Old West, although the era is only vaguely set. Mostly that Popeye writes with a quill pen. We never find out why he wants to run a newspaper, or why he picks a newspaper in a town he knows nothing about. I’m all right with that, though. I think there’s even a Segar storyline where Popeye takes ove a small western town newspaper for vague reasons. Popeye can just do that.

We get a couple jokes about how lazy the townspeople are. Best is probably Olive Oyl having to point different directions, with the local telling her when she’s pointing in the right direction. It’s also got a slick little bit of animation, when Olive Oyl points at the camera. It’s a rare break from the standard police-lineup pose. Also a nice bit of animation is the sheriff lifting his eyebrow to raise his hat. This is all accompanied by some nice languid music. I suppose it’s something from the Famous Studios music library. It’s nice getting some different stock music.

There’s more social commentary than I expect from these cartoons. The first is Popeye working out that he has to open a school, to teach people to read, so there’s demand for his newspaper. It’s a benign example of marketing into existence demand for the thing you want to supply. The second is the revelation that the people in Puddleburg aren’t unable to read out of laziness. The school Popeye builds is demolished by the Bruiser Boys, local thugs who figure an ignorant population is easier to control through terror. It’s a method of control, yeah. And it diffuses some of the conflation of laziness and stupidity that’s been in the cartoon.

Curiously, the Bruiser Boys are not Brutus. Why have original cast for this? In Dead-Eye Popeye, which I once mentioned without reviewing, Brutus and two identical Brutus-oids terrorize the western town. I’m curious if this resulted from the confusion about whether Bluto was a King Features or a Paramount-owned character.

There is an odd moment where newspaper-editor Popeye hires a cartoonist, B Looney Bologna. His panel is the chicken-crossing-the-road gag, used for generations now as the symbol for tired old humor. (I’m persuaded that it’s an anti-joke, myself.) I suppose it builds the direness of Popeye’s plight, that he can’t even use the funny pages to get an audience. Mostly it takes a spot of time for a joke about a bad joke.

Inside a vandalized schoolroom, Popeye, sitting in a wheelchair and dressed up as an old granny, wheels his right arm back to knock one of the Bruiser Boys up the bell steeple.
Why are there arithmetic problems on the board if Olive Oyl hasn’t been able to teach anyone yet? Was she practicing?

In the climax Popeye decides that the townspeople have to learn the Bruiser Boys aren’t that tough. All right. He decides to show them that even a woman can stand up to them. … Why? I suppose they’re a bit more humiliated if a granny in a wheelchair beats them up than if the newspaper editor does it. But it’s not like they won’t be beaten up anyway. If it is important it be a woman, why not have Olive Oyl take her spinach power-up? It stands out to me that Popeye doesn’t eat any spinach this cartoon. I’m curious if Kneitel had some rationale here that got lost in editing. Or if the cartoon started out as an independent thing, or a story meant for another character, that got imperfectly rewritten for Popeye.

Altogether, it’s a decently-made cartoon. The starting point might be odd, but it follows all well enough from there. It’s still odd that Popeye and Olive Oyl would be printing up rooms full of newspapers when nobody was buying them, though. Maybe he was misled about important things by whoever owned the paper before him.

Popeye never reports a specific piece of news in this short.

60s Popeye: Voo-Doo To You Too, and what it means to me


This cartoon lets me reveal something that every one of you, deep down, already knew about me. As a young kid watching Popeye on the local stations I wondered: how many cartoons are there? How many do they have? Do they run the cartoons in a set order, or is it random? There was no way to know, of course, except to keep logs. So I would think it should be easy to write down titles of cartoons as they came up.

This would be foiled, over and over, by the ability of an under-ten-year-old to keep a sheet of paper and a pencil near the TV day after day. Also to pay attention when he heard the sailor’s hornpipe starting up, so I could have a title to write. (It did not occur to me that I could leave a blank line for a missed title.) But this cartoon, Voo-Doo To You Too, with its punchy, rhyming, easy-to-remember title? It was always the scolding reminder that I should re-start my list.

Happily, I am today an adult. I can consult lists of cartoons on the Internet. And we don’t have to worry about Popeye running on the local stations on TV. Or about there being local TV stations either. I can content myself to writing 800 words about every one of them.

This cartoon was by Famous Studios, the ones that until recently had been the only ones drawing Popeye. Direction and story are both by Seymour Kneitel. I think he was at least nominally the director for everything Famous Studios ever did with Popeye.

The cartoon depends on a thing it calls voodoo magic. It’s portrayed with the research into Haitian and Creole spirituality that you expect from a hastily-made kids cartoon of 1960. If you don’t need that, you’re right. I have a punch line to my little story that appears right after the embedded video, and after that we can catch up again next week. For those of us willing to watch what an East Coast cartoon studio called “Voodoo” in 1960, let’s watch.

So the punch line is that however well I remembered the title, I mis-remembered which cartoon it attached to.


One good thing about the King Features Popeye cartoons is that they opened up the cast. The Famous Studios cartoons shrank the Thimble Theatre universe until it was Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl, sometimes Wimpy. I think even Swee’Pea vanished, his roles taken up by the two of Popeye’s Nephews who survived. King Features’s run was not so stingy. This cartoon stars the Sea Hag, who never appeared before the 60s run somehow. And Eugene the Jeep, who had vanished after Popeye cartoons stopped being black-and-white somehow. There’s smaller characters too. The Sea Hag’s pet vulture — Bernard, though he’s not named here — appears in a good supporting role. There’s even, in the first scene, a look at Rough House’s Cafe (Special To-Day: Spinach Burgers). Rough House never appeared before the 60s cartoons and I’m not sure that he ever did again, except in the Robert Altman movie.

We also get the Sea Hag as an actual character. Like, a real and imposing menace. Coming ashore, she picks a nice-looking house, and decides to enslave the owner to serve her. The owner is Olive Oyl. What are the odds? Popeye overhears this and does not leap right in to punch something. He remembers that he’s vulnerable to magic, and unwilling to hit a woman even if she is the Sea Hag. Instead he jumps into the bedroom and tries to persuade Olive Oyl out of her magical enslavement. She knows he’s in there anyway. Maybe the Sea Hag knows how these cartoons go.

The Sea Hag, holding up a wax magic doll imitation of Popeye and a long straight hair with which she intends to bind it.
So for those wondering why the Sea Hag never tried this trick again: magic doll wax is so expensive that there’s no sense getting it until Michaels sends you one of those coupons for at least 60% off your entire basket, special items included, and they don’t send those coupons out often.

Sea Hag shapes a candle into a voodoo doll of Popeye, and then binds it with an enchanted hair: Popeye’s arms are stuck to his side and there’s no moving them. It’s a great additional menace, taking away Popeye’s secondary superpower. (His primary superpower is standing up for what’s right, even if it hurts him.) And I do remember, as a kid, being frightened of a magic spell that would lock my arms to my sides. It’s rare to get actual nightmare material out of these cartoons.

She tosses the candle in a chest, and locks it, and sends Bernard to lose it in the wilds. Popeye searches for help with the chest, and who turns out to be in the cartoon but Eugene the Jeep? Luckily, Eugene’s magical powers include his knowing what the plot is. So Popeye doesn’t have to recap the situation right after he’s explained it to the audience. We get a slice of Popeye-following-Eugene, including a joke where Eugene walks through a tree that Popeye can’t. That’s a joke done in the Fleischer studios’ Popeye the Sailor With The Jeep, though since it had been 22 years we can forgive the reuse. Eugene can find the chest easily enough, and open it, but he’s helpless to untie the hair.

So, finally — and later than I would have tried — we turn to spinach. It does nothing to get Popeye’s arms free, and that’s where the cartoon really gets frightening. More powerful than spinach-charged Popeye? There’s genies who aren’t more powerful than spinach-charged Popeyes. Ah, but Eugene knows the rules of sympathetic magic: he feeds the doll some spinach, and doll-Popeye breaks his bonds. This leaves Popeye free. This also leaves under-ten-year-old me wondering, well, aren’t his arms stuck up in that triumphant pose now? Why not? And, like, is there anything they can do with the doll so it can’t be used against him again? If they melt it what happens to Popeye? So you can see that even as a kid, I was doomed to be like this.

Popeye standing next to the bound wax doll. Eugene is walking into Popeye's leg, magically disappearing into him.
Wh — what the — wh — Eugene, you’re making this magic-bondage/mind-controlled-zombie cartoon all weird.

Popeye runs back to Olive Oyl’s house, and gets a good fight in with Bernard, since he can’t hit the Sea Hag. This smashes up the house, but does send Sea Hag and Bernard flying away. Olive Oyl, freed from her trance, remembers none of this, but demands Popeye clean up the mess. Popeye protests he didn’t make the mess, which is wrong. He’s not to blame for the mess, but he totally did make it. Popeye closes on a rhyming couplet, not something he always does this series, complaining about how he finds women confusing. It’s a weak moment; what about any woman’s behavior here has been confusing, and why?

Never mind the weakness. This is one of my favorite King Features cartoons, even if I somehow let the title detach from it. It’s a good solid storyline. It’s got a rare menace for Popeye cartoons at all, never mind for cartoons of this era. It’s even pretty well animated, considering Famous Studios’ limitations. Anybody’s walk cycle is boring, but it’s pretty smooth and on-model. And we get a lot of scenes from interesting perspectives. The Sea Hag’s shown at three-quarters profile to cast her zombie spell on Olive Oyl, at about 6:47, and again at about 7:29 readying to fix that swab Popeye, and again explaining the rules of the voodoo doll at about 7:59. One may suspect important elements of the animation are being reused in all three appearances, but that’s good budgeting. Popeye’s conversation with Eugene the Jeep, starting about 8:46, is done from above Popeye’s and Eugene’s shoulders. They’re both interesting perspectives. We get some of that again when Eugene can’t untie the magical hair, or feeds the wax doll its spinach.

If more of the King Features cartoons were of this quality then the series would be fondly remembered.

60s Popeye: how to be a Matinee Idol


Suggested soundtrack: Sparks, Academy Award Performance.

This week’s King Features Popeye cartoon is, it happens, directed by Gene Deitch, and produced by William L Snyder. There’s no story credit to it. Matinée Idol Popeye, another in the microgenre of cartoons where Popeye makes a movie.

Though I’ve called it a microgenre, there really aren’t many cartoons where Popeye is making a movie. At least one of the times he is, it’s a clip cartoon recycling one of the two-reelers. The benefit of doing a let’s-make-a-movie cartoon is you can put Popeye in any scenario without needing any setup or resolution. But, then, when have we ever needed a reason that Popeye should be in Ancient Egypt? It’s old-style cartoon characters. They could just do that.

The setup is Popeye and Olive Oyl making some Anthony-and-Cleopatra film. Brutus is director, sensibly enough. I’d wondered if this was a riff on the infamous Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton Cleopatra, and it seems … unclear. That movie, released 1963, had started production in 1958. So a 1960 cartoon could riff on it. But apart from its five-million-dollar budget what would stand out, in 1960, about the project? Probably it’s more generically a riff on that era of epic-style filmmaking.

We get early on some nice visual jokes. Popeye turning into a ham when Brutus accuses him of being one, that sort of thing. It reflects one of the good lessons of limited animation: if you can’t show complicated action, at least show a bunch of funny pictures. Brutus tries to woo Olive Oyl, taking out of his pocket a heap of flowers bigger than he is; that’s better than anything which would make physical sense.

The premise of the cartoon becomes that Brutus wants Popeye out of the way, but can’t fire him, so he has to get Popeye to quit or die. Bit gruesome, but, makes sense. We get the gag of Popeye’s head caught in a lion’s mouth, and him puffing his pipe to make the lion release him. That’s been done before; in the Famous Studios Tops in The Big Top Bluto even puts a slab of meat on Popeye’s head to ensure the lion tries to eat him. Here it’s just luck for Brutus that the plan starts to work. It’s a missed chance to make Brutus more villainous, but on the other hand, do we want Brutus to be that mean?

Popeye's head is caught in the mouth of a slightly annoyed lion. Popeye's arms are raised as he figures to maybe do something about this.
Popeye: “Why does this keep happening to me? … All right, it’s only happened maybe three times? But when you consider how often this happens to anyone else that’s still a lot.”

Brutus chuckles “that’ll be good for the end title” when a vulture rests on Popeye’s head. It is, and it’s a missed resolution that the end of the short doesn’t have the vulture on Brutus’s head. We get some nice and really exciting music as the elephant comes in. It raises questions about what the filming schedule for this film was supposed to look like. I wouldn’t want to try to shoot a lion and an elephant and a crocodile scene on the same day. Obviously Brutus is throwing stuff together in the opes of getting Popeye to quit, but he does seem to be filming all this. Without giving Popeye direction of what he should accomplish in the scene, though. If this were an actual film it would be a heck of an avant-garde piece. It’d have some weird verite-like style anyway. Brutus is optimistic to think this will win an Academy Award, but it will have a good shot at being a cult classic.

Brutus finally turns to just grabbing Olive Oyl, because he has not learned how people work yet. Popeye does a slick bit of crushing his can open by dropping a beam of wood on it; that gets us to the fight climax. More time’s spent on Popeye making a sphinx of himself than the actual fight. I’m curious whether they were trying to limit the violence or whether Deitch (or storywriter) thought that punching was the least interesting thing Popeye did. Before we know it, Brutus is harnessed and hauling Popeye’s chariot. This seems like it should violate a Directors Guild rule, but we have reason to think the production is outside proper channels, what with how there’s no other crew.

This isn’t a lushly animated cartoon and after the initial business with the ham it doesn’t get too fanciful either. It does well with what animation there is. And it avoids having too many scenes that look like police lineups. We get a lot of close pictures of characters’s faces, or from chest up. Not so many of them standing in a line viewed from afar. I regret that it doesn’t show off the experimental energies I was talking so much about yesterday. But sometimes a cartoon’s just executed successfully after all.

Some Thoughts About Gene Deitch


Gene Deitch has died. Not, his family reports, from Covid-19. There are a number of good obituaries about the animator, including at Cartoon Research, at Cartoon Brew and, for a particularly detailed look at his career, Lambiek’s Comiclopedia. Many of these obituaries are written by people who met the man and knew him some. I am not among them.

I knew Gene Deitch through his work, like many of my generation. And, I think like many of my generation, from knowing that every now and then there would be a really weird installment of a favorite cartoon. Tom and Jerry, most often. Popeye, some. Maybe something from the second-tier studios, like Terry Toons, which still got some syndication time when I was a kid. They would consistently look weird. I adopted that word because, as an undiscerning child who just loved cartoons, I didn’t grasp that they were also quite cheap.

There is no way for me to say this without sounding like a hipster. But I always liked the peculiar weirdness of Gene Deitch cartoons. Especially the Tom and Jerry run, which stood out from the Hanna-Barbera cartoons before and the Chuck Jones cartoons made after. There is now a conventional wisdom that, sure, the average cartoon-viewer sees the Deitch Tom and Jerry cartoons as the worst but there were interesting visual and story experiments going on. I am happy people are agreeing and appreciating them more.

Part of us wants to believe in cartoons as coming from somebody. They can’t. They’re an even more necessarily collaborative process than filmmaking ordinarily is. (There are animated cartoons made wholly, or substantially, by one person. There are happily more being made as computer tools are able to support animators. But, outside discussions of the origins of animation, they’re still a small influence in the art form.) This is what I like in the Deitch-made cartoons I’ve seen. Much like Chuck Jones he has this personality that comes through the filmmaking. It’s not usually as approachable as Chuck Jones’s work. It’s usually a bit weird. Deitch worked with UPA and was a true believer in its experiments in giving up photorealism for expressive exaggeration. Any studio he worked in he tried to make more experimental. It’s easy to love the results of successful experimentation. To get to success, though, you need to go through some weirdness.

Some of this experimentation was forced on Deitch. His Prague studio, for example, was staffed by animators (Deitch included) who had seen no or very few Tom and Jerry cartoons to start with. The budget for each cartoon was whatever loose change Deitch found in the airplane seats flying to Czechoslovakia. But some of this experimentation was his desire to draw something different. It’s amazing that he was able to work so long and so faithfully to that goal.


I’ve been reviewing Gene Deitch-produced cartoons as they come up here. But I have some older pieces maybe harder to find. If you don’t mind reviews built around YouTube links that have rotted, here’s some thoughts about Swee’Pea Soup, and then here’s some for the 60s Krazy Kat cartoon Housewarming, made under similar circumstances.

Popeye and the Giant: body horror, weirdness, but no, not *that* Giant


I complained that last week’s 60s Popeye was a competent cartoon. Every piece of it made sense, followed from the premise, and came out pretty bland. These are not faults for this week. It’s another Jack Kinney joint, this one with story by Noel Tucker and animation direction by Hugh Fraser. Noel Tucker is a name unrecorded by me, so far. Hugh Fraser we’ve seen having Popeye build a robot and being a Hawai’i tour guide. Both of those times I noted the animation was loose, or if you’re not feeling generous, sloppy. What does this imply for Popeye and the Giant? Let’s watch.

The title gives me expectations: that it’ll be another Jack-and-the-Beanstalk take starring Popeye. They’ve done this before, during World War II and again later in the Famous Studios run. They also did it in the 60s run of cartoons. They’d do it again for the 70s run. But sometimes it’s possible that a Popeye cartoon might reuse a premise of another Popeye cartoon. I know, shocking. But, no; the cartoon decides to go in weird directions instead.

And it keeps going weird. Weird to the point I am more curious than usual about its writing. It feels to me like Tucker had a couple ideas, found they were developing in curious ways, couldn’t fit them together, and went with what he had. The cartoon shifts direction several times over. The narrative doesn’t quite make sense. But it’s a good weird. It’s an unpredictable weird, at least.

Follow the narrative. We start with Popeye carrying flowers, I assume to Olive Oyl. He’s not aware that he’s in footage recycled from another short. Wimpy appears, in a pocket universe, offering his usual pay-you-Tuesday-for-a-hamburger-today deal. Popeye ignores him and walks out of the cartoon. Jump to Brutus, who learns the carnival wants a giant. He guesses his plant-growth pills will work on Wimpy, so feeds him a pile of burgers so large Wimpy’s eyes poke out, the first of many body-horror moments. It has an effect: the camera waves around and loses focus, a rare moment of cinematography for these shorts.

Gigantic Wimpy, with a large-but-not-proportional hat and tie, lecturing Brutus, whom he holds in one hand.
I give them a pass on having Wimpy’s clothes gigantify along with him, and will allow Wimpy’s hat and tie not quite growing to fit as a way of demonstrating his bulk. But: we’re looking at Wimpy’s left hand here. How is that attached to his shoulder? So there’s one more moment of body horror for you.

And it works, as Brutus declares, before we actually see anything happen. He jumps outside his house to laugh, a move that doesn’t look at all like they’re recycling footage from another short. Wimpy’s body bulges out and expands in a way that does look painful, an expressive bit for the animation limitations here. Brutus demands Wimpy sign a contract; Wimpy demands food, first.

Here, I think, the premise got away from Tucker. Wimpy is a clever, gluttonous, and slothful character. Add to that physical power, though? That’s dangerous in a novel way. Unfortunately we fall back from that. Brutus agrees to feed Wimpy first, delivering a bunch of burgers on a conveyor belt, saying, “I can’t supply the demand”. It’s a curious line because it’s got the placement and cadence of a joke, but is a literal statement of fact. Was this a placeholder line, meant to be replaced with something funny?

The carnival can’t use Wimpy, observing that he’s impossible show or feed. Good observations. So Brutus turns to the Sea Hag, who’s set herself up as Shyster At Law. I’m sure this is a sly allusion to the Marx Brothers’ nearly-lost radio program, Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel. Good approach and it’s not a bad role for the Sea Hag either. The Sea Hag forgets her weird crush on Wimpy and declares this is a chance to mess with Popeye, who hasn’t been seen since the story actually started.

Her plan: abandon Wimpy as a foundling child on Popeye’s doorstep. Here again I think the premise got out of Tucker’s control. Like, Brutus needed help to have the idea “make Popeye deal with this nonsense”? When Giant Wimpy’s first seen by Popeye, he’s sobbing like a baby. Why? A spell of the Sea Hag’s? That explains having the Sea Hag involved at all. But then Popeye has no doubt that he’s dealing with a giant Wimpy.

Gigantic Wimpy laying on his back in a crib outside Popeye's house. A note is pinned to Wimpy's pants, which Popeye, leaning out the window in his bedclothes, is reading.
I once again protest King Features animating my DeviantArt account without my permission.

Told, by note, that the antidote is unknown, Popeye tries to find an antidote. He goes right to spinach — er, essence of spinach — showing that he’s aware of the rules of the universe he’s in. This makes Giant Wimpy bigger, animated by having the camera slide down a little. So instead he tries “essence of hamburger”, which looks to the untrained eye like a hamburger. Sure, we already saw him eat dozens of burgers that Brutus made, and again dozens more at the carnival. But this time? It’s a burger that shrinks him back to normal.

Wimpy thanks Popeye, while Popeye can’t help mouthing along to Wimpy’s lines. And Wimpy’s hungry again, and that’s our laugh line to the finish.

So, yeah, it’s all low-key bonkers. I mean this affectionately. Someone seeing only Brutus reading about this carnival offer would not guess it would have Popeye deal with a giant “baby” Wimpy. After watching the cartoon a couple times I guess I follow the threads, more or less, but it’s a weird path getting there. There’s two good premises — Wimpy as a demanding giant, and Popeye dealing with a giant baby — brought up and immediately forgotten. The story needed another draft or two to be a coherent whole, but I’m not sure that would be better. As it is, it’s all weird jagged edges.

Most interesting about the animation is that Giant Wimpy is not Wimpy drawn larger. His proportions are all off. This is a good way of establishing that Wimpy is truly gigantic. It does mean they can’t use stock footage of Wimpy for all this time that he’s the center of attention. Having to do that is probably why they had to reuse footage from other shorts. It’s a worthwhile trade.

This is a cartoon I’m going to have specific memories of next week.

Dog Catcher Popeye, in which Popeye is not a Dog Catcher


There’s familiar names in the credits for this week’s 60s Popeye cartoon. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Jack Mercer was the voice of Popeye, with a handful of interruptions, from 1935 through to the Robert Altman movie. He’d also written Popeye cartoons, and others, going back to 1942. The director’s Seymore Kneitel, who again had directed Popeye cartoons going back to Paramount’s taking over the Fleischer Studios. Basically, these are old pros. They could have done Dog Catcher Popeye in their sleep. Did they?

There’s something a bit telling in the credit and title cards. They’re tightly organized, neatly lettered. Smoothly professional enough to be a little boring. This is an era where, yes, a lot of awful cartoons were being made under the Popeye brand identity. Often the most interesting thing about them is the title card, with some mid-century modern abstraction and the title painted in some way that’s maybe even hard to read. Not this; this is neatly stenciled letters. There’s no question what you’re seeing.

And that’s the cartoon. This is a smoothly made production. There’s a clear storyline. A poor tormented dog catches Popeye’s attention; he rescues it. It wants to follow him; he tries to escape. Brutus the actual dog catcher notices the dog; Popeye saves the dog. At no point is there question what characters are doing, or trying to do, or why. All the action is clear and well-rendered. There’s even stuff, like the park entrance or the dog catcher’s truck, drawn in one-point perspective. It’s all well-crafted.

Also boring. There’s not any personality in the cartoon. No weirdness. The only interesting shot is a couple moments seen from the dog’s point of view, where Popeye explains why he can’t adopt the dog. There’s a bit of novelty in the story from Brutus not really being out to get Popeye. Or even being in the wrong.

It’s petty to complain about a cartoon being done with so much professional competence that I can’t even sneer at it. But I also know that I saw this cartoon about 480,000 times growing up, and I’ve watched it three times over the past week, and in two days I’m not going to remember even writing an essay about it. This weekend I also watched an episode of the Emergency +4 cartoon that existed for absolutely no decent reason. And that was fascinating for how it took a whole Mark Trail plot’s worth of dangers in the desert and made it all lifeless and dull. But its incompetence at establishing stakes for the characters? And the bizarreness of its choice to exist at all? Its bold choice to use the temporary music track for the opening and closing credits? I’m going to remember and think about that again.

Statistics Saturday: Pink Panther Cartoons Debuting During Apollo Missions


  1. In The Pink Of The Night (18 May 1969, during Apollo 10)
  2. Yeah, that’s it. Weird, right? I mean, there weren’t that many Apollo missions really, but they sprawled like twelve days each, and they were all concentrated in this four-year span. There’s some near misses, like, Pink Sphinx came out the day after Apollo 7 landed, and Pinkcome Tax came out the day before Apollo 8 launched, but there’s no other cartoons that overlapped Apollo missions. Not even the unmanned missions. It just doesn’t add up.

Reference: The History Today Companion to British History, Editors Juliet Gardiner, Neil Wenborn.