60s Popeye: Sea No Evil, just have boating supplies stolen

Gene Deitch directed this week’s 60s Popeye cartoon. It doesn’t carry story or animation credits, but this was when he was working in Prague and also doing the Tom and Jerry cartoons that everyone regards as “really weird”. I love them, not just because they are very weird. This week’s cartoon, Sea No Evil, is not structurally a pretty normal cartoon. Still, I like it.

The short starts, like the old writing advice goes, as late as it possibly could, moments before parties unknown steal every piece the boating equipment, one at a time, from under Popeye and Olive Oyl’s noses. It’s Brutus’s work, and he takes the stuff to his boating supply store to sell back to Popeye. There’s a fairly extended sequence of Popeye listing all the items he needs, and Brutus bringing it up from behind the wet wheelbarrow behind the counter. It may take longer to establish this than needed. But it does establish a rhythm. It makes the sequence feel like a running gag. It helps the comedy land better. It’s particularly good for appealing to the kids the cartoon’s aimed at; I could remember the sequence decades after the last time I’d seen the cartoon. Also, I would have sworn there were at least three cycles of Brutus stealing all the boating gear and Popeye buying it back.

It’s a good premise for a cartoon too. It’s obvious why Brutus might be pulling this trick, and why he might think Popeye and Olive Oyl are good marks. Popeye’s apparently willing to write off the first loss of five hundred bucks’ worth of boating equipment as bad luck (!), but he’s not going to fall for that long. And then it’s chase Brutus, see Brutus getting away, find the spinach, and punch things to a conclusion. I have the impression that Deitch cartoons bring things to an end pretty fast, once Popeye eats his spinach, but I’m not feeling energetic enough to check that.

Popeye in a wetsuit, bloated with water, pressing his giant hands into his gigantic chest, so that water spouts out his disconnected breathing tube, soaking Olive Oyl in the face.
I must ONCE AGAIN take exception to their putting my DeviantArt account on-screen like this. Anyway, the short does leave us with the unanswered questions of “what, Popeye just carries $1300 in cash in his bathing trunks” and also “what kind of swimsuit is it that Olive Oyl’s wearing?”

There are some of the common traits of Deitch-directed cartoons of this era here. Character movements are kept simple, and transitions between motions are implied or off-panel altogether; look at about 16:27, when Popeye stands motionless in a sinking boat for a solid eight seconds, to punch a Brutus who’s appeared somehow through, I guess, the hole in the boat, and punches him. Brutus goes from flying up into the air to being in the water, held by an anchor, swimming with all his might in a transition we have to imagine. And there’s a loose adherence to character models. I don’t mind this. Some choices almost seem artistically thoughtful. Like, in the boating store, Popeye’s hips and legs being these dwindling things make him look puny in the face of Brutus’s might, which matches where the character is at that moment in the story. Other weird bits are probably artifacts of trying to make what movement there is available look better in motion. If you freeze a frame at about 16:36, where Brutus is in the water swimming and anchored to what’s left of his boat, you can see him with an elephant’s trunk of a left arm that looks awful; but, that’s one frame of a swimming cycle that looks fine.

I am charmed that Popeye spends a couple sends waving his fingers to the beat as the soundtrack gets to the “I’m strong to the finich” couplet. There’s no diegetic source for this music; somehow, the radio is the one stolen thing Popeye didn’t buy back. Which is also a fun bit of business as the background music cutting out when Brutus steals the radio is how Olive Oyl and Popeye learn the cartoon has started and they need to do something. It’s always the little things that tickle me particularly.

60s Popeye: how to treat Popeye’s Junior Headache

I believe this is the first time, since I started doing these cartoons systematically, that I’ve looked at a Gerald Ray-produced 60s Popeye cartoon. The director’s listed as Bob Bemiller. The credits, done with this nice split of typefaces that makes me think of a mid-century bowling alley, don’t list a writer. On the other hand, we’re promised eight animators worked on drawing this one. It’s 1960’s Popeye’s Junior Headache. Spoiler: it does not feature Popeye Junior.

The plot is just that an exhausted Popeye’s roped into babysitting Olive Oyl’s niece Diesel, and she’s your traditional hellion. The obvious plot is how bad she can get before Popeye grabs his spinach and Does Something about all this. The short does that plot; the question is how good it is at that.

The first shot is promising, though. It’s a view of Popeye slumped over in bed answering the phone. The view’s from a ceiling corner of the room, an angle harder to draw than the scene strictly needed. His room’s got a full bed, chest, curtains, a rug with an anchor on it, a ship’s-wheel clock. The scene would read as well as a side shot of Popeye sitting in a bed, with the wall and floor suggested by a pair of flat colors. That the animators put some personality into a boring scene bodes well.

Gerald Ray was, among other things in a long career, one of the directors for Rocky and Bullwinkle and Other Titles. Bullwinkle was never a lavishly animated show. But it used a good trick: a lot of short scenes moving between funny pictures. Ray imported that to here. It’s really cheap to animate, as they do at about 19:20, Popeye talking by having the book covering his face move. It’s also no effort to put Diesel Oyl standing there with a magnifying glass on the book. But together this makes a funny scene. I mean at least funny in intent. You might not like the joke, but you know what’s supposed to be funny there and why it’s supposed to be funny.

An example of this style: Popeye finally has enough and gets to the kitchen. It’s not actually my childhood kitchen but boy did it give me warm nostalgic feelings. Anyway, he eats a can of Something That’s Not Spinach. He gets his power-up music; his pipe falls apart. If you aren’t watching you might miss that, or even think it’s an animation error. But having his spinach power-up go wrong like that is a good joke. It wasn’t necessary; watch the cartoon with the sound off and the story goes as well. But it makes things more fun to watch.

Deisel Oyl — The Popeye wiki says Deezil, on what grounds I don’t know — is a creation of the cartoons. I don’t know whether she appeared outside the 60s cartoons specifically. She’s voiced by Mae Questel, who’s using basically the voice she has for Swee’Pea. I can’t say this first appearance has made me fond of her. But you can also see where Swee’Pea couldn’t work for the story. Popeye’s Nephews might work, although I’m sure King Features figured they had no right to use those characters. Remember, these cartoons have “Brutus” rather than “Bluto” because they weren’t sure whether Bluto was created from the comic strip (which they owned) or the Fleischer Cartoons (which they didn’t).

So this is a basic cartoon, but executed well in that there’s plenty of funny pictures to watch as the action carries on. I suspect had Gerald Ray done more of the King Features Popeyes the series might be remembered more fondly.

60s Popeye has Childhood Daze

There’s a fairly new syndicated newspaper comic strip, created by John Kovaleski. It’s a pleasant strip about a single father and his baby, and sunk a bit by its name of Daddy Daze. “Daze” is the inevitable pun for anyone wanting to make something with the shape of a pun on “days” and I don’t know that it helps. Maybe they’re aiming at a market which I am not in. Anyway, here’s the 1960 Popeye cartoon Childhood Daze.

I knew from the video’s thumbnail that it would involve a baby-size Popeye. The opening credits give us that it’s Larry Harmon-produced. The animation director’s Paul Fennell. The writer’s Charles Shows. Shows also had writing credits on Muskels Shmuskels and Foola-Foola Bird. These cartoons had decent enough premises and stories that mostly made sense. My expectation by the end of the credits was that it’d be a fair cartoon, maybe stiffly animated, with a dotting of weird little bits along the way. Also that the animation would probably be pretty stiff, and since it had a new model for Popeye, it wouldn’t have any really good bits. The mystery would be how to get a Baby Popeye.

The answer’s early on, as we visit the daringly mid-century modern home of Professor O G Wotasnozzle. Wotasnozzle’s a character from Segar’s other gig, the husband-and-wife strip Sappo. Wotasnozzle with his wacky inventions turned their boarding house premise into something where goofy weird things happened. When Sappo faded out Wotasnozzle transferred over to the main strip, a minor character who could set off some nice nonsense. For some reason Famous Studios never did anything with him, or a lot of the weirder Thimble Theatre cast. The King Features cartoons brought him out and for just this sort of thing: want to make Popeye a baby? A caveman? An astronaut? Six inches tall (I’m guessing, but I’m probably right)? Wotasnozzle can make it happen.

And that’s basically what happens. Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus are gathered at Wotasnozzle’s place to see him turn a chicken into an egg. Does it work on people? Let’s find out. Brutus volunteers, specifically he volunteers Popeye. It’s a dumb gag, and yet one time in high school my geometry teacher let me get away with that when he was looking for a volunteer to go to the board. I am truly sorry, Larissa. I should have realized he’d go with the gag.

So we get a Baby Popeye out of the little slot for stuff that’s gone through the Atomic Youth Machine. (I saw Atomic Youth Machine open for Presidents of the United States of America in ’98.) I’m curious how Wotasnozzle figured an ‘adult’ or ‘teen’ or even ‘child’ human would fit in that output slot. I guess he really had not thought through whether this thing would work on humans.

It’s taken two minutes, of a five-and-a-half minute short, to get Baby Popeye. That seems like a lot of time watching characters stand still and blink. Olive Oyl’s shocked that the Atomic Youth Machine, that she’s just seen turn an aged chicken into a chick, and that was set to make Popeye into a baby, turned Popeye into a baby. Thus we see the difference between understanding the proposition that “this will turn someone into a baby” and believing the proposition.

Olive Oyl holding up a Baby Popeye, who looks like regular Popeye with shorter arms and legs missing underneath a skirt.
The reboot of Tod Browning’s Freaks went in surprising directions.

For as simple as the premise is there’s stuff I don’t understand about it. Like, do the adults understand what Baby Popeye is saying? Popeye talks back to Brutus at about 2:20, and Brutus doesn’t really respond. But it’s not like these cartoons usually have tight dialogue. And for much of the cartoon Olive Oyl and Brutus talk about Popeye as if he’s not there. The one time there’s definite communication is Olive Oyl responding to Popeye’s cries to be fed, but that’s something any kid could ask for. Other than asking for spinach, I mean.

There’s a bit at 3:05 where Brutus is spanking Popeye. Or, talking about spanking Popeye and in the pose where he would be spanking, with Baby Popeye crying. But there’s no actual movement on Brutus’s part. Did the censor not allow them to show spanking or were they saving on the animation budget? Also baffling: why is there a long red carpet in Wotasnozzle’s house?

This is a disappointing short. After we get a Baby Popeye he doesn’t do anything. Olive Oyl doesn’t do anything. (After he introduces the premise Wotasnozzle doesn’t do anything either, but that’s kind of his thing.) Brutus at least rolls him up into a basketball and tosses him through a hoop that Wotasnozzle has inside his house for some reason. But Brutus could do that anyway, before Popeye gets riled enough to eat his spinach. Also every time we see Baby Popeye being held up, he looks like regular Popeye but his legs fell off. I’m not sure what a Baby Popeye ought to do, but standing in lines blinking isn’t it. The obvious thing is to make them all kids and go through their usual nonsense but with kiddie-level attention spans. Or have Olive Oyl and Brutus forced to babysit Baby Popeye while Wotasnozzle gets something to fix the machine and make him an adult again, and Popeye is a difficult child. Or have Baby Popeye get in on Swee’Pea’s world. Something, anything. The premise is better than the cartoon made of it.

60s Popeye: Jingle Jangle Jungle, which is about the right subject line here

So partway through Jingle Jangle Jungle we hit a scene with Jungle Cannibals. The cartoon was already on thin ice; the premise, sending Popeye to hunt big game, was already dubious enough. Why not skip it and leave this forgotten cartoon where it already was?

And then it … didn’t get offensive enough for my tastes. Other people will hear this warning and decide to dump this, and they’re correct. The scene doesn’t make sense except by using the idea of the Savage Jungle Cannibals. But the cannibals never really appear on screen. They’re a cloud of eyeballs instead. I suspect the hidden hand of network censors. Read the accounts of TV and radio show runners and you hear how the censors are humorless scolds who don’t want anything that might be a joke to come through. Then you learn that the censors were sending endless memos saying, stop with the ethnic jokes and maybe find a role for a woman that’s not a shrew.

I do not know how Ed Nofziger came to write this, or what influenced him and director Ken Hultgren. But the results are weird. So, let me step into 1960’s Jingle Jangle Jungle.

Popeye hunting big game is a troublesome start. Yes, he has hunted animals before. But early on Elzie Segar realized Popeye was not someone to beat up animals. The Fleischers tried a couple Popeye-goes-hunting cartoons, and yes, sometimes it worked. But it’s a bad start. Still, Ed Nofziger has written some weird stuff. I have him logged as writer for Hamburger Fishing, a peculiar fairy-tale retelling, and Sweapea Thru The Looking Glass, a peculiar fairy-tale-adjacent story. Both are weird cartoons, which appeals to me.

And this? This is a weird cartoon. The premise is that the core gang is off hunting tigers. And that’s about all. Stuff happens that circles around this. A giant flower makes out with Brutus. A rhinoceros goes charging through, tooting with the same sound as Popeye’s pipe. Popeye calls this a train and almost opens his eyes for this. I get to wondering if this is a repurposed Mister Magoo script. A cobra pops in; Popeye plays something tuneless on his pipe, until an elephant wanders by playing the accordion. And then the Esso Tiger gets all snuggly with Olive Oyl.

At one point Popeye declares he’s seeing things and, yeah, that’s fair. This whole short has a weird dream logic. When the Jungle Cannibals sort-of appear, somehow tie up Popeye and drop him into the stew pot, and then have made a spinach stew of things? The effect, for me, is more bizarre than anything else. It’s almost a tone poem, with a loose theme of hunting, rather than anything else.

Larger-than-human flower reaching out with its leaves to hold Brutus, and kissing him relentlessly.
I don’t think it’s very sporting to share Philip José Farmer’s DeviantArt account either.

There’s some interesting almost genre-awareness here. Brutus crying out “help, Popeye, help” in the same cadence that Olive Oyl has used for ages. (Granted there’s not many ways to read the line, but there are options.) Early on, Popeye answering Brutus’s boast with “That’s what you think” and Brutus taunting “That’s what you think I think!”. It’s a rare-for-the-era line that actually responds to what the other person said, and with personality. Touches like that make me interested in what is otherwise a nearly plotless cartoon.

I really want to make some kind of subtext out about how Olive Oyl and Brutus find themselves threatened by nature being overly affectionate, rather than hostile. It’s a good joke to have Olive Oyl find a tiger who’s a ferociously snuggly kitty boi. Almost as good to have Brutus helpless before a flower’s attention. I doubt it reflects anything more than a respect for the (I assume) censor’s directive to cut back on the violence, especially against animals. If I am right in my assumption, the censor was on to something here. The cartoon would be much less intersting if Olive Oyl were hiding from a snarling tiger. It wouldn’t have a fraction the strangeness, and that would be a terrible loss.

I can’t call this cartoon good exactly. Good-and-weird, though, that fits. And that’s the sort of thing I like often enough.

Popeye the Popular Mechanic builds a 60s Robot

I got to wondering whether every major cartoon character in the 60s built a homemade robot. Then I thought out who I could remember doing this: Popeye. Wile E Coyote, in one of the Rudy Larriva cartoons. That’s about it, although I’d bet money that, like, Mister Jinks tried one on Pixie and Dixie. It seems like something which was in vogue, anyway.

Popeye the Popular Mechanic is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The animation director’s listed as Hugh Fraser. The story’s credited to Joe Grant and Walter Schmidt, names that I haven’t noticed before.

Popeye lays out the premise by talking to himself. It’s an efficient way in to explaining why he’s building a robot. For this short, he’s so sloppy a person as to, like, hang wading overalls from the curtain rod. I’m curious how he got them there in the first place. Like, I’m cluttered because I can’t bring myself to exert the energy to put stuff away. Hanging wading overalls like that seems like more effort than anything you could do with them. The tire in the living room makes sense, of course. I don’t know why he has the Holy Grail sitting on the mantle. I love his standing lamp, though.

Popeye sitting at a table, with his neck stretched out several feet so his chin can rest atop a giant stack of pancakes. His mouth is open into this enormous conical gaping maw and he's tossing a pancake up into it.
Again, who are you and how dare you post images from my DeviantArt account?

You know the short’s something when I’m pondering things like that. Most of my notes are stray random odd bits. Like, Popeye subscribes to Popeye Popular Mechanics? You might think they didn’t micro-target subscribers like that back in the day, but remember, this is the era when the Saturday Evening Post decided to improve its fortunes by cancelling all subscriptions from people with undesirable zip codes. Somehow this plan turned out to be stupid and failed.

Anyway, Popeye builds Mac the Mechanical Man. There’s some spare parts left over, a thing I expected to set up mischief. I’m still not sure it didn’t. Mac, ordered to clean, pops a washer-woman’s hat out of its head and then goes ballet-dancing around the room. Ordered to cook, Mac pops a chef’s hat out and makes pancakes the traditional way: using bullets and pouring oil on them to light them on fire. It’s a bit daft. I’m not clear it’s supposed to be the fault of the leftover parts. I guess Mac was trying to make crepes suzette after all, even after being told Popeye wanted “flapjacks”, both things that were not on Mac’s menu-board chest.

A robot wearing a chef's hat, with long 'French' moustaches, shoots a gun at a bucket full of pancake batter on the stovetop.
Literally me any time I have to cook something that involves, like, a fifth step.

I’m curious why Mac doesn’t speak. It’s not like they were afraid of having Jack Mercer or, especially, Jackson Beck double up voices. Maybe it was to keep Mac a bit alien. If he’s joking around with Popeye (you know he’d be joking around with Popeye) then Brutus coming in and rewiring him to be Evil is darker stuff. Still, Mac’s got an expressive face, and he acts flamboyantly, more alive than anyone else in the short. Maybe giving him a voice would let him too completely take over the short.

So Brutus remembers he’s not in this short, and comes in to set Mac on a rampage. But why? I guess to give the cartoon a climax. Jokes of Mac doing some household chore all weird are fine, but shapeless. On the other hand, it’s not as if Coyote-and-Road-Runner cartoons have a storyline, or as if we like the cartoons where there is. It’s a measure of how slight Brutus’s role is that he and Popeye never directly confront each other. It’s not until after Mac has shot the bomb back at Brutus (somehow having worked out that it’s dangerous?) that Popeye even knows Brutus is here today. There’s no spinach either, or mention of it apart from Mac’s menu board. I wonder if Grant and Schmidt wrote this up for any old cartoon character and wrote Popeye in when, say, the Beetle Bailey series didn’t have room for it. Or whether they made that for Beetle Bailey too. Close with Popeye happy at his mechanical servant and dreaming of Olive Oyl’s approval, and Mac going wild for that.

This cartoon seems like it ought to be boring. It sets up a premise, shuffles it around a bit more, then tosses in a bomb to bring it to an end. I wasn’t bored, though. The pacing was decent. Mac went about the housekeeping chores in weird ways, which made that worth watching. The animation drawing is … I’ll call it loose, to the point you can ask whether anyone drawing this had model sheets to refer to. But I’ll take loose and weird-looking. I may not agree with whatever Popeye is doing with his lips at about 13:52 there, but I agree he has the right to do it. It puts life into what’s otherwise a dead scene.

Some Reasons Everybody Treated Me Like That In Middle School

I’ve had some time this week to sit in a room with no particular expectations or Wi-Fi and so that’s got me all introspective. So this is going to be hard. I’ve gotten around to thinking of my middle school experience. Here are some things that, on reflection, I think contributed to that whole scenario.

So you know there was a Pac-Man cartoon in the early 80s, where Pac-Man and Pac-Family hang around Pac-Land, occasionally eating ghosts and sometime getting chopmed by them. So, there was this episode where the Ghosts got their hands on the Pac-Space-Shuttle. Unless that was the Space-Pac-Shuttle. Honestly not sure at this remove. Anyway, they harvest all the Pac Pellets in the world from off the Pac-Trees. They flew this whole load to, I believe, the Pac-Moon. I know what you’re thinking and no, I was not bothered that the Pac-Space-Pac-Shuttle might land on the Pac-Moon. It would be a gross presumption of us to suppose that the design limits of our space shuttle necessarily apply to the Pac-Space-Pac-Shuttle-Pac in this fictional universe, however much they seem superficially similar. (Oh, this is helping me see why other bloggers treat me like that.) No, what bothered me is that in the face of this Pac-Pellet shortage caused by the world harvest being stolen, Pac-Man, in space, eats the entire contents of the Space-Shuttle-Pac, every power pellet in the world, all at once, when we’d seen in other episodes that one was enough for him to chomp ghosts. Two, if he needed to be really confident in his ghost-eating powers. And that is what bothered me: this unnecessary gluttony would make the power pellet shortage continue for at least a full growing season. And these Pac-Pellets are the fruits of Pac-Trees. This is going to screw up geenrations of trees to come. I was very cross with Pac-Man over this.

On the evening news they would always talk about what the New York Stock Exchange had done that day. And yet they never mentioned the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, which I supposed had to exist, or Los Angeles or San Francisco or anywhere else. Yes, I grew up in the New York metro area so of course the local stock market might be of interest but this injustice extended to the national news, and surely there must be some days that, like, the Saint Louis Stock Exchange had the most exciting stock-related exchanging going on.

[ I would like to emphasize that I am not reading my current weirdness back into the young me. These are as best as I am able reconstructions of thoughts I had in the mid-80s. ]

According to the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons manual if exactly the right things lined up you could just be a vapor, forever, and everyone would just have to let you play like that.

So in South River, New Jersey, there was this liquor store, and its sign was this representation of beloved drunk neighbor Thirsty from the beloved comic strip Hi and Lois. And I thought it was wild and belovable that in all the world we happened to be not too far off from the world’s only Hi and Lois-themed liquor store. And wondered at how much money must have changed hands for Thirsty’s Liquor to be set up in this really very average beloved Middlesex County town.

Also every power pellet in the Pac-World fit into one Space-Pac-Shuttle Cargo-Pac-Bay? Space shuttles aren’t that big.

Sure, we all have urged the rain rain to go away and come again some other day. But why was there no chant to urge the rain to come today, when nothing particularly needing dry conditions is going on, and thereby forestall rain coming some inconvenient later date? We need a certain amount of rain per year and there’s no good reason not to rush to get that done when the day’s already all wet.

While I do not think this very incomplete list justifies the whole of my middle school experience I am forced to admit that, yeah, everybody kind of had a point there.

60s Popeye goes to … Haweye? … Popeye Haweye. All right. We’ll try this.

I don’t know how many animation teams Jack Kinney had working for these many 60s Popeye cartoons. It’s clearly enough that I should be paying attention to directors, though. The cartoon for this week has Hugh Fraser listed as the animation director, and story by Raymond Jacobs. Both the animation and the story feel quite different to other Jack Kinney cartoons. This is how we work out secrets of how the cartoons were made, sixty years later. From 1960, it’s Popeye in Haweye.

This starts with a nice stylish title card. A lot of these do. The style carries into the short, though, with this enormous plane and double-deck windows. And then, uh, uh, some Hawai’ian women tossing leis onto tourist Olive Oyl. So that’s how far into the cartoon I was before feeling really uncomfortable. This lasted a second and then we were on to the next beat, introducing Popeye and Brutus as rival tour guides. There’s also a mob of other tour guides, and there’s a rare bit of overlapping dialogue. Before Olive Oyl can even see what’s going on the tour guides are all beating each other up.

It’s abrupt, and the cartoon trusts the viewer to work out why the fight even started. I didn’t expect that. I expect cheap made-for-tv cartoons of the era to be ruthlessly expository. It’s cheap, for the air time filled, for the characters to explain the setup to each other. And it avoids the audience, young kids watching on lousy sets, from being confused. It’s packed.

Olive Oyl, laying back on a pillow on a small sailboat, holding an orchid up so that it looks like a mustache and mouth on an extended snout.
One thing you can say for this cartoon: it is not short of funny moments to screen grab. Olive Oyl on Brutus’s plane particularly has all sorts of peculiar head shapes to marvel at.

Popeye and Brutus are the surviving tour guides, and Olive Oyl agrees to go on both tours but pay for the better. (This cartoon would be totally different if there were a second tourist on the plane.) Brutus wins the coin toss, and it’s underplayed that he uses a two-headed coin. Olive Oyl’s first tour is a breakneck run through all the parts of Hawai’i that don’t have people in them. Then a race onto the plane to dive, among other things, through a volcano. Then to a tandem bike ride past orchids. And before you know it the tour’s over, with Brutus arguing that the tour is great because there is so much of it. I concede the logic.

Popeye’s tour is slow and gentle. It’s impossible to argue that he isn’t the better guide, if nothing else for matching the tour to what his customer wants. It makes me wonder what Brutus’s tours are like when he isn’t infatuated with the customer. There’s a fight, motivated apparently because the cartoon has to end with a fight. But Popeye’s spinach comes form eating Olive Oyl’s lei, an act so weird that she comments on it. Somehow the arbitrariness of that cuts the arbitrariness of this fight at this moment in a way that makes both better. One punch and Brutus goes buoncing off into a luau, for a moment of serious cringe. And Popeye and Olive Oyl have a moonlight date.

The story’s simple. But it moves economically. Maybe even too fast, but that serves the plot well. I’m surprised by how well the whole thing fits together. The animation is also … well, I don’t blame you if you think it’s sloppy. To me, it looks loose and active, like the characters are bouncing. It’s a good energy.

60s Popeye: Searching for the Foola-Foola Bird (it’s easy to find)

New Year, new old Popeye cartoons to watch. It’s another Larry Harmon-produced cartoon here, this one written by Charles Shows. I don’t have him on record yet, but these records are still quite young things. Going in, I don’t expect great animation — again, see the Hal Sutherland/Lou Scheimer credits — but I’d expect a couple of interesting figures at least. And a solid story makes up for a lot of animation flaws. So here from 1960, it’s Foola-Foola Bird.

We open on a picnic that certainly doesn’t look at all like it’s setting up stock footage that could frame any story. I like the way they’ve drawn grass, though. Popeye and all are tuned to KPLOT-AM radio, where Jackson Beck is doing his Jim Backus impersonation. It’s an adequate way to set up the premise, if you don’t just want to have Popeye and Olive Oyl sailing to Foola-Foola Island and explaining the plot to each other.

The National Birdwatchers Society is offering a million dollars for a Foola-Foola Bird. Nobody says what they want it for, but, given the era … I mean, this was made before Rachel Carson proposed that covering the earth eight feet deep in neurotoxins to save the cost of road crews cutting brush back from highway signage was bad, actually. I have concerns about the well-being of any animals in captivity. But that’s outside the scope of the cartoon. Popeye knows where to find a Foola-Foola Bird: they’ll be on Foola-Foola Island. You’d think more people would try looking there. But I like that Popeye knows where to go. It suggests he’s picked up sailor’s lore, and I like when he gets to be a sailor.

There’s a neat little dissolve, between Brutus and a sneaking Popeye, at about 1:40. And then we get “the last” of the Foola-Foola Birds, although I don’t know how Popeye’s so sure this is the last of them. The bird’s pretty good at taking care of himself, at least.

Popeye does this cheery little song about how “I will fool-a the Foola-Foola bird”. I don’t know why I liked this so. It seems playful, like the way Jack Mercer’s improvised mutterings in the 30s did. I’m curious whether the line was written or whether Jack Mercer just spruced up a dull moment in the recording studio. Or replaced a boring line announcing what Popeye was doing with this.

The Foola-Foola Bird passes out when Popeye “scientifically” sprinkles salt on its tail. Why? I know the legend is that you catch a bird by sprinkling salt on its tail. But, like, I’ve seen every Woody Woodpecker cartoon and he was never taken by that, except when he was going along with a gag. Is the Foola-Foola Bird going along with Popeye’s nonsense to see if this leads anywhere interesting?

So after Popeye walks through the slowest snare trap in the world and gets caught, Brutus takes the Foola-Foola Bird, then drops it to tie up Olive Oyl. The Foola-Foola Bird gives Popeye his spinach, because … why? I’d like to think the Foola-Foola Bird has figured out the moral landscape here, but I don’t see that the bird has reason to. Popeye said he was going to give the Foola-Foola Bird a nice new home, but the bird already has a home.

There’s a perfunctory fight between Popeye and Brutus. If it counts as a fight when only one person throws a punch. And then we get Popeye and Olive Oyl sailing home, deciding to leave the Foola-Foola Bird alone: why? It’s a plausible change of opinion, yes, but why did either of them make it? One line of Olive Oyl regretting the trouble they’re causing the bird would carry a lot of work here. And give Olive Oyl a use in the cartoon. We have the cute ending that the bird’s followed along, and even dragged Brutus with him. Nice enough, although I don’t know why Popeye talks about the Foola-Foola Bird being there as if it were a problem.

So a question for me: why did the cartoon make up the Foola-Foola Bird? The Popeye lore already has the legendary and rare Whiffle Hen. Your tiring friend who wants to Well Actually things will tell you how the Whiffle Hen’s lucky feathers were the original source of Popeye’s indestructibility. There are King Features cartoons that feature the Whiffle Hen, a creature from the original comic strip. So I’m curious whether Charles Shows didn’t know about the Whiffle Hen, or didn’t think he could use it, or whether there was some draft where the Whiffle Hen would have been definitely wrong and something new had to be brought in.

The story makes sense, whether you’re a Whiffle Hen partisan or not. And Brutus talking so much about “getting the bird” or “giving me the bird” sure sounds like somebody was supposed to say something to camera. The animation is all rote stuff, though. There’s some good backgrounds, such as the first look at Foola-Foola Island, but nothing that moves looks all that interesting. It’s altogether a cartoon that’s all right.

60s Popeye: Swee’Pea Thru The Looking Glass

My plan to pay attention to the credits is paying off! In this Jack Kinney production I see the story is by Ed Nofziger. Earlier this month Hamburger Fishing had him adapt a fairy tale to the Popeye setting. The title here implies a fairy-tale-based cartoon. So here’s Sweapea Thru The Looking Glass. As you see, I disagree with the title card about how to spell Swee’Pea’s name.

The establishing shot, of Popeye’s Boring Suburban House, lowered my hopes. I was expecting another Popeye-reads-to-Swee’Pea frame for the story, and was glad to see that. The cartoon decides to have Popeye go golfing, which I wasn’t glad to see. Golfing is what comic strip artists do when they start getting boring. Olive Oyl is off to a card party, which surprised me as she’s usually sent “shopping” when they need her out of the cartoon. But these are thoughtful choices: it foreshadows what Swee’pea encounters through the looking-glass. Switching from croquet to golf is probably a good way to Mid-century-Americanize the story without losing the whole hitting-balls-with-birds motif. So, as with Hamburger Fishing, good on Ed Nofzinger for thinking out the adaptation some.

Eugene the Jeep makes a good excuse to get Swee’Pea through the looking glass, but he’s not explicitly used. Swee’Pea makes a wish, and the cuckoo clock that’s been sitting in the background all cartoon tells him to try. The cuckoo’s answer to Swee’Pea’s skepticism, “cuckoo, cuckoo, you will if you do” has a satisfying gentle comic logic to me. It has that nice Yogi Berra charm.

Inside the looking-glass the world’s upside-down, which doesn’t fit with how mirrors normally work but which at least clearly shows it’s a strange land. Eugene gets a voice once he’s through the looking-glass. It’s this high-pitched squeaky thing like every voice this cartoon, which isn’t my favorite thing. But it does at least seem consistent with his normal jeep squeak. Right through there’s a huge-eared rabbit, a kangaroo, and an elephant late for their golfing. I’d thought the rabbit and kangaroo were meant to evoke Popeye and Olive Oyl, but that seems wrong. There’s nothing Popeye in the rabbit. All the kangaroo brings to things is a red shirt and a hat that I falsely thought Olive Oyl had been wearing this cartoon. I swear she wears it other cartoons, though.

Eugene declares he’s late, as it’s “two hairs to a mole”, which is a line I’m sure I didn’t understand when I was a kid. It’s got to be the punch line to a joke about checking the time when you’ve forgotten your watch. But there’s no setup. This gives it a nice dream logic; the line makes no sense, except that you can work out a context where it would make sense, and when you have, things have moved on. And it’s bold to condense a joke just to its punch line, especially in a cartoon for kids.

Swee'Pea and Eugene the Jeep, upside-down, on a matching upside-down landscape. Right-side-up (to the viewer) is a huge-eared blue rabbit with a golf bag over his back.
Whenever a cartoon does this upside-down business outside an enclosed space I worry about how the characters can have a consistent “floor” line. Also, is that rabbit resting his golf bag on his tail? That hardly seems possible. Also his paws look like he has too-long sleeves.

There is a strong dream feeling to this short. The surreal setting, certainly. The way Eugene and other nonhuman characters repeatedly chirp short sentences, often repeating the final word until it fades out. Slightly unsettling things like the golf course flags chanting “this way out that way out no way out”. You’re taking an Alice in Wonderland/Through The Looking-Glass project seriously if it’s feeling this close to a nightmare.

The Sea Hag’s the obvious casting choice for the Queen of Hearts. Brutus gets cast as her husband, which is all right, although it leaves them short for who to cast as Jack, the guard that goes after Swee’Pea. Maybe Wimpy could have been cast as the King. Bernard the Vulture gets cast in the flamingo role. You can fault the King Features cartoons for many things, but they did bring a lot of the comic strip cast to animation.

In the end, Swee’Pea and Eugene get back to reality as Popeye and Olive Oyl return. Popeye scolds Swee’pea for telling fibs. This doesn’t seem like a wise choice on Popeye’s part, especially once Olive Oyl finds you can just step through mirrors, it’s easy. It is the odd cartoon where Popeye gets a cameo role, and spinach even goes unmentioned.

I like this cartoon. It gets nice and weird and commits to it. I could wish that the animation were better, but the storyline has a solidly bizarre flow to it, in all the good ways. Shall have to watch for this Ed Nofziger fellow in future works.

60s Popeye has his Skyscraper Capers

I’m looking today at the Jack Kinney-produced 1960 short Skyscraper Capers. The credits scrambled my anticipation. Not affecting my expectations at all: the story was by Nick George. I don’t know the name yet, but I’ve only just started tracking these things. Lowering my expectations: that the animation director was Rudy Larriva. You may remember his name from the roughly 112,316 Wile E Coyote cartoons that Warner Brothers subcontracted out in the late 60s, made with a budget of $46 and nearly six bars of background music. He did a couple of those regretted Daffy Duck/Speedy Gonzales cartoons too, on similar terms. I’m not saying he didn’t do well given the constraints, but do you like the cartoons? And these King Features Popeye cartoons were made on the same constraints.

Raising my expectations, though: the title promises a skyscraper cartoon. I don’t know which animators first realized that skyscraper construction is a great background for a cartoon. The setting promises imminent danger, giving the cartoon that tension good for slapstick comedy. A big construction project implies great planning and sequencing, and thus something massive that the characters can rebel against, or at least mess up. (Note that multiple studios noticed skyscaper construction set to orchestral music produces great cartooning.) And you can even give the animators a chance to prove they can draw, with just one shot of the girder structure in perspective. So which expectation panned out?

This kind of cartoon chooses to explain why Popeye’s building a skyscraper. Probably the audience would have accepted it if he were just there; it’s not so baffling that BrutusBoss is just there, or that Wimpy is just there. Having Popeye read out the help wanted sign certainly fills time without needing so much animation, though. It’s interesting Popeye likes the idea until he actually sees a height, and shies back entirely once he’s asked to sign a contract. That he does it for fear of being called yellow is not a great look for him, but I can’t say it’s false. I’m interested that Brutus gives a contract that’s a real actual document. I can read enough of it to see that it’s some kind of purchase agreement rather than an employment contract, but that could not possibly matter. Also it means some animator had the job of designing Popeye’s signature.

Supervisor Wimpy guiding Popeye to his job with the tones of an elevator operator is a good bit. Also a good bit is his lightly Greek Chorus role of commenting on Popeye’s latest mishap. The attitude’s good enough to almost distract me from trying to work out what exactly he said, after dropping the bricks. I keep hearing, “that [ there? ] was a faux pas, sir”, which is good at least so far as I did hear it.

BrutusBoss does demand to know whether Popeye’s trying to get him killed. It’s a good question. The setting demands people get hit with bricks or get steel girders in the gut and stuff. The casting demands that Popeye instigate these things, though. BrutusBoss is in charge, and Wimpy laboring isn’t Wimpy. So this demands either Popeye be incompetent or be following incompetent direction. The cartoon goes for making Popeye incompetent. Although we could blame management here; after all, someone chose to send Popeye out on bare girders with a wheelbarrow full of bricks and no clear direction. And Popeye can’t be blamed for the rope pulling BrutusBoss up spontaneously fraying and snapping.

Brutus sitting at the window ledge, chin on his hand, mouth wide open and eyes nearly closed; it's meant to be a taunting move but can be mis-read as a come-hither look.
Hard to know whether to be more distracted by BrutusBoss’s come-hither look or how his fist seems to get in-between his beard and his chin.

There’s a lot of understatement lines I like here. Wimpy tut-tutting that “you shouldn’t have done that” after Popeye drops BrutusBoss from the hook. BrutusBoss declaring “I want out!” after being driven in to the ground by sacks of concrete. Wimpy’s whole “faux pas” line whatever it exactly is. The whistle bellowing “LUUUUUNCH!” and later, “WOOOOOORK!” is also a nice bit and I don’t know whether it’s original to this cartoon. My hunch is it was done in earlier workplace cartoons.

Popeye needing his whole lunch break to unsuccessfully open a can of spinach I’m still thinking about. It’s absurd, sure. Is it funny enough to justify ignoring the, like, 194 earlier cartoons where Popeye just squeezed his can open? I guess, but I think I’d have liked a comment from Popeye about how he doesn’t understand why this is so hard today.

So there’s much I like here. Or find fun, at least. Not the animation, though. That’s all fairly boring stuff except for when it gets baffling. There’s a couple of decent sequences of action, all of which require props or characters to teleport into place. BrutusBoss pulls the sides off Popeye’s ladder, leaving him to climb the rungs hanging in midair; solid enough joke. Popeye keeps running up and BrutusBoss is on top of the building’s mast somehow? And Wimpy looks down to follow this action because … ? Well, because they don’t have the budget to animate Wimpy looking up, but still.

We end with everybody quitting because, eh, the short’s over and that’s enough.

60s Popeye: Hamburger Fishing

This week’s 60s Popeye cartoon is Hamburger Fishing. It’s another Jack Kinney production. This let me see who’s credited for the story (Ed Nofziger). This fact might let me someday work out some idea whether scripts were handed down by King Features or whether the individual animation studios got to make up their own stories.

The framing device is Popeye reading a story to Swee’Pea. It’s one they used a lot in these King Features cartoons. It’s a useful frame. It excuses putting the characters in literally any setting whatsoever. Also depending how they use it they can fill a cartoon with a good minute of stock animation. I like the kid logic of Swee’Pea wishing he had a wish, so he could get a wish.

Right into Popeye’s story I wondered why cast Wimpy as a fisher. Swee’Pea anticipated my joke in saying he wasn’t a very good fisher. And Popeye answers that he fishes for hamburgers, or as we’d know them, cows. It’s a silly idea and soundly in-character. So, good work adapting the Fisherman And His Wife premise to the Popeye characters. Especially in setting the Sea Hag out to steal Wimpy’s three wishes. And also answering why the Sea Hag didn’t just get the wishes from the enchanted Olive Oyl herself. This premise could have been used for a lazier cartoon and it’s good on Ed Nofziger that he put cleverness into things.

There’s also many nice little touches here. I like Swee’Pea’s disgusted look at Popeye for the “fisherman was stumped” line. Popeye’s laughter had this weird abrupt edit, though. I also like the Sea Hag’s eyes bouncing wildly around as she dreams of being rich. Or Wimpy’s silly dance at about 19:36 as he dreams of hamburger happiness. And casting the Sea Hag in the Fisherman’s Wife role tracks well with the comic strip. In that, the Sea Hag and Wimpy have a curious relationship that keeps looking like it could be romantic, except that both are scheming to use the other, and know the other is doing the same. Granted that casting is forced on the cartoon, since there’s only two important female characters who can speak in Thimble Theatre. But it fits well. And maybe says something of why the Popeye character set was so long-lasting, if it can cast stories well.

Wimpy, smiling, holding a fishing pole with an end tied into a loop. Caught on the loop is an Olive Oyl who's a biped cow, clutching her hooves together and looking distressed.
Who are you and where did you get the nerve to animate my DeviantArt account?

The Sea Hag claims Wimpy owes her for “4011 hamburgers” and that this is Tuesday. Wimpy uses up one of his wishes for a hamburger, that gets stolen by a mouse. Swee’Pea wishes he had that mouse and I agree; that’s a cute one. Introducing the mouse also opens up for the cute business where Wimpy wishes for his hamburger back, only to sit on it, and for the mouse to come out and bite him to recover it again. That’s not at all needed for the story, and it doesn’t get commented on. It just makes the cartoon more fun to watch.

At about 20:28, as the Sea Hag tackles Wimpy, they both seem to bounce off something invisible. I wonder if there was supposed to be a stalagmite or something left out by mistake. I also don’t know what happens to Wimpy’s “whole room full of hamburgers”. It’s got to be something the Sea Hag did, although that’s never resolved. But also unresolved is that the Sea Hag is out there waiting for Wimpy to come back with more wishes. He goes off to catch Olive Oyl again. And she hasn’t got any more wishes, which is a mild twist but one that I don’t remember from other versions of this story.

And then at about 21:48 Popeye finally charges into the fairy-tale. I was wondering if they might leave Popeye only in the frame. I’m not sure any of these cartoons ever did that. Within the fairy tale Popeye doesn’t have much to do, and he does it. He demands kindness for dumb amninals, and then Olive Oyl kisses him to break her enchantment. (Did she know that would happen? But if she did, why didn’t she kiss Wimpy before? Other than the obvious, that he was hoping to kill and eat her, I mean.) And she declares she’s his because he … exists? Really, the weak part of the cartoon is the choice to put Popeye into the action.

All small problems. This is one of those cartoons I’m happy to see.

60s Popeye Watching: Irate Pirate

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

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

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

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

Some Things Which Are Not Alarming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popeye goes Ski Jumping this time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popeye the Sailor: Washing Cars, Naturally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popeye Versus Another The Dragon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popeye in Caves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popeye and, what the heck, a Giant Bluto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popeye has a weird game of Ping-Pong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popeye versus The Phantom. Not *that* The Phantom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popeye facing off against a very 1960 Robot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blinkin Beacon: Popeye keeps the lights on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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