Of Course if He Were a Deer We Could Still Call the Show _Bob Newhart_


Sorry, I’m just extremely thrilled that the Institute for Pop Culture Research has awarded me a grant to study how it is Filmation never made a funny-animal version of The Bob Newhart Show. Over a decade of theory tells us they should have made one, most likely around 1979-81, probably with the central character as a flustered domestic cat named Bob Mewhart.

The Institute were very impressed with my hypothesis that Filmation might have had a hard time thinking of a funny animal name for Bob Newhart’s secretary, because in the days before search engines and the Internet Movie Database it was hard to think of what exactly her name was. “Marsha” keeps getting in the way of remembering, and that’s not the name of the character, that’s the name of actor Marcia Wallace remembered wrong. If anyone had at the right moment whispered “Carol Kestrel” to Norm Prescott all pop culture history could have been about the same, really.

My Baffled Thought for the Year About _A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving_


Finally got to the annual viewing of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and I hope you’ve been wondering what trivial thing I’m fixated on this time. It’s a moment from early on in the special, when Linus asks what all the commotion is and Charlie Brown explains they have another holiday they have to deal with. No, it’s not Sally complaining she hasn’t even finished eating all her Halloween candy despite how we saw how she didn’t get any Halloween candy because she was waiting for the Great Pumpkin. It’s that Linus asks what Charlie Brown’s plans are for Thanksgiving, and he says, they’re going over to their grandmother’s for dinner. And then Charlie Brown just walks off, rather than risk Linus asking any follow-up questions or saying what his family’s doing or saying goodbye or anything. Just, he’s delivered his line, he’s done, until he needs Linus’s help managing Peppermint Patty. It’s a delightful, odd little moment. I hope you notice it next time you see the thing.

In Which I Am Detained by a Childhood Memory


Sorry to run late but you know how it is. You step into the shower and remember that time Underdog had to fight some aliens who were part magician, part flying saucer, and who were kidnapping Sweet Polly Purebred because they couldn’t find anyone else in the galaxy who knew how to make cake, and they cast a spell on him and he spent two installments struggling and shaking off the spell only to recite, “I’m back to myself, but I’m not right at all; I feel myself changing back to a ball!” before turning into a sphere with his face on it and accidentally getting put into a women’s volleyball game or something like that. Throws your whole day off and you can’t even explain it to anyone outside your age cohort because there’s not a single element of those sentences that doesn’t sound like I’m the daft one, but there they are.

Statistics Saturday: Top Names for Cartoon Weasels


  • Wally Weasel
  • Willy Weasel
  • Walter Weasel
  • Wiley Weasel
  • Waldo Weasel
  • Wesley Weasel
  • Winston Weasel
  • Wendell Weasel
  • Girl Weasel
  • Winslow Weasel
  • Wyatt Weasel
  • Warrick Weasel

Reference: 1898: The Birth Of The American Century, David Traxel.

60s Popeye: The Last Resort, and the last Gerald Ray. Coincidence?


Yes. It’s coincidence. But with this I visit the last of the Gerald Ray-produced Popeye cartoons. I’ve reviewed this before, separate from the 60s Popeye project. But I’ll try to say different things here. I might also remember to update the dead embedded link in that older video, although with all the videos that King Features pulled for some reason from their 60s Popeye feed who knows when I’ll have the time or energy? I do. I will never have the time or the energy.

This cartoon, from 1960, lacks a story credit, a shame. Direction is credited to Tom McDonald. And the producer, as noted, was Gerald Ray. Here is The Last Resort.

As Fred M Grandinetti’s Popeye: An Illustrated Cultural History notes, Gerald Ray worked with Jay Ward. Ray picked up one of Jay Ward’s great insights into limited animation: it’s okay if there aren’t a lot of pictures if the pictures are funny. (As I noted back in 2014, it’s funny not just to have Sea Hag counterfeit three-dollar bills, but for the face on the three-dollar bill to be Benedict Arnold, and on top of that for his head to be in a noose.) So this cartoon manages to be funny even though, for most of it, Popeye doesn’t even know the Sea Hag is in it.

Sea Hag and Toar are counterfeiting money at the Crepe Cod Inn — the first of many small bits of silliness tucked in the corners — when Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy wander upon them for no good reason. Sea Hag and Toar try to kill Our Heroes, failing so completely tha Our Heroes don’t even know it’s happening. The Sea Hag finally loses patience, ties up Popeye and Olive Oyl and sets a bomb on their head, only for Wimpy to have a spinach burger ready for Popeye’s power-up. Popeye throws the bomb out to sea, blowing up Sea Hag and Toar.

The plot isn’t quite ramshackle. Popeye et al avoid the Sea Hag’s attempts to kill them without knowing that’s even happening, but that’s a respectable way to foil comic villains. How often does the Road Runner know the Coyote was trying a stunt? There’s no good reason for Popeye to stop at Sea Hag’s abandoned resort, but the cartoon has to have something happen, after all. It doesn’t look like Popeye knows he’s throwing the bomb out where Sea Hag and Toar are paddling away. But that adds a nice bit of the absurdity of life to her story.

Our Heroes just avoid a safe dropped on their heads, a joke also used in Where There’s A Will. (That time, with a safe dropped on Popeye’s head.) Nothing wrong with reusing a solid lucky-escape like that.

Popeye and Olive Oyl tied up by chains, as the Sea Hag places a bomb on Popeye's head. In the background Toar dumps piles of counterfeit money into a suitcase.
This is kind of a busman’s holiday for Popeye, really.

And this short features Toar! One of my favorite minor characters. He appeared a fair bit in the comic strip, where he started as a rival. Toar was a caveman who’d drunk from the magic pool of never-aging, but soon turned into one of Popeye’s faithful companions. This might be his only significant animated role, probably because there’s more room for his niche — stalwart muscle-bound not-quite-understanding-it guy — in the sprawling daily comic stories than in the six-minute shorts.

(We end with the gang heading to Yucca Flats. I, too, thought of the infamous failed movie The Beast of Yucca Flats. That’s a coincidence, all driven by the Yucca Flats atomic testing site’s existence; the movie wouldn’t come out until 1961.)

I really like this short. It’s got everything I could hope for. Story that holds together, a lot of jokes in the story, in the dialogue, and in the drawings. (I love Popeye’s melodramatic declaration “the weakest link in these chains … is me”.) Sea Hag, always a favorite. Toar, a special treat. Wimpy going off on his own and yet not being completely irrelevant to things. If all the King Features cartoons were like this, the series would have a respectable reputation.

60s Popeye: Where There’s A Will, there’s Gerald Ray


My little encore takes us back to Gerald Ray studios. I’m sorry this recently-discovered ‘Episode 42’ of King Features’s Classic Popeyes didn’t also include a Gene Deitch and a Larry Harmon short, so it could be a farewell tour of all the studios.

As it’s a Gerald Ray-produced cartoon I don’t have a story credit to gie you. Direction is credited to Bob Bemiller, who’s directed four other credited cartoons here. These include the introduction of Deezil Oyl and that remake of a Woody Woodpecker cartoon. So from 1960 here’s Where There’s A Will.

Barnacle Bilge is dead! Yes, we’re all heartbroken. But lawyer Clarence Barrow summons Popeye by phone to the reading of the will, at noon today, or he’ll be shut out of the will. Popeye volunteers to tell Brutus, also mentioned, so that they can collect whatever Bilge’s estate offers.

You, having seen cartoons before, know where this is going. Brutus launches a campaign of schemes to stop Popeye from getting there. They don’t just fail, sometimes they fail so badly Popeye doesn’t even know he’s being stopped. Despite Brutus’s best efforts, Popeye gets there anyway, and it turns out Barnacle Bilge’s fortune is worthless. Except, ah, once Brutus is kicked out of the cartoon it turns out there is a fortune after all, and now it’s all Popeye’s. (Popeye donates it to the orphans, as is his custom.)

The story outline seems like one you could do with any set of characters. Thinking it over, I don’t remember any that are quite like this, at least not in theatrical cartoons. There’s a Droopy cartoon circling similar territory (Wags to Riches, remade as Millionaire Droopy) but not quite this. I can think of a Bullwinkle story that also circles this territory (Rue Brittania) but isn’t there.

At a formal table that looks like a dinner table. Clarence Barrow the lawyer drones on, reading the will. Brutus reaches across the table, holding Popeye by the neck, readying to slug him. Brutus is holding a small can of spinach, although not for long.
Gentlemen, please! Brawling? In the great Clarence Barrow’s dining room?

There’s little about this setup that needs it to be Popeye or Brutus to work. The discovery that Bilge’s fortune is a can of spinach, and Popeye using that to beat Brutus up, is about it. Still, there’s a lot I enjoy in this short. The more I thought about what essay to write the more I liked the cartoon. The jokes may not be very deep, but they are nice and broad and goofy in a charming way. Maybe I’m an easy touch for “walk this way” gags. They seem well-aimed for the intended audience, though. And they’re well-paced. If you don’t like a joke that’s fine, they’re not lingering and there’ll be another one soon. This reflects an important insight of Jay Ward studios, that Gerald Ray — who worked on Bullwinkle — seems to have picked up. You can make a slender animation budget look like more with good editing and good voice acting.

Adult me better appreciates small jokes that I’m sure I never noticed as a child. Like the lawyer reading the will, oblivious to Popeye and Brutus knocking each other out around him. Or Brutus tossing Bilge’s can of spinach out to Popeye and us hearing the Popeye-the-sailor-man fanfare and saying he should not have done that. It’s common in Gerald Ray shorts that jokes are presented well. It helps me think fondly of the shorts after I’ve watched them, and as I think out what I want to write about them.

60s Popeye: Popeye and the Herring Snatcher (it’s Brutus, you think Sea Hag is going to steal fish?)


The next part of my King Features Popeye reunion tour takes me back to Jack Kinney’s studios, and to 1960. The story is credited to Joe Grant and Walter Schmidt, and animation direction to old friend Eddie Rehberg. And now settle back, get comfortable, and watch the tale of Popeye and the Herring Snatcher.

Factories are great settings for cartoons. The lusher the animation the better the setting. The Platonic ideal of the modern industrial factory is a great mass of well-timed movement, a symphony of its own. Many cartoons have observed this and used it for the same great effect. Wacky shenanigans play great against the hard discipline of a complex piece of music or motion. So Grant and Schmidt start things off perfectly by dropping Popeye into a factory.

Grant and Schmidt also have a great idea in the setting. Popeye as the watchman and Brutus as a burglar feels like a classic dynamic for the characters. It’s not done much — maybe at all? — outside this, though. Credit to them for having a fresh reason for these people to be interacting like this. Also for having a setup where they can get right into the silly fights. It also gives a built-in reason for Olive Oyl to drop in at the lucky moment when Popeye needs a spinach sandwich. And we even get to hear Jackson Beck doing the narrator voice he used for five million old-time-radio shows, introducing the Finnan Haddie’s Herring Cannery and the herring-snatcher premise. (‘Finnan Haddie’ sounded so needlessly specific I had to look it up. It’s a cold-smoked haddock, originally from eastern Scotland. It got a couple mentions in cartoons and movies in the 30s and 40s, sometimes as entendre.)

Setups are half the game. The other half is execution. And here, well, it’s a Jack Kinney cartoon. The story logic holds together well enough, Brutus knocking out Popeye, stealing herring, going back to shoot at Popeye some more. And then we get weirdness. Mostly in Brutus talking to the audience — this is the most fun he’s had since he played football for dear old Rugby. (I was all ready for Brutus to become the second cartoon character known to have attended Rutgers.) Brutus taking the chance of shooting Popeye’s pipe as an excuse to give himself a cigar? That’s a bit wacky; it wouldn’t be out of place for 1940s Daffy Duck. Popeye building a castle of herring boxes and Brutus shooting them down, awarding himself even more cigars? This is weird, feeling more like a dream than an escalation of wackiness. There’s also the strangeness that we see Olive Oyl coming in relatively early — I believe we see her in shadow at 7:27, and see her knocking on the door at 7:44 — but she doesn’t come into the story for another full minute yet. Add to that how the music is the usual Kinney-studios needle-drop and you get this detached, floating mood to the whole thing.

Popeye and Brutus, on conveyor belts going opposite directions. Brutus has just slugged Popeye, and we've caught them mid-reaction, with Popeye's head and upper body stretched way out of shape as he's about to fly backwards on the conveyor belt.
Ah, another successful day of injuries at the Cartoon Factory!

It worked, more or less, for me this time. I think remembering that this is set after midnight, a time that’s supposed to be strange and dreamy, improved it for me this time. But I also remember watching this when they released a third of the King Features Popeye shorts on DVD and thinking this was gibberish. Or at least that it had such weird, loopy logic that its main virtue was unpredictability. You don’t set something in a herring factory unless the characters are going to get stuffed in a can. Past that, what would you predict might happen? I mention this as a reminder that all these reviews tell you something about the mood in which I watched them. There’s not a unique right answer about any of them, besides that Popeye’s Testimonial Dinner is a bonkers sloppy mess and exciting for it.

I don’t have a good place to mention this so have it here. I like that Popeye’s muscles become a set of bongo drums that he knocks on, to the beat of that bongo-drum-stock-sound. It’s an unnecessary weird joke and I like it.

60s Popeye: Autographically Yours, my King Features Popeye Encore!


You are not imagining things! At least not this thing. Finding all my reviews of King Features Popeye cartoons of the 60s let me discover the ones I had not reviewed. And, better, I discovered that some of the ones I had not reviewed have been posted to King Features’s YouTube channel of “Classic Popeye”.

This short, and three others, were in what they bundled s “Episode 42”. This episode was, for some reason, marked private for a long while, until I forgot about going back and checking. At some point it became public again so I can bring you these four shorts. The first one up is Autographically Yours.

It’s from 1961 and is another Paramount Cartoon Studios short. So Seymour Kneitel gets credit as both producer and director. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. And now, let’s watch.

This is another cartoon where Popeye and Brutus/Bluto compete by showing off spectacular skills. Paramount’s team had done this a hundred thousand times in the three decades leading up to this. The stunts even hearken back to the earliest Fleischer Studio shorts. Shooting the eagle out of a gold dollar, and having it fly off, is the sort of thing that wouldn’t stand out in 1934. Popeye shooting a match to light it, and using the falling match to light his pipe, would also fit. It’s also a startling moment of Popeye using his pipe as a pipe. He mostly used it to toot or to inhale spinach. Actually suggesting smoking feels transgressive, especially in a cartoon made-for-tv. Eventually Brutus decides to try doing something stupid, risking everyone’s life. In this case it’s accidentally letting out a hungry lion. Popeye wakes, eats his spinach, and saves the day. All right.

What makes this stand out, and intrigue me so, is the setup for this. Seeking the autograph of movie-star Popeye is a vaguely UPA-styled kid. As far as I know he doesn’t appear in anything else. It would’ve been very easy to cast Olive Oyl as the autograph-seeker and I’d love to know why she wasn’t. I’m sure the 1951 version of this cartoon would have.

But then Brutus/Bluto’s motivation would have been easy. He’d be hitting on Olive Oyl. Here he’s driven by a jealousy that feels more mature. He wants the acclaim that Popeye gets, noting that in all those pictures that “Marathon Cartoon Studios” makes, Popeye’s written to win. That doesn’t mean he isn’t as amazing as Popeye. It forces us to think of Popeye and Brutus as actors playing the parts of themselves. It’s a motivation you could imagine driving the “real” behind-the-scenes Brutus.

Popeye, dressed as a Western sheriff, stands proud while a little kid with a severely stylized head holds his autograph book out. In the background Brutus, dressed as a Western gunslinger, stands sheepishly holding his hands behind his back.
You can really see this kid bonding with Popeye over their experience having chins that reach way the heck far out.

I doubt that Meyer and Mercer were thinking to write a story about struggling against the roles we play. They happened to hit one, though, and it usually works for me. (I credit watching The Muppet Show while young. The show was about half about performances and half the nonsense that goes into those performances.) Brutus wanting to be celebrated circles that. There is some kind of irony when he asks himself what the writers would have him do, forgetting his complaint the writers make Popeye look good. It’s at least a starting point for someone trying to rebel against his lot in life without yet having the tools for it.

Another neat bit which makes this short stand out: Brutus and Popeye start out as friendly, as they do many shorts. But they end as friends too, Brutus even being a fan of Popeye’s. That’s much more rare, especially if we discount shorts such as Fightin’ Pals where their fighting is key to their friendship. I don’t think I’m overly crediting the novelty in appreciating seeing Brutus from an unusual angle that doesn’t feel out of character.

I’m also interested in the choice to have Popeye and Brutus being on set for a Western. I suppose that reflects the then-popularity of Westerns. And that making their ‘show’ a Western justifies their being able to do any stunts, including gun tricks, automatically. I wonder if it’s an unconscious acknowledgement that it’s kind of weird Popeye the sailor has like sixty cartoons where he’s a sheriff or a cowhand or at least living in the desert or prairie. Probably that’s more subtle than the writers were thinking, but it is a coincidence that adds depth to the story.

I’m glad I can start this review encore on an up beat like this.

What I Thought About All The Jack Kinney Popeye Cartoons


And now, finally, I come to the last of my recap essays. The thoughts I have about Jack Kinney’s Popeye cartoons. This ended up a bigger task than I imagined: the Kinney studios produced over a hundred of the 200-plus shorts of that era. Just reading all my old essays and getting their URLs for this essay took twice as long as I imagined. As always happens, my feelings got more complicated the more I thought about them.

Popeye sprawled on the floor, looking behind him at an empty table. Brutus is photobombing, holding up one finger on an arm he sways back and forth while singing.
Popeye is haunted by the voices of people he cannot perceive, while Brutus? Brutus just has fun.

It’s not that the Kinney cartoons are the hardest to love. For my money I’d say the Larry Harmon shorts, which are all fine if indistinct in that way Filmation cartoons would be, are the hardest to love. Jack Kinney’s studio produced stuff that would have reactions, though. Most of the time. Fred Grandinetti, author of Popeye The Sailor: The 1960’s TV Cartoons, notes how the studio had to produce a cartoon a week. It’s a schedule more grueling than you imagine. The only theatrical studio that ever came close to that was Terrytoons and — I say, loving both Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle — nobody thinks of Terrytoons as a source of good cartoons or even necessarily animation. (Also, Grandinetti has an interview on the Cartoonerific Podcast that people might find interesting.)

Olive Oyl, holding her hands together, looks up at Popeye, who's been transformed into a giraffe and stands so tall that nearly his whole neck is out of frame. The giraffe wears an adapted version of Popeye's shirt.
“Popeye! You come down here this minute and explain why your shirt changed to fit you as a giraffe but your pants just disappeared!”

And as hard a schedule as that is, Kinney’s production team made it even more challenging for themselves. Paramount Cartoon Studios had a decent number of stock animation poses — walk cycles for Popeye, this bit of the Sea Hag waving her hand like a claw at the camera, and such — that could be slotted in as needed. While there are a couple times that Kinney studios reused animation, it’s only a handful. O G Wotasnozzle having fun with his time machine might be the most-used bit. They would save on the animation budget by having stuff happen off-screen, or have the characters watch the simple-to-animate thing that does move, but they mostly drew new stuff.

A grueling, unbearable production schedule can be liberating. It means that ideas which might otherwise be scrapped as unpromising get used because there’s a content hole that needs filling. It means that revisions and editorial oversight and other things that might stamp out the weirdness of creation fail. Think of the comic strip that the guy in your college’s daily newspaper ran, compared to any of the syndicated strips they were running. The syndicated strips would be more reliable, more professional, less bizarre. But the amateur strip has a weird unpredictable personality to it; anything might happen, and if it’s not necessarily going to be tasteful or coherent, all right. That’s the tradeoff. Jack Kinney’s studio didn’t get tasteless, by the standards of white people of 1960. The qualifier needed because of portrayals of Indians — American and Asian — and Chinese and Japanese people that I trust we’d not put into syndication today.

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

What we do get is a lot of weirdness, though. This often looks like shorts that didn’t get refined. Stories that needed another draft so the logic held up and the dialogue corresponded to things other characters were saying. Animation errors that become so common it was boring to mention. But I like this to an extent. It’s easy to say I’m just liking these shorts ironically. But I like them anyway, appreciating that they are weird, and unpredictable, and part of me looks for that especially in a series I know as well as Popeye. There is something liberating when the story has a dreamy, unnatural flow to it.

But I also know how offputting that is when you want to simply pull up a cartoon and enjoy it. A person dipping into one of these cartoons at random is likely to find something boring (as many of the entries are, I admit) or baffling. Maybe it takes watching a lot of these to see what is delightful in being baffled. I feel more engaged by these than by Paramount (always competent, sometimes dull) or Larry Harmon (never incompetent). Pull up a cartoon at random and I may not like it, but I will probably feel something about what I see. That’s a triumph for a production constrained like this was.

An infant purple dragon, holding his tail over one arm, holds his other arm out and looks away, eyes closed, to reassure Popeye's great-great-grandpappy.
Huh. Wonder what this character’s like, there’s so many ways this pose could be read.

Now, finally, in the order by which these are listed at the Popeye Wikia for some reason, are my reviews of the Jack Kinney-produced Popeye shorts of the 60s. Enjoy!

  • Battery Up – withdrawn video of a surprisingly clean baseball game.
  • Deserted Desert – Popeye searches for the Lost Dutchman Mine.
  • Skinned Divers – featuring the 500-pound man-killing-clam!
  • Popeye’s Service Station – basic jokes about a gas station.
  • Coffee House – cool, cool man, cool. Coooool. Cooooooooooool.
  • Popeye’s Pep-Up Emporium – Popeye runs an exercise gym until the live commercial messes things up.
  • Bird Watcher Popeye – Popeye tries watching birds; features that penguin take on Popeye and Brutus.
  • Time Marches Backwards – back to caveman times; features Caveman Wimpy trying to catch a cowasaurus.
  • Popeye’s Pet Store – Popeye matches people up with the pets they didn’t ask for until Brutus is maybe the dogcatcher about it?
  • Ballet de Spinach – Popeye will wear a tutu for Olive Oyl but he’s not going to not be a jerk about it.
  • Sea Hagracy – Sea Hag’s broke, after paying taxes, so she tries hiring Popeye on and then … what? I really wonder if this is a condensed story from the comic strips, which often started with a great premise that they forget to resolve.
  • Spinach Shortage – Brutus corners the world spinach market maybe not even trying to give Popeye a hard time.
  • Popeye and the Dragon – Popeye has to fight an awfully nice-looking dragon.
  • Popeye the Fireman – There’s a high-rise fire and Popeye’s the only one who can do something about it.
  • Popeye’s Pizza Palace – or as I headlined it then, “an exciting journey into pizza-themed madness”. From the days when just saying ‘pizza’ was a guaranteed laugh.
  • Down the Hatch – Not reviewed and I don’t see why. It looks like King Features didn’t post it for some reason?
  • Lighthouse Keeping – Popeye’s a lighthouse keeper and Brutus accidentally kidnaps Olive Oyl and there’s a shark or something?
  • Popeye and the Phantom – no, not that The Phantom, this one’s just a ghost who’s being a little annoying.
  • Popeye’s Picnic – withdrawn video, where this time Olive Oyl is obsessed with butterflies and Popeye’s all about eating and changing a tire.
  • Out of This World – O G Wotasnozzle sends Popeye to the future where not enough cool stuff happens, sorry to say.
  • Madam Salami – Brutus as a fortune-teller gets Olive Oyl to challenge Popeye to all sorts of deadly stunts.
  • Timber Toppers – another withdrawn video, this one about cutting down trees.
  • Skyscraper Capers – Popeye tries building a skyscraper under boss Brutus, who’s maybe trying to kill him? Hard to say.
  • Private Eye Popeye – Can Eugene the Jeep help Popeye foil the Sea Hag’s diamond-theft plans?
  • Little Olive Riding Hood – another withdrawn video. Popeye tells a fairy tale about the Olive Oyl being Little Red Riding Hood while the Sea Hag’s the Wolf.
  • Popeye’s Hypnotic Glance – will a hypnotized Alice the Goon love Popeye to death?
  • Popeye’s Trojan Horse – Popeye tells Swee’Pea the story of the Trojan Horse and everybody’s a bit silly about it.
  • Frozen Feuds – We meet Alice the Goon by way of Olive Oyl’s 28-minute-long song about Alice the Goon.
  • Popeye’s Corn-Certo – Popeye and Brutus compete to see who’s the better musician. Lot of nice little jokes here.
  • Westward Ho-Ho – Skipped for its depictions of Native Americans.
  • Popeye’s Cool Pool – Popeye builds a pool in a pleasantly gentle absurdist tale that spans a year.
  • Jeep Jeep – we meet Eugene the Jeep for the first time, this time because Eugene discovers him.
  • Popeye’s Museum Piece – can museum-guard Popeye foil Brutus’s robbery with only Eugene the Jeep to help him?
  • Golf Brawl – a big pile of golf-themed spot jokes that get weird.
  • Wimpy’s Lunch Wagon – Popeye looks after a restaurant and Brutus is a jerk about it.
  • Weather Watchers – Brutus is sabotaging Popeye’s weather-forecaster job so what can the sailor do but sabotage him back?
  • Popeye and the Magic Hat – yes, the one where Popeye gets turned into a giraffe and Olive Oyl into a seal and then a flamingo.
  • Popeye and the Giant – another withdrawn video. It’s not a Jack-and-the-Beanstalk story, though. It’s just one where Brutus turns Wimpy into a giant to sell him to the circus.
  • Hill Billy Dilly – What if the famous McCoy-Hatfield feud but everybody is Brutuses?
  • Pest of the Pecos – an Old West cartoon with Popeye as an inept marshall.
  • The Blubbering Whaler – another withdrawn video for some reason. Popeye tells Swee’Pea the story of how he signed on to a whaling ship and refused to hunt whales.
  • Popeye and the Spinach Stalk – now this is that Jack-and-the-Beanstalk story you were expecting a few lines ago.
  • Shoot the Chutes – Popeye and Brutus are in a parachuting contest for Olive Oyl’s affections. Also Olive Oyl is being annoying.
  • Tiger Burger – withdrawn video, which is maybe fine, as there’s a painfully long introduction to a cartoon India before it settles down to Popeye and Wimpy hunting a man-eating tiger.
  • Bottom Gun – another withdrawn video, of another western cartoon where this time Popeye’s a chicken farmer standing up to Brutus.
  • Olive Drab and the Seven Sweapeas – Popeye tells us a fairy tale and somewhere along the way we lose one of seven Swee’Peas.
  • Blinkin’ Beacon – the Sea Hag has captured Swee’Pea! And that even before the cartoon’s started! Fortunately, Popeye knows how this is supposed to turn out. Also here’s another cartoon where he’s a lighthouse-keeper.
  • Azteck Wreck – Not reviewed because of the way the cartoon depicts Mexican people.
  • The Green Dancin’ Shoes – Olive Oyl is dancing, she’s dancing, she’s dancing, dancing, dancing, she’s dancing.
  • Spare Dat Tree – Popeye tells Swee’Pea a slightly dreamy story about saving the two Monarch Trees, who appreciate Ranger Popeye’s support in this trying time.
  • The Glad Gladiator – Popeye’s a gladiator in Ancient Rome and Ham Gravy of all people is a spectator.
  • The Golden Touch – Popeye tells of how King Midas overcame his curse, using Eugene the Jeeps. Features cameos from Alice the Goon, Oscar, and maybe Toar and Geezil.
  • Hamburger Fishing – Popeye reads Swee’Pea a fairy tale where Wimpy catches an enchanted cow version of Olive Oyl.
  • Popeye the Popular Mechanic – Popeye builds a robot but forgets to program it only to do good, not mischief.
  • Popeye’s Folly – Popeye tells Swee’Pea of how his ancestor who built a steamboat and beat out Brutus and Sea Hag.
  • Popeye’s Used Car – Popeye goes shopping for a used car and ha ha, have you seen how wacky the new cars are?
  • Spinachonara – Yeah I’m not reviewing Popeye But He’s Japanese As Written In 1960 unless someone pays me cash.
  • Popeye and the Polite Dragon – Did you know Popeye was part dragon? Learn the story of how that came about here!
  • Popeye the Ugly Ducklin – Popeye tells Swee’Pea of his childhood among the Goons.
  • Popeye’s Tea Party – O G Wotasnozzle sends Popeye to the Boston Tea Party.
  • The Troll Wot Got Gruff – Popeye tells Swee’Pea a fairy tale about the Three Billy Goats Gruff.
  • Popeye the Lifeguard – another withdrawn video, this one where Olive Oyl flirts with Brutus to get lifeguard Popeye jealous.
  • Popeye in the Woods – yet another withdrawn video, a camping video in which it’s possible that Wimpy invented the bacon cheeseburger.
  • After the Ball Went Over – a loose, dreamy cartoon built around ping-pong.
  • Popeye and Buddy Brutus – they start off skin-diving buddies and then end up in Atlantis except everybody’s an octopus and it’s the old west, got it?
  • Popeye’s Car Wash – Popeye and Brutus compete at rival car washes in a cartoon that becomes a weird tone poem of 50s chrome. Also: Brutus has more neck than you’d think he needs.
  • Camel Aires – Olive Oyl is an Ancient Egyptian priestess and Wimpy is her guard and Brutus and Popeye are competing to get a gem away from her and Popeye’s the good guy?
  • Plumbers Pipe Dream – withdrawn video once more. Popeye tries to fix a leaky pipe and accidentally drowns Manhattan. Well, that’ll happen!
  • Popeye and the Herring Snatcher – I don’t seem to have reviewed this and don’t see a reason why not. It looks like they didn’t post it yet?
  • Invisible Popeye – another withdrawn video, a shame, since O G Wotasnozzle uses his time machine to send Popeye into the bonkers future to rescue a lost Olive Oyl from a dense field of animation errors!
  • The Square Egg – The Whiffle Hen is here and is a mother!
  • Old Salt Tale – Popeye tells Swee’Pea why the sea is salt, a tale in which it turns out it’s the Sea Hag’s fault.
  • Jeep Tale – Popeye tells Swee’Pea a story of how Eugene the Jeep learned to be a good jeep like his sisters, in this riff on The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
  • The Super Duper Market – a great mass of spot jokes about supermarkets, those are a thing now.
  • Golden-Type Fleece – Popeye tells Swee’Pea the tale of Jason of the Argo looking for the Golden Fleece and finding … oh, you’ll see.
  • Popeye the White Collar Man – in another withdrawn video Popeye tries tosell insurance to Brutus the movie stuntman.
  • Sweapea Thru the Looking Glass – Popeye’s off golfing, so Swee’Pea and Eugene the Jeep pop through his looking-glass and they get into some weird nonsense.
  • The Black Knight – O G Wotasnozzle uses his time machine to send Popeye back to the time of King Arthur and the Sea Hag is Merlin.
  • Jingle Jangle Jungle – Popeye, Olive Oyl, Wimpy, and Brutus go on a hunting safari and it all goes wrong. Content warning: there’s not-actually-seen Jungle Cannibals which, since we don’t see them, kept me from noping out, but your patience for this nonsense may vary.
  • The Day Silky Went Blozo – King Blozo calls on Popeye to save his kingdom from a dragon who’s promoting fully automated luxury gay space Communism.
  • Rip Van Popeye – Popeye explains thunder to Swee’Pea, and we get the other big Popeye bowling cartoon.
  • Mississippi Sissy – a riverboat melodrama where somehow Wimpy turns a gun on Popeye to get what he’s owed?
  • Double Cross Country Feet Race – Popeye and Brutus compete to see who can run across the country and back faster despite having no ability to animate any of the jokes. Also we learn Brutus weighs 245 pounds.
  • Fashion Fotography – Popeye and brutus eventually compete to see who can take Olive Oyl’s picture. She likes Alice the Goon’s portrait instead.
  • I Yam Wot I Yamnesia – possibly Popeye’s first body-swap story and the first time animation uses Wimpy’s classic catchphrase “I’m one of the Jones boys”.
  • Paper Pasting Pandemonium – another withdrawn video. Popeye and Brutus compete to wallpaper a room before Olive Oyl can have friends over, and also where Olive Oyl has friends besides Popeye and Brutus.
  • Coach Popeye – Popeye and Brutus compete to coach Swee’Pea and Deezil Oyl on how to play without breaking windows.
  • Popeyed Columbus – O G Wotasnozzle uses his time machine to send Popeye back to Columbus’s day. Features hiccoughs and that representation of Columbus we got before white people in the United States started reading what the Spanish were saying about Columbus in the fifteenth centurey.
  • Popeye Revere – a terrible lie as it’s Poopdeck Revere. Also, enough barrel-jumping action that you ask whether this inspired the Donkey Kong video game. (It’s a complicated story but sorta-ish.)
  • Popeye in Haweye – Popeye and Brutus compete as tour guides for Olive Oyl’s trip to a Hawai’i without people.
  • Forever Ambergris – Popeye tells Swee’Pea the story of the time he, Wimpy, and Brutus found some ambergris at sea.
  • Popeye de Leon – Skipped because of a portrayal of Olive Oyl as the Native American ‘Olive-Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha’, although I talk about some of the great work that the Max Fleischer Cartoons Channel on YouTube is doing to get new, watchable prints of 1920s and 30s shorts.
  • Popeyed Fisherman – Popeye tries teaching Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl how to fish but how about that, the novices are way better than the expert, and then a whale swallows them.
  • Popeye in the Grand Steeple Chase – Popeye enters the steeplechase for some reason, and buys a horse from Brutus for some reason.
  • Uncivil War – Popeye teaches Swee’Pea about safe driving habits in what feels like a cartoon aimed at an audience ten years too young to need it.
  • Popeye the Piano Mover – Popeye and Brutus try to move Olive Oyl’s piano to her new place.
  • Popeye’s Testimonial Dinner – a really weird clip cartoon full of timing errors, editing mistakes, cameos (Ham Gravy again!), references to a cartoon never made, and a baffling ending that I first thought might have been some bonkers YouTube encoding glitch. If you’re looking for a cartoon to sit on your head and make you beg for mercy, this is the one for it.
  • Around the World in Eighty Ways – Popeye and Brutus compete to run around the world for a game show.
  • Popeye’s Fixit Shop – Popeye and Brutus compete to repair Olive Oyl’s telephone and then the town hall clock.
  • Bell Hop Popeye – Bellhop Popeye and hotel manager Brutus compete for the attention of “the Maharani”, Mae Questel affecting a generically ethnic accent. I didn’t quite get angry at the portrayal of Olive Oyl as a cartoon Asian Indian woman but I never felt good about it.
  • Barbecue for Two – a pilot for the King Features shorts, a strange-sounding, strange-looking, strangely-structured piece of Popeye entertaining Olive Oyl, Wimpy, Swee’Pea, and the unnamed brute who lives next door.
Swee'Pea, Professor Wotasnozzle, Olive Oyl, and Popeye standa around looking at the Whiffle Hen and the Whiffle Chick. The Whiffle Hen's a roughly ordinary chicken-size bird. The Chick is quite large, about as tall as Popeye, and has a vaguely cubical body and head, and with the beak at a weird angle looks with half-lidded eyes towards the camera.
The Whiffle Chick’s expression is my look in every picture, right down to my head being tilted for no obvious reason.

What I Thought About All The Paramount Popeye Cartoons


Paramount Cartoon Studios, formerly Famous Studios, formerly formerly Fleischer Cartoons, was one of the two most prolific makes of the 1960s Popeye shorts. As their corporate history indicates, they had nearly three decades of experience making Popeye cartoons before getting their slice of the King Features contract. So, I notice, a lot of my reviews express similar sentiments. Paramount was by this time very good at making a cartoon that parsed. The stories almost all had clear plots, and straightforward narratives. The animation might rarely be very good, or even lively, but it would never be bad. This was always the quietly competent studio, not worried that they never hit a home run because they can get on base any time they want.

So a lot of these cartoons feel very routine; you’ll see how many of them I describe as Popeye and Brutus compete for a job, or soem similar stock premise. They sometimes break through, though, particularly when they try for a heavy plot. The best is likely Mystery Melody, adapted from the comic strip. But there’s a version of the search for Poopdeck Pappy here, also interesting; or a five-minute Gulliver’s Travels, or Popeye saving Goon Island. Most any time they try for a more complex narrative it works, and gives us a good interesting story.

In going over the list I find there weren’t any cartoons that I skipped for being too racist. (There is one that wasn’t put on King Features’s YouTube channel and it might have been for a troublesome character depiction, though.) That stands out; there’ve been a number of cartoons I noped out of, mostly for poorly-considered depictions of Native Americans, sometimes for depictions of, say, Chinese people. I’m not sure how Paramount Cartoon Studios avoided that. It’s easy to say their long experience working under the Hays Code trained them to avoid ethnic stereotyping except they did theatrical cartoons with “Indian princessess” and other motifs that these days get a disclaimer.

In any event. If one of these cartoons comes up and you see Seymour Kneitel’s name all over it? You’re in for a safe enough watch. Might not be the great cartoon you’re hoping for, but it’s not going to leave you wondering what the heck that was all about.

Here, with a list order taken from whatever made sense to the Popeye Wikia, is the list of Paramont-made cartoons and what I thought of them.

  • Hits and Missiles – one that I did back in 2014 and didn’t revisit for this sequence. I need to replace the video, though.
  • The Ghost Host – not enough ghost shenanigans.
  • Strikes, Spares an’ Spinach – A bowling cartoon! You never see Popeye go bowling.
  • Jeep Is Jeep – another chance to meet Eugene the Jeep for the first time!
  • The Spinach Scholar – Popeye goes back to school and gets mostly shamed for his trouble.
  • Psychiatricks – It looks like a clip show, but isn’t!
  • Rags to Riches to Rags – King Features has withdrawn the video for some reason. Features a P G Wodehouse reference.
  • Hair Cut-Ups – Another withdrawn video, this one where Popeye tells the story of Samson and Delilah to encourage Swee’Pea to get a haircut. Features Brutus not being the antagonist.
  • Poppa Popeye – Swee’Pea gets swiped by a fake father, and Popeye loses it entirely.
  • Quick Change Olie – The Whiffle Bird sends Popeye and Wimpy back to Ye Olden Days.
  • The Valley of the Goons – Popeye’s shanghaied into a Goon-hunting expedition and fights for their liberation instead.
  • Me Quest for Poopdeck Pappy – Another take on what must be Popeye’s most-retold story; features comparisons, of course to Goonland and to Popeye’s Pappy.
  • Moby Hick – The Sea Hag tricks Popeye into helping her recover proceeds from a backstory crime!
  • Mirror Magic – Popeye’s Mother in one of her very few animated appearances!
  • It Only Hurts When They Laughs – Not reviewed and I don’t see any mention of why I skipped it.
  • Wimpy the Moocher – Not reviewed and I don’t see any mention of why I skipped it. The Popeye Wikia’s article mentions how this is mostly a Wimpy-versus-Geezil cartoon, though, and Geezil is so heavily ethnically coded I imagine without knowing that King features maybe didn’t want to show anything where he was a load-bearing character.
  • Voo-Doo to You Too – another withdrawn video, this one where the Sea Hag makes a voodoo doll of Popeye. I imagine without knowing that the casual depiction of voodoo might be why the video was withdrawn but can’t say.
  • Popeye Goes Sale-ing – another withdrawn video, of Olive Oyl and Popeye doing department store gags.
  • Popeye’s Travels – yet another withdrawn video, somehow, but you get the part anyone remembers about Gulliver’s Travels wrapped up in five and a half minutes.
  • Incident at Missile City – one I’ve looked at twice now, with a strange world of missile-people, plus Popeye.
  • Dog Catcher Popeye – Popeye saves a dog from the catcher, that’s all.
  • What’s News – one more withdrawn video, for a cartoon adapted from the comic strip where Popeye takes over a newspaper.
  • Spinach Greetings – the Sea Hag has captured Santa Claus and only Popeye can save him!
  • The Baby Contest – Swee’Pea and Brutus’s son compete for a baby contest, eventually.
  • Oil’s Well That Ends Well – Olive Oyl buys a worthless oil well from Brutus that, whoops, turns out to be a gusher.
  • Motor Knocks – Yup, another withdrawn video. But it’s the rare short where Popeye starts out being attentive to his girlfriend.
  • Amusement Park – Swee’Pea gets roped into the freak show somehow.
  • Duel to the Finish – Olive Oyl tries to make Popeye jealous, so she woos Wimpy because, I mean, have you seen her other choices? And Wimpy beats Popeye in a duel!
  • Gem Jam – Sea Hag hypnotizes Olive Oyl to steal a cursed gem. This one is set in India and avoids having offensive depictions of Indian people by not having depictions of anyone besides Popeye, Olive Oyl, and the Sea Hag.
  • The Bathing Beasts – Popeye and Brutus compete for the Mister America title.
  • The Rain Breaker – Popeye goes up to the clouds to work out why the weather forecast is wrong.
  • Messin’ Up the Mississippi – For some reason it’s set on a river showboat.
  • Love Birds – Olive Oyl’s pet love bird needs a girlfriend, so Popeye goes to a pet shop run by a monkey.
  • Sea Serpent – a withdrawn video, because it shows the shocking truth about the Loch Ness Monster.
  • Boardering on Trouble – Popeye and Brutus fight over … the management of their Old Western hotel? Also Popeye draws a gun on Brutus for some reason?
  • Aladdin’s Lamp – Olive Oyl accidentally buys a genie lamp and the Sea Hag wants it.
  • Butler Up – Once again a withdrawn video. Popeye pretends to be Olive’s butler so she can impress Brutus.
  • The Leprechaun – There’s a whole bunch of leprechauns in this, and Popeye gets honorary leprechaun status, which is nice for him, I suppose.
  • County Fair – Popeye and Brutus compete to win the county fair.
  • Hamburgers Aweigh – another withdrawn video. Popeye uses the Whiffle Hen to turn Wimpy into a burger-hater and the Sea Hag gets in on the mind-control game.
  • Popeye’s Double Trouble – yet another withdrawn video. Sea Hag tries to pass her bad-luck coin off on Popeye but, what do you know, but she has the bad luck to slip him her good-luck coin instead. Also, Sea Hag impersonates Olive Oyl and Popeye doesn’t catch on.
  • Kiddie Kapers – With a dose of Fountain of Youth potion Brutus turns handsome. With some more, Popeye and Olive Oyl turn into kids.
  • The Mark of Zero – Telling the story of Popeye as the people’s hero, Zero, to Olive’s niece Deezil Oyl.
  • Myskery Melody – A good moody piece, adapted from the comic strip, revealing the Sea Hag and Poopdeck Pappy’s past.
  • Scairdy Cat – Brutus turns to chemical warfare, deploying Fear Gas against Popeye, a thing that won’t ever backfire.
  • Operation Ice-Tickle – Popeye and Brutus compete to bring back the North Pole and win a date with Olive Oyl! Not the first time I’ve shown a cartoon featuring a balloon flight to the North Pole, somehow!
  • The Cure – Wimpy signs up for Hamburgers Anonymous, to overcome his shame at swiping a quarter off of Popeye, and Sea Hug works to bust him out of there.
  • William Won’t Tell – A remix of the William tell story. Features Shaggy in a bit part, wearing Olive Oyl’s outfit and Brutus’s beard!
  • Pop Goes the Whistle – Swee’pea goes in search of his lost teddy bear and Popeye almost kills himself trying to catch him.
  • Autographically Yours – Not reviewed and I don’t know why; I don’t think they posted it.
  • A Poil for Olive Oyl – Popeye figures to dive for pearls himself rather than pay for someone who’s already done the work.
  • My Fair Olive – Popeye and Brutus compete for Olive Oyl’s affection by … jousting? For some reason?
  • Giddy Gold – The Whiffle Bird turns the contents of a Tunnel of Love ride into real things! Oh, Tunnel of Love rides often depict monsters, that’s right. Well, I’m sure it’ll all work out great.s
  • Strange Things Are Happening – Everybody is being all weird around Popeye and why are they all talking like they’re trying to kidnap him?
  • The Medicine Man – Popeye and Olive Oyl are selling patent medicine and somehow Brutus, the town’s doctor, is the bad guy?
  • A Mite of Trouble – once more a withdrawn video. Sea Hag sneaks a fake Swee’Pea into Popeye’s house to find a treasure map.
  • Who’s Kiddin’ Zoo – Popeye and Brutus compete to be the new assistant zookeeper, Finally, some kangaroo content!
  • Robot Popeye – another withdrawn video, this one where Brutus gets to build the robot Popeye.
  • Sneaking Peeking – Popeye tells a fairy tale about the Happy Princess opening a box that contains Mister Mischief.
  • Seer-Ring Is Believer-Ring – Olive Oyl accidentally gets a magic ring so Evil-Eye hypnotizes her to get it back. Also somehow Wimpy declares he’s treating everyone at Rough House’s Diner.
  • The Wiffle Bird’s Revenge – Her revenge is turning Wimpy into a werewolf for some reason. Also, we get to see Rough House!
  • Going… Boing.. Gone – It’s Wimpy and Brutus struggling against each other, with Popeye just included because it’s his name on the series. Features some vanishing cream, a carton motif we don’t get enough of anymore.
  • Popeye Thumb – What if Popeye but small? And this teaches Swee’Pea to play baseball.

What I Thought About All the Gene Deitch Popeye Cartoons


You can continue to call this vamping, but I am trying to put in some reasonable order the many, many King Features Popeye cartoons of the 60s that I watched. The list today — drawn from the Popeye Wikia and thus in an order I can’t explain — represents cartoons producted by Rembrandt Films or by Halas and Batchelor. Or as everyone’s ever called them, the Gene Deitch cartoons.

I’m an easy touch for a Gene Deitch cartoon. I get where people didn’t like his Tom and Jerry cartoons, Deitch included. But I liked their creative energy and freshness, and I’d put them above the Chuck Jones shorts and even Hanna and Barbera’s own Cinemascope theatrical cartoons. I have much the same feeling here. Deitch cartoons can be weird in theme and plot, but usually successfully, coming together to something that makes sense. The animation works well against its limits. I certainly mentioned a couple times, for example, minor characters having their own walk or run cycles that are a bit out of phase, or even have different periods, so that very little animation looks like more than it does.

Here’s the various shorts that Gene Deitch’s vision oversaw:

  • Interrupted Lullaby – King Features took this video down and I don’t know why. Might get around to replacing it.
  • Sea No Evil – the one where Popeye keeps buying the same boat gear.
  • From Way Out – the one where Popeye accidentally causes an alien invasion.
  • Seeing Double – Robot Popeye alert!
  • Swee’Pea Soup – the one where Swee’Pea accidentally causes an uprising against King Blozo.
  • Hag Way Robbery – the where Eugene is kidnapped and Olive Oyl is all about eating canned olives.
  • The Lost City of Bubble-Lon – another currently missing video, sorry. This is the one where there’s an undersea kingdom in a lake or something? It didn’t seem like the ocean to me.
  • There’s No Space Like Home – another withdrawn video, sorry. Popeye gets harassed by Martians who, this time, are not mailboxes.
  • Potent Lotion – yet another withdrawn video. This is the one where Brutus uses a perfume that makes people want to slug Popeye to cover for a bank robbery.
  • Astro-Nut – Popeye signs up to spend sixty days in a simulated spaceflight and it didn’t cross his mind Brutus was going to try moving on Olive Oyl in that time.
  • Goon with the Wind – again, a withdrawn video. The Goons here are nothing like Alice the Goon. They’re Moon Goons. It’s not comfortable.
  • Insultin’ the Sultan – I don’t seem to have a review of this, or any mention of why I didn’t. From the title and from looking up its plot (Popeye joins the French Foreign Legion) I would believe it if I’d decided this got more racist than I’m going to review if I’m not being paid, but I don’t see a mention of that.
  • Dog-Gone Dog-Catcher – Popeye has a dog that he keeps badly, so he makes himself Dogcatcher Brutus’s problem.
  • Voice from the Deep or See Here, Sea Hag – Sea Hag scares the residents off a South Seas island so she can set up an Evil Tourist Camp.
  • Matinée Idol Popeye – another withdrawn video. Brutus is directing a movie and trying to get leading man Popeye out of the picture so he can move in on Olive Oyl.
  • Beaver or Not – Popeye versus two woodland beavers! We always love it when Popeye fights animals, right?
  • The Billionaire – Popeye has a fortune, for maybe the only time in his animated existence.
  • Model Muddle – Oh hey, a cartoon about Modern Art, I bet this one helps teach kids to appreciate the craft and thought that goes into nonrepresentational and nontraditional arts!
  • Which Is Witch – Robot Olive Oyl alert!
  • Disguise the Limit – Gorilla costume alert!
  • Spoil Sport – Brutus’s cool sporty car or Popeye’s little foot-powered scooter: who will win!
  • Have Time, Will Travel – Popeye builds his own time machine and the mystery of Oscar.
  • Intellectual Interlude – where Popeye gets to be smart and it’s everybody else’s problem.
  • Partial Post – here’s that cartoon where space aliens are mailboxes everyone’s been talking about!
  • Weight for Me – Olive Oyl gets fat and Popeye gets all body-shaming.
  • Canine Caprice – introducing Roger, talking dog that’s going to Poochie these characters up some.
  • Roger – more Roger, and a rare sequel cartoon!
  • Tooth Be or Not Tooth Be – where Swee’Pea and Pappy take center stage and Popeye is off … doing … something.

What I Thought About All the Larry Harmon Popeye Cartoons


You can argue that I’m vamping on starting my next project here. But I’m also using this gathering of links to all my 60s Popeye cartoon reviews as a chance to better-organize my tags on them, and to discover where I missed a cartoon in my reviewing. I may come back around to them.

So here are the Larry Harmon-produced Popeye cartoons. If you’re curious why this list is in this order, it’s because I’m using the order given at the Popeye Wikia. Why they have that order I don’t know. Maybe production order or production code corder? Maybe original airing order? Maybe in order of when they discovered one of these cartoons? I have no way of knowing. It is going to take me forever to do the Jack Kinney and the Paramount cartoons.

  • Muskels Shmuskels — Popeye has to not fight. King Features took the original video of this one off and I haven’t got around to finding a replacement, sorry.
  • Hoppy Jalopy — the racecar cartoon, one of the last ones of my project here.
  • Dead-Eye Popeye — not reviewed! I had complained of this as too boring to review, back then, and I can’t imagine that stopping me from having thoughts about it now.
  • Mueller’s Mad Monster — it’s got a cuteish robot and a bunch of Cartoon Existentialism.
  • Caveman Capers — yes, this is the one with a dinosaur.
  • Bullfighter Bully — it’s the one where Popeye gets kissed by a calf.
  • Ace of Space — for once, aliens abduct Olive Oyl, instead of Popeye. He seems offended.
  • College of Hard Knocks — where I couldn’t figure out if Brutus was a legitimate teacher.
  • Abdominal Snowman — an Abominable Snowman cartoon, with Olive’s mysterious uncle Sylvan Oyl. What pun is his name about? (There was a Sylvan Oil company in Oklahoma through the 1950s; was that it?)
  • Ski-Jump Chump — starring Brutus as Gorgeous Pierre and Jackson Beck doing his French Accent Character.
  • Irate Pirate — another one where the video has gone dark. I’ll see if I can do anything about that, until I forget.
  • Foola-Foola Bird — turns out to be on Foola-Foola Island, raising the question of why it was so hard for everyone but Popeye to find.
  • Uranium on the Cranium — which, of course, has Brutus dress up in a gorilla costume so he can get the uranium mine.
  • Two-Faced Paleface — yeah, this one I skipped for the racist depiction of Native American characters.
  • Childhood Daze — another Fountain-of-Youth cartoon, this time with Popeye getting youngified.
  • Sheepish Sheep-Herder — one more with a missing video. Sorry.
  • Track Meet Cheat — a fine enough idea for a cartoon foiled by not really being sure if Brutus is the problem here.
  • Crystal Ball Brawl — Wimpy gets a way to foretell the future! Other than asking Eugene the Jeep!

And finally for now, here’s my similar list for the Gerald Ray-produced cartoons.

What I Thought About All the Gerald Ray Popeye Cartoons


I haven’t picked my next project to review, no. And it’s convenient — for me at least — to have an index page linking to all the essays of a big group project. On the other hand, there were like four hundred thousand King Features Popeye cartoons of the early 60s. So I’m going to part out these index pages. The studio of origin is the natural dividing line there. Yes, I am keenly aware that Jack Kinney Productions made eight hundred thousand of these shorts. I’ll deal with that later.

Here, then, are the Gerald Ray-produced Popeye cartoons, with whatever thoughts I had about them:

  • Where There’s A Will — I can’t find that I did see this! If I’ve missed it on King Features’s YouTube page please let me find it, I can still fit a couple more reviews in.
  • Take It Easel — this is the remake of that one Woody Woodpecker cartoon and where I wonder if Milt Schaffer was using a pseudonym to work for Walter Lantz some.
  • I Bin Sculpted which is another but much looser remake of older Popeye shorts.
  • Fleas a Crowd which is a flea circus cartoon that got released on vinyl for some reason.
  • Popeye’s Junior Headache with Olive Oyl’s niece, not Popeye Junior.
  • Egypt Us and I’m sorry about the title and what the cartoon thinks Ancient-flavored Egyptians are.
  • The Big Sneeze which is trying to be an Abominable Snowman cartoon but doesn’t manage the trick.
  • The Last Resort which I did not review as part of this project, and that King Features doesn’t seem to have on its page, which is a shame because it’s one of the few appearances of Toar. Again it might be hidden on King Features’s YouTube page somewhere.
  • Jeopardy Sheriff which is another title I don’t understand but moves well enough as a cartoon.
  • Baby Phase the juggling dream story.

Coming up next: oh, I don’t know. Maybe Gene Deitch? Maybe Larry Harmon?

What I Learned From Watching All the 60s Popeye Cartoons


Or almost all. I’m at peace with there being a couple of the two-hundred-plus King Features Syndicate cartoons that I haven’t recently reviewed. But I always like at the end of a big project like this I like to think about what it means.

I can’t say this has prompted me to have a major critical revision of the 1960s cartoons. Or to push for one. The 1960s cartoons are mostly regarded as a cheap, hurried cash-in, of a quality ranging from mediocre to garbage. I’m warmer to them than that, but the conventional wisdom is near enough right. There are some cartoons that I’ll advance as “pretty good” or even “good”. More that are “interesting”. But like everyone knew going in, the theatrical shorts are better. The black-and-white shorts better still. I haven’t looked at the 1980-era Hanna-Barbera series to compare those. Might try them. I know late-70s Hanna-Barbera hasn’t got a high reputation. But it could make Saturday morning cartoons at least uniformly okay. None of that Testimonial Dinner bizarreness or that one where Popeye turns into a giraffe there. (All right, there’s the Superfriends where Zan and Jana are unable to outwit a defunct roller coaster. That was a bit slipshod.)

Swee'Pea, Professor Wotasnozzle, Olive Oyl, and Popeye standa around looking at the Whiffle Hen and the Whiffle Chick. The Whiffle Hen's a roughly ordinary chicken-size bird. The Chick is quite large, about as tall as Popeye, and has a vaguely cubical body and head, and with the beak at a weird angle looks with half-lidded eyes towards the camera.
Who can forget how the Whiffle Chick opened up the Popeye universe?

And yet those are two cartoons that leapt immediately to mind. The lure of the novel, or the exceptional, is hard to resist when you watch a lot of something. That’s no different here. Give me a bonkers premise or a plot that’s too incoherent to be dream-logic and I am fascinated. This is not an effect any studio ever tries for; probably you couldn’t manage it if you did. (Compare that one episode of Dexter’s Laboratory written by a seven-year-old. It was one of the most compelling episodes of a generally good show.) What chance does a merely well-made episode, like Myskery Melody, have against that? Yet that’s also a cartoon that leapt right to mind and that I will keep promoting while I can.

The King Features cartoons introduced some good trends. One is that they largely shed the plot of Popeye-and-Bluto/Brutus-compete-for-Olive-Oyl. There were some cartoons that used that frame, sometimes to good effect. But it was a story done four billion times already, especially in the 1950s shorts. Clearing it out opens up the universe to do a series of golfing jokes or driver-safety jokes instead. Another is expanding the cast of characters. Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre overflowed with neat characters. The King Features shorts finally animated the Sea Hag, and brought Poopdeck Pappy and Eugene the Jeep back to being major characters. It also gave some outings to lesser characters like Roughhouse, the Whiffle Hen/Bird, King Blozo, Castor Oyl, Toar, and the many vaguely defined relatives of Olive Oyl. Even footnotes like Ham Gravy got some scenes.

Dark, foggy, swamp-bound scene of the Sea Hag on a raft, the full moon in back of her. She plays her flute with her vulture sitting up ready to launch.
She looks like a friend!

Not enough of them. The Sea Hag and Eugene the Jeep make the leap into major characters, as they should, because they’re endlessly fascinating. King Blozo almost makes it, but not quite. So do Alice the Goon and Professor Wotasnozzle. I’m glad they got the time they did, and wanting more is a good state to be in with them. Professor Wotasnozzle might be the biggest disappointment. He’s in a good spot to give Popeye some goofball super-science gimmick to deal with. Instead what we mostly see is him in a framing device. He sends Popeye to another era to do the same schtick without even a clear idea whether Popeye knows what’s going on.

The shorts give this sense of new ground breaking, of new possibility. There were far more characters, most of whom worked, and fresh stories available to tell. Even more settings. Many cartoons were set in Popeye’s Boring Suburban Home. But they weren’t required to be, the way so many of the 1950s Famous Studios seemed. Sometimes that setting was even part of the story, as in Coffee House, the Beatnik cartoon. Or, for a mixed benefit, the attempt to set the cartoons in India or China or such. This usually turned out so racist I refused to review the cartoon. One can see the charitable reading, that the cartoons are trying to be more ethnically diverse. This sort of nonwhite-people-written-by-very-white-people can be a well-intended stumble. It was endemic to 1960s and 1970s programming. Still not going to listen to Chinese Wimpy.

On stage, Olive Oyl is transformed into a seal from the neck down. She looks startled. Popeye leans in from behind the curtain looking aghast.
This is one of those scenes you’d never get from the studio that brought us that cartoon where Popeye can be elected President only if he does farm chores for Olive Oyl.

There’s also a sense of there being no grown-ups in the room. The shorts feel like they’re the story person’s idea, untouched by worry that they fit the Intellectual Property Use Guidelines. Often this freedom from supervision also seems to be freedom from a second draft. Especially if Jack Kinney’s or Larry Harmon’s studios produced it. But a lot of exciting, creative novelty comes from people who have skill in their craft and only casual supervision from the people paying for it. The shorts didn’t enjoy this as much as they might. The sense remains, in most of these shorts, that anything might happen. Popeye’s in caveman times. Olive Oyl has a pet tiger. Wimpy crosses the Whiffle Hen and becomes a werewolf. A living missile wants to kiss Popeye. Brutus builds a robot Eugene. Aliens come to Earth, disguised as mailboxes. Brutus magics away Popeye’s arms. Wimpy is a millionaire, twice. Alice the Goon is hypnotically compelled to make out with Popeye. Cheese wheels from the Moon hold Wimpy hostage. Swee’Pea is the focus of a revolution. I made up at least one of those; can you tell which ones?

Scene of the audience in the Colosseum. The front two rows are filled with mostly minor characters from Popeye/Thimble Theatre.
Look at that screen packed full of trivia answers!

All this new freedom and new ground and lack of restraint, though, is most often let down by the result. The animation can’t ever be as good as the theatricals, certainly. And given the circumstances it couldn’t be as good as the 1980 Hanna-Barbera era either. Every studio managed at least some interesting touches, sometimes in a simple clever edit or a move that surprised one. More often the letdown is in the story, or at least the editing. There were so many odd pauses or absent bits of narrative logic it was no longer worth mentioning, at some point. I don’t know how often I accused, especially, a Jack Kinney short of having a dream logic. Or planned to but cut it for being redundant. We had that, though. Someone with experience in how stories work can fill in gaps. But the intended audience of young children? How do they know enough about how stories work to understand that? (On the other hand, maybe they mind since they don’t know that Brutus’s promise to eat his weather prediction was not set up.)

To summarize my feelings for all this, then? Besides the powerful nostalgia I feel for cartoons I watched, and loved, uncritically when I was young and impressionable? It is that I saw so many times that this could be a really good cartoon, hidden underneath what is an okay cartoon. So a new project for when I win a billion-dollar Powerball is to to take like three dozen of these shorts, have someone do another two drafts of the story, and have them animated by people who have the time to draw all the characters in all the scenes they’re in. We’ll get at least a couple great cartoons from that.

Brutus, Olive Oyl, Popeye, and Eugene sit together inside a gigantic top hat, all smiling and happy at the conclusion of their adventures.
Good night everyone! Eat your spinach and have a magic four-dimensional dog sit on your head!

60s Popeye: Weather Watchers, and an arguable end to my 60s Popeye Watching


I have for today the last of the 1960s Popeye cartoons that King Features has put up on their YouTube channel. Or so I thought. Every source I can find says there were 220 of these short cartoons made, over a course of days and at a cost of hundreds of dollars per cartoon. King Features uploaded them four at a time into 22-minute “episodes”, and has 55 of them. And yet when I mentioned the Gerald Ray-produced The Last Resort last week, I couldn’t find where I had reviewed it in any of these essays. (I had an earlier review, from 2014, that I let stand.) I have no explanation for this.

I figure, if I can find the spoons, to go through the episodes King Features still has up and see if I overlooked that one, and any other shorts, somehow. A possible complication is that King Features has withdrawn seven of its episodes, and thus 28 cartoons. I don’t know why. My guess in the absence of actual knowledge is someone noticed there was something objectionable in one or more cartoons of the set. I would be happy to hear from someone who knew, but doubt I will.s

So for cartoons that are not missing? Here’s the last of the Jack Kinney-produced shorts. The story’s credited to Raymond Jacobs, and the animation direction to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. From 1960 for the last(?) time, it is the Weather Watchers. Let’s weather.

Oh did I ever want my reviewing project here to end on a strong cartoon. Something I could spill over with good things to talk about. That’s more fun than even snarking is. But what we have is another of those Jack Kinney productions that makes more sense the less closely you’re watching. Like, tune out and come back to the next scene and you can rationalize how Brutus and Popeye got here and why. But go from what’s on-screen and you have a bunch of leaps of logic.

This is another in the Popeye-and-Bluto/Brutus-Compete-For-A-Job shorts. This time Popeye starts out with the job nice and secure and Brutus schemes to steal it, a variation not done much. I can’t think of another short with that setup. This time around Popeye works for the weather bureau, relying on the corns on his feet or a spin of his wheel-of-fortune for his forecasts. And his forecasts are terrible, or at least he gets two wrong in a row. The first time he’s wrong is enough to get a complaint from Brutus, who’s also asking about openings at the weather bureau. The rain, against a forecast of “fair and sunny” weather, is enough for Olive Oyl to give Popeye something like notice. He forecasts “fair and sunny” again, and Brutus sabotages this by seeding clouds.

A very wet Olive Oyl, wearing a ruined hat and looking miserable, enters the door of the Weather Bureau.
Actual footage of me reviewing my notes for this short.

With her new hat spoiled, Olive Oyl fires Popeye and hires Brutus. Popeye discovers the moth balls used to seed the clouds that something’s up, and figures it must be Brutus since who else is in the story? Well, Wimpy is, as the slightly goofy TV weatherman. The pop culture of that era tells me weather reporters of that era were goofy performers. The shift to professional meteorologists came later. But Wimpy never interacts with anybody that we see, so, Brutus is the safe and correct bet. Popeye sabotages Brutus’s forecast of sunshine, and Olive Oyl gives Brutus twenty years less chance to prove himself than she gave Popeye. Brutus turns on Olive Oyl, grabbing her by the neck, and Popeye rushes in, saving the day. As a punch line, Popeye, restored to his forecasting job, says tomorrow will be “Sunny as [Olive’s] smile, fair as [her] complexion, and warm as [her] ever-loving’ heart.” As it starts to rain, Popeye declares, “Women, phooey!” and starts singing about how ’cause he ate his spinach he’s Popeye the weatherman.

The plot summary, I imagine, sounds fine to you too. The sequence of events is what makes sense for a story about Popeye as a weather forecaster. It’s in the connective tissue of plotting that it falls down. We can take as implicit that Brutus did promise he’d eat his forecast if it were wrong. But Olive Oyl talks about how “Yes, I fell for your mothball gag”, a gag she hasn’t been seen to learn about. Heck, a gag that even Popeye has only assumed happened. Popeye sabotaging Brutus’s weather is correct, but not justified. He doesn’t know Brutus did anything. (This short suggests Brutus is a stranger to Olive Oyl, at least, and surely Popeye.) Also his sabotage is weird: dump a gigantic can of spinach into a water tank and blow up the water tank so we get spinach rain? And this when Popeye doesn’t even eat spinach himself, unless that too is off-screen, despite what we get in his not-finished closing couplet.

Popeye, on top of a water tank, pours in the contents of a gigantic can of 'King Size Spinach'.
Either that can is labelled upside-down or Popeye opened it from the bottom side, which is weird.

Get the premise and take any scene and you can imagine the scene before it which sets it up. But the scene that sets it up is never in the short. Once again we have something that makes more sense the less you pay attention. It gives that odd dream-narrative tone so common to the Kinney-produced shorts. I enjoy some of that. Dream logic makes the story feel fresher and more surprising. But it keeps me from calling this a good cartoon. It’s a first draft of a good cartoon, that’s all.


And with that, that’s all for my King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoon reviews! Until I find ones that I overlooked, at least. I would love to tell you what my plan is for the next thing to take my review-day slot. I haven’t decided, though. I’m open to suggestions, particularly if they’re ones that have reasonably stable web locations. Or I can just review that Beetle Bailey half-hour special they made for CBS in like 1989 and forgot to air. We’ll see.

60s Popeye: Baby Phase, a cute enough little baby phase


We’re now up to the last of the Gerald Ray-produced King Features Popeye cartoons. We don’t get a story credit for this short. We do get a director, at least, Tom McDonald. He was also director for The Last Resort, The Big Sneeze, Jeopardy Sheriff, and Egypt Us. Here from 1960 is Baby Phase. Yes, the title has nothing to do with the cartoon besides that it’s got Swee’Pea in it.

Ah, the dream story. Everyone’s favorite way of having a bunch of wild stuff happen that would break the reality of the setting, right? For example there’s no way that in the “real” Popeye universe you could have Swee’Pea so dominated by … juggling.

As that’s the starting point here. Swee’Pea’s got a book about How to Juggle and it turns out to be excellent guidance. In no time he’s juggling random household objects from the top of a chimney, and only dropping some of them on Popeye. Popeye puts Swee’Pea safely inside the house and scolds him for this dangerous stuff. That’s shown with a nice bit of foreshortening, matched by Popeye picking up the book in the camera’s direction. It always stands out when a studio moves the plane of action.

And then, reading, Popeye falls asleep, our cue that none of the stuff to follow counts. Does that matter? I’m not sure. Whenever Popeye has a cartoon where he’s protecting the oblivious innocent — usually a runaway Swee’Pea, sometimes a sleepwalking or hypnotized Olive Oyl — the innocent is always safe. If we know how cartoons work we know that already. All that spotting this for a dream gives us is a built-in explanation for gaps in the story. How the circus is nothing but Swee’Pea, for example, or that Swee’pea’s signed a 99-year contract. The way Swee’Pea keeps finding himself in what should be more preposterously dangerous scenarios. These now become a natural nightmare progression where everything is as bad as it could be and somehow gets worse. But I’m not sure this is meant to be dream-logic as opposed to these cartoons not having the time to write a natural escalation into the story.

Inside a circus tent, Popeye holds Swee'Pea in one hand. Swee'Pea sits up, juggling three balls, unperturbed by this. The ringmaster stands nearby, hunched over and ready to grab Swee'Pea.
I think I liked this better when the ringmaster was J Worthington Foulfellow and Swee’Pea was a wooden puppet.

Popeye bobbles his spinach, which seems like the cue to viewers who missed it that this isn’t real. It’s a moment played for extra tension or a laugh in a couple of cartoons, mostly Fleischer-era theatricals. It could have been a setup for Swee’Pea to eat the spinach and save the day for the falling Popeye. But it didn’t go that way, instead waking Popeye up and having him feed spinach to Swee’Pea as the way to help him be the world’s greatest juggler. Changes of heart are nice, and Popeye supporting his kid’s ambitions is great.

It’s all okay enough, and there are a couple nice bits, like the ringmaster reassuring Popeye that they can get another juggler. I’d have liked to either commit to the reality of Swee’Pea in the circus or have the dream-peril be greater. As it is, the ending seems like just avoiding “Popeye eats his spinach and saves the day”, and where’s the fun in that?

There’s a Kickstarter to Preserve Mutt and Jeff Cartoons


The earliest impression that Mutt and Jeff made on me was its ending. In June 1983 it startled the young me by being a comic strip that had been around since four years before the invention of mud by stopping, a thing I somehow hadn’t realized could happen. Past that I knew it had been around since before my grandfather’s day, and that it was a genially pleasant joke-a-day comic.

Today I understand more of its significance. Bud Fisher was, particularly, a pioneer in the comic strip, as opposed to a single panel that does the joke. And Mutt and Jeff particularly was a pioneer in the daily comic strip, as opposed to the Sunday pages that could sprawl over a whole broadsheet’s page.

It was a pioneer in other ways, too, in phenomenally successful merchandising. And then in animation: Bud Fisher licensed the strip to the Barré studio in 1916 and they made something like three hundred shorts for Fox Film Corporation. Many of them are lost, as you’d expect or fear from century-old film footage. But dozens are not, and that gets to this point.

Mauricio Alvarado is running a Kickstarter, with a goal of funding a high-quality scan of several doen available shorts. This as part of restoring the shorts, and preparing a limited-edition Blu-Ray disc for the shorts. Restoring, and making available, early animation history like this is a great project. I regret I’m not in a position to support it financially right now, but I can at least support with my small voice. If you love silent cartoons, or think you might someday, please consider this.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Pep-Up Emporium, almost your last chance to get Wimpy in shape


Jack Kinney provides the story for one of these cartoons, for the last time in this progress through the King Features Syndicate shorts of the 60s. There’s one more Jack Kinney-produced cartoon, though. And the animation direction — as the other Kinney short will be — is credited to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman, names I’ll be sorry to see the end of. Here from 1960 is Popeye’s Pep-Up Emporium.

Years ago the Flophouse podcasters talked about common mistakes of bad movies. One was explaining the wrong things, over-explaining the simple setup and not giving enough screen time to the counterintuitive implications. This short starts with a pretty long advertisement for Popeye’s Pep-Up Emporium, the gym where he promises to help with any body type. There’ve been theatrical shorts where Popeye runs a gym (Vim, Vigor, and Vitaliky and Gym Jam particularly), and they got the idea established much faster.

Spending so much time setting it up isn’t necessarily wrong. The advertisement sets the tone, sure. And it lets the short toss in a couple of jokes, admittedly at things like Brutus’s very fat body. We might try to be a little less body-shaming today, but the jokes are set up well enough. Having the commercial at the start also sets up that there’ll be another commercial made during the short, giving the cartoon what little plot structure it has.

Again I don’t fault the short for mostly being a bunch of spot jokes. Gymnasiums are good for a string of disconnected jokes. The cartoon comes close to that, with stunts like Olive Oyl getting tied up in knots after a little bending. Or Wimpy pulling a table toward himself and pushing it away again. Here we do have what’s got to be a Kinney Classic animation error. When the table’s nearby he chews in the air in front of a pile of hamburgers. Someone has to have been meant to draw a hamburger falling off the pile into his mouth, but too late for that now. Maybe for the remastered Special Editions.

Olive Oyl stands, confident and proud, atop Popeye, who's on the floor, on his belly, looking back with admiration up at her. She's got Popeye's legs twisted together, as though she had beaten him wrestling.
This is a good end for a cartoon and I’d like if the cartoon had set this up better.

So we get to the commercial, done live in a gymnasium, a transmitting challenge especially for 1960 that I’m glad I don’t have to master. Think of the audio quality. A butterfly lands on Popeye’s dead weights, and he drops the extra load through the floor, bringing an irate Brutus up and into the short. Thing is, Brutus is right to be angry. The — let’s call them 2000-pound dead weights — just crashed through his ceiling. And this after a commercial body-shaming him.

But the parts the cast is in requires Brutus to be the villain. So he lecherously tries to get Olive Oyl out of that … wall thingy she’s trapped in. He’s stomping on Popeye’s head while he does this, so Popeye pulls out the spinach and there we go. If you look at the Popeye-Brutus interactions this is pulling on the spinach way too early. It’s only justified by Popeye knowing the cartoon is almost over. I know, we don’t need much justification. Popeye and Brutus have a history we’re supposed to take ambiguously seriously. And the guy is stomping on Popeye’s head. And anyone watching a lot of Popeye cartoons comes to wonder why Popeye doesn’t pull out his spinach at the start of the trouble. (A problem endemic to most every show with a super-power-up gimmick.) Maybe if Brutus has been part of the class, and ever more trouble, then things would have balanced better.

Though I started my essay talking about mistakes of bad movies, I don’t think this is a bad short. It’s got the usual weaknesses of the King Features Popeye cartoons, including the drifting narrative of so many Jack Kinney-produced shorts. It’s got a good setup, though, and good jokes along the way. The worst it does is take such extreme narrative economy, to get Popeye to eat his spinach, that the writers seem not to have noticed Popeye doesn’t need to have eaten spinach here. Olive Oyl getting fed up waiting for rescue and eating spinach herself is a good solid ending. They could have got there with a better use of Brutus.

60s Popeye: Hoppy Jalopy, the racecar cartoon


Way, way, back, when I started reviewing the King Features Popeye cartoons of the 60s I skipped this bundle of cartoons. I had said none of these cartoons interested me enough. Well, I’m running out of 60s Popeyes to review, and I’ve built up a tolerance for not-interesting cartoons. I think I can say something about them now.

So this is another cartoon produced by Larry Harmon. You know what that means: it’s the future crew of Filmation. The story’s credited to Charles Shows and the direction to Paul Fennell. From 1960 here’s Hoppy Jalopy.

There’s obvious affects the tiny budget, in money and time, have on these shorts. There have been good animation bits, but never a scene that captures the imagination like overflowed in the 30s and filled a bunch of the 40s cartoons. The scope of the plots also diminishes. Popeye cartoons never have big casts, but they could at least give exits to the other competitors in the car race, or not introduce anyone but Popeye and Bluto/Brutus. That they were introduced, but not excused from the story, must reflect a lack of time to think the story through and rewrite it to a smooth finish.

But the subtler effect is to give the cartoon this weird, formalistic structure. Popeye and Brutus are racing, fine, of course they do. Is anyone else racing? Why not? Who cares what happens to them if they aren’t main cast? Olive Oyl’s scooped up in Brutus’s trunk, a thing she could only avoid by trying in any way. Why doesn’t she try in any way? Because it’s a Popeye cartoon, what is she doing in it if she isn’t abducted by Brutus? (Or being Popeye’s cheerleader, as in Swimmer Take All or Hot Air Aces.)

Brutus, in his very tiny racecar, has the trunk open and is ready to catch Olive Oyl in it. She's standing on the exposed side of the trunk hood, crying for Popeye's help, instead of taking one step away to be safe.
You know, Brutus’s racecar has some amazing trunk capacity, leg room, and engine power to fit in that tiny a frame. Also for Brutus’s steering wheel to fit around his belly.

I know this is the result of not having the animation cells to spare, to have Olive Oyl try and get away. But the effect is seeing things happen because they’re the things supposed to happen in a cartoon like this. And, in that regard, it’s fascinating. I am not proposing that the team which would, eventually, give us the animated adventures of Gilligan and the Skipper in outer space was experimenting with the audience’s concept of narrative. I mean that they ended up, somehow, creating a cartoon that works fine if you watch it while distracted and becomes odd if you pay attention.

I know I watched this — every King Features — cartoon a lot when I was a kid. I don’t remember ever wondering about why anything was happening. Yes, part of that is that the target age for this cartoon is not renowned for critiquing stories. But I wonder if it’s also that the roles of Popeye and Brutus and Olive Oyl are clear enough that as long as everyone is doing roughly what makes sense, the whole cartoon does. Or at least it looks enough like a cartoon that makes sense to pass.

60s Popeye: Seeing Double, another Popeye cartoon, another Popeye


I am, to my amazement, close to the end of writing something about (almost all) the King Features Popeye cartoons of the 1960s. Unless I’ve messed up my notes, this is my last Gene Deitch cartoon. So, sad to say, I have no story credits to give you. I can just suggest we look at 1960’s Seeing Double.

Among the things I like about the Gene Deitch cartoons is their ambition in story structure. In particular, they’re comfortable keeping stuff secret from the characters and from the audience. It suggests trust from Deitch (and the other creators of the cartoon). I’m not sure whether they trusted the kids would wait to have the plot revealed, or whether they trusted kids will watch Popeye even if they don’t understand it. It makes them stand out against cartoons with more linear plots and explained motives.

Here we establish that Olive Oyl wants a $2,000 mink stole Popeye can’t nearly afford. And then we cut away to a bunch of gangsters. It’s not clear either party knows of the other’s existence. The head gangster, doing an Edward G Robinson impression, has a new robot duplicate of Popeye. I’m not sure the duplicate is meant to look like Popeye. I get the feeling they just made something that worked and it happened to be a short guy in sailor suit with a corncob pipe. You know, the way all robots of the early 60s had corncob pipes.

Robot Popeye puts on a good indestructible show, marching through walls and punching through safes. Based on eyewitness reports the cops toss Popeye in jail. Olive Oyl cries how it’s all her fault, forcing Popeye to rob the bank to buy a mink stole, and we finally learn why that scene was even in the cartoon. It’s odd that Olive Oyl should think Popeye could do something underhanded like rob a non-crooked bank. But Olive Oyl — like all the humans save Popeye in the comic strip — is venal, and can’t fully believe in a person who is not. When another Robot Popeye robbery is reported Popeye’s had enough of this impersonator. Rather than pause to note his unshakeable alibi, he breaks out of jail, punching through the walls just like the robot does.

An angry Popeye talks to his robot duplicate. The robot Popeye is spinning an arm, ready to punch.
Do you suppose Robot Popeye had a robot can of robot spinach on him? Was that going to be the way to tell them apart? (By the way, that’s some nice background work. I think it’s all colored pencils?)

Then there’s the confusing element here. Somehow Popeye ropes the gangsters’ car. We haven’t seen him have any reason to even know there are gangsters. My guess is the story ran long, and something had to be cut, so they went with cutting the bit where Popeye learned what the audience already knew. I guess that’s the best choice. It’s a bold shortcut to take, though, if you suppose that a skeptical grown-up might be watching. (The gangsters also go from flying out of a car to falling off a building, which suggests some scene or other got lost.)

When I reviewed Potent Lotion, another Deitch cartoon that opens with unexplained events, I wondered about casting Brutus as the head gangster. Now that we have an original character cast as the head gangster I wonder why not Brutus. This shows how I can’t be satisfied. But I am a poor amateur critic, and I have to use the few tools I have. One is to ask, how would the story change if some element were different? If the gangster were Brutus, then the robot’s resemblance to Popeye could not be coincidence. I don’t see where that would affect the cartoon much. It would even have explained why Popeye nabs the head gangster, as it’s usually safe to pick Brutus as the culprit. My best guess is they wanted to do an Edward G Robinson character, since that’s always a fun voice, and that’s that.

Still, if we have run out of Gene Deitch Popeye cartoons, I’m glad to go out on one that I enjoy so.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Corn-Certo (I wonder if Hungarian Rhapsody #2 gets played)


It does not. Today’s King Features Popeye is another Jack Kinney-produced short. The story’s by Joe Siracusa and Cliff Millsap. Both are new names around here, and the Internet Movie Database lists this as the only writing credit of any kind for both. Cliff Milsap was also editor for about two dozen of these shorts and that’s all IMDB knows about him. Joe Siracusa has more of a filmography, although nearly all of it as editor or composer or music editor, all the way up to the 80s G.I.Joe and Transformers. He was also drummer for Spike Jones from 1946 through 1952. Animation direction is credited to our old friend Eddie Rehberg. From 1960 here’s Popeye’s Corn-Certo.

This short has the feel of one of the theatrical Popeye cartoons. It’s a return to the plot line where Popeye and Brutus compete in showing off their expertise. Eventually Brutus incapacitates Popeye and tries making off with Olive Oyl. Popeye eats his spinach, we get some quick fighting, happy ending. The specific of competing by musical instruments calls to mind 1948’s Symphony in Spinach.

There are some structural differences from a theatrical version of this plot. The major one is Popeye and Brutus don’t take turns showing off. Popeye gets several instruments in a row to play the “3rd movement from the 2nd Pizzicato by Mozarella, the big cheese of the musical world”, which sounds like the Popeye the Sailor Man theme. (I like the choice. I imagine it’s for budget reasons. But it also plays as tweaking the artifice of the premise.) That seems like an improvement. It lets us get a bunch of Brutus-sabotages-an-unaware-Popeye jokes in a row. And it doesn’t require Popeye to sabotage Brutus or to find so many ways Brutus’s playing can go wrong. I’m not sure that would work for every challenge cartoon like this, but it works here.

Brutus smiling at the camera and pointing to himself. His index finger is very long and fat, but not to the point it would distract you if I didn't point it out. His mouth is a bit blurry from the next animation cel being a little visible on-screen here. Brutus's eyes are half-open and he looks sleepy.
I couldn’t get a screenshot of this moment that didn’t have a bit of blur in it. They must have decided to animate this moment on the ones, or the YouTube compression worked against it. Anyway you can see how Brutus, even if he did cheat by using a player piano here, is a natural piano player when he has fingers that long.

And the short offers several good little bits. The performing contest being introduced as though it were a boxing match, for example. Or Popeye getting a couple of muttered interjections in, such as saying “Man the lifeboats! I sprung a leak!” or “I should’ve played `Over the Waves`” when his flute produces water. That sort of throwaway joke could have been a muttered 30s gag and fit right in. It’s a good energy to invoke. There’s even a gorgeous throwaway bit. When Popeye says he’s beginning to smell a rat we see a delighted Brutus smiling at the camera and pointing to himself. It’s playful, in a way the best Popeye cartoons are. I got good feelings from watching this.

Given how well this works I don’t know why Siracusa and Millsap didn’t write more shorts. Maybe they didn’t enjoy the writing. Maybe they saw a chance to adapt Symphony in Spinach but didn’t see another theatrical short they were interested in. Too bad. The writing is strong enough to make a good cartoon within the studio’s constraints.

Statistics Saturday: Transformers I Can Still Recognize


This after watching every single episode of the 1980s Transformers cartoon too many times and then moving on to having other things to do since about 1990:

  • Optimus Prime
  • Starscream
  • Girl Autobot [*]
  • Megatron
  • Blurr
  • Grimlock

[*] Yes, I am aware that Girl Autobot’s name was not actually “Girl Autobot”. It was established in the 1986 Transformers: The Movie that her name was Autobelle.

Reference: Tilt: A Skewed History of the Tower of Pisa, Nicholas Shrady.

60s Popeye: Dog-Gone Dog-Catcher, a missed chance for a third Roger cartoon


We have another Gene Deitch cartoon this week. It’s directed by John Halas, Joy Batchelor, and Tony Guy, so it’s one of the British-made cartoons rather than the Czechoslovakian ones. But no story credit that I’m aware of, unfortunately. Here is 1960’s Dog-Gone Dog-Catcher.

Popeye is a good character. He is not particularly lawful, though. He’s aware authority can be corrupt or malevolent or wrong. A lot of his best moments are standing up to bullies who happen to have rank. There are shorts where Popeye has to talk up how he obeys and respects, mostly, the police. But cast Brutus as the authority figure and have him make a few snide comments to the camera and Popeye can clobber him without bothering anybody.

So I’m bothered that this short doesn’t quite get it right. The setup is all right. Popeye’s given Olive Oyl a new dog, a poodle who’s described as male, possibly the only male poodle in pop culture. His name is Zsa Zsa. Brutus comes along as a thieving dogcatcher and scoops up Zsa Zsa. Popeye goes undercover to free him. He wears one of those cartoon dog outfits that’s so seamless your every real-world Halloween costume disappoints.

My problem is that it’s not clear Brutus was in the wrong here. He was shown wanting to steal a dog and make life hard for the owner. But he is also the city dogcatcher. We see Zsa Zsa let loose, without a collar or license, and menacing-or-something a cat. An honest dogcatcher would likely try to grab Zsa Zsa given that. It throws the moral balance of the cartoon off. It already started wobbly, with the time-constrained need to put Zsa Zsa out unsupervised early on so the story could start. It makes Popeye and Olive Oyl look like negligent dog-owners.

Popeye, wearing a dog costume, sits on the ground barking; the dog mask is wide open as though he were just a dog with a seam around the neck. Olive Oyl watches; she's considerably taller than him. Popeye's head is not even at her hips.
I know Olive Oyl is tall and Popeye is not but, wow, how short is Popeye anyway?

I don’t demand that characters be all one tone. That’s boring, and it’s not realistic. Characters should also make mistakes. But it’s usually better form, when they get it wrong, for it to be part of the story hat they have blown it. But these cartoons are too short, and the audience-appropriate plots are too direct, for Popeye to explore the difference between being good and acting rightly.

If you can get past this — I imagine many of you can — there’s a fun cartoon here. Popeye’s in an impossibly perfect dog costume, which freshens up the action some and lets him mess with Brutus’s head. We get a spinach-flavored dog biscuit, a rare Deich cartoon case where Popeye doesn’t trust to luck for spinach to show up. (Also a weird edit where we have to infer he eats the dog biscuit.) Popeye declaring “I am smarter than the average dog” and I’d love to know if that’s meant to be a Yogi Bear riff. Popeye getting stopped by a cop and explaining he only has a dog license. The cop asking Brutus if dogs can talk, and a rabbit popping up between them to say, “I never heard anything so preposterous!”

That’s all solid stuff. I just don’t like that I’m not sure Popeye was in the right.

60s Popeye: Uncivil War, about the processes that drive one bad


This week takes us back to 1960 and a cartoon with a baffling title. It comes from the Jack Kinney studios. The story’s by Gerald Nevius and the animation direction by Volus Jones. Here’s a short titled, for some reason, Uncivil War.

I don’t get the title at all. I expected it to be maybe a historical short, but more likely something where Popeye and Brutus have to share the housekeeping. “Popeye instructing Swee’Pea in good driving habits” would have been my maybe fourth guess after “Popeye fights with a squirrel”.

Instead, we’ve got a safe-driving short. The idea seems oddly pitched for the audience, which would be mostly kids a decade away from driving. There were plenty of theatrical shorts pushing safe-driving messages, such as the excellent 1950 Goofy short Motor Mania, directed by some guy name of Jack Kinney. But that’s aimed at a general audience where some of the people are driving home from the theater. Also, the jokes were bigger, bolder. The jokes in “Uncivil War” are more mundane, more educational. There’s a preposterous pileup of cars, caused by Popeye stopping to read the signs too carefully, but that’s about all. The cartoon might have had more surreal jokes if it were just a short about Olive Oyl learning to drive or Popeye trying out his new car. It has a curious shift in structure. It starts out looking like Brutus is trying to woo Olive Oyl with his cool car and Popeye proves himself superior by being a more thoughtful driver. But then that evaporates and we get instead a string of jokes where someone drives badly and then the rest of the cast calls them stupid.

Popeye's car is stopped on a city street. Brutus, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy have all smashed their cars into one another, behind him, and are angry about their smashed cars.
And you say only Popeye knows how to parallel park?

A choice I think I like here is that Brutus isn’t always the bad driver here. (Nor is Olive Oyl, a welcome avoiding of stereotype.) Everyone shuffles the roles of being the good and the problem driver. It helps spread out the laugh lines. It also conveys a subtler message that everyone is a problem driver in some way or another. I can’t imagine that many kids watching this came away thinking of how just being a Good character, like Popeye, doesn’t mean everything you do is right. But it is the sort of lesson one should have. It feels like an inefficient way to do it, is all.

I’d love to know why the Kinney studios chose to make this cartoon, of all the premises they could. Were they thinking of great how-to-drive shorts of the past, including Motor Mania? Was it some sense that they should have some cartoons with socially constructive messages? And how did “Uncivil War” get attached to it as a title? Would like to be able to give you an answer.

60s Popeye: Nah, giving this one a pass; watch some Fleischer Cartoons instead


So the next King Features 1960s Popeye in turn is Popeye de Leon, a Jack Kinney-produced short, and I don’t want to do it. It’s Popeye telling the story of his ancestor Popeye de Leon who came to Florida to find the Fountain of Youth. That’s mostly an okay Kinney-style tone poem of oddly timed dialogue and plot fragments. But it also features Popeye de Leon beating up (off-screen) the “Injuns” who’re shooting arrows at him, and has Olive-Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha as the local Indian woman, with Mae Questel trying to do something that’s a Generic Accent plus a Southern White Belle accent and I’m not being paid to deal with this. Besides, there’s a better Popeye Fountain of Youth plot going on in the vintage Thimble Theatre comics on Comics Kingdom right now. Read that instead.

Popeye chuckles at a heartbroken Wimpy. Wimpy declares, 'I am desperate, Susie will not let me sit on her lap. My only hope lies in the Fountain of Youth.' He jumps into the Fountain of Youth, and emerges as a Swee'Pea-like toddler. The infant Wimpy walks up to Susie the Sea-Nymph, a tall slender woman with Popeye-type arms, and Wimpy tips his hat and asks, 'May I sit on your lap now, Susie?'
Doc Winer’s Popeye for the 18th of January, 1939, reprinted the 18th of June, 2022. Comics Kingdom still credits Elzie Segar for the strip, but by the time this was printed he’d been dead for five months. Also, Wimpy: this is kinda creepy. (Susie’s arms are large like that because she’s a sea-nymph.)

So instead I’d like to say some kind words for the Max Fleischer cartoons channel on YouTube. They’ve been doing wonderful work in getting new, amazingly clear scans of Fleischer-produced cartoons. These have mostly been Koko the Clown cartoons, with some Talkartoons, and a couple of Color Classics and other miscellaneous pieces.

To date the only Popeye they have is a Popular Science short explaining how to make cartoons. It’s got footage of the making of Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp, and also of the device they use to put the cartoons against three-dimensional backgrounds. I imagine without knowing that this is because Warner Brothers has released quite good, high-quality prints of all the Fleischer Studios Popeye cartoons on DVD, and has got many of the Famous Studios shorts as video-on-demand discs too.

The Max Fleischer Cartoons channel is not doing the sort of full high-quality restorations that, say, Warner Brothers could. This is more very good scans from 35mm prints. Even that, though, is a huge step for many of these shorts. The sound (where available) is greatly improved and there’s so many details that are now visible now the cartoons are almost new.

Here’s the Talkartoons that Max Fleischer Cartoons has rescanned, along with my own reviews of the cartoons as based on whatever video I could find on the Internet a couple years ago:

A related channel, but with wider scope, is Not An Animation Historian’s, again on YouTube. This channel has many more studios and more decades of work. This includes a number of Fleischer cartoons, more Popeye, Betty Boop, and more obscure characters like Willie Whopper, Flip the Frog, and the human Tom and Jerry. Also some television cartoons, such as Clutch Cargo and Crusader Rabbit.

Folks going in to any of these should remember there’s racist and sexist presentations in some of these cartoons. Some of them are clearly warned about, such as by being in a playlist described as “banned cartoons’ or a title including “uncensored”. But there are many that just lurk ready to spoil an otherwise good time. Which is how I got to this point to start with.

60s Popeye: Spoil Sport (sorry, I don’t know who’s spoiling what sport here)


This week brings us back to Gene Deitch-made cartoons. So, as traditional, I don’t have more detailed credits than that. The Internet Movie Database credits Stepán Konícek for music, although I have to say a lot of it seems like stock background. In any event, from 1961, here’s Spoil Sport.

There is something fascinating in these 1961 Gene Deitch-made shorts. They have felt more ambitious, bigger in scope, than most of the King Features 60s cartoons. This is a case in point. Popeye disappoints Olive Oyl with his new scooter being one of those little foot-powered toys you see in cartoons and Back To The Future. Brutus thrills her with his new sportscar. She goes riding with him, that goes badly, Popeye rescues her. It fits a particular style of Popeye-and-Brutus-compete cartoon, often done in theatrical cartoons. Making it about a great car versus … not … is also evocative of the 1936 short The Spinach Roadster, a solidly fun one.

I think it’s unfair to call this a remake of The Spinach Roadster. But it’s riffing on the same melody. There’s no competing with the earlier cartoon for animation smoothness or detail. The short makes some wise choices to compensate. There’s the magazine pictures Olive Oyl’s looking at to start the short. Or her long wardrobe of identical dresses that she needs to pick from. And, in the most impressive animation choice, highlighting the danger of going too fast on this mountain road with a bit of parallax scrolling, showing the cliff’s edge and the valley far below. This last is a particularly good use of the limited animation budget.

There are shortcomings. Brutus’s sports car jumps over Popeye in a way that looks like a bizarre animation error. It’s easy to imagine the 1930s version of this, where it’s clear this is done on purpose to set up Popeye’s evaluation that “that’s not a car, it’s a grasshopper!” But Popeye’s scooter faling into an open manhole, and popping back up without his movement being interrupted? That’s a joke that plays as well as the Fleischers would have done.

Brutus, angry, is in a sports car sitting on top of a mountain peak. Olive Oyl's in the car beside him. Popeye has set a fence post out to reach the peak, and he, on his scooter, reaches his hand out to help Olive Oyl out of the car.
I get that Popeye doesn’t want to eat his spinach until it’s really dire but this might have been a case to eat his can, dig underneath the car, and toss it back to the main road. Am I wrong?

As Brutus drives up the mountain he’s going too fast for the road width. That’s given; he’s a cad and a villain, at heart. But they don’t crash off the road until after Olive Oyl grabs hold of Brutus’s head. She does that a bunch this short, including when Popeye’s trying to rescue her. Later, her scarf gets in his face so he drives the scooter off the cliff. That’s all within the bounds of normal carton character choices, doing things that make the situation worse. A thing missing, that would have been there in the theatrical version of this, is Brutus’s heel turn. He doesn’t try grabbing at Olive Oyl and forcing her to snuggle or whatever it is he thinks he’s doing. My guess is this reflects some rule about how villains can treat women in made-for-TV cartoons rather than limits on time. It does cause a shift in the blame for the ultimate mess, though. It’s not one that spoils the cartoon. Brutus still gets to be the heel, punching out a Popeye who’s rescuing him from a mountain peak. And essential to Olive Oyl’s character is that she’s high-maintenance. I just note how it changes the impression of who to blame here. Could be that Olive Oyl is a more nervous passenger than Brutus was a driver, and if she didn’t grab his head they wouldn’t have gone off the edge.

Another point is this is a well-edited cartoon. Most of these 60s shorts have indifferent pacing and timing. Here, each joke or plot point moves right to the next quickly. Some of these shorts have dialogue where each line sounds like an isolated island in the middle of the ocean. It’s jolting to hear the characters talking to each other so. The only long, slow piece is Popeye pedalling his scooter up all four loops of that mountain road, and that’s a shot that’s funnier the longer it goes on.

I haven’t done a systematic study. My impression is that I’ve enjoyed these 1961 Deitch cartoons, on average, more than any other bunch of these shorts. I’d love to know if the shorts had more time, or money, or less pressure, or what that’s given them an edge.

60s Popeye: Disguise the Limit, somehow *not* Private Eye Popeye


For the second cartoon in this bundle, King Features offered the full credits. Which is odd since this is a Gene Deitch-made cartoon; apart from his name and William Snyder’s we don’t get any credits. The Internet Movie Database offers no insight about who offered the story or animation for 1961’s Disguise The Limit.

I have mentioned mentioned I have no idea how King Features Syndicate chose what cartoons to bundle up where in their YouTube channel. There must have been some deliberation to put two Popeye-the-detective shorts next to one another. I don’t know whether the lack of a third reflects their not having another Popeye-the-detective short. (I do find that Paramount Cartoon Studios made a 1960 short with Disguise The Limit as title, but as far as I know the only common elements are voice actors. There’s also episodes of Courageous Cat And Minute Mouse, Kwicky Koala, Darkwing Duck, and That’s So Raven with the title.)

The introduction sets up another cartoon of Popeye and Brutus competing over a job. In this case, a gorilla’s escaped the city zoo, and they called a detective agency, as one will. Apart from Brutus flirting with Olive Oyl about his plans for the reward money we weren’t told existed, we don’t get that. Instead, once things get going, it’s a mistaken-identity farce. Popeye-and-Brutus competing is an always solid premise. But a good madcap mistaken-identity farce holds a more special place for me.

Brutus and Popeye put on gorilla costumes to go to the zoo and catch the gorilla, as one will. Olive Oyl insists Popeye should dress as a female gorilla, something achieved by putting on a hat “with ribbons yet”. It’s silly, yes, but it also makes the mistaken-identity stuff possible. It almost reads as a joke about how cartoon design treats female as a declension from the male, marked by accessories like hats and perfume. I don’t know that this joke was intended. But I’m amused by it even if it wasn’t put in on purpose.

A gorilla holds Olive Oyl in his arms; she's trying to squirm his way out. Popeye, dressed as a female gorilla (you can tell as he has a hat with ribbons) taps the gorilla on the shoulder.
I have to wonder if Popeye and Olive Oyl saw this as a welcome return to the good old days here.

I like the idea of this cartoon a good bit. Whether it succeeds has to depend on your patience for how everybody gets confused about which gorilla is which. Brutus punching Popeye’s hat off and it happening to land on the actual gorilla makes enough sense for a cartoon for me. Reasonable people can disagree. I’d like the action to have been a little faster, and maybe for one or two more rounds of the characters losing track of who’s a gorilla and who’s in a costume. Maybe if Brutus’s gorilla outfit looked like the others and he wore some prop. But either of these might have made the short too complicated for the intended audience. (Although every time I watch Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July I realize I’m not young enough to understand Winterbolt’s scheming anymore.) Or just demanded too much screen time.

The short has a couple beats that sound like that classic old Popeye muttering, but promoted to front-line dialogue. Like, Popeye planning, if the reward money turns out to exist, to “buy a new hat, I suppose”. Or after noticing the gorilla “bent the bars like they were butter” declaring “We’ll look for a gorilla with butterfingers”. The response doesn’t make sense except as riffing on some already funny words. I like that sort of dialogue, though, and want to encourage cartoons that have it.

60s Popeye: Private Eye Popeye and the case of the missing credits


King Features has chopped off some or all of the credits the last couple shorts. This was a particularly severe case, with even the title card lost. It’s only the title of the collection on King Features’s YouTube page that makes it clear we’re starting on Private Eye Popeye. The Internet Movie Database tells me this is a 1960 Jack Kinney-produced short, with story by Raymond Jacobs and direction by Rudy Larriva. With that established, let’s watch.

My first watch of this, I hadn’t looked up the credits. I wondered if it might be a Gene Deitch short. The nice moody opening pan across the waterfront, with the music too soft for me to notice first time through, seemed suggestive. And little bits of not-necessary but fun flourishes, like Popeye poking his cleaning rag through his magnifying glass, or the title bar identifying Olive Oyl as a private eyess, seemed like Deitch’s touch. Shows what I know, even after all this time.

A leftover Jimmy Durante caricature claiming to be the police chief assigns Popeye and Olive Oyl to catch diamond smugglers. It’s Brutus and the Sea Hag, of course. Popeye wisely calls on Eugene the Jeep to find the plot. This gets a clever bit of Eugene spelling out ‘DIAMONDS’ with his tail, a message Our Heroes can’t interpret. Brutus locks Popeye in the hold, and hits on Olive Oyl, who hits back. Popeye finds his way into one of those giant deck tubas that ships have in cartoons and silent movies, and holds a gun on Brutus. This feels out of character, as much as it makes sense for “a private eye”. Anyway, the Sea Hag steals the gun and Brutus steals Popeye’s helicopter.

Olive Oyl and Eugene the Jeep are tied to the mast of a ship. (Eugene is upside-down.) Olive Oyl cries for help.
Wait … how do you tie up a Jeep so he doesn’t just fourth-dimensionally pop out of there? Is Eugene having a laugh on everybody?

The big action scene here is Popeye clinging to the helicopter while Brutus flies it. The helicopter breaks up and Brutus and Popeye with one propeller each try to grind the other’s propeller to nothing. This is another thing that made me think Gene Deitch: the action is very much what the 1930s theatrical version of this cartoon might be. It’s got that blend of action and danger and absurdity. Popeye eats his spinach, granting super-powers to his propeller blade, and sends Brutus to the sharks below. To be eaten, if we take the text literally, another moment that feels out of character. The Sea Hag’s still loose, but Olive grabs the gun, accidentally shooting down a jar of diamond-encrusted pickles to knock out the Sea Hag. That sounds like gibberish but all the story pieces hold together.

It’s a strongly story-driven cartoon, especially for a Jack Kinney production. I think of his shorts as being more mood pieces. This strong a narrative I’d expect from Paramount or Gene Deitch. It’s a mostly good blend that they have going here. Not sure I like the guns, or the suggestion Brutus has been killed. And the music is the usual for Kinney, a random shuffle of stock cues mixed at the wrong level. But the whole is a successful short. You can see the version of this that might have been made in, oh, 1938, without feeling too bad that it wasn’t.

60s Popeye: Voice From The Deep! Or See Here, Sea Hag!!


Besides having maybe the longest title for a Popeye cartoon, this week’s short has a tribe of villagers on Phony Island. For the most part we only see one, Chief Knucklebone. Did not like that those points were introduced to the story. To my eye, this avoided being offensive: apart from a celebratory dinner we only see Chief Knucklebone, and he’s presented as acting in his own interests. Still, it’s set on a tropical island where the locals are having trouble they can’t deal with. If you don’t need that in your recreational reading, you are right, and should skip this one.

This one is another Gene Deitch-made cartoon from 1961. As usual with Gene Deitch cartoons I don’t have more specific production details than that. The IMDB offers that the music is by Stepán Konícek and that’s all they have to say. If you’re still up for this, then, let’s watch.

This is, at heart, a stock Popeye plot. At least for the comic strip, although the outline got done a few times in theatrical shorts too. Popeye gets a call for help from a backstory friend who lives on some remote island. (It always seems to be islands in the comic strip, too. I guess so he can sail there, or maybe because there’s so many islands you can make up more and it won’t stand out.) Here, there’s the Sea Hag pulling a Scooby-Doo, scaring off the locals to grab their land. The Sea Hag captures — well, not Olive Oyl, for once. Popeye eats spinach, and vanquishes the foe. (Since that’s done off-screen I guess we can’t say for sure he punched the Sea Hag, but it seems like a close-run thing.) Happy ending.

The Sea Hag sits in front of her Volcano Broadcasting System radio/loudspeaker, an apparatus set up inside the volcano to scare off the locals. Bernard, her vulture, perches on her shoulder, with wings spread wide and peering down at her.
The “voice of the volcano” gimmick is one that I’ve seen recently in the Comics Kingdom Vintage comic strips, too. I think it was in a 1950s run of Mandrake the Magician, but I couldn’t swear it wasn’t Brick Bradford or even Johnny Hazard, come to that. You know how those talking volcanos were back in the day.

What makes it appealing is how it goes about this. The considerable animation, for one thing, starting with a needless but fun spiral at the title cards. Having stuff moving, and in funny ways, forgives a lot of weird edits and slightly mistimed lines and all. Also that the cartoon makes time for needless but funny digressions. Popeye sulking about how he needs an extension phone or an extension bathtub, for example. (Or complaining how the phone always rings when he’s taking a bath, when he’s taking a shower.) Or the airplane pilot come to take Popeye to Phony Island. We don’t seem to need this — why not just cut to Popeye hopping off his boat? — but we get some bouncy flying over the suburbs, and the pilot gets fun lines such as indifferently telling Popeye how to use his parachute. That seeming irrelevance pays off, too: Popeye goes on to use his parachute later, first to get into the volcano and then to get back out. What looks like a throwaway gag sets up plot cleverness. Twice.

And that’s what I like in this short. It’s got a lot of cleverness. Even the Sea Hag’s scheme is a clever one. She wants the island so as to set up a vacation paradise for villains. That’s a fun idea. It’s a setting I’d expect to see in a mid-season episode of Get Smart. I’m sorry we didn’t get to see the plan enacted. I suppose the Sea Hag’s vision of casual pickpocketing and cultural programs establishes the premise. And this might be something more fun imagined than seen in detail. (I’d still like to see the Get Smart episode at KAOS Summer Camp.)

Yes, yes, whenever one of these shorts seems to have more plot than needed I wonder if it came from the comic strip. But I wonder again. The short does a great job at giving the impression there’s more story than is on-screen. I like when they do that.

60s Popeye: Intellectual Interlude, as the world tries to cope with a smart Popeye


King Features’s YouTube channel again cuts off most of the credits for this week’s short. And yet, turning to the Internet Movie Database, I get a little more information than I usually have for a Gene Deitch-produced short. The direction is by Zeljko Kanceljack, the IMDB says. I don’t know how they know. Nevertheless, here fresh from 1961, is Intellectual Interlude. It’s got a nice, exciting title card.

Is Popeye smart? It’s not a question that allows for a definitive answer. The Thimble Theatre universe is set up so he will always be as smart as the plot requires. When Segar introduced him he seemed expert on sailing, as one would hope, if naive in other areas. He quickly picked up a Columbo-like ability to spot the evildoer even if he didn’t know what evil was doing. Often he’s clever, rigging together some funny gadget to fix the problem of the moment. But he’s usually portrayed as ignorant (a different thing from not-smart), and often as uninterested in changing that. This cartoon starts with a common portrayal of that: Olive Oyl loved the movie Sophisticated Ladies and Popeye couldn’t be paid to care about it. She pushes him to get some adult education.

In the second surprise of the cartoon — the first was that the title card fed into the opening scene — Brutus is not the teacher. There’s a normal teacher from outside the Popeye universe here to give him the dunce cap. This leads to another teacher, a chemist who gets Wotasnozzle’s voice. He’s working on some potion, as chemists always are, with the final ingredient of intellectual spinach. All he needs is the test case, someone not allergic to spinach. Who does that sound like?

Popeye slumps deep in the chair he's tied to, while a purple-clad head villain leans well past horizontal to sneer into his eyes. In the background a taller, black-clad henchman watches, and next to both of them is a gigantic red-shirted bruiser with a small head and even tinier face, smiling at the prospect of punching out Popeye.
So all that budget saved by showing still pictures of newspapers with incorrect dates? It went into scenes like this, where everybody makes wildly unrealistic moves in these great flowing waves of action. It’s quite fluid and a demonstration of how animation can be limited and stylized without being boring or bad.

So this is a dream cartoon; we learn at the end that everything from Popeye getting the dunce cap is a fantasy. Did you suspect it? I didn’t, particularly. Super-Intelligent Popeye seems like something within the normal bounds of his universe’s antics. After a montage of newspaper headlines that I bet were kind to the animation budget we get some spy antics. Secret agents in helicopter 13-K abduct Popeye and demand he work for them. They’ve also got Olive Oyl, to make sure he goes along with it. When they dangle Popeye and Olive Oyl off a cliff, Popeye pops some spinach out of his chest. It’s the first time in a Gene Deitch cartoon I remember him carrying spinach on him, rather than depending on the environment. (The potion really did make him smarter!) We get the boing sound effect from the Gene Deich Tom and Jerry cartoons and it’s only when Popeye’s punched off the cliff to an infinite fall that he wakes up. Also somehow he and Olive Oyl had the same dream.

I didn’t notice any of the usual tip-offs that a story’s become imaginary. It didn’t even have Popeye facing too titanic a problem to wrap up. I mean, he’s Popeye and he’s just eaten spinach. He could crash onto the ground below, pull himself out of the Popeye-shaped hole and shake his head. Have him shake his head at that blow and reveal the super-smarts have worn off and we’ve resolved it all well. I don’t see why Deitch didn’t do that, and I’m sorry not to be able to ask him. (If he would remember.)

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