60s Popeye has Childhood Daze


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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