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?

60s Popeye: The Rain Breaker, which is not a useful article of clothing


I don’t know why the Paramount Cartoon Studios cartoons are all from 1961 lately, while the other studios are stuck in 1960. Of all the things I don’t understand about how King Features is ordering these shorts, that’s one of them. The story here is by I Klein. Direction and of course production are crediteed to Seymour Kneitel. Have your picnic baskets ready as we visit The Rain Breaker.

At what point, watching this, did you realize it was all a dream? Me, watching this just this weekend, I figured it was a dream the moment I saw Popeye fall asleep without anybody else on-screen. We’re trained to tolerate, at least, dream stories, but they have to play fair, like by giving us the last moment we can say something definitely happened. Here it’s an overstuffed Popeye falling asleep during a lovely day for picnicking.

I don’t remember how long I needed when I was a kid. Plausibly it wasn’t until Popeye woke up that it occurred to me. Popeye is someone who has astounding adventures. Why not get so annoyed that the weather forecast is wrong he goes up to the clouds to figure out what’s wrong? And, once there, why shouldn’t the problem be that Thor has imprisoned Iris until she agrees to marry him? It’s interesting that Paramount Cartoon Studios felt the need to blanket that as an imaginary story. This is a series that’s had Popeye meet flying saucers many times over. He’s gone to Lilliput. Paramount Cartoons would even have him meet the cheese men of the Moon and the missile men annoying King Blozo. Why not the goddess of the rainbow, sunshine, and the sunny weather?

Animation cell of Popeye about to punch Thor (Brutus). Thor is standing on a small cloud, but Popeye's on nothing, which stands out because the background is a shot looking up at the castle atop the mountains, so that Popeye and Thor stand in mid-air.
I guess Thor can stand on a cloud if he wants. Popeye can only be there on Thor’s invite, though. If he’d thought faster he would have just let Popeye fall to the ground, way down below.

Once we get there it’s some routine stuff. There’s a nice bit where Popeye finds a window into Iris’s dungeon too high up so he pulls it down. That’s the kind of joke Popeye’s been doing since black-and-white cartoon days. Always works for me. There’s also a moment where Popeye and Thor stand in midair in front of the mountaintop castle. That’s a rare animation mistake for Paramount. Counterbalancing that is the moment of Thor’s lightning bolt melting against Popeye’s spinach-supported chest, which is a great look even in this limited animation.

I don’t fault the writing for making this all a dream story. If it makes it easier to justify Popeye punching out Thor who happens to look like Brutus, all right. That’s more interesting than Popeye punching Brutus. And it’s part of how kids learn to recognize that something’s become an imaginary story. It’s strange that the cue is “Popeye is having an adventure in too-interesting a place”.

An Impostor’s Dream


So apparently in my dream-world life, I’ve been a staff writer for Conan O’Brien for about five years now and despite that it occurred to me during some kind of special event show that I couldn’t remember having ever had anything I’d written turn up on air, ever. Which is a bit humbling, but what was really bad was during the taping of the show I realized I didn’t even know who I’d give a comedy sketch to, if I ever wrote one, if I ever wanted to see it maybe get on the air, which it wouldn’t. So that’s a bit humbling.

Anyway, I was mulling over whether I had any kind of job that meant anything in the dream-world, when I got caught up in one of those conversations which will not end with the guy playing the Conan show’s newly-minted midwestern-mayor character Roberto Boblo (his primary gimmick being an obsession with what he insists is a gold bar, but which is obviously a plastic hairbrush spray-painted kind-of-gold-ish), who refused to break character as he tried to shake me out of my funk. The upshot of this is that while wandering away from the taping I got hopelessly lost in an unfamiliar area of the Great Adventure amusement park in Jackson, New Jersey.

I think this offers lessons useful for all of us.

Statistics Saturday: Frequency of Various Stress Dreams


Stress Dream Average Time Between
Public Nudity 3 weeks
Can’t Even Begin To Understand How Hotel Shower Fixture Works 5 months
Public Speaking 5 weeks
Changing Work 4 weeks
Public Noticing You 7 weeks
Back In School 25 Days
Public Anything, Really 2 weeks
Moving 11 months
Traffic About As Bad As It Is At Rush Hour, Only It’s Not Rush Hour 65 days
Application You Never Heard Of Before Gets Permission To Update, Family Staggers From Ruins 200 days
Performance Under Review By Mysterious Figure From Childhood 50 days
Can’t Make People Move Out Of The Way Already 4 months
Have To Race Naked To Pants Department Of Elementary School In Order To Impress Colleague At Major Outreach Event In Order To Secure Promising New Position In Reading, England, And You Keep Finding The Shelves With Books And Stuff Instead Of Pants Maybe three times in your life but good luck being functional at all the next day
Car Won’t Start 6 weeks
Car Is Somehow Also A Naked Duck 14 months
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