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: The Golden Touch, and how to cure it


(The cure is spinach and Jeeps, which, yeah, will cure most anything.)

Before I get into the cartoon I want to amplify a bit of news. Fred M Grandinetti was kind enough to post the other day that he has a new book, Popeye the Sailor: The 1960s TV Cartoons, about just what the title says. I haven’t had the chance to get it, but I’m interested to read another person giving some serious attention to a neglected corner of Popeye’s history.

Another week brings us to 1960 and back to Jack Kinney sudios. Ed Nofziger’s credited for the story, with an assist to Ovid. Eddie Rehberg reappears as the animation director. Here’s The Golden Touch.

If the legends of King Midas teach us anything, it’s “don’t appear in a legend with any Greek gods”. Midas survives his two legends well, coming out of it with a couple hungry days and, later on, donkey’s ears that the fields can’t stop whispering about. Still, the golden-touch legend is the one we all remember, for saving humanity from a dystopia where the pursuit of the illusion of wealth destroys our environment, our society, and our bodies.

And it forms the bulk of this adequate cartoon. It’s the telling of another Popeye Fairy Story — Phairie Story, according to the cover — with the inspiration that Swee’Pea is in love with pennies. As a way into a story, that’s a good one. It’s a very kid attitude to want all the pennies.

In the story, Good King Popeye is a beloved ruler who does impersonations of Ted Lewis with his question, “Is ev’rybody happy?” It’s an interesting cast: I understood having Alice the Goon and Wimpy (who’s hamburger-happy) as a kid. As an adult, I’m … pretty sure the first person to answer is supposed to be Geezil. I think the last is supposed to be Toar. We also get a glimpse of Oscar (at about 0:46). There’s a short person standing next to Geezil(?) and Alice the Goon we never get a good view of, and I’d like to know if that’s supposed to be someone recognizable.

The street of a medieval-ish city. There are several people on the street, all frozen and turned to gold with dollar signs on them. One is 'Ye Poppe Corne' vendor. In front of 'Ye Poppe Corne' vendor are a cat and dog turned to gold in the middle of hissing at each other.
So first, is that Roughhouse as Ye Poppe Corne vendor? Second, why did King Popeye touch the cat and the dog?

Good King Popeye wants his land to be as rich as it is happy. The magical Jeep (is there another kind?) decides this is a day to give people what they ask for, not what they need. The golden touch is fine and fun when it turns his crown, his pipe, and his pipe smoke into gold. Less so when it turns Princess Olive to gold. He tries to eat spinach to fix all this and the spinach turns to gold, which he can’t eat.

And here the short starts to fall apart. King Popeye needs to find the Jeep to reverse the spell; OK. He goes asking people if they’ve seen the Jeep. By tapping them on the shoulders. I get the animation reasons for this: it’s very cheap to have someone stand still while a cel of Popeye’s arm swings down to touch them, and then you paint them in gold. But turning one person to gold is an understandable accident. The fourth time in you have to ask what King Popeye thought would happen.

My problem’s not that he does a dumb thing. Everybody does dumb things sometimes. And it’s a legend inside a kids cartoon. It isn’t necessarily bad if the kids are smarter than the characters. But if you’re Toar, and you’ve seen Popeye just touch Alice and Wimpy and turn them to gold, why aren’t you going to step back some? And the answer he didn’t see them, because they didn’t have enough animation budget for Toar to turn his head and see any of this.

But maybe the problem is unfixable. It would be about as cheap for Popeye to ask the crowd if they’d seen a Jeep and everyone to say no. They’re all Jack Mercer doing voices anyway. But it would be a shame to not use as much of the gold touch as possible. Maybe there’s a way to rewrite so King Popeye has reason to touch everybody in the kingdom, and if they had the time to work on the stories they might have found it.

A sad King Popeye walks along the narrow spit of land toward the Sea Hag's lair. His footprints are golden dollar signs.
I think it’s fair for King Popeye to ask why his crown and pipe and pipe smoke turned to gold but his clothes and the cape he’s brushing(?) did not.

Popeye’s last hope is the Sea Hag, who it turns out captured the Jeep. She’s able to drive King Popeye off, first with the garden hose, a joke that I really like. Then by throwing the kitchen sink at him, over and over. King Popeye eats his gold spinach because that bit where he couldn’t eat gold spinach was whole minutes in the past and who can remember that far back. And threatens the Sea Hag with being turned to gold if she doesn’t release the Jeep. I think this is getting in the neighborhood of a war crime but since it all ends merrily enough we’re okay with it. Everybody’s happy again, and Swee’Pea has learned to wish for nickels instead.

There’s stuff to like here. A King Midas Touch cartoon is a fun starting point. The wish is immediately appealing to anyone, even as we acknowledge that taken literally it would be horrible. The world becoming more and more dead as you interact with it should be a good nightmarish building of tension. We get Eugene the Jeep and the Sea Hag, always fun characters. And there’s cute little bits, such as King Popeye leaving behind golden dollar-sign footprints. If that wasn’t used in a Richie Rich comic book cover somebody at Harvey screwed up. I love the Sea Hag just reading her paper, asking “Hah?” when King Popeye demands the Jeep’s release.

As it is, though, it’s hobbled. There’s the problem of King Popeye having no good reason to tap the fourth person on the shoulder. And the music is a completely flat, almost languid thing. It’s like the music director was asked to score five minutes of hanging around while nothing happens. The change in whether King Popeye can eat the gold spinach I suppose we can use the old “it wasn’t dire enough to try earlier” excuse. It’d be nice to have something made more explicit, though. I know I always say the Jack Kinney cartoons are a rewrite or two away from working, but there we are.

60s Popeye: Jeep Jeep, the one with the Jeep


Today’s is a short from the Jack Kinney studios, so you know who’s producer. Story is by Ed Nofziger and animation direction Ken Hultren. Here is 1960’s Jeep Jeep.

The Popeye Wikia says Jeep Jeep “is not to be confused with Jeep Is Jeep. They have made their ruling; now let them enforce it.

1960’s Jeep Jeep is a Jack Kinney Studio production introducing Eugene the Jeep. 1960’s Jeep Is Jeep is a Paramount Cartoon Studios production introducing Eugene the Jeep. I’m curious whether all five 1960s King Features studios did their Introducing The Jeep cartoon.

This time around, it’s Swee’Pea who discovers the Jeep, after he wanders far from home. I like that as an idea. Travel as a way to encounter and be changed by magic fits. Even if Swee’Pea is only nine miles from Popeye’s Boring Suburban Home. Nine miles is a pretty good journey for someone who can’t walk upright yet.

Swee’Pea brings Eugene home. Popeye’s willing in the end to accept a magic pet who can broadcast music and CW ham radio. (I couldn’t make out what Eugene’s Morse code message was. I suspect it was nonsense.) Brutus and the Sea Hag decide they’ve got to steal a dog who knows how far away the Sun is. I understand this was shorthand for “knows everything”, but from what we see? It’s a dog that can help you win pub quiz night. Also not sure why Brutus and the Sea Hag teamed up on this. Or why it takes two villains.

Swee'Pea looking up delighted at what appears to be a large Jeep. It's Brutus wearing a Jeep costume; the audience can see the seams.
So did Brutus and Sea Hag make that Jeep costume, or did they rent it?

Their plan: kidnap Swee’Pea so they can kidnap Eugene. This seems like one kidnapping too many to me. Maybe the Sea Hag figures it’s the only way to keep Eugene from attacking her. Anyway, Popeye has a plan, which is to give the villains what they want, and then wait for their plan fall apart. And this works. Eugene’s treasure map takes them, by plane, by train, through swamps, to the desert, to dig into jail. Popeye barely has to get up from his chair.

I want to like this cartoon more than I do. It’s Jeep-centered, for one. The resolution involves out-thinking the bad guys instead of just punching them. But the story’s too ramshackle for me to quite buy. Like, why do Brutus and the Sea Hag grab Swee’Pea and not Eugene? Why do they take this long yet very quick journey to dig into a jail? How did they not notice they were next to a jail? (I expected Eugene to have them dig into Fort Knox, malicious compliance with their wish for a place with tons of gold.) Was there nothing Popeye could do besides follow these adventures over his hand-held Jeep TV set?

Could be I assumed a Jack Kinney cartoon is going to have more comical weirdness to it. Or I want too much out of a Eugene the Jeep cartoon. Hard to say.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Museum Piece, in which he puts nothing into the museum


It’s another Jack Kinney cartoon, this one from 1960. The story is by Carol Beers and Ruben Apodaca, names I don’t seem to have recorded before. Direction is by Eddie Rehberg, who’s been around a lot. Producer is Jack Kinney. Here, with Professor O G Wotasnozzle as the museum director, is Popeye’s Museum Piece. Wotasnozzle’s name gets a second ‘T’ in the newspaper Brutus reads. That kind of thing happens to him all the time.

My generic joke about the King Features Popeye cartoons of the 60s is that they were produced in less time than it takes to watch. Obvious hyperbole, of course. But there is the feeling at least that no one cartoon ever got much attention. Many stories feel like first drafts, not quite developed enough to where they fully make sense. (And there are a fair number that overcome this and have good solid stories anyway.)

Popeye’s Museum Piece gives that impression of being a first draft. The premise seems good enough. Popeye’s a museum employee. Brutus breaks in to steal a masterpiece. Eugene the Jeep sounds the alarm. Everybody slips some and falls over things they shouldn’t. It never quite works for me and I’m trying to think out why.

I notice the slapstick. There’s a steady joke about, like, Brutus tripping over a mop causing him to fall down the stairs. The thing is that he could hardly avoid falling anyway. Later he trips in a water pail as he’s crashing into a wall. And this feels emblematic of what doesn’t work. The characters tripping over stuff makes sense, for the plot and for the comedy. But tripping over something to send them into an accident they were going to have anyway? That’s sloppy writing. You can’t be running so fast toward the stairs that you’d have tumbled down even without the mop in the way. There’s another bit, where Popeye trips over Eugene the Jeep and they fall in a heap, with Eugene wearing Popeye’s hat. That works. That pratfall makes sense.

Eugene the Jeep bounds off down the hall. Behind is a painting or diorama showing an angry rabbit poked out of his head and glaring at a woodpecker or possibly a fox poking out of a tree. A jaguar in the tree branch and a bear behind the tree trunk are ready to attack the woodpecker. Also, there's a lion leaping onto the offended rabbit.
What … what is that mural or diorama or painting or whatever on the wall behind Eugene? (Brutus and Popeye run past it several times over, too, since there aren’t that many backgrounds.) I mean, besides a not-cartoony-enough rendition of the animal mayhem for a Slylock Fox spot-the-six-differences panel.

There’s the usual little animation errors. The one that did distract me is Popeye looking at the new masterpiece Professor Wotasnozzle’s declared is so important. Popeye declares he can’t see what’s so great about it. Perhaps because the painting isn’t anywhere on-screen and he’s actually looking at the space between two unrelated paintings. It’s not an error that wrecks the cartoon. But would it have been harder to use a background with the painting in it?

This isn’t a misbegotten cartoon, or even one that’s far from being good. I’m not clear why Popeye is the janitor-and-security-guy at the the city museum. I suppose because if he weren’t, we wouldn’t have a museum cartoon. Given that, Brutus stealing a painting makes sense. Why is Eugene the Jeep popping in and out and occasionally flashing his nose? Why is Popeye so determined to ignore Eugene freaking out over something? These answers might not matter. My impression, though, is the writers didn’t have any reasons in mind for all this. The story ends up sloppy, Brutus tripping over a mop he doesn’t need to as he falls down the stairs.

Popeye refers at one point to “the valuable painting!” which fell into his arms. He doesn’t seem to have reason to think it’s that. But I appreciate the Animal Crossing vibe of naming it “The Valuable Painting”.

60s Popeye: Myskery Melody, a cartoon people have been asking for


For today I have a 1961 Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced cartoon. Myskery Melody is credited to Seymour Kneitel for the story and the direction. And it features something that Garrison Skunk has been asking for! So let’s watch the cartoon.

The story credit is a bit of a fib. Not to discount Seymour Kneitel’s work in putting the story together. But it was based on the 1936 comic strip storyline Mystery Melody. As often happens with the conversion of a print story to screen, the print version is better. But the print version had five months at six strips a day to tell its version. The cartoon has five minutes. Kneitel had to do serious work to shrink and adapt it. He’s helped by reducing the character set to the bare minimum, and cutting out side stories. And by Elzie Segar’s tendency to get caught by a funny idea and do that for three weeks straight while he thought of the next plot point.

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.
I don’t know why she covers her face to play the flute. I know she was introduced that way in the comic strip, as part of making her the more mysterious and inexplicable, but I don’t know if that signifies anything more than we’re supposed to find her mysterious.

The story as we get it animated: Poopdeck Pappy’s haunted by a weird melody that Olive Oyl and Popeye can’t hear. We see it’s the Sea Hag playing her flute in a wonderful dark, spooky swamp. She sends her vulture to grab Pappy’s hat, and he tells the backstory. When a young sailor he courted the beautiful Rose of the Sea — “afore I was married”, a reassurance that Popeye is not literally a bastard. But when he finally kissed her, she transformed into the Sea Hag. He freaked out and ran, and the Sea Hag has held it against him for 80 years. Pappy looks a bit shallow, but he was young and saw his girlfriend transform to a witch. It’d be strange if he weren’t freaked out. And it’s got the feel of a folk take. I’m too ignorant to pin down one that quite works like this, but discovering your beloved is secretly an evil spirit has got to be done before.

Pappy says the Sea Hag’s been looking for him for 80 years, which indicates he has a high opinion of himself as a suitor. Well, he is a guy. It doesn’t seem like she must have been looking for him long. He was sitting in jail on Goon Island for forty of those years. But this may be a continuity separate from the Goonland short. I mean, I know it is. The continuity of Popeye is about personality and attitude, not about what happened when. In the comic strip Mystery Melody was only the first major story after Pappy was found.

In a bright purple sitting room, young Poopdeck has opened his eye in horror that the woman he's kissing is the Sea Hag.
I’m looking at how Sea Hag’s shoulder and neck have to be twisted so she can hold her hands like that while kissing Poopdeck. I can’t see where that’s comfortable for her.

The Sea Hag uses her flute to bewitch Pappy. She gives him a chance to love her as Rose of the Sea and when he refuses, she puts him in the dungeon. Popeye reasons that what he could use is Eugene the Jeep, who what do you know but is right there. Eugene charges for the castle and chases off the Sea Hag, shooting electricity from his tail, a thing we didn’t know he could do before. Didn’t know it in the comic strip version, either. The Sea Hag’s vulture tries to take Popeye away, but he eats his spinach and punches his way free. And pushes the castle out of the way, freeing his father. We have a happy ending, with the last joke being Pappy spooked by a mysterious whistling that’s the tea kettle. It’s one of the few jokes in the short.

I like this short. It’s one that gives the Popeye characters history, the illusion that there’s a world going on even when Popeye isn’t on-screen. And it has some nice haunting moments; that shot of the Sea Hag playing her flute in the swamp is a good spooky one. And the Rose-of-the-Sea backstory for Pappy feels like the sort of folklore that belongs in a story about a rough-and-tumble sailor from a rough-and-tumble family. The time spent on setup does mean there’s no time for development; we have to go almost directly to the resolution. It’s a good trade, though, as the setup is good.

It’s unusual for the cartoons in being dramatic rather than comic. And it’s unusual for the King Features era in being plot-heavy. (Though Paramount cartoons seem to be the most plot-driven of the King Features run.) Nobody’s acting dumb, or even petty. It’s even got structure, with Pappy telling his history while the vulture flies back to the Sea Hag. Popeye cartoons don’t usually have things developing in parallel.

The Sea Hag runs, screaming, down a hill while Eugene the Jeep shoots electric bolts from his tail, jabbing her back.
This seems harsh but you do have to remember, she kissed Poopdeck without revealing that she was secretly ugly. Also there was that thing where she kidnapped Poopdeck too.

That I know the comic strip version of this story spoils things a little. Comics Kingdom reprinted it in the Vintage Thimble Theatre run. So I know the pieces of the comic strip story dropped, most of them for time. Much of this is Wimpy coming along and getting his greedy hands on the Sea Hag’s flute. I’ve mentioned the relationship between Wimpy and the Sea Hag before. Mystery Melody isn’t the comic strip series that established that relationship, but it did build on it. The comic strip also had two disturbing sequences. In one, Popeye beat up the Sea Hag’s vulture, literally tearing him apart. She used her flute to stitch him back together and restore his life. Great stuff, inappropriate for this cartoon. This audience anyway. But if they wanted to make an animated Popeye Movie? That would be a powerful scene.

Wimpy, speaking of the Sea Hag: 'Do you think she really has passed on?' Popeye: 'A'course, I ain't positiff, but I think the Jeep turned her into a mummy. ... We can't leave her standin' there against the wall ... le's put'er into a easy chair.' Wimpy, exiting: 'Well, that's that. Let's be going.' Popeye: 'Jus' a minute, Wimpy.' A somber-looking Popeye carries a pillow over, and sets it behind the seated, mummified Sea Hag's head. He walks off, mournful, and carrying his hat in his hand.
Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre for the 22nd of August, 1937, reprinted the 20th of August, 2020. The story had been quite a lot of silly fun before this, and right after this bit of Maybe Eugene Just Killed Her, went into several weeks of jokes about what they could do with the Jeep’s electric-power tail. Elzie Segar: master of a consistent and not-at-all jarring tone.

The other bit from the comic strip dropped here is the battle between the Sea Hag and Eugene the Jeep. In the cartoon, the Sea Hag’s terrified and runs off. In the comic strip Eugene hunts down the terrified Sea Hag, electrifying her until he finally leaves her “mummified”. That, too, is a downright disturbing moment, especially as it comes after a lot of funny bits where Eugene surprises the Sea Hag. It gives Popeye a fantastic moment, though, mourning the possibly-dead Sea Hag and scolding his father for not pitying her in that state. Again, so inappropriate for a cartoon with this scope and audience, but also, a great bit for the full-length movie.

There’s some other things dropped from the comic strip version. Toar, for one, but also Alice the Goon and the Sea Hag’s new lackey of Bolo. I can’t fault them cutting these characters, who didn’t have much to do in the comic strip version anyway.

You see how enthusiastic I am about this cartoon and the original comic strip story. The 1960s run of cartoons had much working against them. But this shows how much they could work well, too.

60s Popeye: Swee’Pea Thru The Looking Glass


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

60s Popeye: Jeep Tale; Popeye’s Island Adventures has ditched me so here’s Young Eugene the Jeep instead


I have no idea whether the Popeye’s Island Adventures series has wrapped up for good. Or whether they’re just taking a break after publishing a 25th short cartoon. There was, like, a monthlong pause after the first time they put up a two-minute short, after all.

So for want of a better idea I’ll dig into their archive of 60s King Features Syndicate cartoons. These have gathered four cartoons per video. I don’t feel up to reviewing all four in one essay. Not while I’m stalling like this. The first of their YouTube videos bundled Hits and Missiles and Plumber’s Pipe Dream, both of which I’ve already discussed. So let me go to the third, Jeep Tale, which starts at 11:29 in the video. Oh, I like Eugene the Jeep. This is sure to be good.

Jeep Tale was directed by Jack Kinney, the same as Plumber’s Pipe Dream. And right away the title card makes me think of a thing I didn’t acknowledge enough in Plumber’s Pipe Dream: the title card is beautiful. It’s this nice abstract midcentury-styled thing. So is the long, low cabinet that Eugene hops past in the first scene. They’re attractive to look at, at least to someone of my aesthetics. The Jeeps’ treehouse is cute, and to make it a bit funnier, it has a TV antenna. The animation is limited to the point of disappearing altogether, yes. But the pictures are nice to look at. Sometimes absurdly nice: the rendering of Eugene the Jeep and his family makes them amazingly adorable, moreso than I remember them ever being in the comic strip or the Fleischer cartoons.

The cartoon’s frame is Swee’Pea asking Popeye to explain stuff. This was used several times in the King Features cartoons of the 60s. Usually it was Swee’Pea wanting a story. I understand its value as a framing device. For one, it lets the cartoonists use any story premise they have, regardless of whether it’s got anything to do with Popeye. For another, it means like half a minute or more of the five-minute cartoon can be stock animation. And this sets up a story which evokes The Tale of Peter Rabbit. It doesn’t get too close to the original story, but it does want the audience to think of Peter Rabbit.

If there’s one thing Famous Studios Popeye cartoons teach us, it’s that there’s no good Popeye cartoons where he’s facing down an animal. Popeye loses them all, and comes off looking a jerk for trying. (I will defend The Hungry Goat as a great cartoon. I love it. But it’s so much a Tex Avery cartoon that happens to have slotted Popeye in that the cartoon even calls itself out for not being Popeye enough. It reads much more as a stealth pilot for the goat character.) So seeing Popeye and a family of Jeeps living in his(?) yard seemed like a warning sign. No, though; the backstory Popeye isn’t facing down an animal. Bluto is. That’s a conflict I don’t remember from Famous Studios cartoons. And it’s a good one. We can root for the animal to come out on top without feeling like we’re double-crossing Popeye.

The story Popeye tells has got something of a storyline. Young Eugene refuses his Jeep lessons, while his sisters are well-behaved. I don’t know whether his sisters ever get a “canonical” appearance where they’re not part of a possibly fictional tale. Their names are Flipsy, Mipsy, and Tossytail, names sure to come up at 60s-Popeye-Trivia Night. The story more or less follows. Young Eugene goes off to make mischief at the Bad Farmer’s, and quickly gets in over his head. His mother saves him, distracting Bad Farmer Bluto. She hypnotizes Bad Farmer Bluto who goes bouncing off and accidentally threatening Young Eugene’s life … so Young Eugene teleports for the first time. There’s a bit of slack in the storyline but it basically hangs together. I get why this stuff happens and in this order, more or less.

Making the conflict Jeeps Versus Bluto is a pretty good choice. It’s a fresh angle and it avoids making Popeye the antagonist. Making it a Young Eugene who’s not really magical yet, too, keeps the conflict from being a blowout. The plot structure leaves Popeye nearly out of the cartoon. But Popeye as the narrator means he doesn’t seem to be out of action. Good Farmer Popeye stopping in to kibbutz helps give Popeye presence even if he doesn’t affect things any. I laughed at how the “tool shed” Eugene runs to is an ammunition dump. It’s preposterous in a way that’s maybe a little out of tone for the rest of the quite gentle story, but it works for me. The hypnotized Bluto muttering “jeep … jeep ow … jeep ow ow ow” as he bounces on his rear end through thistles is also making me laugh. I will insist this is because Jackson Beck is performing such a nothing line well, not because I’ll laugh at the dumbest stuff.

There’s some oddities in the animation. This besides the problem of working out whether the Jeeps’ treehouse is on Good Farmer Popeye or Bad Farmer Bluto’s property. There are, for example, a lot of scenes which fade out instead of just cutting to something else going on in the scene. There are, in the first half of the cartoon, a lot of quite short shots. And, like, why the fade-out (at about 14:30 in the video) after Popeye tells of Eugene being locked in the cage just to Swee’Pea’s reaction of “Ooh, he was mean”? It seems like they were trying to save screen time. And then had 25 seconds for Eugene to fill time, doing a little magic and then dancing the Sailor’s Hornpipe. It’s cute — every moment of Eugene or his relative Jeeps is adorable — but why so much of it? And if Eugene is going to sing the Sailor’s Hornpipe would it have been too much trouble to have the soundtrack match?

Also so Eugene’s Mom can hypnotize people, but as far as I remember Eugene can’t? … Although I guess that fits with the story Popeye tells. Carry on, then.

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