60s Popeye: The Green Dancin’ Shoes and worrying news about the Tasmania spinach crop


I’m not reviewing Westward Ho-Ho, which is the next cartoon in this series. That cartoon’s one in which Popeye tells of grandpappy sailing his prairie schooner to the West. Along the way he Pappy faces peril from the Cleveland Indians and the Milwaukee Braves. These are presented as tribes of Brutuses. They throw baseballs at Pappy; he bats them back. That’s unreal enough I was considering doing the cartoon anyway. But then Pappy’s ragweed allergy gets him sneezing — second cartoon in a row where sneezing comes into play — and he sneezes all the way to China. Where he faces a Chinese version of Wimpy who talks like 1960-era children’s cartoon writers would figure funny. And that crossed my poorly-defined lines. I’m not being paid enough to write up cartoons that offend me.

So the next one in line is The Green Dancin’ Shoes and it … also has a character get to China. And also see the Chinese Wimpy. He gets one line and gets out of the cartoon. I don’t know why Jack Kinney (producer) figured we needed this. But it’s small enough that I don’t feel a nope-out is appropriate. If your lines are harder than mine, you’re right, and you might want to skip this one.

The Green Dancin’ Shoes is a 1960 production from Jack Kinney. Story is by our old friend Ed Nofziger and animation direction by Ken Hultgren.

This is another cartoon using the frame of Popeye telling Swee’Pea a story; here, a “Popeye Fairy Story”. A Popeye Fairy Story is like a regular fairy story except people eat spinach. Here, it’s a version of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Red Shoes. This makes maybe three adaptations of the Anderson fairy tale I’m aware of in one decade. The other two are the Porky Pig cartoon The Wearing Of The Grin (1951) and the Donald Duck cartoon Trick or Treat (1952). The last maybe stretches a point, since Donald doesn’t wear shoes and doesn’t dance. But, like, Witch Hazel enchants Donald’s feet to move against his will. Anyway none of these adaptations pick up anything from the original story — not even red shoes — except the protagonist losing control of his or her own feet.

Within the story, Olive Oyl is a dancing fiend, wanting to do nothing but this big, silly move that Swee’Pea and everyone else asks, “That’s dancing?” Story-Popeye brings a gift, the kind that’s really for him: the “last can of rare Tasmanian spinach”. This seems like an ecological tragedy to me. But it gives Sea Hag a reason to want the rare spinach: she’ll use it to make Popeye be a pirate for her. Put that way it sounds daft, but I get where everybody’s coming from here. Apart from the story’s Popeye. Olive Oyl is not a hard person to shop for here. He shouldn’t be getting this wrong.

Olive Oyl, wearing the Green Dancing Shoes, bounds happily out into the forest.
How it started …

So now’s a good moment for a question: why is this framed as a Popeye Fairy Story? Why have Popeye read the story to Swee’Pea instead of having this be the things that are “really” happening? I guess Popeye cartoons tend to be set in the present day, instead of the generic fairy-tale past. But that’s not a hard rule, not even among King Features cartoons of the 60s. It’s not to keep magic out of the “reality” of Popeye’s and friends’ lives. The Sea Hag and a bunch of magic characters and items (not even counting spinach) are a part of the setup. The biggest advantage the frame offers is that the cartoon can skip dull parts of the story. Or Popeye the narrator can fill in exposition with a sentence to Swee’Pea. But that’s not relied on here either. It seems like they used the frame because they had it already.

Here’s a point where the frame maybe hurts things. Once Olive puts on the shoes, the Sea Hag enchants them to never stop dancing. Olive Oyl needs about four weeks to realize this is happening. But why does the Sea Hag do this? She got the spinach she wanted, and Olive Oyl’s enchantment doesn’t seem to be part of getting Popeye to do her bidding. If this all “really” happens, then the Sea Hag’s action can be justified. She was too caught up in the fun of making mischief to realize this wasn’t helping her. But as part of a story Popeye is reading — well, why did story-Sea-Hag make this mistake? That is, why didn’t the author of the book Popeye is reading work out the Sea Hag’s motivation there?

Yes, I know; Ed Nofziger wasn’t being paid enough to work that out. Fair. And, after all, a story about dancing shoes where the shoes don’t start dancing is even more flawed. I suppose framing this as a story allows Story-Popeye to fight the Sea Hag. The Real Popeye would have to fight her vulture, who’d need to be in the rest of the story. So the framing does save the screen time and animation budget Bernard would need.

Olive Oyl, wearing the Green Dancing Shoes, is strapped in a hole that the shoes keep digging deeper and deeper, while she cries out for help.
How it’s going.

Still, it’s trying to catch the out-of-control Olive that gets Popeye to run into the Sea Hag. And get the spinach from the Sea Hag, this while Olive’s shoes dig a hole that takes her all the way to China. We get that view of Chinese Wimpy who is, at least, reasonable in not understanding what he’s seeing, and leaves.

Popeye’s able to pull the shoes off Olive, thanks to eating his spinach. They get back home, punching a pile of rocks off, and the Sea Hag gets trapped in her own shoes and dancing into orbit.

This is, Chinese Wimpy aside, a fun cartoon. I enjoyed watching. I enjoyed Olive’s tuneless song to herself about dancing, dancing, dancing. It feels spontaneous and bubbly, with the spirit of children singing their delight at whatever they were doing already. I grant other people may hear Mae Questel tunelessly repeating the word dancing dancing dancing. Would still like reassurance there’s a future for Tasmanian spinach, though.

Distracted by, you know, That Cartoon


I’m sorry for running late but made me aware of the 1973 Rankin/Bass cartoon That Girl In Wonderland, made for the Saturday Superstar Movie. You know, for all the kids who loved the career-and-boyfriend shenanigans of That Girl but wanted a dose of Goldilocks and the Three Bears mixed in. And everyone voice-acting like they’re sad or tired. And there’s a weird side point about guitar lessons. And I’ve been watching it, trying to figure out whether this is actually happened or if I’m part of a hoax of no discernable purpose. Were there a lot of kids sitting up Saturday mornings hoping they’d get to see That Girl dealing with the petty nastiness of the switchboard operator? Were there many adults who enjoyed Ann Marie trying to establish her life in the city but wished it were a non-fanciful cartoon instead? Who were they expecting would watch?

Anyway, now that I have seen The Animated Adventures of That Girl, I’m finally open to trying out Mary Tyler Moore Show Babies.

If you want to watch, it’s up at Archive.org. It’s also up on YouTube. Just be warned that it is a cartoon based on That Girl. Also that the version Archive.org has is about 32 by 20 pixels. Also that the animation in the first scene of Marlo Thomas blinking is weirdly hypnotic. And, like, I meant to just watch two or three minutes to get the feel for the thing, but I kept going on a little more to see if I could figure out who the audience for this was supposed to be.

And, you know, I’m not a serious Thattie — or Thatster, as the stuffier fans insist on being called — but if Ann Marie and Donald Hollinger get along like this in the real show, they definitely weren’t ready to marry. For how much they refuse to listen to one another they probably shouldn’t even know the other exists.

60s Popeye: Popeye Thumb, the most Seymour Kneitel-iest of cartoons


There are a lot of King Features Popeye cartoons that do fairy tales, yes. But how many of them have a story by Seymour Kneitel, and direction by Seymour Kneitel, and are produced by Seymour Kneitel on top of that? You’d think there was no one else at Paramount Cartoon Studio in 1961 to help with Popeye Thumb, our cartoon for the day.

There’ve been a bunch of Popeye fairy-tale cartoons. Most of them seem to be framed as Swee’Pea demanding a story. Here’s one with a bespoke frame, though, in which the fairy tale is supposed to illuminate some problem on Swee’pea’s part. I like this as structure for a story. It must take a bit more work to introduce a bunch of generic kids playing baseball and for Swee’Pea to have woes with them. It does slow down getting into the “real”, fairy tale, story. But we open with Popeye walking along, scatting, so they can’t have been too pressed for time. It’s not the full scat, though. Just an abbreviated version.

The fairy tale itself is a version of Tom Thumb, like the title suggests. Popeye’s cast as Tom. Poopdeck Pappy’s cast as the father. I don’t recognize Popeye Thumb’s mother. She’s circling around the Sea Hag character design, but not, you know, ugly or anything. Olive Oyl’s cast as the Good Fairy who hears their wish for a son. They don’t make the wish aloud, but I suppose fairies don’t have to hear only what you say. Pappy did neglect the part of the fairy tale where he wishes for a son, even if he were only as large as my thumb. So giving them a tiny son seems like a weird passive-aggressive bit of spontaneous wish-granting on Olive Oyl’s part.

Scene of Poopdeck Pappy, dressed as a farmer, in a rocking chair; he and his wife are thinking of a son, who's Popeye in overalls with Elvis hair holding up a bushel of apples. Olive Oyl, as a fairy princess, watches over and waves her magic wand at this scene.
Writing challenge: 30 minutes writing a story to fit around this image. Advanced level: explain why Popeye is Roy Orbison.

That’s an unimportant quibble. What gets me about this tale is that Popeye Thumb doesn’t have any real conflict. I mean, in the original fairy tale, Tom Thumb spends his days getting swallowed by stuff. In the 1958 George Pal movie, he has some adventures at a carnival and saving his mother from the guards and whatnot. Here? He plants a spinach seed, and uses the strength from that to plow the fields, and uses the profits from that to buy his parents a castle with a TV and a butler who turns the TV on. I guess it’s nice having a story where everything works out well. It seems like it undercuts the value of it as a parable about not letting small size stop you from achievement, though.

No matter. Swee’Pea takes the hint, and Popeye’s spinach, and intrudes into the baseball game to hit a home run. Everyone loves this and wants him on the team and we’ll never see the baseball players again.

60s Popeye: The Troll What Got Gruff


Today’s cartoon is another Jack Kinney production. It’s got a fairy tale theme, so of course the story is by Ed Nofziger and the animation direction credited to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. I’m not sure they were the team for fairy tale stories, but at least those names seem to bundle together. Here’s The Troll What Got Gruff.

This is another cartoon framed as Swee’Pea wanting a fairy story. A Popeye fairy story, he says, and I think that’s a new qualifier. It would make sense to do a Popeye series of nothing but fairy tales. The Popeye cast has a good blend of fixed and flexible traits. It could have been their own take on Jay Ward’s Fractured Fairy Tales. The Popeye cartoons never did drop the frame entirely, though they did forget to come back to Popeye and Swee’Pea this cartoon.

The story is a loose riff on the Three Billy Goats Gruff, here with Brutus playing the troll and Swee’Pea, Olive Oyl, and Popeye as the goats. Brutus also seems to be having the most fun this cartoon. He goes into the toll-bridge business because the fishing’s bad and there has to be an easier way to make a living. He never manages to collect any tolls, but he does get to mess with a couple of people. There’s something nice and preposterously fun in Brutus’s escalation in bridge management techniques. Easy enough to start by hitting the bridge with a log to shake Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl off. Building that up to where he’s moved his house up, and installed a mechanical foot and a net, gives it some fun escalation. That Brutus somehow puts together a spring-loaded drawbridge too is some fun business.

Popeye in a spinach patch leaning forward at the camera. His eyes are shut and his mouth gapingly wide open so that he looks more like a merry cow than anything else. He has a *lot* of mouth in this pose.
Say what you will about Popeye, but he is one happy eater.

I suppose there’s a plot to this cartoon. I’m not dismissing it when I say that. There’s a nice clear scenario, and we get to the Popeye-versus-Brutus stuff in pretty good time. But most of the Popeye-versus-Brutus stuff could be shuffled and you’d have as sensible a story. There are a lot of good little lines, though. Brutus under the bridge grumbling that “I ain’t getting rich down here”. Then, later, grumbling, “Imagine that, just ’cause I swiped this bridge they won’t pay toll.” Popeye amazed to find he’s landed in a spinach patch, and being asked, “What did you expect, horseradish?” Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl doing the It’s-a-bird/It’s-a-plane/It’s-Popeye patter, echoed later by “It’s a buzzard!” “It’s a flying troll!” There should be another false identification, though. I don’t see why that’s missing. I like Brutus’s declaration that “there must be an easier way to earn a living”. It’s a good balanced conclusion to the setup.

60s Popeye: Popeye the Ugly Ducklin, a good outing for the Goons


So, yes, this is not Sunday. You might wonder why I’m doing another King Features Popeye cartoon review so soon. Mostly, I’m feeling very overloaded, and very worried about what the week ahead will bring, and I need stuff that’s easy and even fun to write. Watching questionably good cartoons that I loved as a child? That’s right up my alley. I’m not giving up on the comic strip plot recaps, or something long-form for Thursday nights, nor Statistics Saturday, but for right now I’m taking the other days more easy.

Today’s cartoon is another Jack Kinney joint. Story’s by Ed Nofziger. Animation directors our friends Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. I remember this team from Out Of This World, which took a great premise and was not, and Shoot the Chutes, a sky-diving contest. Here, we have Popeye the Ugly Ducklin.

We start with what looks like Swee’Pea asking for a fairy story. Instead he’s asking what Popeye was like as a kid. Same structure, although it does open to Popeye telling a fairy tale that has reason to cast him in a role. Popeye denies he was strong and handsome as a kid. Well, denies he was handsome, anyway. And he proves it with a picture in the family album, which he has right there. I don’t know who was keeping this family album since Popeye was an orphink right up until he found his Pappy.

Anyway, we get one of those few cartoons showing Young Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus. They’re playing school and shunning Popeye as somehow the ugly one. After being mocked enough, he runs away, landing eventually on Goon Island. This is an interesting riff on Popeye’s father being captive on Goon Island, in one of the Fleischer cartoons. Popeye’s been harassed even by the sea creatures on his way there. The Goons, ugly themselves, show him nothing but kindness, though.

Then some scenes of his growing up, reading books like The Wizard of Goon or playing goonball. Incidentally, if I’m reading things right The Wizard of Oz — the original book — was in the public domain by 1960. Why wasn’t there a Popeye version of this? Also, I notice the boat in the background of the goonball game is the Sea Hag. I’m not sure what that signifies. Back in Strange Things Are Happening the Sea Hag had henchgoons, of course, but different cartoon, different continuity, perhaps.

Kid Popeye dancing the Sailor's Hornpipe, while two Goons play flute and cello for him.
Not answered: is Alice the Goon one of the Goons who raised Popeye? Or was she in his age cohort? It seems like something that affects their relationship, whatever way it turns out.

There’s a nicely done growing-up montage of Popeye eating spinach at the table. Then it’s time to return “home” for some reason, so they give him a song and a pipe and the chance to grab a whale. Grown-up Olive Oyl is still a teacher, only now she finds Popeye cute. Grown-up brutus is still a lousy student, and hasn’t improved his bullying game any. A can of spinach later and Popeye is punching Brutus through the school, a pretty fun stunt, before finally knocking him to Goon Island. It’s supposed to see if the Goons can teach Brutus a lesson. I suppose we have to conclude they didn’t. And we close on the bare end of Popeye’s little rhyming couplet, starting at “Cause I eats me spinach”. I don’t know why not the full thing.

It’s all an okay origin story, sure. I like Robert Altman’s movie more, but this one is a lot zippier. It hasn’t got the snappy moral of The Ugly Duckling, although I’m not sure The Ugly Duckling has that snappy a moral either. Um. I guess something about how a thing you find ugly, you might just be holding to inappropriate standards. Which is a good thing to remind snarky Internet critics.

60s Popeye: Little Olive Riding Hood, I’m gonna keep my sheep suit on


Fun fact: Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’s “Little Red Riding Hood” is my go-to song for karaoke night. This is because you can do an okay job on it if you can only hit one note, and that’s all I can do. There’s no guessing what note I will hit, but I can keep to it all right.

This week’s 60s Popeye episode is Little Olive Riding Hood. The title gives me expectations. So do the credits. The story’s from Ed Nofziger, who also did the story for Swee’Pea Thru The Looking Glass and Hamburger Fishing, besides other cartoons not obviously based on fairy tales. (And fairy-tale adjacent things, like the Alice stories.) Animation Direction is credit to Harvey Toombs, who directed Hamburger Fishing and several other cartoons I’ve already gone over. Coffee House, for example, the Beatnik episode. We’ll see more of him. As you’d guess if you’ve been around here, this is all a Jack Kinney production.

We start in Popeye’s Boring Suburban Home again. Telling Swee’Pea a story is the framing device. Sometimes Swee’Pea demands a story. This time, he’s happy Popeye is telling one.

The cartoon starts off well. Fairy tales are a pretty good starting point for a Popeye cartoon, especially one like this that has to be done quick and cheap. The audience knowing the fairy tale plot takes the burden of plotting a story off the cartoon. They can riff around scenes and still have something which makes sense. … And, yet, somehow, it all falls apart anyway.

So Olive Oyl is the Riding Hood, Wimpy her sick grandmother, the Sea Hag the wolf, and Popeye the brave woodchopper or whoever the other guy is in the Little Red Riding Hood story. It’s decent casting, although I wonder again why not Brutus. Maybe Kinney Studios wasn’t sure that Brutus was available? Or maybe they just felt BlutoBrutus was worn out. Or maybe too much physical menace for the cartoon.

There’s good stuff early on. Introducing the characters, for example. The Sea Hag crashing into Wimpy’s house and mourning she’s gotta get those brakes fixed. Wimpy sitting up at the table, knife and fork at the ready, licking his lips and wanting ham-[pause]-burgers. Or after this, the Sea Hag sitting up exactly in imitation of Wimpy’s pose, with his hat on her head. While Wimpy is off in the forest sitting on a tree stump.

But we get to Little Olive Riding Hood encountering the Sea Hag, and doing the-better-to-eat-hamburgers-with bit. The Sea Hag jumps on Olive Oyl, and … why? Because the narrative of the original fairy tale requires it, sure. But we don’t get a hint Olive Oyl wasn’t going to give her Wimpy’s hamburgers, not yet. We get a fight, or at least the camera shaking around and zooming in and out while the uptempo music plays. This brings Popeye back to Wimpy’s house to fight. This even though Popeye can’t hit a woman even if she is the Sea Hag. But since we never see him doing anything, we can’t say he’s hitting anybody either. Maybe he’s just punching the tree he dragged into the house a lot.

Olive Oyl, dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, stands before a dining table. Seated at it is the Sea Hag, wearing Wimpy's hat, and holding up knife and fork.
Thanks for coming out to support Thimble Theatre Improv Night everyone, it’s your support that keeps spontaneous comedy alive.

Wimpy joins in the off-camera action, and the bounciest picnic basket in the world goes out the house a couple times. Finally Popeye catches it and declares the hamburgers ain’t for free, and ain’t for no stealing witch. So sure the Sea Hag shouldn’t get the hamburgers, but why not Wimpy? Riding Olive said she was taking the burgers to a sick friend who was in Wimpy’s house. If Popeye saw through Wimpy’s scam shouldn’t he have said something about it so dumb Olds like me aren’t confused?

Wimpy’s promise to pay for the burgers later is implicitly turned down, and he and Sea Hag go off to try Roughhouse’s. This yet another mention of Roughhouse and his cafe without his appearance. The King Features animators are really sure we’re going to recognize and be interested in Roughhouse when he finally appears. I don’t want to deflate their hype but all he is just “a guy who hates Wimpy but falls for his scams”. He’s basically Geezil without the uncomfortable Jewish coding.

The notion of paying for the burgers comes up again, with Popeye offering to buy some, but not getting to. And Olive Oyl eats her burgers, declaring how she loves them especially when they are paid for. It’s the punch line for a joke not set up. With the coda, in the frame, of Swee’Pea now declaring he’s hungry and wants hamburgers. You know, the way it’s funny that someone who hears a story about a particular food might decide they’d like to eat that food.

It’s weird that I can’t say the ending is bad. Just that it doesn’t fit the start. It’s close to fitting, though. Add a line about Popeye figuring out that Wimpy isn’t really sick. Drop the talk about paying for burgers. Then, yeah, you’ve got a fairy-tale riff that hangs together. It seems like it’d be easier to not write the broken version of this. What happened?

There remain great mysteries in the making of these cartoons.

60s Popeye: Hamburger Fishing


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popeye and, what the heck, a Giant Bluto


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fairy Tales Are Why I Can’t Get Anything Done Today


I’m sorry, but I’m coping with what I learned from looking up the nursery rhyme “The Gingerbread Man” on Wikipedia. Apparently the story was first written down in 1875, in the Saint Nicholas Magazine. And its teller claimed they got it from a “girl from Maine”. What the heck? A bit of obvious silly nonsense like this is supposed to come from, like, some snarky pamphlet published during the English Civil War. And folklorists are supposed to not be perfectly sure what it all means, but they think it’s all about mocking John Pym’s management of the Providence Island Company or something. But this? This!

Hold on. Wait. That John Pym thing I completely made up and yet it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, it would kind of fit all the metaphors and see? This is why I have an enthusiastic readership of dozen of people. I know, I can’t help myself. I have the idea that somewhere out there are people who want to hear snide jokes referring to the English Parliament of 1642 and maybe there are. And maybe they’re going to just explode in joy when they hear a joke that isn’t completely far off. Big deal. There’s like twenty of them and they’ve already made all the John Pym jokes they need.

Anyway. Back to what primarily has me a quivering ball of impotent rage (non-US-politics division). “The Gingerbread Man” only being first published in 1875. I mean, for comparison, the first time “The Gingerbread Man” was written down, Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was already ten years old. P T Barnum’s American Museum had been built, burned down, been rebuilt, and been re-burned-down. L Frank Baum was barely 24 years away from writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I’m sorry, I’m having trouble thinking of another circa-1875 cultural touchstone since I’m informed that 19th century superclown Dan Rice somehow does not qualify as known to anybody? Oh, here we go. Charles Dickens was already dead by then, and only after that does this story about a magic cookie running around teasing people about outrunning them gets written down?

You don’t suppose that could be causal, do you? “I hear Dickens died! Guess I’ll wait five years and then dash out that bit I was thinking of a gingerbread boy who runs off, but still gets eaten.”

Oh also apparently in the earliest versions the Gingerbread Man doesn’t call out “run, run, fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!” Instead he taunts with saying “I’ve run away from a little old woman, a little old man, and I can run away from you, I can!” So besides its other problems an America struggling its way out of the Panic of 1873 was still trying to learn how to make a taunt scan. I’m all kinds of discombobulated about this. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to be functional again.

All right, that’s not happening and not just because it’s 2018. Do you remember this episode of The Honeymooners where Ralph Kramden is feeling old, so he figures the thing to do is act all young? And he dresses up ridiculously and tries to dance to this ridiculous song called “The Huckle-Buck”? I do, because I’m of that cohort where reruns of The Honeymooners was the only decent thing on between reruns of M*A*S*H and reruns of Star Trek, and the song’s been running without stop in my head since 1986. Fine.

Yeah so it turns out this was an actual song and actual dance craze that actually happened in actuality. “Actuality” is what we call “reality” when we got the sentence started off using “actual” instead of “real” and have to commit to that for the rhetorical value but it’s easier to keep typing instead of erasing three words. Anyway, I had gone my entire adult life figuring “The Huckle-Buck” was just this catchy plausibly dance-craze-ish song made for The Honeymooners so it wouldn’t get in the way of Ralph Kramden’s discovery that to stay young you most need some stories about ridiculous stuff you did as a youngling. And now I find out he was actually doing something actual — hang on. Not doing that again. But now I find out he was genuinely trying to get in on the dance craze of … eight years earlier? Hang on, that would be like me trying to get in touch with the young by listening to whatever the dance craze of 2010 was. What were people dancing to back then? Lemme go and check.

No, Wikipedia, I do not believe the summer dance sensation of 2010 was Lady Gaga’s “Gingerbread Dance”.

I’m going to bed and hide under it.

If The Dick van Dyke Show‘s “Twizzle” was a real thing I’m never coming out again ever.

What The Heck Is Going On With The Grizzwells?


Uhm … so far as I know nothing of note is going on with Bill Schorr’s comic strip The Grizzwells. It seems to be just fine. Haven’t heard anything about it being cancelled or changing syndicates or anything. Haven’t heard anything about it changing artist or writer. Nor about it changing the premise any. It’s just I’ve learned that I get a lot of readers who want to know what’s going on with some comic strip or other. So, yeah, I’m weak. I like the strips where the rabbit turns up. He’s named Warren, which seems like it ought to be inevitable. The porcupine is named Pierpoint, which is kind of inevitable but not so much so as to stand out.

Gunther, talking to his porcupine friend Pierpoint: 'Lately Flora's been having a big problem with her memory. She never forgets every time I make a stupid offer to help around our treehouse.'
Bill Schorr’s The Grizzwells for the 18th of April, 2018. Conan O’Brien’s birthday, a fact which explains everything, doesn’t it?

But yeah, it’s just carrying on like normal like it’s been since … wait, since 1987? Really? This thing’s been going on since like Star Trek: The Next Generation was new and we were telling ourselves no, this Ferengi episode really was as good as we needed it to believe it was? Huh. Oh, and before The Grizzwells, Bill Schorr did a comic strip about a frog who fools the locals into thinking he’s an enchanted prince. I like that premise but I can also see why it didn’t quite last four years in syndication. Ah well. Also wait, so Bill Schorr rates a page on Wikipedia, and the comic strip Conrad that ran from 1982 to 1986 rates a page on Wikipedia, but The Grizzwells, which has been running since the aliens trans-reversed Steve Dallas’s brain, doesn’t? The heck? You know?

The 30th Talkartoon: Betty Boop’s Dizzy Red Riding Hood


We’re back, in the Talkartoons, to ones with known animators. And a good hand, too: Grim Natwick, credited with the creation of Betty Boop in the first place. (There’s two more Talkartoons without known animators, which we should get to in late April and early May.) This is also the last Talkartoon of 1931: it was released the 12th of December. And if I’m not missing something, it’s the second (known) cartoon adaptation of the Little Red Riding Hood story. And the second Talkartoon in a row that’s a fairy-tale adaptation.

I do have to offer a content warning. There’s a joke at about 4:20 in playing on the meanings of the words “pansies” and “fairies”.

The title card narration suggests the cartoon will be risque, in the way that pre-Code cartoons are often reputed to be. This is borne out, at least some; the short is driven by Bimbo’s lusting after Betty Boop. Also maybe by the wolf’s lusting after Betty Boop, although that could just be the normal, empty-stomach sort of hunger.

And it’s got Bimbo in his non-screwball-character design. The one where he’s a bit dull. He’s less interesting than he was last week in Jack and the Beanstalk, yes. But he’s not the boring passive participant in the story that he would get to be. About halfway through he surprises me by beating up the wolf, chasing the wolf’s skeleton out of his own skin for a moment of honest-to-goodness horror, and taking his place. (The wolf also accidentally cuts his head off for a moment there, about 3:12 in, but that’s done so quickly it might not even register.) This is (apparently) the first sound cartoon adaptation of the Little Red Riding Hood story, and only the second in American animation (Walt Disney did a Little Red Riding Hood cartoon in 1922). It’s surprising that even that early on in animation history they felt they had to have the story go this weird.

Given how well Jack and the Beanstalk went, and that most fairy tales are public domain, it’s not surprising they’d try the trick again. But I don’t know how far they had developed Jack and the Beanstalk before starting work on Dizzy Red Riding Hood. They might have realized they were on to something good. Or both cartoons might have started development about simultaneously as the Fleischer Studios realized they had a story source just waiting around right there to be used.

It doesn’t come off as well as Jack and the Beanstalk, though. This cartoon isn’t so zany as last week’s. There are many good little bits of business, and so a wealth of choices for blink-and-you-miss-it jokes. I’d vote for right up front as the handle for the icebox keeps escaping Betty’s hand, and turns out to be a sausage link poking through a hole anyway. Also that Bimbo eats the fish Betty puts in her basket, and the sausage links leap into his mouth. And that’s before a friendly little frog turns into an outboard motor to help Betty through a large puddle.

There are a lot of good little bits of business. I like the forest leaping into Betty’s way. Also that when we first see the wolf, he, Betty, and Bimbo all enter the scene from different depths; it’s a rare bit of three-dimensionality. And I’m really amused that the wolf goes to the trouble of getting Betty Boop to plant flowers just so he can have flowers to stomp on.

There’s also some good draftsmanship on display in a challenging scene about 2:25 in, where Betty and the Wolf are walking along a curved trail in the woods, and Bimbo keeps poking his head out between trees. It’s the kind of angle that’s not seen enough in cartoons, for my tastes. It’s hard to animate so it looks right. This does look right, although it goes on a bit long, as if the studio was so impressed they’d got it right they were checking to make sure everyone noticed. Always the problem in doing the hard stuff right.

Still, none of the jokes feel that big, or land that strongly. There’s a lot that’s amusing; no real belly laughs. The closing scene, with Betty and Bimbo sitting on the moon as if it were a hammock, is a great image, but it’s a strange closing moment not coming from or building to anything. I like the Moon’s despairing expression, though.

There aren’t credits for the voice actors. The Internet Movie Database credits Little Ann Little with Betty Boop’s voice, plausibly as she’d been doing that the last several shorts. It also credits Billy Murray with Bimbo’s voice, again, credible. I don’t know who does the introduction. It sounds to me like someone impersonating Ronald Colman, but I’m not sure that in 1931 that would be a name people could be expected to recognize. The wolf’s voice — at least his singing voice — sounds to me like Jackson Beck. You’ll recognize him as the voice of Bluto and every other heavy in every cartoon and old-time radio show. But that is my speculation and I am not skilled in identifying voice actors.

The wolf, while singing his threats, rhymes “granny” with “bologna”. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.

The 29th Talkartoon: Jack and the Beanstalk and of course Betty Boop and the heck?


The next of the Talkartoon sequence is another one we don’t have animator information about. Sorry. Looking ahead, it appears there’s only two more Talkartoons without credits. Wikipedia also lists this as Betty Boop’s final appearance in dog form. It’s the first Talkartoon based explicitly on a fairy tale (unless one of the lost ones has something). It won’t be the last. From the 21st of November, 1931 — just two weeks after Mask-A-Raid — here’s Jack and the Beanstalk.

OK, so that’s kind of a weird one. It’s got all the major elements of Jack and the Beanstalk — Bimbo, with his earlier, more screwball design, as Jack; a beanstalk; a cow; a giant; a magic hen. The story’s presented in a lightly subverted form. Bimbo’s aware of the giant because of a dropped cigar. Bimbo just having the beans and needing the cow to tell him to use it. The Magic Hen coming out of nowhere. It’s interesting to me there are so many elements of spoofing the Jack-and-the-Beanstalk story. If I’m not overlooking something on Wikipedia this is only the second cartoon made based on the Jack and the Beanstalk story, and only about the fourth time the story was put on film. There are probably some more adaptations that just haven’t been identified. Still, it does suggest this is one of those fairy tales that are adopted more in parody than in earnest. It’s a curious state of affairs.

I mentioned Bimbo’s got his earlier character design here. He’s also got his earlier personality, the one with personality. He’s a more active person than he’s been since The Herring Murder Case at least. For a wonder in a cartoon billed Betty Boop and Bimbo, he’s actually the lead. I’m curious why he doesn’t stay this interesting. It gives the cartoon shape. And a screwball Bimbo can do random weird stuff to fill in jokes during a dull stretch.

There’s no end of casual weird body stuff this cartoon. It starts out with Bimbo taking his cow’s horn off to use as telescope. Bimbo’s arm turns into a rotary drill to plant beans. Bimbo untying Betty by taking her apart and putting her back together. The Magic Hen swapping her head and tail. The Magic Hen flying apart, then pulling herself together by putting her legs through her neck-hole and grabbing her head. File all these images away for a nightmare at some more convenient time.

Not only does a suspiciously Mickey-like Mouse appear about 4:48 in, but he figures into the plot. Makes for a really well-crafted cartoon, as well as the rare short from this era to have four significant characters. Five, if the Hen counts.

I’m not sure the short has any blink-and-you-miss-it jokes; everything is pretty well timed and set up. Also I’m surprised how big a laugh I got out of the bowl of soup smacking the giant in the face. Maybe you’d count the four eggs the Magic Hen lays turning into tires for her own morph into a car. And the car morphing back into the Hen. Both are such quick and underplayed bits of business it’s easy to not see them.

I’m surprised how well this short worked. Betty Boop cartoons would go back to fairy tales and nursery rhymes. This short gives good reason why.

On This Date: November 17, If You Like


765. Date of the historical incident believed to have inspired, in distorted form, the fable of Jack the Giant-Killer, when seven flies were indeed killed in one blow by a giant rampaging through a middle-Uressexshire hamlet. Less famously the incident is also credited with creating the village of Flattstone-Under-Stompenhedge. It’s a little baffling how the story ended up like we know it today. Most historians of legend suspect “political satire around the time of the Commonwealth or Restoration”. But we’ll admit that’s their answer to everything.

797. Kanmu, Emperor of Japan, changes his residence from Nara to Kyoto but the student loan people find him anyway.

1602. Birth of Agnes of Jesus, who’d go on to become a nun in what seems like typecasting but there you go. Sometimes you just know what your course is in life.

1777. The Colonial Congress sends the Articles of Confederation to the British Parliament for ratification in a deliberately-arranged “accident” that both sides fail to use as a chance to apologize and try to come to some reasonable settlement of the whole matter. It ends up making everybody feel eight percent more awkward.

1810. Sweden declares war on the United Kingdom in order to start the Anglo-Swedish War, since it seems like a shame to have such a snappy name for a war and nobody declaring it or anything. The war ends two years later when they notice everyone’s been so happy with the stylish name and the idea of Sweden and the United Kingdom being at war that nobody ever bothered to fight the other side, and that isn’t even my joke.

1858. Day zero of the Modified Julian Day scheme so that’s why your friend who does all this database stuff with dates is staring wistfully out the window and wondering why we have to have a February even today. We do not; we have a February in-between January and March.

1869. The Suez Canal successfully links the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. Backers fail to reach their stretch goal of connecting the Mediterranean with either the Pacific Ocean, the Baltic Sea at Brunsbüttel, or Albany, New York. But they’re happy with what they did achieve and give out some commemorative coasters.

1933. The United States recognizes the Soviet Union.

1935. The United States recognizes the Soviet Union a second time when Guatemala explains how the two of them used to stand at the window outside the League of Nations building in Geneva staring inside and sometimes putting pickles from the burger stand down the way onto the window to see if they’d freeze in place there.

1946. Last use of a Murphy bed except in a black-and-white sitcom.

1952. Soap magnate Dr Emanual Theodore Bronner, serving his jury duty obligation for the civil court, is asked whether he is familiar with the law regarding trees and shrubs which overhang the property line. Both sides’ attorneys excuse him 36 seconds later. He finishes the first of many extremely considered sentences about the matter in December, and his whole thought about fallen branches by 1954 (estimated).

1961. The United States recognizes the Soviet Union again, but pretends to stumble and have to fiddle with its shoelaces a couple minutes while they pass on the sidewalk.

1973. One of the most successful weight-loss plans of the 70s gets started when Eater’s Digest publishes this compelling bit of reasoning. The reasoning: you can burn off more calories simply by going about your business while wearing weights. But what is fat except excess weight? And, better, weight that you can’t take off even if you want? Therefore simply by walking or standing or breathing or sleeping on your chest you’re burning off excess calories, thereby causing yourself to lose weight on the whole deal. And therefore being fatter is the quickest way to being thinner and, therefore, being overweight doesn’t exist and within two years everybody is.

2015. ‘Bob and Bert’ create the only podcast advertisement ever recorded that makes listening to the podcast sound appealing or desirable or even something other than just a bit of sadness. After the successful advertisement their Wheeler-and-Woolseycast releases one more episode, then misses four months for an unannounced hiatus, returns with a 15 minutes apology and explanation that it’ll be two months before they get back to their twice-a-month-schedule, and then never be heard from again.

What Has This Fictional Tea Cup Seen?


Back in the Like 40s Walt Kelly was drawing comic book versions of fairy tales and that’s great. He needed to do something like Pogo was getting under way. Plus it gave him excuses to draw stuff like this dragon that thought he was a cow and never knew otherwise until the story started. I don’t know if that’s an actual fairy tale or one he just made up, but either way, if you’re starting out with a dragon that doesn’t know it’s no cow you’re in good with me. I have no explanation for this.

Anyway I was looking at the art in “Thumbelisa,” the story that I had always thought was “Thumbelina” but I guess Walt Kelly had the script so who am I to argue? And it’s got a lot of classical comic-book fairy-tale art, with matronly mice and stuffy old moles who wear eyeglasses even though their eyes are always closed. And, not really saying anything, tea pots that have eyes and a mouth and are presumably characters in their own stories that we aren’t seeing. So here’s an example, with the tea pot I was thinking about on the right, in blue.

Mister Mole exiting the room, speaking to Dame Mouse. 'I see sweet Thumbelisa is speechless with joy. Now I can't stay for tea, but I'd like to show you something in the underground passageway between our two homes, Dame Mouse.' Dame Mouse follows, while Thumbelisa stands, head slumping between her shoulders. In the corner: a tea service set, with faces.
Also: does that fireplace have a face, or it it just a couple of plates sitting on a shelf? Also to the left of the fireplace is that a grandfather clock or one of those old-fashioned lollipop-shaped scales like you see in silent comedies and Pink Panther shorts about people figuring they have to lose ten pounds by next week?

And then I looked at the cups. I mean, really looked.

Cheery teapot sitting on the table, beside one furious-looking cup and one shocked-looking cup that vaguely resembles a Charles Schulz character.
“I don’t know what you’re so unhappy about,” says the saucer. “You’ve got it way better than me.”

That cup on the left. That is one furious tea cup. Even the pot’s cheer is doing nothing to tame it. That tea cup has clearly just finished a fifteen-minute shouting tirade covering every topic from the genocide we’re not talking about in Myanmar through sexism in the video game industry through they’re trying to remake The Munsters only they live in Brooklyn now through to they call everything a “reboot” even when it’s just “remaking” a show or movie through to what the flipping heck is wrong with Funky Winkerbean to whether anyone in power is going to be held responsible for the Republican party poisoning Flint, Michigan’s drinking water and now the other cup is completely unable to respond in any way except to look on with the face that Linus van Pelt has when he’s rendered speechless. What has happened to this cup that it’s so infuriated? What it in its life that it’s come to this point? It’s not lapsang souchong, is it? Because that at least would be an overreaction. But it’s something.

Also Seen While On The Road


Again no photograph because we were on the road, and while I wasn’t driving I wasn’t going to get my camera out in near enough time for this. But the tall highway sign promised the place was the “House Of Cigar”, just like that. Just as if it were a 1960s-style Chinese Restaurant that had somehow got things really quite wrong. Or as if it were yet another Little Pig harassed by the Big Bad Wolf, who huffed and who puffed and reduced his house to an enormous and unpleasant blue stench rolling through the village. There’s no way to know, I guess, except by standing next to that friend who’s always going on about how They’re just ruining fairy tales by taking out the graphic violence and horribly abusive behavior. Get in range of that friend for maybe fifteen minutes and they’d explain all about how there used to be, like, Fifteen Little Pigs before Disney’s cartoon suppressed a long folkloric tradition. Like, there’d be a house of cigars, and a house of ice, and a house of matchsticks, and a house of muffins, and a house of floppy old boots, and a house that’s just a bunch of guys with really long necks huddling in a circle, and on and on and they all got cut because it made the cartoon run too long and we don’t ever hear about them anymore. Anyway, if you find this friend and can get a report about the pig with the house of cigars thing I’d appreciate it.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

So much for natural trading ceilings.

342

Statistics Saturday: Eight Statistics Saturday Posts


To close out Me Week, how about some of lists of stuff that I liked?

And because the world is confusing and hurt-y, here’s one more. The Ingredients List For Libby’s 29 oz Can of 100% Pure Pumpkin brings a refreshing calm and sense of place to everything. I hope this helps.

Statistics Saturday: My Reactions To Reading The Grimm Fairy Tales


The big ones: the devil has a kindly grandmother? What did you THINK would happen when you wished your child would turn into a raven? And man, don't EVER be a mouse.
Thoughts inspired by reading Jack Zipes’s translation of The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Seriously. As best I can tell, in all 259 tales collected there’s one mouse that makes it to the end of the story, and he’s a spiritual manifestation of the King’s dream-state and not a mouse in his own right anyway.

Brotherly … uhm … Something?


My family’s got a Birthdays Calendar shared through Google I Think, which is great because with all the marriages and children added to the family the past decade-plus I’ve realized I really don’t have a grip on the birthday of anyone who joined the family after 1979. The only thing that could make this a more useful service is if I ever remembered to look at it.

So, now, this is why I’ve found it suddenly alarming that I got a mail reporting my father had made an update on the birthday calendar, to wit, “CANCELLED @ Annually” for a couple weeks from now. It’s definitely not the birthdate of any of my siblings, so I have to conclude it’s the birthday of one of my siblings-in-law that’s been cancelled. I haven’t heard of any sources of particular tension in the family lately either, but it’s easy for me to miss that sort of thing either. Part of me feels like I should be warning them not to take any blacksmithing and shaving offers they get the next couple days, but part of me does feel like, well, my father must have pretty good reasons even if I haven’t heard them yet, right?

It’s so hard to know what to do when you get a mail like that.

One-Stop Jabbing


I’ve been reading Jack Zipes’s translation of the Grimm Fairy Tales, and that’s been compellingly odd because so many of the stories just are. One I just finished was about three brothers who apprenticed themselves to various masters and came back to compete for their father’s affection and his house by showing what they could do.

The one who’d gone with a barber showed how he could lather up and shave the beard of a hare while it kept running, which I have to admit is pretty good. The blacksmith showed how he could re-shoe a galloping horse without breaking its stride, which is awfully impressive although it seems needlessly hard. The one who went with the fencing master showed how he could strike drops of rain so swiftly and so alertly that he could stay perfectly dry in the middle of a downpour, which I didn’t even know was something fencing masters trained for.

Anyway, the brothers stayed together, sharing their father’s house and prospering together their whole lives, and now I’m stuck on what was that? I understand the logic of a one-stop place for barbering and blacksmithing. That just makes good sense. But fencing? I would imagine most of the work for fencing masters involves jabbing people with swords and you can’t just arrange for most people who need jabbing to come by the old barber-blacksmithing shop, not most of the time.

Although maybe I’m just not understanding the partnership. Maybe the fencing brother gets a contract to jab someone, and his brothers send out offers of free haircuts or metalworking until the contracted victim accepts, and comes over, and that’s how it works.

No, wait, that won’t work, because advertising wasn’t invented until 1918, when John R Brinkley needed to sell the idea of implanting goat testicles into human bodies. (You can see why that idea needed some promotional push to get going, especially among the goats.) There must be something that I’m not understanding. That would be foreign exchange markets: when a bank says it’s buying, say, euros with dollars, doesn’t that just mean it’s switching its own database entry that says “dollars” on their account to “euros”? How is this even doing anything, much less affecting the world economy?

Felix the Cat: Felix in Fairyland


For this Saturday morning I’d like to offer Pat Sullivan’s Felix in Fairyland. Felix the Cat is one of those cartoon stars who managed to become so famous in his prime that he’s been kind of remembered ever since even though there hasn’t really been a lot to remember him for in a lifetime. There’ve been revitals in the 1950s and 1990s, and a direct-to-video movie in 1991 that featured some staggeringly ugly computer animation, but I can’t say any of it since the 1930s has been all that interesting. Nevertheless, he’s still somewhat recognizable, and gets rated as among the top cartoon characters of all time, so, why not look to one of the originals?

This nine-minute short, as promised, sends Felix to a fairy-tale land after an act of kindness, and once there he stands up for Little Miss Muffet and then comes to the aid of the Little Old Woman Who Lives In A Shoe. Cartoons would do a lot of fairy-tale fracturing and recombining in decades to come, and I’d be surprised if this were the first cartoon to do that, but it must be among the earlier ones since cartoons were only something like two decades old at this point.

The cartoon shows its age, in ways besides being silent. The worst of these ways is the pacing, as it takes its time establishing stuff and making sure everyone knows the setup. Felix doesn’t even get to Fairyland until two and a half minutes in. But the best of these ways is in the loose way that anything can be anything else, given a moment to change. Reality could be a very fluid thing before animation got very good at telling stories, and before sound and color added a kind of heavy reality to objects. When it was all black ink and white background, a spider could be a witch and Felix could climb a ladder of his own question marks with dreamy ease.

Thinking About Rifftrax’s Queen of Snow Bees


Like over twelve but under eighty million people nationwide I was at the Rifftrax Live movie theater thingy to see people who own cars and houses make fun of Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, which included this short feature Santa and the Snow Fairy Queen. The Rifftrax guys explained that the Snow Fairy Queen was from some Germanic folklore and she was the Queen of Snowflakes that Look Like Bees. I don’t dispute that there are snowflakes that look like bees, for sufficient definitions of look like and bees and snowflakes. It’s just the specificity of the queendom here that captures my imagination.

I admit I grew up with pretty pedestrian fairy tale habits, mostly getting what I could out of the Fractured Fairy Tale segments on Bullwinkle, which was mostly different ways they did Rumpelstiltskin, who in the proper original fairy tale just gets cheated, and lots and lots and lots of versions of Sleeping Beauty. But while I’d imagined that sure, you needed a fairy queen of snowflakes, the idea of partitioning them into (at minimum!) Snowflakes That Look Like Bees as well as Snowflakes That Do Not Look Like Bees was something I just didn’t see coming. I don’t doubt that it comes from an actual fairy tale because who could possibly make that up? I mean, other than the person who made up the fairy tale?

Unless they got it from someone with a vested interest in the borders of the Fairy Queendom Of Snowflakes That Look Like Bees. If it was that, then, was it someone who was happy with the snowflake situation, or was it some anti-Looking-Like-Bee irredentist who was promulgating the propaganda campaign to establish a casus belli for an invasion from the Fairy Queendom of Snowflakes That Do Not Look Like Bees? Or vice-versa? We’d need specialists to say.