Today we’re back to the Paramount Cartoon Studios, and another Seymour Kneitel-fest. He gets credit for story, direction, and production in this 1960 Popeye cartoon. So let’s give that to him and see what Mirror Magic is all about. It’s not much magic, especially not compared to Popeye and the Magic Hat.
There is a curse to competence. It tends to be boring. The last couple Jack Kinney cartoons I looked at had sloppy stories and a lot of animation cheats. But that also gave them this weird, unpredictable nature. Here, Paramount Cartoon Studios, which had been animating Popeye for 27 years already, gets all the craft of cartooning right. But it’s less fun.
The story is an adaptation of Snow White. For once it’s not a story Popeye tells to Swee’Pea. Jackson Beck in his narrator voice sets the stage, in the land of Muscleonia, where the strongest man rules. Little Popeye, whom we meet as an infant lifting his grandmother in her chair, is destined to be strongest in the land. We see it in scenes like Popeye bringing all the cows in the pasture in when his mother asks him to. Also we see Popeye’s Mother, the only time — in animation or in the comic strips — I remember seeing her.
King Brutus doesn’t suspect until the Magic Mirror, Jack Mercer doing his best Ed Wynn, drops the news that the change of might has happened. And so Brutus goes in disguise to kill an unsuspecting Popeye. He tries by dropping stuff that would kill a normal man, all of which Popeye shrugs off. Funny enough. Also interesting: despite the title, there’s no use of magic besides the Wynn Mirror’s ability to tell who’s strongest in the land. And not warn of anyone stronger growing up. Brutus drops his disguise, for not much reason, but gets the drop on Popeye, who eats his can of spinach. I was surprised he had a can. I’d expected the vase he was knocked into to happen to contain spinach.
It’s all done competently. The one moment I didn’t understand was Popeye saying how he couldn’t hit an old lady, and Brutus tearing off his old-woman guise, declaring “So you’re not as strong as the mirror said you were!” But that’s a tiny logic gap, so compelled by the plot needs you might miss it. And there are a few neat bits, mostly animation of Brutus leaning into the camera. But that’s all. You can tell from how much of this essay is recapping what happened that I just watched the story, nodded, and didn’t have deeper thoughts about it. The cartoon proves that not everything this era was badly made. But I know which of the last couple cartoons I’ll remember in two months.
At the end of the cartoon Popeye sings about how he’s Popeye the Sailor Man, even though he’s been established as the Pleasant Peasant throughout, and has not been in the same frame as any more water than the glass he holds. I trust there is an explanation for this blunder.