This cartoon lets me reveal something that every one of you, deep down, already knew about me. As a young kid watching Popeye on the local stations I wondered: how many cartoons are there? How many do they have? Do they run the cartoons in a set order, or is it random? There was no way to know, of course, except to keep logs. So I would think it should be easy to write down titles of cartoons as they came up.
This would be foiled, over and over, by the ability of an under-ten-year-old to keep a sheet of paper and a pencil near the TV day after day. Also to pay attention when he heard the sailor’s hornpipe starting up, so I could have a title to write. (It did not occur to me that I could leave a blank line for a missed title.) But this cartoon, Voo-Doo To You Too, with its punchy, rhyming, easy-to-remember title? It was always the scolding reminder that I should re-start my list.
Happily, I am today an adult. I can consult lists of cartoons on the Internet. And we don’t have to worry about Popeye running on the local stations on TV. Or about there being local TV stations either. I can content myself to writing 800 words about every one of them.
This cartoon was by Famous Studios, the ones that until recently had been the only ones drawing Popeye. Direction and story are both by Seymour Kneitel. I think he was at least nominally the director for everything Famous Studios ever did with Popeye.
The cartoon depends on a thing it calls voodoo magic. It’s portrayed with the research into Haitian and Creole spirituality that you expect from a hastily-made kids cartoon of 1960. If you don’t need that, you’re right. I have a punch line to my little story that appears right after the embedded video, and after that we can catch up again next week. For those of us willing to watch what an East Coast cartoon studio called “Voodoo” in 1960, let’s watch.
So the punch line is that however well I remembered the title, I mis-remembered which cartoon it attached to.
One good thing about the King Features Popeye cartoons is that they opened up the cast. The Famous Studios cartoons shrank the Thimble Theatre universe until it was Popeye, Bluto, Olive Oyl, sometimes Wimpy. I think even Swee’Pea vanished, his roles taken up by the two of Popeye’s Nephews who survived. King Features’s run was not so stingy. This cartoon stars the Sea Hag, who never appeared before the 60s run somehow. And Eugene the Jeep, who had vanished after Popeye cartoons stopped being black-and-white somehow. There’s smaller characters too. The Sea Hag’s pet vulture — Bernard, though he’s not named here — appears in a good supporting role. There’s even, in the first scene, a look at Rough House’s Cafe (Special To-Day: Spinach Burgers). Rough House never appeared before the 60s cartoons and I’m not sure that he ever did again, except in the Robert Altman movie.
We also get the Sea Hag as an actual character. Like, a real and imposing menace. Coming ashore, she picks a nice-looking house, and decides to enslave the owner to serve her. The owner is Olive Oyl. What are the odds? Popeye overhears this and does not leap right in to punch something. He remembers that he’s vulnerable to magic, and unwilling to hit a woman even if she is the Sea Hag. Instead he jumps into the bedroom and tries to persuade Olive Oyl out of her magical enslavement. She knows he’s in there anyway. Maybe the Sea Hag knows how these cartoons go.
Sea Hag shapes a candle into a voodoo doll of Popeye, and then binds it with an enchanted hair: Popeye’s arms are stuck to his side and there’s no moving them. It’s a great additional menace, taking away Popeye’s secondary superpower. (His primary superpower is standing up for what’s right, even if it hurts him.) And I do remember, as a kid, being frightened of a magic spell that would lock my arms to my sides. It’s rare to get actual nightmare material out of these cartoons.
She tosses the candle in a chest, and locks it, and sends Bernard to lose it in the wilds. Popeye searches for help with the chest, and who turns out to be in the cartoon but Eugene the Jeep? Luckily, Eugene’s magical powers include his knowing what the plot is. So Popeye doesn’t have to recap the situation right after he’s explained it to the audience. We get a slice of Popeye-following-Eugene, including a joke where Eugene walks through a tree that Popeye can’t. That’s a joke done in the Fleischer studios’ Popeye the Sailor With The Jeep, though since it had been 22 years we can forgive the reuse. Eugene can find the chest easily enough, and open it, but he’s helpless to untie the hair.
So, finally — and later than I would have tried — we turn to spinach. It does nothing to get Popeye’s arms free, and that’s where the cartoon really gets frightening. More powerful than spinach-charged Popeye? There’s genies who aren’t more powerful than spinach-charged Popeyes. Ah, but Eugene knows the rules of sympathetic magic: he feeds the doll some spinach, and doll-Popeye breaks his bonds. This leaves Popeye free. This also leaves under-ten-year-old me wondering, well, aren’t his arms stuck up in that triumphant pose now? Why not? And, like, is there anything they can do with the doll so it can’t be used against him again? If they melt it what happens to Popeye? So you can see that even as a kid, I was doomed to be like this.
Popeye runs back to Olive Oyl’s house, and gets a good fight in with Bernard, since he can’t hit the Sea Hag. This smashes up the house, but does send Sea Hag and Bernard flying away. Olive Oyl, freed from her trance, remembers none of this, but demands Popeye clean up the mess. Popeye protests he didn’t make the mess, which is wrong. He’s not to blame for the mess, but he totally did make it. Popeye closes on a rhyming couplet, not something he always does this series, complaining about how he finds women confusing. It’s a weak moment; what about any woman’s behavior here has been confusing, and why?
Never mind the weakness. This is one of my favorite King Features cartoons, even if I somehow let the title detach from it. It’s a good solid storyline. It’s got a rare menace for Popeye cartoons at all, never mind for cartoons of this era. It’s even pretty well animated, considering Famous Studios’ limitations. Anybody’s walk cycle is boring, but it’s pretty smooth and on-model. And we get a lot of scenes from interesting perspectives. The Sea Hag’s shown at three-quarters profile to cast her zombie spell on Olive Oyl, at about 6:47, and again at about 7:29 readying to fix that swab Popeye, and again explaining the rules of the voodoo doll at about 7:59. One may suspect important elements of the animation are being reused in all three appearances, but that’s good budgeting. Popeye’s conversation with Eugene the Jeep, starting about 8:46, is done from above Popeye’s and Eugene’s shoulders. They’re both interesting perspectives. We get some of that again when Eugene can’t untie the magical hair, or feeds the wax doll its spinach.
If more of the King Features cartoons were of this quality then the series would be fondly remembered.