The Popeye Wikia for this short summaries it: “Popeye and Brutus are farmers who enter a county fair contest to see who is the best. As per usual, Brutus resorts to cheating.” It’s a struggle to think of more to say about it. This group of people had been making Popeye cartoons for 28 years when this was made. They could probably have done it in their sleep.
What I expect from a Paramount-made cartoon, here, is that it’ll be crafted correctly. The animation will be sluggish, but it won’t have errors. The writing will be plain, but will make sense. We’ll never have a baffling fiasco of a cartoon. The worst that will happen is the cartoon will be dull.
And that’s what we have. It’s your standard Popeye-versus-Brutus contest, going several rounds with Brutus cheating. Remarkably his cheats work half the time. In this sort of setup I expect either all the cheats to work or none of them to work. The score being tied at the last event is novel. Also the last event is spinach-eating. That’s an odd choice; all the other events sound like County Fair contests. But, it’s a Popeye cartoon, the spinach has to be somewhere.
Fleas a Crowd I liked as a solidly competent cartoon with flashes of wit or imagination or silliness. Here’s another cartoon solidly competent. It lacks those flashes, though; even the cartoon’s title is a generic content description. Its only distinctive part is Popeye and Brutus trying to distract each other at the tastiest beef-burger contest, about 7:00 in the video. (Why not say ‘hamburger’? Surely there weren’t enough turkey burgers or other variants in 1961 that you’d need to specify a beef-based hamburger.) They do a couple rounds that are almost literally, “Hey, look at the distraction!” I can imagine being annoyed by this and calling it laziness if I were in a foul mood. As it is, I’m basically happy, so I see it as a gleeful embrace of the artifice or something.
Still, I’ve watched this cartoon three times in the last 72 hours, and will remember nothing of it 72 hours from now.
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.
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.
So shy are farms like scrapbooking, but for food? A couple years ago the schoolteacher in Gasoline Alley promoted scrapbooking to the kids, as a good creative thing they should do. And Jim Scancarelli’s comic strip talked about it a lot. Or so it felt like; probably it was just a month or two of the characters being really into scrapbooking. That memory’s lodged itself in the Gasoline Alley snark-reading community, anyway. It’s a fun reference whenever a comic strip seems to start obsessing over something, whether it’s Mary Worth and CRUISE SHIPS or Gasoline Alley again and … farms. So that’s what I was on about last week.
After a couple weeks of waiting-room gags Beluga meets Aubee Skinner. She’s the three-year-old latest generation of the comic strip’s star family. And we follow her and her mother home, to Rover Skinner. (Grandson of Walt Wallet, original centerpiece of the strip.) The handoff is done … oh, I’ll call it the 24th of March. You could date it as early as the 12th, when they arrived at the clinic, if you like. Or the 19th, when Aubee climbs into Beluga’s lap.
Rover is getting ready for the Farm Collective’s meeting. And he talks his teenage son Boog into coming along. (Wikipedia tells me Boog was born in September 2004, and Aubee in September 2016. So, yeah, these ages still check out for being real-time.)
The point of the meeting: to promote “saving our farmlands”. Attending the meeting are a bunch of the local farm families. Skinner’s thesis: without family farms, they’ll pave over the land, there’ll be no food, and people will starve. Checks out; that’s what must happen. But Skinner expands on the problem: land is expensive. And that’s all he mentions before explaining his special guest speaker isn’t there yet.
The Molehill Highlanders band plays, particularly, the World War I ditty “How’re You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)”. Boog sees in this century-old paean to the dullness of farm life a way to get people excited about farm life. His father agrees, and soon everyone is buzzing about their campaign’s theme song. Also they have a campaign, I guess. Charlotte, Boog’s girlfriend, also has a great idea. Wouldn’t it help cut down farm expenses if local teens did the farm work, but for free? It sure would!
She’s thinking internships or something. Anyway after all this, special guest speaker Eric Helmet arrives. He’s got a broken tractor and a bunch of farm-life jokes. And talks about how farming is expensive and hard. But, he figures, what if they had some kind of outreach program so that people understood agriculture? Also, Don Henley wrote “A Month Of Sundays”. That’s a fanciful ballad imagining a time in 1957 that bankers were friends to farmers.
I don’t mean to make this sound disjointed. But what we see on-camera is disjointed. And shallow, considering it went on for about two months. I’m willing to trust that in “reality” Helmet talked in some detail about being a struggling farmer, or as it’s known technically, “being a farmer”. And I understand Scancarelli wanting to tell corny but amiable jokes. It’s more readable than the screwed up parts of agricultural policy, or as they’re known technically, “all of agricultural policy”. But it did read like a slightly weird obsession.
There’s no handoff to the current storyline. It just started the 18th of May. It’s also a repeat, something I would not have noticed (at this point) without reading the comments. It originally ran from the 19th of April through the 5th of June, 2010. So that’s six more weeks of this storyline. As it is, Walt Wallet is home from the hospital, after a stretch of being a hundred and twentyten years old. Gertie looks over his pills and worries about the side effects. We’ll see what happens after the 6th of July.
And you know, what the heck, let’s keep going with the Terry Toons cartoons. Here’s one that brings together Farmer Al Falfa and the other silent or near-silent star, Kiko the Kangaroo, and what’s probably as close to an origin story as Kiko can get. It’s a fairly strongly plotted cartoon for the era, and I am curious whether the people at Paul Terry’s studio knew they were introducing a kangaroo that’d be good for a number of cartoons. The Terry Toons wiki, which of course exists, says Terry Toons introduced the cartoon after drawing inspiration from Mickey’s Kangaroo, a success over at Disney. Apparently only ten Kiko cartoons were made, over the course of two years, and she doesn’t seem to have been adapted into TV shows or comic books, but was merchandised for a while.
If all that isn’t fascinating enough, below should be an embedding of the same cartoon only converted at the wrong speed, allowing you to run an experiment regarding just how the timing of a joke affects the comic value of it.