60s Popeye: returning to the Aladdin’s Lamp


It’s another Paramount/Famous Studios-produced 60s Popeye today. The title, Aladdin’s Lamp, is a mix of expectations. Toss in a genie and you have an excuse to do any crazy idea that couldn’t fit into a reasonable story. But for the seasoned Popeye-watcher there’s knowledge. Whatever they do must pale before the Fleischer Studio’s two-reeler Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp. There’s just not the time or budget to do anything that ambitious. The story’s by Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer, as usual for Famous Studios work. The director’s Seymour Kneitel again. Let’s take a few minutes to see Aladdin’s Lamp.

I’m sure that she isn’t the most common villain. But it does seem like the Sea Hag gets to be the antagonist for a lot of these 60s Popeye cartoons. There’s good reasons to use her. After 250 cartoons, the depths of Bluto/Brutus’s character may have been exhausted. Or at least gotten boring. Sea Hag lets the writers pull in magic, to send stories going weird directions. And there’s the good plot dynamic that Popeye can’t hit a woman even if she is the Sea Hag.

We open on Sea Hag, who happens to wonder what happened to Aladdin’s Lamp. Turns out right then Olive Oyl bought it. Think how lucky the cartoon was that the Sea Hag didn’t look up the lamp two days earlier. Sea Hag steals the lamp, using a great big horseshoe magnet, because she respects cartoon conventions. Popeye’s off in pursuit.

Sea Hag summons the Genie, who looks faintly like they were going for Jeeves and who talks with Wimpy’s voice but cleaned up. Sea Hag starts making wishes, something we see from a nice three-quarters view with her right hand making great sweeping motions. I recognize this animation from Voo-Doo To You Too. Well, it helps the cartoons come in on budget. The genie turns various ship equipment into treasures. This seems great since doesn’t need the ship’s equipment as ship’s equipment.

On a ship's deck, a ghostly pink genie holds up his arms, having just shrunk Popeye to about the size of his foot. In the background a wooden barrel is now 14 karat gold.
Popeye: “I wish this sort of thing would stop happening to me! … Saaaaaay!”

Popeye races in. Sea Hag orders the genie back in the lamp. She feeds Popeye a line about her love of antiques getting ahead of her. She uses this distraction to rub the lamp and orders: “Quick, Genie; ‘fore he can get the spinach from his blouse// Shrink Popeye down to the size of a mouse”. I have questions. Yeah, the dictionary insists it’s fair to call what Popeye wears a “blouse”.

So why order the genie into the lamp and then back out again? It seems like this gives Popeye the information about there even being a genie, which I expected to come back to bite the Sea Hag. Maybe she panicked. Also, why shrink Popeye to the size of a mouse? Why not wish him to outer Mongolia or something? Sea Hag did cast her wishes, for treasure and for Popeye’s shrinking, in rhymes. Is that part of the rule? I can’t blame her not having a rhyme for “outer Mongolia” off the top of her head. I suppose she could wish to have a rhyme for “outer Mongolia”, but that’s a bootstrapping problem. Also, how large are the Sea Hag’s mice? Is she not distinguishing between mice and rats, and has she still got somewhat large rats?

Popeye rolls with being small pretty well: he ties the Sea Hag’s dress into a knothole. Uses that diversion to grab the magic lamp. Here’s where I figured he’d start making wishes. He’s been coming up with rhyming couplets, at this point, for 28 years. He can do anything as long as he ends it “… Popeye the Sailor Man! [ toot toot! ]” Not so, though. Sea Hag catches in a can which, of course, is a not-quite-empty spinach can. His spinach can, he says, even though he hasn’t pulled out a can this cartoon. Maybe it’s from an earlier adventure.

The spinach returns him to normal size, like you’d expect. And next time Sea Hag summons the genie, he’s ready with an office-cooler water bottle(?) to catch, cork, and toss away the genie. Being tossed into the sea breaks the spell that transformed the Sea Hag’s ship’s equipment into treasure, for the reasons. And she goes swimming off after the genie. Since that takes her and the genie out of frame, it’s done.

Popeye gleefully has the ghostly pink genie caught in a large glass jug and is about to cork it.
So, you’re a genie. Is moving from that small brass lamp to this big glass bottle a step up, because there’s space, or a step down, because there’s no privacy? Discuss. (Before taking this screen grab I hadn’t noticed the shadow of the ship’s mast here. It’s a good detail to put on the background. It doesn’t really cost more to paint it this way and it makes the ship look more real.)

Popeye brings the lamp home, triumphant, and of course his work was in vain. Olive Oyl has a new lamp, one that — get this — is also a coffee grinder! The joke is adequate, but I do admire how ugly this new lamp is.

I still like the premise. Maybe I’m an easy touch for genie stories. I’m disappointed by what’s done with it. I don’t think just because it’s lesser than the two-reel cartoon was. (Also I’m amused that in writing up the two-reel cartoon I wondered whether the Sea Hag might be a fitting villain.) Not enough magic, or not enough wild magic for me. Shrinking Popeye is a good bit of business, but I feel like the Sea Hag could do that herself. Why not trap Popeye in the lamp, or give him some other reality-breaking problem to punch his way through? The genie acting as a valet is a decent character. Why not a set of quick gags of Popeye going up against the genie and being dismissed with a snap? The premise is almost pure play; why not play more?

Why I Am Not A Successful Urban Fantasy Writer


So before you go ahead and take my Urban-Fantasy writing group’s side in throwing me out into the mall food court by the Chinese food stand with the unsettlingly outgoing staff let me explain my work-in-progress. The important thing is the premise. If you don’t have a premise all you have is a bunch of characters milling around. I’m going ahead and assuming that’s literary fiction. I don’t know, I can’t be bothered reading stuff.

So here in this story that’s just on the edge of tomorrow and the limits of possibility, how about a story built around the new digital genie of tomorrow? And it’s a digital genie based on the Freemium model. Yeah, don’t your eyes light up at this prospect? Because you can already hear the digital genie reporting, “You can modify the results of your last wish in 23 hours 58 minutes! Or you can hurry that up by spending 10 Sigloi. Did you want to buy a small bag of Sigloi, a medium bag of Sigloi, or a large bag of Sigloi?”

And I wasn’t even done cackling at my genius when some spoilsport asked, “Sigloi? Really? You can’t just say a bag of coins like every other stupid game like this ever?” and someone else asked, “What is your problem? Are you just in this to research … freaking ancient Persian coins? Is ‘Sigloi’ even plural or is it supposed to be ‘Siglois’ and it doesn’t look any more like a real word the more we look at it”. The person who brings windmill cookies to all the meetings asked whether I see writing as anything but an excuse to do weirdly specific bits of research. “And it’s not even deep research,” she pointed out. “You just put ‘ancient Persian coin’ into Google.” I explained how I did not: I use DuckDuckGo. The conversation was not productive.

My scene speculating this would come to the genie saying, “You don’t have to buy Sigloi! You can earn them by completing a quest! Your first quest: match these advertising slogans up to the fast-food companies that use them and share the results on Facebook!” before four of the group flopped over and played dead until the bookstore sent the Children’s Books section manager around with a push broom to nudge them.

I was barely through describing the central conflict of the book. It’s one of the digital genies coming face-to-face with the partially developed open-source clone digital genie project. There’s all kinds of deep philosophical questions about identity that raises if you don’t actually think very hard about deep philosophical questions. So it’s perfect for my kind of writing! I especially liked the scene where developers complain about people reverting the open-source genie back to the first wish. They say “it screws up the machine-learning routines plus we all see what you’re trying to do there”.

This prompted a customer to quit his project of reorganizing the books in the Computers section to fit his tastes and berate my failure to have the faintest idea of how revision control works. I pointed out that I could well learn plenty about how revision control works except it’s too boring. And the head of the writing group said, “How can a person who owns multiple books about the history of containerized cargo and has opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of them call the center of your own book too boring to learn about?”. Plus the bookstore café people came over to ask what all the shouting was about.

So just before they threw me out the group organizer asked, “Do you have even the slightest idea of what Urban Fantasy is?” No, I do not. I guessed it’s, like, the protagonist is coming to terms with learning she’s part-Billiken while she teaches English as a Second Language classes to zombies in-between her relationship troubles with Bigfoot, who’s always being called off for some crisis at his tech startup company.

They picked me up to evict me more effectively.

Oh but if Bigfoot’s tech startup is involved in the digital genie project then it all counts, right? They have to let me back in now, the rules say!

Statistics Saturday: Some TV Show Episodes I’m Still Angry About Decades Later


  1. That “Lash Rambo” episode of The New WKRP In Cincinnati.
  2. The one where Worf’s Brother saves this village from a planet-wrecking crisis and everybody acts like he’s the jerk.
  3. The Mary Tyler Moore Show where Ted Baxter gets a job as a game-show host that he’d be great at, and everyone pressures him to give that up so he can go on being a local-news anchor who’s not any good at it.
  4. That Aladdin where Iago gets the Genie’s powers, and he makes a mess of things his first day and feels like a total failure, even though, what, you figured you were going to be an expert the first time you tried something? Why is this talking parrot unrealistic about the speed of his ability to master genie powers?
  5. The Star Trek: The Next Generation where the Evil Admiral built an illegal cloaking device and everybody’s all smugly disdainful of him but they use it anyway because doing without would be a little inconvenient and nobody calls them out for this hypocrisy.
  6. The Far Out Space Nuts where their Lunar Module got stolen, but the planet has a machine that can duplicate anything, and Chuck McCann gives the thing a picture of the Lunar Module and the machine makes a really big duplicate of the picture, and he and Bob Denver were expecting it to make a new spaceship for them because what were they expecting?
  7. The 1980s Jetsons where Elroy accidentally stows away on the Space Shuttle.

Also, while I do not remember this at all, Wikipedia claims this was the plot of a 1987-season episode:

George discovers that he has become stressed out lately due to his teeth, so his dentist creates special false teeth to relax him—but end up stressing him out even more.

I assume the episode guide writer is being wry.

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