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.
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 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?