What I Learned From Watching All the 60s Popeye Cartoons


Or almost all. I’m at peace with there being a couple of the two-hundred-plus King Features Syndicate cartoons that I haven’t recently reviewed. But I always like at the end of a big project like this I like to think about what it means.

I can’t say this has prompted me to have a major critical revision of the 1960s cartoons. Or to push for one. The 1960s cartoons are mostly regarded as a cheap, hurried cash-in, of a quality ranging from mediocre to garbage. I’m warmer to them than that, but the conventional wisdom is near enough right. There are some cartoons that I’ll advance as “pretty good” or even “good”. More that are “interesting”. But like everyone knew going in, the theatrical shorts are better. The black-and-white shorts better still. I haven’t looked at the 1980-era Hanna-Barbera series to compare those. Might try them. I know late-70s Hanna-Barbera hasn’t got a high reputation. But it could make Saturday morning cartoons at least uniformly okay. None of that Testimonial Dinner bizarreness or that one where Popeye turns into a giraffe there. (All right, there’s the Superfriends where Zan and Jana are unable to outwit a defunct roller coaster. That was a bit slipshod.)

Swee'Pea, Professor Wotasnozzle, Olive Oyl, and Popeye standa around looking at the Whiffle Hen and the Whiffle Chick. The Whiffle Hen's a roughly ordinary chicken-size bird. The Chick is quite large, about as tall as Popeye, and has a vaguely cubical body and head, and with the beak at a weird angle looks with half-lidded eyes towards the camera.
Who can forget how the Whiffle Chick opened up the Popeye universe?

And yet those are two cartoons that leapt immediately to mind. The lure of the novel, or the exceptional, is hard to resist when you watch a lot of something. That’s no different here. Give me a bonkers premise or a plot that’s too incoherent to be dream-logic and I am fascinated. This is not an effect any studio ever tries for; probably you couldn’t manage it if you did. (Compare that one episode of Dexter’s Laboratory written by a seven-year-old. It was one of the most compelling episodes of a generally good show.) What chance does a merely well-made episode, like Myskery Melody, have against that? Yet that’s also a cartoon that leapt right to mind and that I will keep promoting while I can.

The King Features cartoons introduced some good trends. One is that they largely shed the plot of Popeye-and-Bluto/Brutus-compete-for-Olive-Oyl. There were some cartoons that used that frame, sometimes to good effect. But it was a story done four billion times already, especially in the 1950s shorts. Clearing it out opens up the universe to do a series of golfing jokes or driver-safety jokes instead. Another is expanding the cast of characters. Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre overflowed with neat characters. The King Features shorts finally animated the Sea Hag, and brought Poopdeck Pappy and Eugene the Jeep back to being major characters. It also gave some outings to lesser characters like Roughhouse, the Whiffle Hen/Bird, King Blozo, Castor Oyl, Toar, and the many vaguely defined relatives of Olive Oyl. Even footnotes like Ham Gravy got some scenes.

Dark, foggy, swamp-bound scene of the Sea Hag on a raft, the full moon in back of her. She plays her flute with her vulture sitting up ready to launch.
She looks like a friend!

Not enough of them. The Sea Hag and Eugene the Jeep make the leap into major characters, as they should, because they’re endlessly fascinating. King Blozo almost makes it, but not quite. So do Alice the Goon and Professor Wotasnozzle. I’m glad they got the time they did, and wanting more is a good state to be in with them. Professor Wotasnozzle might be the biggest disappointment. He’s in a good spot to give Popeye some goofball super-science gimmick to deal with. Instead what we mostly see is him in a framing device. He sends Popeye to another era to do the same schtick without even a clear idea whether Popeye knows what’s going on.

The shorts give this sense of new ground breaking, of new possibility. There were far more characters, most of whom worked, and fresh stories available to tell. Even more settings. Many cartoons were set in Popeye’s Boring Suburban Home. But they weren’t required to be, the way so many of the 1950s Famous Studios seemed. Sometimes that setting was even part of the story, as in Coffee House, the Beatnik cartoon. Or, for a mixed benefit, the attempt to set the cartoons in India or China or such. This usually turned out so racist I refused to review the cartoon. One can see the charitable reading, that the cartoons are trying to be more ethnically diverse. This sort of nonwhite-people-written-by-very-white-people can be a well-intended stumble. It was endemic to 1960s and 1970s programming. Still not going to listen to Chinese Wimpy.

On stage, Olive Oyl is transformed into a seal from the neck down. She looks startled. Popeye leans in from behind the curtain looking aghast.
This is one of those scenes you’d never get from the studio that brought us that cartoon where Popeye can be elected President only if he does farm chores for Olive Oyl.

There’s also a sense of there being no grown-ups in the room. The shorts feel like they’re the story person’s idea, untouched by worry that they fit the Intellectual Property Use Guidelines. Often this freedom from supervision also seems to be freedom from a second draft. Especially if Jack Kinney’s or Larry Harmon’s studios produced it. But a lot of exciting, creative novelty comes from people who have skill in their craft and only casual supervision from the people paying for it. The shorts didn’t enjoy this as much as they might. The sense remains, in most of these shorts, that anything might happen. Popeye’s in caveman times. Olive Oyl has a pet tiger. Wimpy crosses the Whiffle Hen and becomes a werewolf. A living missile wants to kiss Popeye. Brutus builds a robot Eugene. Aliens come to Earth, disguised as mailboxes. Brutus magics away Popeye’s arms. Wimpy is a millionaire, twice. Alice the Goon is hypnotically compelled to make out with Popeye. Cheese wheels from the Moon hold Wimpy hostage. Swee’Pea is the focus of a revolution. I made up at least one of those; can you tell which ones?

Scene of the audience in the Colosseum. The front two rows are filled with mostly minor characters from Popeye/Thimble Theatre.
Look at that screen packed full of trivia answers!

All this new freedom and new ground and lack of restraint, though, is most often let down by the result. The animation can’t ever be as good as the theatricals, certainly. And given the circumstances it couldn’t be as good as the 1980 Hanna-Barbera era either. Every studio managed at least some interesting touches, sometimes in a simple clever edit or a move that surprised one. More often the letdown is in the story, or at least the editing. There were so many odd pauses or absent bits of narrative logic it was no longer worth mentioning, at some point. I don’t know how often I accused, especially, a Jack Kinney short of having a dream logic. Or planned to but cut it for being redundant. We had that, though. Someone with experience in how stories work can fill in gaps. But the intended audience of young children? How do they know enough about how stories work to understand that? (On the other hand, maybe they mind since they don’t know that Brutus’s promise to eat his weather prediction was not set up.)

To summarize my feelings for all this, then? Besides the powerful nostalgia I feel for cartoons I watched, and loved, uncritically when I was young and impressionable? It is that I saw so many times that this could be a really good cartoon, hidden underneath what is an okay cartoon. So a new project for when I win a billion-dollar Powerball is to to take like three dozen of these shorts, have someone do another two drafts of the story, and have them animated by people who have the time to draw all the characters in all the scenes they’re in. We’ll get at least a couple great cartoons from that.

Brutus, Olive Oyl, Popeye, and Eugene sit together inside a gigantic top hat, all smiling and happy at the conclusion of their adventures.
Good night everyone! Eat your spinach and have a magic four-dimensional dog sit on your head!

60s Popeye: Weather Watchers, and an arguable end to my 60s Popeye Watching


I have for today the last of the 1960s Popeye cartoons that King Features has put up on their YouTube channel. Or so I thought. Every source I can find says there were 220 of these short cartoons made, over a course of days and at a cost of hundreds of dollars per cartoon. King Features uploaded them four at a time into 22-minute “episodes”, and has 55 of them. And yet when I mentioned the Gerald Ray-produced The Last Resort last week, I couldn’t find where I had reviewed it in any of these essays. (I had an earlier review, from 2014, that I let stand.) I have no explanation for this.

I figure, if I can find the spoons, to go through the episodes King Features still has up and see if I overlooked that one, and any other shorts, somehow. A possible complication is that King Features has withdrawn seven of its episodes, and thus 28 cartoons. I don’t know why. My guess in the absence of actual knowledge is someone noticed there was something objectionable in one or more cartoons of the set. I would be happy to hear from someone who knew, but doubt I will.s

So for cartoons that are not missing? Here’s the last of the Jack Kinney-produced shorts. The story’s credited to Raymond Jacobs, and the animation direction to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. From 1960 for the last(?) time, it is the Weather Watchers. Let’s weather.

Oh did I ever want my reviewing project here to end on a strong cartoon. Something I could spill over with good things to talk about. That’s more fun than even snarking is. But what we have is another of those Jack Kinney productions that makes more sense the less closely you’re watching. Like, tune out and come back to the next scene and you can rationalize how Brutus and Popeye got here and why. But go from what’s on-screen and you have a bunch of leaps of logic.

This is another in the Popeye-and-Bluto/Brutus-Compete-For-A-Job shorts. This time Popeye starts out with the job nice and secure and Brutus schemes to steal it, a variation not done much. I can’t think of another short with that setup. This time around Popeye works for the weather bureau, relying on the corns on his feet or a spin of his wheel-of-fortune for his forecasts. And his forecasts are terrible, or at least he gets two wrong in a row. The first time he’s wrong is enough to get a complaint from Brutus, who’s also asking about openings at the weather bureau. The rain, against a forecast of “fair and sunny” weather, is enough for Olive Oyl to give Popeye something like notice. He forecasts “fair and sunny” again, and Brutus sabotages this by seeding clouds.

A very wet Olive Oyl, wearing a ruined hat and looking miserable, enters the door of the Weather Bureau.
Actual footage of me reviewing my notes for this short.

With her new hat spoiled, Olive Oyl fires Popeye and hires Brutus. Popeye discovers the moth balls used to seed the clouds that something’s up, and figures it must be Brutus since who else is in the story? Well, Wimpy is, as the slightly goofy TV weatherman. The pop culture of that era tells me weather reporters of that era were goofy performers. The shift to professional meteorologists came later. But Wimpy never interacts with anybody that we see, so, Brutus is the safe and correct bet. Popeye sabotages Brutus’s forecast of sunshine, and Olive Oyl gives Brutus twenty years less chance to prove himself than she gave Popeye. Brutus turns on Olive Oyl, grabbing her by the neck, and Popeye rushes in, saving the day. As a punch line, Popeye, restored to his forecasting job, says tomorrow will be “Sunny as [Olive’s] smile, fair as [her] complexion, and warm as [her] ever-loving’ heart.” As it starts to rain, Popeye declares, “Women, phooey!” and starts singing about how ’cause he ate his spinach he’s Popeye the weatherman.

The plot summary, I imagine, sounds fine to you too. The sequence of events is what makes sense for a story about Popeye as a weather forecaster. It’s in the connective tissue of plotting that it falls down. We can take as implicit that Brutus did promise he’d eat his forecast if it were wrong. But Olive Oyl talks about how “Yes, I fell for your mothball gag”, a gag she hasn’t been seen to learn about. Heck, a gag that even Popeye has only assumed happened. Popeye sabotaging Brutus’s weather is correct, but not justified. He doesn’t know Brutus did anything. (This short suggests Brutus is a stranger to Olive Oyl, at least, and surely Popeye.) Also his sabotage is weird: dump a gigantic can of spinach into a water tank and blow up the water tank so we get spinach rain? And this when Popeye doesn’t even eat spinach himself, unless that too is off-screen, despite what we get in his not-finished closing couplet.

Popeye, on top of a water tank, pours in the contents of a gigantic can of 'King Size Spinach'.
Either that can is labelled upside-down or Popeye opened it from the bottom side, which is weird.

Get the premise and take any scene and you can imagine the scene before it which sets it up. But the scene that sets it up is never in the short. Once again we have something that makes more sense the less you pay attention. It gives that odd dream-narrative tone so common to the Kinney-produced shorts. I enjoy some of that. Dream logic makes the story feel fresher and more surprising. But it keeps me from calling this a good cartoon. It’s a first draft of a good cartoon, that’s all.


And with that, that’s all for my King Features Syndicate Popeye cartoon reviews! Until I find ones that I overlooked, at least. I would love to tell you what my plan is for the next thing to take my review-day slot. I haven’t decided, though. I’m open to suggestions, particularly if they’re ones that have reasonably stable web locations. Or I can just review that Beetle Bailey half-hour special they made for CBS in like 1989 and forgot to air. We’ll see.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Pep-Up Emporium, almost your last chance to get Wimpy in shape


Jack Kinney provides the story for one of these cartoons, for the last time in this progress through the King Features Syndicate shorts of the 60s. There’s one more Jack Kinney-produced cartoon, though. And the animation direction — as the other Kinney short will be — is credited to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman, names I’ll be sorry to see the end of. Here from 1960 is Popeye’s Pep-Up Emporium.

Years ago the Flophouse podcasters talked about common mistakes of bad movies. One was explaining the wrong things, over-explaining the simple setup and not giving enough screen time to the counterintuitive implications. This short starts with a pretty long advertisement for Popeye’s Pep-Up Emporium, the gym where he promises to help with any body type. There’ve been theatrical shorts where Popeye runs a gym (Vim, Vigor, and Vitaliky and Gym Jam particularly), and they got the idea established much faster.

Spending so much time setting it up isn’t necessarily wrong. The advertisement sets the tone, sure. And it lets the short toss in a couple of jokes, admittedly at things like Brutus’s very fat body. We might try to be a little less body-shaming today, but the jokes are set up well enough. Having the commercial at the start also sets up that there’ll be another commercial made during the short, giving the cartoon what little plot structure it has.

Again I don’t fault the short for mostly being a bunch of spot jokes. Gymnasiums are good for a string of disconnected jokes. The cartoon comes close to that, with stunts like Olive Oyl getting tied up in knots after a little bending. Or Wimpy pulling a table toward himself and pushing it away again. Here we do have what’s got to be a Kinney Classic animation error. When the table’s nearby he chews in the air in front of a pile of hamburgers. Someone has to have been meant to draw a hamburger falling off the pile into his mouth, but too late for that now. Maybe for the remastered Special Editions.

Olive Oyl stands, confident and proud, atop Popeye, who's on the floor, on his belly, looking back with admiration up at her. She's got Popeye's legs twisted together, as though she had beaten him wrestling.
This is a good end for a cartoon and I’d like if the cartoon had set this up better.

So we get to the commercial, done live in a gymnasium, a transmitting challenge especially for 1960 that I’m glad I don’t have to master. Think of the audio quality. A butterfly lands on Popeye’s dead weights, and he drops the extra load through the floor, bringing an irate Brutus up and into the short. Thing is, Brutus is right to be angry. The — let’s call them 2000-pound dead weights — just crashed through his ceiling. And this after a commercial body-shaming him.

But the parts the cast is in requires Brutus to be the villain. So he lecherously tries to get Olive Oyl out of that … wall thingy she’s trapped in. He’s stomping on Popeye’s head while he does this, so Popeye pulls out the spinach and there we go. If you look at the Popeye-Brutus interactions this is pulling on the spinach way too early. It’s only justified by Popeye knowing the cartoon is almost over. I know, we don’t need much justification. Popeye and Brutus have a history we’re supposed to take ambiguously seriously. And the guy is stomping on Popeye’s head. And anyone watching a lot of Popeye cartoons comes to wonder why Popeye doesn’t pull out his spinach at the start of the trouble. (A problem endemic to most every show with a super-power-up gimmick.) Maybe if Brutus has been part of the class, and ever more trouble, then things would have balanced better.

Though I started my essay talking about mistakes of bad movies, I don’t think this is a bad short. It’s got the usual weaknesses of the King Features Popeye cartoons, including the drifting narrative of so many Jack Kinney-produced shorts. It’s got a good setup, though, and good jokes along the way. The worst it does is take such extreme narrative economy, to get Popeye to eat his spinach, that the writers seem not to have noticed Popeye doesn’t need to have eaten spinach here. Olive Oyl getting fed up waiting for rescue and eating spinach herself is a good solid ending. They could have got there with a better use of Brutus.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Corn-Certo (I wonder if Hungarian Rhapsody #2 gets played)


It does not. Today’s King Features Popeye is another Jack Kinney-produced short. The story’s by Joe Siracusa and Cliff Millsap. Both are new names around here, and the Internet Movie Database lists this as the only writing credit of any kind for both. Cliff Milsap was also editor for about two dozen of these shorts and that’s all IMDB knows about him. Joe Siracusa has more of a filmography, although nearly all of it as editor or composer or music editor, all the way up to the 80s G.I.Joe and Transformers. He was also drummer for Spike Jones from 1946 through 1952. Animation direction is credited to our old friend Eddie Rehberg. From 1960 here’s Popeye’s Corn-Certo.

This short has the feel of one of the theatrical Popeye cartoons. It’s a return to the plot line where Popeye and Brutus compete in showing off their expertise. Eventually Brutus incapacitates Popeye and tries making off with Olive Oyl. Popeye eats his spinach, we get some quick fighting, happy ending. The specific of competing by musical instruments calls to mind 1948’s Symphony in Spinach.

There are some structural differences from a theatrical version of this plot. The major one is Popeye and Brutus don’t take turns showing off. Popeye gets several instruments in a row to play the “3rd movement from the 2nd Pizzicato by Mozarella, the big cheese of the musical world”, which sounds like the Popeye the Sailor Man theme. (I like the choice. I imagine it’s for budget reasons. But it also plays as tweaking the artifice of the premise.) That seems like an improvement. It lets us get a bunch of Brutus-sabotages-an-unaware-Popeye jokes in a row. And it doesn’t require Popeye to sabotage Brutus or to find so many ways Brutus’s playing can go wrong. I’m not sure that would work for every challenge cartoon like this, but it works here.

Brutus smiling at the camera and pointing to himself. His index finger is very long and fat, but not to the point it would distract you if I didn't point it out. His mouth is a bit blurry from the next animation cel being a little visible on-screen here. Brutus's eyes are half-open and he looks sleepy.
I couldn’t get a screenshot of this moment that didn’t have a bit of blur in it. They must have decided to animate this moment on the ones, or the YouTube compression worked against it. Anyway you can see how Brutus, even if he did cheat by using a player piano here, is a natural piano player when he has fingers that long.

And the short offers several good little bits. The performing contest being introduced as though it were a boxing match, for example. Or Popeye getting a couple of muttered interjections in, such as saying “Man the lifeboats! I sprung a leak!” or “I should’ve played `Over the Waves`” when his flute produces water. That sort of throwaway joke could have been a muttered 30s gag and fit right in. It’s a good energy to invoke. There’s even a gorgeous throwaway bit. When Popeye says he’s beginning to smell a rat we see a delighted Brutus smiling at the camera and pointing to himself. It’s playful, in a way the best Popeye cartoons are. I got good feelings from watching this.

Given how well this works I don’t know why Siracusa and Millsap didn’t write more shorts. Maybe they didn’t enjoy the writing. Maybe they saw a chance to adapt Symphony in Spinach but didn’t see another theatrical short they were interested in. Too bad. The writing is strong enough to make a good cartoon within the studio’s constraints.

60s Popeye: Uncivil War, about the processes that drive one bad


This week takes us back to 1960 and a cartoon with a baffling title. It comes from the Jack Kinney studios. The story’s by Gerald Nevius and the animation direction by Volus Jones. Here’s a short titled, for some reason, Uncivil War.

I don’t get the title at all. I expected it to be maybe a historical short, but more likely something where Popeye and Brutus have to share the housekeeping. “Popeye instructing Swee’Pea in good driving habits” would have been my maybe fourth guess after “Popeye fights with a squirrel”.

Instead, we’ve got a safe-driving short. The idea seems oddly pitched for the audience, which would be mostly kids a decade away from driving. There were plenty of theatrical shorts pushing safe-driving messages, such as the excellent 1950 Goofy short Motor Mania, directed by some guy name of Jack Kinney. But that’s aimed at a general audience where some of the people are driving home from the theater. Also, the jokes were bigger, bolder. The jokes in “Uncivil War” are more mundane, more educational. There’s a preposterous pileup of cars, caused by Popeye stopping to read the signs too carefully, but that’s about all. The cartoon might have had more surreal jokes if it were just a short about Olive Oyl learning to drive or Popeye trying out his new car. It has a curious shift in structure. It starts out looking like Brutus is trying to woo Olive Oyl with his cool car and Popeye proves himself superior by being a more thoughtful driver. But then that evaporates and we get instead a string of jokes where someone drives badly and then the rest of the cast calls them stupid.

Popeye's car is stopped on a city street. Brutus, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy have all smashed their cars into one another, behind him, and are angry about their smashed cars.
And you say only Popeye knows how to parallel park?

A choice I think I like here is that Brutus isn’t always the bad driver here. (Nor is Olive Oyl, a welcome avoiding of stereotype.) Everyone shuffles the roles of being the good and the problem driver. It helps spread out the laugh lines. It also conveys a subtler message that everyone is a problem driver in some way or another. I can’t imagine that many kids watching this came away thinking of how just being a Good character, like Popeye, doesn’t mean everything you do is right. But it is the sort of lesson one should have. It feels like an inefficient way to do it, is all.

I’d love to know why the Kinney studios chose to make this cartoon, of all the premises they could. Were they thinking of great how-to-drive shorts of the past, including Motor Mania? Was it some sense that they should have some cartoons with socially constructive messages? And how did “Uncivil War” get attached to it as a title? Would like to be able to give you an answer.

60s Popeye: Private Eye Popeye and the case of the missing credits


King Features has chopped off some or all of the credits the last couple shorts. This was a particularly severe case, with even the title card lost. It’s only the title of the collection on King Features’s YouTube page that makes it clear we’re starting on Private Eye Popeye. The Internet Movie Database tells me this is a 1960 Jack Kinney-produced short, with story by Raymond Jacobs and direction by Rudy Larriva. With that established, let’s watch.

My first watch of this, I hadn’t looked up the credits. I wondered if it might be a Gene Deitch short. The nice moody opening pan across the waterfront, with the music too soft for me to notice first time through, seemed suggestive. And little bits of not-necessary but fun flourishes, like Popeye poking his cleaning rag through his magnifying glass, or the title bar identifying Olive Oyl as a private eyess, seemed like Deitch’s touch. Shows what I know, even after all this time.

A leftover Jimmy Durante caricature claiming to be the police chief assigns Popeye and Olive Oyl to catch diamond smugglers. It’s Brutus and the Sea Hag, of course. Popeye wisely calls on Eugene the Jeep to find the plot. This gets a clever bit of Eugene spelling out ‘DIAMONDS’ with his tail, a message Our Heroes can’t interpret. Brutus locks Popeye in the hold, and hits on Olive Oyl, who hits back. Popeye finds his way into one of those giant deck tubas that ships have in cartoons and silent movies, and holds a gun on Brutus. This feels out of character, as much as it makes sense for “a private eye”. Anyway, the Sea Hag steals the gun and Brutus steals Popeye’s helicopter.

Olive Oyl and Eugene the Jeep are tied to the mast of a ship. (Eugene is upside-down.) Olive Oyl cries for help.
Wait … how do you tie up a Jeep so he doesn’t just fourth-dimensionally pop out of there? Is Eugene having a laugh on everybody?

The big action scene here is Popeye clinging to the helicopter while Brutus flies it. The helicopter breaks up and Brutus and Popeye with one propeller each try to grind the other’s propeller to nothing. This is another thing that made me think Gene Deitch: the action is very much what the 1930s theatrical version of this cartoon might be. It’s got that blend of action and danger and absurdity. Popeye eats his spinach, granting super-powers to his propeller blade, and sends Brutus to the sharks below. To be eaten, if we take the text literally, another moment that feels out of character. The Sea Hag’s still loose, but Olive grabs the gun, accidentally shooting down a jar of diamond-encrusted pickles to knock out the Sea Hag. That sounds like gibberish but all the story pieces hold together.

It’s a strongly story-driven cartoon, especially for a Jack Kinney production. I think of his shorts as being more mood pieces. This strong a narrative I’d expect from Paramount or Gene Deitch. It’s a mostly good blend that they have going here. Not sure I like the guns, or the suggestion Brutus has been killed. And the music is the usual for Kinney, a random shuffle of stock cues mixed at the wrong level. But the whole is a successful short. You can see the version of this that might have been made in, oh, 1938, without feeling too bad that it wasn’t.

60s Popeye: Popeye And The Polite Dragon, with a shocking revelation about Popeye’s ancestors


We’re back to the Jack Kinney studios for a Popeye cartoon featuring a dragon. No, not Popeye And The Dragon, although there’s some resemblance in dragons there. No, this one is a completely different 1960 Jack Kinney-produced cartoon about Popeye and a dragon. This one is Popeye and the Polite Dragon.

This one has story by Joe Grant and Walter Schmidt and animation direction credited to Rudy Larriva. Producer is, of course, Jack Kinney. Let’s watch, then compare notes.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Jack Kinney studios found a great premise that they did as little as they could with. All right, but it’s so. Popeye adopts a prissy dragon. How can you not at least look at that story and see what it’s about?

OK, so it’s technically not Popeye, but his great-great-grandpappy who looks just like him and also eats spinach and fights the evil Brutus. Lop off a couple seconds at the beginning and end and you have the cartoon where Popeye adopts a dragon.

It’s possible that, in a moment of sloppiness, the studio forgot this was a framed story. There’s bits where Jackson Beck steps in as the narrator, when nominally the cartoon is Popeye telling a “dragon story” to Swee’Pea. I know, it’s hard to imagine sloppiness in a Jack Kinney cartoon, but there it is.

An infant purple dragon, holding his tail over one arm, holds his other arm out and looks away, eyes closed, to reassure Popeye's great-great-grandpappy.
Huh. Wonder what this character’s like, there’s so many ways this pose could be read.

So desperate mother Darlene Dragon leaves infant Percy on Popeye’s doorstep. (Popeyes are always discovering foundlings on their doorsteps.) He takes up the child and is surprised that he talks, somewhat posh, despite being an adorable infant. Later, Percy grows larger than the house, so Popeye sends him out in the world with a can of spinach to make his way. Percy’s way turns out to be into the Elite Dragon Inn, a trap set by dragon exterminator Black Brutus. Popeye, missing his son, finds Brutus and gets thrown in the cage with Percy. He eats Percy’s spinach and rallies the dragon’s fire to burn Brutus out of town. For a Jack Kinney cartoon that’s a pretty solid, well-motivated plot.

For all that stuff happens for good reasons the cartoon still feels underwritten. I understand there’s not the time for fully-developed character arcs. But then at the climax, after the spinach-eating, Popeye tries to rally Percy’s courage? Initiative? Pride? Something, to get him to breathe enough fire to get them out of this fix. That’s a good resolution to Percy’s quest for self-actualization or whatever. It’s also the first moment we get an idea that Percy wasn’t embracing his dragon self. Or whatever the issue was. I understand, Percy’s introduced with that name, and with that Odie Cologne voice. We’re supposed to think of The Reluctant Dragon. With that outside information we have a full storyline, but with what’s in the text?

Popeye stands, looking stern, and pointing at a large purple dragon who's sitting sheepish and depressed in front of him.
Like, where did that confident, self-assured dragon cub go? But then Percy’s had a lousy day, having to leave home and immediately getting captured. It’s fair to spend some time moping.

It’s not like allusion is an unfair way to build stories. Especially when we’re constrained for time or space. I mean, a Looney Tunes cartoon draws the mad scientist as Peter Lorre and we understand his deal right away. But that’s about setting up the mad scientist character. It’s not about his whole business. These feelings may reflect that there’s a lot in this cartoon designed to appeal to me. Popeye. Dragons. A Reluctant Dragon type. Popeye stating his thesis that you should proudly be whatever you are. It’s a story I want done well and I notice where this isn’t put together right.

A couple stray observations. Popeye takes a couple books off the bookshelves. Other books on the background include stuff by Volus, or from Larriva Publishing, or an author named Kinney. They’ve used this bookshelf before and I would swear I mentioned it at the time, but I can’t find that. The cartoon’s title promises a polite dragon, but all we get evidence of is “educated”. And, if — as the joke at the end suggests — we’re supposed to take this as having literally happened … you know, Popeye’s great-great-grandpappy doesn’t seem to have any kids besides Percy. Are we to assume that the Jack Kinney version of Popeye is, at least partially, a dragon? Because that would be cool.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Fixit Shop, acknowledging the right to repair


Jack Kinney steps up to provide our cartoon this week. The story to 1960s Popeye’s Fixit Shop is credited to Ralph Wright, and animation direction to Hugh Frasier. Let’s watch, and then think about the heck we just saw.

There’s times I think I hypnotize myself into believing a cartoon is good because it feels weird. This is one of those. It’s got a tone and pacing so off that it feels a little alien. And when you’ve seen a lot of something, it’s easy to conflate being alien with being good. This cartoon reminded me of Popeye’s Car Wash. That has a story credited to Harvey Toombs, though.

This is another rivalry cartoon, with Popeye and Brutus both working repair shops at 120 Cartoon Street. There’s a funny pan down the buildings to see the history of dueling signs and the cobweb-encrusted proprietors. Great job establishing the backstory without even needing animation.

For a couple minutes the cartoon is about Olive Oyl wanting the heap of parts that used to be a telephone put back together. I don’t know if I wanted an explanation for how the phone broke. It doesn’t matter, no, but there was room for her to say she regrets taking it to the elephant parade or something. Brutus magically fixing the phone by swapping it for Popeye’s is a good premise. Olive Oyl gets to commit Brutus to fixing the broken phone in front of them and then that whole premise drops.

Olive Oyl clings to the hour hand of the city hall clock, in a pose reminiscent of the famous Harold Lloyd scene. She's posed so that her arms, and body, are in front of the hour hand, meaning that her wrists are either twisted sharply around or her hands are folded upside-down to hold on to the clock.
How … how is she holding on to that clock hand?

The other premise is the City Hall clock needs repairs if Santa Claus is ever going to visit the town anymore. Popeye has the job, but Brutus poaches it, and the rest of the short is them fighting inside the clock. That’s also a good premise. I’m curious whether they have these two repair premises because they couldn’t develop either of them into a full short, so went with what they had? I could also imagine they wanted to end with Olive Oyl eating the spinach, and needed some reason for Olive Oyl to be there at all. That would explain having her come in as customer. That explanation doesn’t satisfy me, though. She could’ve been Popeye’s assistant, or the person at City Hall pointing them to the clock, or something. I feel more confident that they didn’t have five minutes’ worth of clock-repair jokes.

A clock interior — like a factory interior, or a symphony orchestra — is almost a guarantee of a good fight. The background carries so much structure that the action almost can’t fail. It’s fun if the characters mess up the works; it’s fun if the characters can’t, and get messed up themselves. Yes, this would have been stunning and wonderful if it were done by the Fleischers in 1939, using real-life sets for the backgrounds. For the TV-budget pittance available here? It gets the idea across.

Olive Oyl eats the spinach this time, an event that’s rarer than I had thought (though this list is incomplete). Even more rare if you consider she usually eats it because Popeye can’t hit a woman even when she’s the antagonist. I’m aware of what the cartoon doesn’t do well. Mostly in pacing, or in missed lines or odd sound cues. Wimpy’s snoring-eating dialogue aggravates me in some way I can’t make precise, too. I still enjoy the whole.

60s Popeye: I Yam Wot I Yamnesia, with something never before seen in Popeye


This week we’re back at the Jack Kinney studios. The story is by Ralph Wright, whom we’ve seen with a couple mildly baffling cartoons: Double Cross-Country Race, and Forever Ambergris, and Around The World In Eighty Ways. So we can expect, if nothing else, a snappy title, and that’s delivered. Animation direction is by Ken Kultgren, an old friend now. Director and producer credits go, of course, to Jack Kinney. Here is 1960’s I Yam Wot I Yamnesia.

We get more than a snappy title from this. We get that rarity of a premise that hasn’t been done in Popeye before. There’ve been a few shorts where someone disguised themself as Popeye or, sometimes, Olive Oyl. (I think that was only done in the King Features shorts and I don’t know production order for those.) But an actual body-swapping story? That’s new. (Not wholly unprecedented; Vice Versa, which I know as a late-80s movie I didn’t feel the need to watch, was based on a novel from 1882. In the 1930s Turnabout was a popular novel and then movie.)

At least it seems like a body-swapping story. After the first accident, with Popeye and Swee’Pea swapped, Wimpy declares that it’s amnesia. Wimpy’s con-artist inclinations make him a good person to know any needed exposition. But he has a specific reason to know about this: as a boxing referee he’s seen it many times. Wimpy was introduced in the comic strip as a boxing referee; this might be the first time it’s come up in a cartoon that wasn’t about boxing. It also suggests mind-transfer is an occupational hazard of boxers in the Popeye universe. The world-building isn’t strong enough to ponder that. Wimpy knows the cure for bump-on-the-head amnesia is another bump on the head. But Olive Oyl gets in the way of his hitting Swee’Pea gain, and we get another round of body-swapping.

At the front door, Brutus leans forward, eyes closed, to kiss Olive Oyl. She has a stack of four hamburgers in her hand, and one in her mouth, so that Brutus is kissing the hamburger.
I’m sorry, I should have mentioned this week was Popeye After Dark.

Or, again, apparently body swapping? Because the punch line of the cartoon, Popeye and Brutus both acting like babies, doesn’t make sense as a swapping. It’s more like “actual” amnesia with neither remembering anything past when they were Swee’Pea’s age. I know, it’s shocking to imagine a Jack Kinney cartoon where the logic falls apart, but that’s what we have.

But there’s another unprecedented thing here. Wimpy-in-Olive’s-body, or whatever it is, declares (at about 14:02), “I’m one of the Jones boys.” And repeats it, about 15:26, telling Brutus, “Please, sir, I’m one of the Jones boys!” This was, I swear to you, Wimpy’s big catchphrase in the Thimble Theatre comic strip. He would throw up this line as conversational chaff to escape when a mark was starting to catch on to him. As far as I know it’s never been animated before. Ralph Wright revived Wimpy’s backstory to explain something that barely needs explaining. What motivated Wright to go for a deep cut in stuff Wimpy might say? (And a line that, in this context, would be baffling to kids who didn’t know that 25 years before Wimpy said this stuff. Maybe they would guess that his name was Wimpy Jones?)

Popeye and Brutus are sitting and crawling on the floor as toddlers, eyes closed and making goofy faces. Around them are a bunch of toys.
I don’t know what feeling it is Popeye playing with a sailor doll instills in me, but it does.

So the cartoon has striking novelty. What it hasn’t got is much of a plot. Once the premise is established we get about 938 cutaways to Swee’Pea-in-Popeye’s-Body demanding a cookie. And as many of Popeye-in-Swee’Pea’s-body demanding spinach. Wimpy-in-Olive’s-body goes after more hamburgers, as the refrigerator full of burgers isn’t enough. Olive-in-Wimpy’s-body goes off … I dunno, knitting or something, the girls do that all the time, right? But the cartoon is short. The novelty of everyone doing stuff with the wrong voice-actors is enough to last until Brutus arrives. And then he has to work out the premise again, since somehow once you’re body-swapped-by-head-conk you forget this happened?

Popeye-in-Swee’Pea’s-Body goes to make a spinach sandwich and eats a bit himself. This is another rarity, eating spinach before there’s any particular mission. It might be novel that this gets the Popeye-the-Sailor-Man fanfare before there’s any feat of strength to do. Popeye-in-Swee’Pea’s-Body punches Brutus for no reason I can discern. The various rubble knocks everyone but Popeye and Brutus right again. Wimpy’s happy to have the chance to test his theory and Olive Oyl declares, “No, no, a thousand times no; ’tis far better thus!” Thus is Popeye and Brutus playing like toddlers. It’s a funny, out-of-nowhere bit of melodrama on Olive Oyl’s part. I’m not sure what it means about what she wants in a boyfriend.

And that closes out it out. I’d be interested in a Popeye body-swapping cartoon where things happen. But puttering around with the novelty for a couple minutes is pleasant fun too.

60s Popeye: The Black Knight (not the one where he fights a pinball game)


We’re back to Jack Kinney studios for a time-travel adventure. This 1960 cartoon has a story credited to Ed Nofziger, with animation direction by Ken Hultgren. As always director and producer credits go to Jack Kinney. Let’s send Popeye to see The Black Knight.

“The Leprechaun”, last week, was all story and no humor. This week, we’re at a different studio, and at near the converse. This almost plays like an improv sketch built around the theme of Popeye in Pop Culture Medieval England. Once more Professor O G Wotasnozzle uses his time machine to possibly abduct an unsuspecting Popeye, sending him to King Arthur — in the time of Prince Valiant — for reasons of what the heck.

The Wotasnozzle frames are always a bit weird since I don’t know why they’re needed. These cartoons never seem like they’d make less sense if we started with Popeye in Medieval times, or the future, or caveman days, or whatnot. We never get scenes of Popeye trying to work out where or when he is. That’s confusing since the standard frame has Popeye knocked unconscious and dropped somewhere else in time. But in this case we don’t see that whole frame; the cartoon assumes the audience has seen enough of this to get the setup. I suppose they have. Kids have so much easier a time understanding stories.

King Wimpy looks bemused, and Queen Olive bothered, that an angry Popeye has been dropped, flopped over, on their dining table.
I understand King Wimpy’s disdain here. I’m also annoyed when someone drops work on my table in the middle of a meal.

Once we’re there, the story pretty near stops. We get the main cast (mostly) recast as Arthurian-ish characters. Wimpy as King Arthur, Olive Oyl as Olive Guinevere, Brutus as the Black Knight are about all you can do. The Sea Hag as Merlin makes the best sense at giving the role to someone magical. Naming her Ethyl Merlin is a nice gag. Anything the Sea Hag does is coded as villainous. It seems to me we don’t often see Merlin portrayed as a villain, at least not in Camelot-set stories. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court excepted. I’m not sure she quite reaches the point of villainy, though. Before she enters everyone’s afraid Popeye is a spy or something — they’re afraid of his pipe as some kind of sorcery. Even a good Merlin might reasonably want this intruder locked up until they were sure what his deal was.

This all turns into a jousting contest between Popeye and the Black Knight, using what stunts need the least possible new animation. There’s charm here. A lot of it is silly dialogue, elevated by the decision to speak with Fake Old-Time Word Endingseth. Or jokes about the knight-fall or how the squashed Brutus is “what a short knight”. The running joke about Wimpy wanting more medieval hamburgers has some nice pacing and delivery, given how many end up bonking him on the head. I don’t get the joke early on about Wimpy wishing they’d invent hamburger buns and Olive Oyl saying “Oh, nay, t’would be ill. Bread!” I mean, I get that it’s funny because it has the sound of a pun, but the pun doesn’t make sense. They’re trying out a lot of jokes, they can’t all work. I appreciate the attempt.

60s Popeye: Olive Drab and the Seven Sweapeas (Seven! Count ’em! Because we lose one somewhere)


We’re back to Jack Kinney studios this week. The story’s credited to Jack Miller, a name I don’t have recorded yet. This and Popeye And The Spinach Stalk seem to be his only King Features Popeye credits. The Internet Movie Database credits him with story credits for some noteworthy things, including the Porky Pig/Daffy Duck classic You Ought To Be In Pictures, and a bunch of George Pal shorts including the Oscar-winning Tulips Shall Grow. Animation direction goes to our old friends Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. Here from 1960 is Olive Drab and the Seven Sweapeas. That’s how they spell it, it’s not on me.

Another Jack Kinney cartoon, another fairy-tale story. This is another one not presented with the frame of Popeye reading to Swee’Pea. He’s just narrating to us viewers. A neat thing about Popeye is it’s not strange to drop the characters into another story, the way it would break things if you did this with, like, a Star Trek episode. The oddest piece is casting Swee’Pea as all seven brothers. That works well enough, though. There’s no sense trying to differentiate seven characters in a cartoon this short. And even with the cast of Thimble Theatre characters opened up the way the King Features shorts allowed, there’s no digging out seven kid characters. It is neat they reached into the comic strip enough to find Olive Oyl’s father Cole, to play Olive Drab’s father.

The story’s a nicely done one. Its inspiration from Snow White is clear enough we can rely on that to fill in narrative lacunae. But it’s varied enough that the story feels new. It’s a good development to have Olive Drab go out in the world seeking help over this pirated ship. And there’s an interesting bundle of little ironies in the story. Particularly in how the Seven Swee’Peas go off to find Prince Popeye, who was coming to visit them anyway. We also learn Prince Popeye knew about the whole stolen ship thing without Olive Drab’s going out to tell him. I’m not sure he would have done anything if he weren’t sort-of asked to, so Olive Drab’s voyaging serves a purpose, I guess.

Popeye and his ship are seen through a telescope. The ship has a prow that's a larger replica of Popeye, smiling and looking forward.
Don’t talk to me, or my boat, ever again.

The Sea Hag, of course the villain, figures to prepare a can of cursed spinach for Popeye. Decent enough plan. Changing her focus to stopping Popeye, instead of Olive Drab, adds some nice wrinkles to the story. I was ready for Popeye to end up trapped in eternal sleep and Olive Drab needing to come to his rescue. The cartoon doesn’t go that far off-script, though. Olive Drab taste-tests it and knocks herself out, which makes sense.

Popeye and the Swee’Peas team up for some reason to take on the Sea Hag, although I’m not clear that they know she’s the problem. They seem to be going on the principle that she’s the other character in the short. She describes them as “the whole cotton-pickin’ navy” after her. They don’t seem to need to do much to stop her, though; trying to fire a cannon just gets herself blasted. She rams Popeye, who finds her box of Real Spinach, and he tears apart the bow of her boat. This seems to sink it, although from the art it’s not clear to me this even reaches the waterline. Well, they recover the gold, get back to Olive Drab, and for some reason the Sea Hag’s Vulture whispers how to revive her. And all is happy, Popeye and Olive Drab sailing off into the sunset, while six Swee’Peas wave at them. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.

I most often talk about the curse of competence with Paramount Cartoon Studios shorts. Here, we’ve got Jack Kinney Productions caught by the same issue. It’s a watchable, pleasant enough short. But I’ll be forgetting it soon enough. The short’s not that good, and its glitches are mostly things like poorly-edited line reads. It’s easier to remember, and to review these, when they’re much worse or much better.

Prince Popeye’s boat is an odd choice, though, have to say that for it.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Hypnotic Glance, it was much better than Cats


Jack Kinney’s our producer again, and the director also. Animation direction is credited to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman, while the story is by our old friend Ed Nofziger. With us here now from 1960 is Popeye’s Hypnotic Glance.

This essay is going to be me trying to rationalize why I like this cartoon. Not sure I can. This is a solid premise with which the cartoon does one thing and then stops. Somehow that hangs together for me. I think Olive Oyl’s unending repetition of how “I love Brutus”, joined eventually by Alice the Goon’s vocoded “I love Popeye”, might be hypnotizing me.

The plot’s coherent, especially for the often dreamlike progressions of Jack Kinney studios work. A jealous Brutus discovers he has a “How To Hypnotize” book, and figures that’s the way to get Olive Oyl to love him. We get a nice zoom-in on Brutus planning his villainy here. It’s a rare camera move with some dramatic purpose. That’s mirrored later by a camera not moving to good dramatic effect. As he starts hypnotizing Olive Oyl the camera sticks to the view of her fireplace. I expect that was a budget-driven choice. But it’s also dramatically effective, the sort of thing that a live-action director might focus on if this scene were played serious. Olive Oyl also goes out of focus, as the hypnosis takes effect, and that’s a good bit of camera work.

There’s some more off-camera action to decent comic effect, even if the scene shouldn’t make logical sense. Brutus goes into the kitchen and we hear him hypnotizing “You loves Popeye, get it? You loves Popeye”. Yes, he’s hypnotizing Alice the Goon instead of Olive Oyl. Popeye should be able to see this, but it’s more important the audience be surprised. Also I’m always happy seeing Alice the Goon, who never gets enough to do.

Popeye sits, tied up, in a kitchen chair. Alice the Goon holds a giant bowl of spinach which she's ready to start feeding him. In the background is a stove with a pipe that bends around four corners so it makes a square loop.
I believe in letting people enjoy the lifestyles they enjoy, so I don’t complain that Olive Oyl’s kitchen seems old-fashioned even for 1960, but I question whether that stove pipe is any good at its job.

It’s curious that about all Brutus wants to do with a hypnotized Olive Oyl is have her repeat “I love Brutus”. It’s amusing that he starts waving his finger like an orchestra conductor to lead her. Also that her head tips to the side and she gets stuck on “I love – I love – I love”. It barely makes logical sense as a record player joke and I wonder what a kid of today would make of it.

Credit Brutus with his cleverness in figuring to set Alice in love with Popeye. She’s one of the few characters who can plausibly overpower him and that he can’t hit back. Also credit Popeye for seeing the way out of that, by demanding she cook him spinach. I don’t know how to read the bit where Popeye cries out, “That’s it, Alice, more spinach!”. Alice responds with stony silence and no more spinach. It’s funny, but I feel like I’m laughing at an animation error.

It’s an interesting choice that Popeye only uses his spinach power-up to break the ropes tying him down and clobber Brutus out of his sofa. His reading the hypnotism book seems to be regular old reading. Or they didn’t have enough of the Popeye-the-Sailor-Man fanfare to make that clear.

As I say, I like this. I can point to good bits in it. (Olive Oyl laughing off Brutus’s first several hypnosis attempts without throwing him out of the house, for example.) But, boy, not a lot happens and what does is more funny-weird than funny-ha-ha. And it fumbles what should be easy bits, like having the background music louder than Alice the Goon’s dialogue. Not going to fault anyone who says this is an example of a lousy King Features short. I’m still delighted by it.

60s Popeye: Ballet de Spinach, a cartoon without spinach in it


This week’s cartoon, in which Popeye does not eat spinach, is from the Jack Kinney studios. Ken Hultgren gets the story credit. Ken Hultgren gets animation direction. Producer credit goes to some guy name of Jack Kinney. Must be a relative. From 1960 here’s Ballet de Spinach.

I discussed Moby Hick last week as a strongly plot-driven cartoon with not much humor. Here we’ve got an almost plotless cartoon that’s relying on its humor. Olive Oyl has a new obsession, ballet dancing, and she nags Popeye into it. Nagging your friend into your hobby is real enough, and it’s potentially good comedic fodder. I don’t usually care for it myself, but please remember that left to my own devices, I would not actually go out or do anything. I’d sit in a comfortable chair playing on my own devices.

Olive Oyl’s dancing, and she’s going to be on the stage tonight, and she wants Popeye as her partner. This seems to be short notice. She nags Popeye into wearing a tutu and tries to coach him through a scene. Popeye’s outfit isn’t the sure laugh for me that the cartoon acts as it should be. Olive Oyl’s outfit works for me, though. We almost never see her in blue and it looks good on her, even though for some reason the outfit leaves her like two heads shorter than normal. Popeye mosty grumbles and stomps around like Fred Flintstone. It was close enough I wondered if there might have been any animators crossing over between Jack Kinney’s and Hanna-Barbera’s studios. But it’s also very likely there’s just a natural pose for an aggressive male character to stop across the room.

Popeye, dressed in a ballet costume as an angel, points a finger angrily at Olive Oyl, who's also wearing a ballet costume and seems less sure of herself.
The one shot this whole cartoon where someone isn’t making a fist.

Brutus, looking in through the window in what I think is stock footage, laughs at Popeye. So we can add ‘toxic masculinity’ to Brutus’s rap sheet. (It was probably on there already.) Brutus comes in, somehow, to escalate the torment, and Popeye has enough pretty fast. Olive Oyl decides Popeye mustn’t do things out of character for an angel. So he gets clever, asking if angels will smack people in their breadbasket, like this, or clonk them on their head, like this. It gets the punching done.

Characters roped into things they don’t care for is often good for comedy. So is characters forced to follow some rule that conflicts with their natural impulses. So even without a plot this is a sound enough base for the cartoon. It doesn’t work for me, as I don’t find it inherently funny enough that Popeye should be in a tutu. Popeye’s in a fowl enough mood that I don’t have fun watching him. I suspect if there were more sotto voce jokes, Popeye quipping about his embarrassment or awkwardness or inability to dance, it might work.

(I couldn’t work a way to mention The Green Dancin’ Shoes into this, but if you like Jack Kinney-made cartoons about Olive Oyl’s dancing, you might want to know about that one too.)

60s Popeye: The Golden Touch, and how to cure it


(The cure is spinach and Jeeps, which, yeah, will cure most anything.)

Before I get into the cartoon I want to amplify a bit of news. Fred M Grandinetti was kind enough to post the other day that he has a new book, Popeye the Sailor: The 1960s TV Cartoons, about just what the title says. I haven’t had the chance to get it, but I’m interested to read another person giving some serious attention to a neglected corner of Popeye’s history.

Another week brings us to 1960 and back to Jack Kinney sudios. Ed Nofziger’s credited for the story, with an assist to Ovid. Eddie Rehberg reappears as the animation director. Here’s The Golden Touch.

If the legends of King Midas teach us anything, it’s “don’t appear in a legend with any Greek gods”. Midas survives his two legends well, coming out of it with a couple hungry days and, later on, donkey’s ears that the fields can’t stop whispering about. Still, the golden-touch legend is the one we all remember, for saving humanity from a dystopia where the pursuit of the illusion of wealth destroys our environment, our society, and our bodies.

And it forms the bulk of this adequate cartoon. It’s the telling of another Popeye Fairy Story — Phairie Story, according to the cover — with the inspiration that Swee’Pea is in love with pennies. As a way into a story, that’s a good one. It’s a very kid attitude to want all the pennies.

In the story, Good King Popeye is a beloved ruler who does impersonations of Ted Lewis with his question, “Is ev’rybody happy?” It’s an interesting cast: I understood having Alice the Goon and Wimpy (who’s hamburger-happy) as a kid. As an adult, I’m … pretty sure the first person to answer is supposed to be Geezil. I think the last is supposed to be Toar. We also get a glimpse of Oscar (at about 0:46). There’s a short person standing next to Geezil(?) and Alice the Goon we never get a good view of, and I’d like to know if that’s supposed to be someone recognizable.

The street of a medieval-ish city. There are several people on the street, all frozen and turned to gold with dollar signs on them. One is 'Ye Poppe Corne' vendor. In front of 'Ye Poppe Corne' vendor are a cat and dog turned to gold in the middle of hissing at each other.
So first, is that Roughhouse as Ye Poppe Corne vendor? Second, why did King Popeye touch the cat and the dog?

Good King Popeye wants his land to be as rich as it is happy. The magical Jeep (is there another kind?) decides this is a day to give people what they ask for, not what they need. The golden touch is fine and fun when it turns his crown, his pipe, and his pipe smoke into gold. Less so when it turns Princess Olive to gold. He tries to eat spinach to fix all this and the spinach turns to gold, which he can’t eat.

And here the short starts to fall apart. King Popeye needs to find the Jeep to reverse the spell; OK. He goes asking people if they’ve seen the Jeep. By tapping them on the shoulders. I get the animation reasons for this: it’s very cheap to have someone stand still while a cel of Popeye’s arm swings down to touch them, and then you paint them in gold. But turning one person to gold is an understandable accident. The fourth time in you have to ask what King Popeye thought would happen.

My problem’s not that he does a dumb thing. Everybody does dumb things sometimes. And it’s a legend inside a kids cartoon. It isn’t necessarily bad if the kids are smarter than the characters. But if you’re Toar, and you’ve seen Popeye just touch Alice and Wimpy and turn them to gold, why aren’t you going to step back some? And the answer he didn’t see them, because they didn’t have enough animation budget for Toar to turn his head and see any of this.

But maybe the problem is unfixable. It would be about as cheap for Popeye to ask the crowd if they’d seen a Jeep and everyone to say no. They’re all Jack Mercer doing voices anyway. But it would be a shame to not use as much of the gold touch as possible. Maybe there’s a way to rewrite so King Popeye has reason to touch everybody in the kingdom, and if they had the time to work on the stories they might have found it.

A sad King Popeye walks along the narrow spit of land toward the Sea Hag's lair. His footprints are golden dollar signs.
I think it’s fair for King Popeye to ask why his crown and pipe and pipe smoke turned to gold but his clothes and the cape he’s brushing(?) did not.

Popeye’s last hope is the Sea Hag, who it turns out captured the Jeep. She’s able to drive King Popeye off, first with the garden hose, a joke that I really like. Then by throwing the kitchen sink at him, over and over. King Popeye eats his gold spinach because that bit where he couldn’t eat gold spinach was whole minutes in the past and who can remember that far back. And threatens the Sea Hag with being turned to gold if she doesn’t release the Jeep. I think this is getting in the neighborhood of a war crime but since it all ends merrily enough we’re okay with it. Everybody’s happy again, and Swee’Pea has learned to wish for nickels instead.

There’s stuff to like here. A King Midas Touch cartoon is a fun starting point. The wish is immediately appealing to anyone, even as we acknowledge that taken literally it would be horrible. The world becoming more and more dead as you interact with it should be a good nightmarish building of tension. We get Eugene the Jeep and the Sea Hag, always fun characters. And there’s cute little bits, such as King Popeye leaving behind golden dollar-sign footprints. If that wasn’t used in a Richie Rich comic book cover somebody at Harvy screwed up. I love the Sea Hag just reading her paper, asking “Hah?” when King Popeye demands the Jeep’s release.

As it is, though, it’s hobbled. There’s the problem of King Popeye having no good reason to tap the fourth person on the shoulder. And the music is a completely flat, almost languid thing. It’s like the music director was asked to score five minutes of hanging around while nothing happens. The change in whether King Popeye can eat the gold spinach I suppose we can use the old “it wasn’t dire enough to try earlier” excuse. It’d be nice to have something made more explicit, though. I know I always say the Jack Kinney cartoons are a rewrite or two away from working, but there we are.

60s Popeye: The Day Silky Went Blozo, in which Blozo goes Silky in a big way


We emerge from a second wave of Seymour Kneitel back to the comforting if slightly shoddy hands of Jack Kinney studios. The story for this 1960 short is credited to Joseph Stewart and Jack Kinney and animation direction to Hugh Fraser. Join us now and witness what happend The Day Silky Went Blozo.

Popeye versus The Reluctant Dragon! How can you not like that? Well, I’ll do my best to try … Well, you might not like that way Jack Kinney cartoons seem to animate the first draft of the script. That’s always unfortunate, and a bit more so here for the satiric potential in the premise. King Blozo is, like he always is when we see him, distressed. This silky-voiced dragon is disaffecting Blozo’s people with his Moritz Schlick-like assertion that the meaning of life is play. It’s never too soon to teach kids that society is as cruel as people have decided to make it, and that if we wanted, it could be better.

So Blozo has the problem that his kingdom’s threatened by this dragon encouraging people to sing and dance and be happy instead of, you know, work. Once again I long for the theatrical short this could have been, with two or three more minutes of screen time. And some bit players. And showing things screwed up because people are off prancing around a dragon instead of their jobs. The budget in time and money only allow sending Wimpy off against the dragon, who I don’t think gets called “Silky” on-screen. Wimpy’s spectacular failure against Silky sends Blozo to repeat the premise. And to declare he needs to send the “strongest, most honest, and ugliest man in my kingdom” against Silky.

Silky, a large dragon wearing blue vest, cap, and shoes, plays the trunk of a tree as if it were a flute. A crowd of Thimble Theatre regulars --- Wimpy, Brutus, Olive Oyl, Swee'Pea, Professor Wottasnozzle, et cetera --- sit on the ground watching eagerly.
The first events at the Garden State Arts Center were pretty informal things.

Strongest and most honest make sense. Ugliest is an odd insult to toss in, especially when for all we in the audience know Brutus might be next. The placement dampens the impact of a not-that-good insult/joke. I’d cut it, myself, especially as Blozo doesn’t have many other comic asides to make this flow better.

Popeye challenges Silky to a duel, and the dragon choses the yo-yo as his weapon. The dragon’s yo-yo tricks win over an appreciative crowd, one that includes Brutus in a rare non-antagonist role. He doesn’t even speak, although Jackson Beck earns his pay doing the dragon’s voice. Also a rarity: Popeye eats his spinach but doesn’t use that power to do anything. He’s ready to slug Silky, or at least do some better yo-yo tricks, but Blozo’s been won over by the charms of dragon yo-yo. So all the fighting gets called off. Blozo goes over to Silky’s way of living.

All the key points are here and I like how they play out. I particularly like the weird exceptions of this short, like Brutus’s and Olive Oyl’s non-speaking roles. And Popeye eating his spinach but not using that. Or Popeye being the last one to realize he’s on the wrong side here. He starts in the wrong sometimes, but I think this is the only time he comes around after eating his spinach.

There’s a batch of not-quite-finished bits. Blozo repeating how it’s terrible that this dragon is telling people just what they want to hear. How you tell the difference between the normal Wimpy and the Wimpy who’s taken Silky’s advice to live a frivolous, pleasure-driven life instead. Or the animators not having agreed on how big Popeye the Knight should be, relative to the dragon, so they try all the plausible heights. Or (at about 3:30) animating Popeye’s mouth moving since I guess the soundtrack showed someone was talking, never mind that it wasn’t Popeye. (Come to it, Popeye’s mouth — at least his pipe — moves more while Silky talks than when he talks later in the scene.) The lousy mixing of audio levels, so Silky’s song gets lost underneath the music. As keeps happening with Kinney-produced shorts, no one of these is a difficult thing to patch. But you feel the constraints on time that must have been present that they weren’t patched.

60s Popeye: Popeye in the Grand Steeple Chase


We’ve finally broken Seymour Kneitel-Mania! Briefly. Jack Kinney Studios takes over for this 1960 short. Story by Carol Beers, and animation direction by Harvey Toombs.

Before getting into Popeye in the Grand Steeple Chase a quick warning. At about 7:21 in the short, Popeye uses a then-accepted-by-white-people slur to refer to being cheated. Don’t want you caught unaware.

It’s easy to say why do a horse-racing cartoon. There’s bunches of good setups available. They may all exist in the shadow of Walt Disney’s Goofy cartoon How To Ride A Horse. Also of the Marx Brothers’ A Day At The Races. Fine. Those are the shadows you want to be in.

I’ve mentioned how often Jack Kinney cartoons felt like sketches or first drafts of cartoons. And the previous Carol Beers-story cartoons, Camel Aires and Popeye’s Museum Piece, had more sketchy or baffling storylines. This time around it’s all pretty straightforward. Olive Oyl cajoles Popeye into entering a steeplechase. Brutus sells Popeye a bad horse. Brutus figures to win the steeplechase himself. Despite his dirty tricks Popeye gives his horse “organic spinach-falfa” and wins the race. And, yes, Brutus would surely have won if he hadn’t wasted all that time digging a trap for Popeye. Isn’t that always the way?

The baffling stuff is all tucked into the details. Some of them are jokes, or at least attempted jokes. Wimpy as the racetrack announcer, for example, won’t stop eating hamburgers, even though this reduces his announcements to gibberish. That’s a fair joke. It’s confusing only because I’d expect those names to be jokes. I can’t make out if they are. But not putting in the joke I expect isn’t wrong. Also, credit to the studio for at least claiming there are other jockeys. This sort of Popeye-versus-Bluto/Brutus cartoon often skips having other competitors. Brutus locking the other jockeys in makes the race more full without forcing anyone to animate a third figure.

In the stands several groups of seriously-dressed people watch the race. Olive Oyl is jumping around, swinging her arms and legs, cheering Popeye. Two of the audience are looking at Olive Oyl, annoyed or resentful or worse.
I love how much those two people resent Olive Oyl being all cheerful and excited at a sporting event.

Also I understand intellectually that people dressed more formally back then. But this crowd for the horse race is dressed, to me, like they’re witnessing a State of the Union address.

There’s other small baffling things. Brutus affects a southern accent before putting on the persona of “Colonel Rudolph Brumus” for Popeye. It’s only one line, but why that line? Also, why “Rudolph Brumus”? It feels like a reference to someone adults at least would recognize around 1960. All it suggests to me is trying to do a name that’s amusing without being ostentatiously funny. You know, the way Paul Rhymer filled Vic and Sade with unlikely but not obviously clownish names. I’m never going to fault a writer for stuffing small, needless oddities. When it works, it’s the horse’s “Fax Mactor” fake tail.

There’s a character design oddity. The writing treats it as an obvious hilarity that Popeye’s horse, Sir Gallyhad, might be taken for a racehorse. But the drawing of him? I dunno, he looks like a normal cartoon horse to me. Maybe the animators had to start design work before the script was finished. Or it could be the horse design was prepared for another project. I don’t know what other stuff the Kinney studios was doing around that time.

The biggest characterization oddity: at the end, Brutus’s horse dunks him in the pit they dug to trap Popeye. Olive Oyl and Popeye find this hilarious. But they never discovered the various tricks Brutus had played to rig the race, other than selling Popeye a bum horse. Popeye didn’t even notice Brutus pulling out Sir Gallyhad’s Fax Mactor tail. But then it’s so natural for Popeye and Olive Oyl to laugh at Brutus’s comeuppance. Maybe Beers overlooked that the story hadn’t given them much reason to want him beaten up by his horse.

60s Popeye: Camel Aires, a sketch of a cartoon


Today’s Popeye cartoon has a story by Carol Beers, previously noted for Popeye’s Museum Piece. Direction is by Hugh Fraser, who’s had a bunch of credits to his name. And the producer was Jack Kinney. From 1960 is Camel Aires.

You know when you hear that “Popeye, you’ve done it again” music that the cartoon’s gibberish. It’s amiable gibberish, yes. But so far as it makes sense it’s because the characters and situations are familiar enough. Of course Popeye and Brutus are competing over something and it turns out to be Olive Oyl. Of course Wimpy will have some task he’s easily bribed away from. Brutus wil turn out to double-cross whoever’s working with him, and kidnap Olive Oyl. And Popeye will get his spinach and stop Brutus.

And I know I say this about half these cartoons but, wow, this is a sloppy one. Like, to start, Popeye and Brutus read in the paper how a rare stone was discovered in Egypt. OK, fair that they both have the idea of going to recover it for the intersted museum. The subhead says “Princess Olive Oil Believed Owner Of Valuable Gem”. It’s apparently the gem in her crown. What is the word “believed” doing there? And why can’t they get Olive Oyl’s name right?

Popeye has trouble with his camel, Camille, OK. Brutus, riding Frampton, meets up. “Hope you ain’t going to Egypt after that rare stone ’cause you’ll never make it on that ca-mule!” is pretty good trash-talking, echoing how Popeye had said Camille walks like a mule. They’re already in Egypt. This sort of combination deft and sloppy line runs through the cartoon. We see Olive at the top of the pyramid staircase Brutus and Popeye run up. Wimpy with an axe blocks them. Brutus offers a bribe of two hamburgers for Wimpy to show him where the princess is. Not sure who Brutus thought he was running towards right in front of him.

Brutus and Popeye stand at the base of golden stairs. At the apex is Princess Olive Oyl wearing a gem in her headdress. Halfway up the stairs is Wimpy, standing guard, with a battle axe in hand.
Wimpy as guard may seem odd but who would be a better choice besides literally any other Popeye character, including Roger the Dog, Swee’Pea, or one of the cheese men of the Moon?

There’s a nice bit of animation when Brutus punches out Wimpy. And Wimpy has a good line, “O, the perfidy of mankind!” And that’s the last time we see animation of anything important happening. Olive Oyl cries what sure sounds like stock cries for help and Popeye finds his way through the tunnels that are somehow there, only for Brutus to somehow tie him up. That’s all right. Wimpy, after declaring he’s too weak from hunger to save Popeye, passes up his chance to untie the very flimsy handkerchief holding Olive’s hands together, to go save Popeye, whose name she knows for some reason. Wimpy feeds Popeye spinach for some reason. Popeye blows out the flames he’s been tied over, which somehow frees his hands to untie himself, and then I guess Brutus’s camel throws him? Maybe Popeye has something to do with it? Anyway, Brutus is beaten and does it matter if it was Popeye or just the perfidy of camel? Anyway we all close up with Popeye and Olive riding Camille and Frampton, everybody in love with their species-matching partner.

Mulling this over I realize what the story structure is. It’s the narrative equivalent of the simplified, abstracted backgrounds of UPA-influenced cartoons. That is, the important features get highlighted, and everything else gets a perfunctory appearance if at all. When it’s done well, you get a production that’s just the stuff worth your attention. When it misfires, you notice how the chairs can’t stand on that floor.

60s Popeye: Popeye and the Magic Hat; yes, this is finally the one where Popeye’s a giraffe


We come to the finish of this little run of baffling Jack Kinney-produced cartoons. With a story by Osmond Evans (whose only story credit before this was Popeye the Fireman, though he has animation direction credits) and animation direction by Ken Hultgren, this 1960 short takes us on a tour of moments that raise the question, “Huh?” Here is Popeye and the Magic Hat.

So there’s a line here where Olive Oyl says of stage magician Brutus that she thinks he’s a big fake. This comes after she’s gone to see his show. He’s produced fireworks, a stream of water, several brass instruments, and petunias which he gave her. Brutus has taken Popeye as a volunteer. Brutus has made Popeye’s clothes jump off his body, then back on, then turn into a baby’s outfit, then a caveman’s, then a clown’s, then a ballerina’s, and then into a matronly gown. And then had a Jeep — Eugene, I assume — appear, crawling all over Popeye. Then had an apple appear on Popeye’s head. Then made Popeye’s legs disappear, along the way to making all Popeye’s body vanish, right out there on stage. And then gave him a body that would be big for Aunt Eppie Hogg over in Toonerville Trolley.

What sensible reason does Olive Oyl have for calling Brutus a “fake”? What would constitute “real” magic?

On stage, Olive Oyl is transformed into a seal from the neck down. She looks startled. Popeye leans in from behind the curtain looking aghast.
Is this one of the ordinary risks you assume by attending the show that they warn you about on the ticket to get into the studio? Olive Oyl in the seal form wears this nice teal scarf that I had mistaken as an accessory she was wearing as a human. She wasn’t, so I’m curious why it so evoked Olive Oyl to me. Maybe the color was enough like that blouse she wore in some of the 1940s shorts.

I focus on this as representative of this short’s baffling nature. The rough outline makes sense and has been done before. More than one time. (With variants.) The specifics are weird. Why does Olive Oyl call Brutus a fake after that? Why does Popeye say something like “Dreamy Squeamy, [ Brutus ] gives me the popcorn!” Why is Eugene the Jeep hanging around Brutus? Is he actually doing the magic and Brutus only does the patter? How much of this short is made up of Brutus waving his magic wand down and up once? I like Brutus responding to Olive Oyl’s cry of “fake” by turning her flowers into fish. Why does he then turn her into a seal? And then do a stunt of bouncing 10- and 16- and really-heavy weights off her nose and at Popeye?

And then we get a string of transformation jokes. Popeye asks if Brutus is trying to make a monkey out of him, because he hasn’t learned from past cartoons like this. And then he’s a monkey for a bit. Brutus turns them back to normal. Then turns Popeye into a giraffe and Olive Oyl into a flamingo, because of reasons he doesn’t share with us. Popeye grabs the wand, creates a Delux [sic] Giant Size can of spinach and turns everything back to normal. Brutus flees into his hat, and Popeye and Olive Oyl follow. The resulting fight decimates Liddsville, but saves the animation budget because a hat jumping around is easy to animate. (There is a lot this short that’s easy to animate. The characters mostly stand still on a blank background, alone, while looking at the opposite corner.) And then the hat opens out wide and everybody pops up, a happy performing family talking about how “you were both adorable!”

Olive Oyl, holding her hands together, looks up at Popeye, who's been transformed into a giraffe and stands so tall that nearly his whole neck is out of frame. The giraffe wears an adapted version of Popeye's shirt.
“Popeye! You come down here this minute and explain why your shirt changed to fit you as a giraffe but your pants just disappeared!”

So … uh … what? What just happened and why? Was this all a stunt, with Popeye and Olive Oyl confederates making it look for the TV audience like they were fighting? And now breaking the scene to let everyone know it’s all right? Having written that out, I admit, I can read that as clever. That Popeye and his cast are performing the roles of antagonists in hundreds of these little scenes. There’s a reason his comic strip was named Thimble Theatre.

There are thrills in looking hard at these 60s cartoons rather than, like, the Fleischer cartoons that everybody loves. One is how weird the cartoons could get. There wasn’t the time and money (and maybe talent) available to make clear stories well-animated. This can produce a wild, bracing freedom. Until it happened I had no idea this cartoon would involve Olive Oyl turned into a performing seal. That surprise is a delight and I’ll take that, if the cost is my being sure why these things happen in this order.

On stage, Popeye is startled to find he's wearing a blue clown outfit with yellow polka dots, including a big pointed cap and humongous clown shoes.
Hey, it’s Popeye as the host of a 1960 kiddie cartoon presenting Popeye cartoons! Which goes along with the idea that all this action is “really” a show the gang is putting on for the audience within the cartoon and also the one at home. It’s probably a coincidence.

Seeing Popeye as a monkey and Olive Oyl as a flamingo got me wondering. So far as I know there hasn’t been a short that cast the Popeye gang as animal versions of themselves. (I’ve forgotten almost all the Hanna-Barbera series, but King Features has got some of it on their YouTube channel. And I’ve seen none of Popeye And Son.) It could freshen up a stock plot if you have new-looking animation and can toss in a bunch of animal jokes among the regular dialogue. I suppose it would cost too much, redesigning the characters and having to replace all the stock animation cycles for the one short. Could be it’s somewhere in the comic books, or should be. I’m interested in seeing adventures of Popeye the Monkey and Olive Oyl the Flamingo.

60s Popeye: Sea Hagracy, and do you understand what that title is riffing on?


Today’s Popeye short continues the journey into Jack Kinney-produced weird ones. It’s from 1960 and the credits — well, the credits have a different style from what we’ve seen already. The credits give Ken Hultgren the story, though, and animation direction. Kinney’s the producer. So here is Sea Hagracy, a title I believe wants to riff on “sea piracy”, which says a lot about how it’s going.

When I at last read Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre comics I came to appreciate something about Popeye. That is that Elzie Segar never began a story with any idea where he was going. Some stories he finished with no idea where he was going. This is not to deny his skill or charm. Just that the stories often wander around instead of having any narrative thread.

My sources don’t indicate that Sea Hagracy is based on a comic strip storyline. It has the feel, though. In particular, it has several momentary thrusts of plot logic. Any one thrust makes sense. How they fit together is a mystery. It would make sense if this were a 16-week storyline condensed. That much time allows for the characters to reconsider what they’re doing. In five minutes? That’s a greater challenge.

The story starts well, with the title card dissolving right into the tax man taking the Sea Hag’s fortune. She hasn’t kept up her ill-gotten gains tax. Good inciting incident and some good lines, like the Sea Hag having stolen these chests by honest piracy. But she needs money, and figures to return to piracy. Popeye won’t let her. So she decides to make him a partner.

Popeye’s having none of it, and one can wonder why the Sea Hag thought that might work. I can imagine the sequence where she makes a more plausible case and gets shut down. Popeye “hates piracey worse’n poison,” and The Phantom argues that’s his line, and we’re done with that thread.

Popeye looking up from the newspaper, scowling with both eyes closed and clenching his teeth on his pipe.
Popeye has not been in good spirits ever since he moved next door to that Dennis Mitchell kid.

Stave the Third. Sea Hag bribes Wimpy into knocking Popeye out. Wimpy won’t betray his dear friend, of course, not for less than two hamburgers. Solid idea, and if the negotiations go on forever that’s all right. It’s some fun patter. Wimpy sneaks in with the mallet, but can’t bring himself to clobber Popeye. Popeye, by the way, has spent the whole short looking annoyed to be in the short when he wants to read the paper. And once Popeye gets wind of this he decides his rule against hitting women doesn’t mean he can’t spank the Sea Hag. I don’t follow this logic, but I grew up in an era where we noticed spanking was, you know, battery.

That seems like a logical end for the story, so the story goes on again. The Sea Hag decides she should just destroy Popeye, and use magic, since she remembered what she is. This involves sending lightning out to destroy Popeye’s house, which works, and which doesn’t get undone by the end of the short. Popeye eats the tiny can of spinach he keeps in bed, next to his feet. And then absorbs a bunch of the Sea Hag’s lightning bolts, then comes back as a half-human, half-lightning-bolt to zap the Sea Hag. This all is an idea so exciting as to overcome the limited animation. Think what it would have been like in a Fleischer two-reel color feature. And now we’ve got the end of a shorter but more superhuman story.

And one that ends with the inciting incident — the Sea Hag is broke — not just unresolved, but forgotten. Which is again true to the comic strip, and plots written day-to-day.

60s Popeye: Rip Van Popeye, maybe the second Popeye bowling cartoon


The story today is from Joe Grant and Walter Schmidt, names who I have recorded as offering two stories I wasn’t sure were written for Popeye. Those were Popeye the Popular Mechanic and then Popeye the White Collar Man. They have a new animation director this time, Ken Hultgren. Jack Kinney remains the director and producer. From 1960 here’s Rip Van Popeye.

If you’re like me, you remember the Rip Van Winkle story like this: Rip falls asleep for twenty years, and wakes up to find the town’s sure grown a bunch. Also at some point he goes … bowling with … dwarves? Who make thunder? Turns out that in Washington Irving’s original story there’s not a whole lot more. It’s a slender story to have become such a popular referent. And something adapted into five billion cartoons, including a theatrical Popeye short. Maybe because there’s no story? You have to send your protagonist into The Future but don’t have to hit any plot points or anything. This adaptation of Rip van Winkle, then, skips the whole “tossed into the future” thing. Instead we get bowling while drinking, or as it’s known in the trades, “bowling”.

The story’s framed as Popeye explaining thunder to a frightened Swee’Pea. It’s a reliable setup. The close gets spoiled by not having a punch line. Popeye explains “so thunder ain’t nothing but a game of bowling!” I guess that’s what you’d say to your kid, if you were telling this story, but as the close of a cartoon it feels like the rough draft.

The transition into the framed story is nice. Popeye takes a book off the shelf and I noticed how many animators’ names were on book spines there. Rip Van Popeye stretches out, his feet going outside the borders of the book’s picture, as the story starts. I liked that, so I’ll call it clever, but I’m not positive it wasn’t an animation error. Sometimes error works.

Rip Van Popeye flees Olive’s nagging to the top of a hill, that turns out to be in the clouds. Brutus’s bowling up a storm and the ball floats around Popeye. Brutus shares his Spinach Squeezins, a thing mentioned about every eight seconds for the rest of the short. And then we really get into this dreamy logic. The squeezings reach out and pinch Popeye’s nose. Drinking them gives the Popeye-the-Sailor-Man fanfare, but Popeye doesn’t seem particularly powered up. He is up for “that game with the iron ping-pong balls”, which seems an odd way to describe bowling. Olive Van Winkle scolds Popeye from her house, which is the same one Popeye and Swee’Pea live in, in the future. Brutus calls her a “ludicrous nonentity”, giving Popeye a reason to punch Brutus, who’s otherwise been friendly the whole short.

Scene of a book depicting Rip Van Popeye and his dog lying against a tree. Rip Van Popeye is yawning, stretching out, and as he does his feet stretch out past the edge of the picture he's in.
I’m sorry the animation is so sloppy that this is plausibly a mistake. (I mean, when Brutus talks off-screen, Popeye’s mouth moves. That’s not being careful.) I like the visual cue of Rip Van Popeye stretching out of the picture frame as his story starts.

Brutus passes out unconscious under the spinach squeezings, and Rip Van Popeye worries he’ll drown. He’s not so worried as to move, but that’s all right, as Brutus gets the Popeye-the-Sailor-Man fanfare, tilts, and rockets out of frame. He rolls the barrel of spinach squeezings at Popeye, and it falls over, knocking out Olive. Who also gets the spinach squeezings poured into her mouth, something Popeye does not worry will drown her. Maybe he supposes Brutus’s experience will carry over. It does. She gets the Popeye-the-Sailor-Man fanfare, and rallies. She goes to a rock wall and tosses the same two rocks into the sky, over and over, building a lightning bridge to race up to her good-for-nothing husband. Once up there she decides this is nice, let’s stay and bowl.

I warned we were entering a zone of cartoons where it’s hard to tell what’s going on or why. What’s going on is not too hard to label here. Why it’s happening is harder. The plot summary is a string of events. Apart from Rip Van Popeye climbing the hill, and Olive Van Winkle throwing rocks at him, I can’t say why anyone did anything that short.

I don’t have quite the same doubts this was written for Popeye, rather than having his name slapped on. I guess because the Spinach Squeezings are mentioned so much and so relentlessly. That’s curious, though, since the story would work as well if they were corn squeezings from Snuffy Smith’s relatives. Maybe there have been enough Popeye-tells-a-story cartoons that this seems in-character.

60s Popeye: Double Cross-Country Feet Race, where we learn how much Brutus weighs for some reason


We are entering into a Jack Kinney zone. King Features bundles these 60s Popeye cartoons into quartets, “episodes” long enough to be worth YouTube putting commercials in. For whatever reason this block — Episode 44 — is all Jack Kinney-produced and directed videos. So, hope you like those weird title cards! I like them.

Today’s is a 1960 short, story by Ralph Wright and animation direction by Hugh Fraser. Sit back and enjoy the Double Cross-Country Feet Race. If you don’t enjoy that, then enjoy learning that Brutus weighs 245 pounds while Popeye, being a sailor, apparently cannot be characterized as having any weight at all.

This short has one of the biggest mismatches between strong plotting and weak animation that I’ve seen. From Jack Kinney’s studios I’ve come to expect animation that’s expressive and usually funny to look at. But in trade it’s not smooth and it’s loose with the models. That trade often works. Look at Popeye, tied up in the starter’s rope, at about 1:15. It’s hideous, but it does convey Popeye being discombobulated.

Still, for most of the short we have pretty respectable jokes undercut by poor drawing. Popeye and Brutus run into the corn belt. It’s an actual literal belt, seen (briefly) on a giant map, with shirt buttons running past it. They run so fast the road catches fire, and the fire causes the corn to pop. The audio tells us so, anyway. The picture is a couple kernels of popcorn flowing up, and causing nobody any particular trouble. Or take when they get to Los Angeles, “the fastest-growing city in the world”. The city popping into existence around them is good. I’ll even stand up for buildings popping in suddenly, without animation. But the freeway appearing under Popeye and Brutus happens in an edit that obscures things. It’s reasonable to think they wandered onto the freeway, a much worse joke.

Popeye and Brutus stand behind the starting line of the 'Double Cross Country FEET RACE - From NY to LA and Back'. A sign establishes this is at the New York City Limits. Wimpy, the referee, holds his megaphone backwards in front of his face.
I don’t mean to nitpick, but it’s actually the whole of Popeye and Brutus who race, not just their feet.

At Los Angeles Popeye declares “I’ll get a head start back!” Brutus declares “Oh yeah?” And there’s space for some response. Popeye’s mouth even moves, silently. What joke was meant for there and how did it get lost? A few moments later Popeye and Brutus run along the border of … something? A reasonable green landscape and a featureless blue-grey void. Popeye declares hey, no fair, but what are we supposed to see?

I’ll go along with the scenes that are a black dot moving in the distance. They let the animation budget concentrate on the important scenes. But were these the important scenes? There’s a quick shot of the New York City Off Ramp, to establish our racers getting closer to the city that … we already saw them racing towards. That seems like a joke got cut somewhere. Popeye brakes himself to a stop to eat his spinach because he needs a strong finish. All right, but why brake to a stop? Did his feet catch on fire and that’s why he stopped? I shouldn’t have to infer that.

This is one of those shorts where I wish the story had been taken up and given to Paramount Cartoon Studios to animate. The animation and editing would likely have made this work better.

And something I liked, so you won’t suspect me of being a sourpuss: referee Wimpy holds his megaphone backwards. It’s a trifle, given no attention, there only for people paying attention to the pictures. It’s nice seeing it.

Not to spoil the next couple shorts? But you know how with this one, you mostly know what’s going on and why? Hold on to that memory.

60s Popeye: The Super Duper Market (or as I would call it, the Super Duper’s Market)


Today’s Popeye is another Jack Kinney production. Animation direction’s credited to Ed Friedman. The story is credited to Tom Hix. The name seems to have no other credits — for anything — on the Internet Movie Database. I don’t know how to explain this. Maybe a friend of Kinney’s needed some extra cash. Maybe it’s a pseudonym for someone who was under contract. Whatever the explanation, here’s 1960’s The Super Duper Market.

And check out the weird copyright on the title card. I would guess this was one of the Kinney studio’s first shorts, before everything was quite organized.

It’s hard to say this short has a plot, or even story. It’s a bunch of spot jokes set in a Super Duper Market. It’s a grocery store that looks to be nearly half the size of a modern Meijer’s. Well, these things were less familiar back then. There are some decent ideas working up to being spoofs of the supermarket idea. The guy who’s been lost for fifteen years, for example. Or Brutus having to oversee matters using televisions and control panels and radio calls to Clerk X-9.

I don’t know that X-9 is a reference to Dashiell Hammett and Alex Raymond’s Secret Agent X-9 action comic strip, still a going concern in 1960. There was an agent named X-9 in Rocky and Bullwinkle, made about the same time. But it might just be that X-9 makes a good-sounding name. The clerk’s given a voice evoking Sheldon Leonard, who before he became a TV producer had a good gig as racetrack tout on The Jack Benny Show.

Wimpy, lifted off the floor by a crane, grabs a can from the top of a tall stack, while remaining impassive about the whole matter.
Wimpy’s kind of like a big dog, you know, like a Labrador retriever or something where when you pick them up they just shrug and accept that somehow, yes, this is my life now, this is how it shall always be, this isn’t all that bad really, can I have something to eat?

There is something about all this which evoked Jack Benny’s show to me. It’s in the casual way we move from spot joke to spot joke, I think, with some callbacks. This particularly in the guy who’s been lost for fifteen years. His reappearances give a decent running joke and a decent way for Popeye to get his spinach.

More than that, though, it’s got this light, dreamy feeling. There’s the usual events. Brutus figures to get Olive Oyl on his own and figures assaulting her will make her love him. Popeye eats his spinach and punches him out. There’s not much build in suspense or drama, though, and certainly not in pacing. There’s some good cutting between Brutus harassing Olive Oyl and the frozen Popeye and Wimpy and Lost Guy, though. Makes for a decent hang out with some people it’s nice to see.

This seems to be one of those cartoons where Brutus doesn’t know Popeye and Olive Oyl at the start of the action, but intuits that Olive Oyl is not going with Wimpy. It also features Popeye and Olive Oyl and Wimpy singing a tuneless sort of song about having a party. There’s no good reason for that to amuse me like it does, but it does.

60s Popeye: The Square Egg although I have to nitpick and say it’s a cube


Good news, everyone! The Whiffle Bird is back, and she’s a she again. We have Rosemary O’Connor to thank for this story. Direction is by Rudy Larriva, and the producer Jack Kinney. This is Rosemary O’Connor’s lone writing credit on the Internet Movie Database. She gets a good number of credits as background artist for the King Features Popeye cartoons (including this short). She has other shows from the 1957 Crusader Rabbit revival through to the 1984 Alvin and the Chipmunks revival. Here with us from 1960 is The Square Egg.

Nobody ever says Brutus’s name, this cartoon. I wonder if this was made early in the production run. Sometime before King Features had decided what to do about their (mistakenly) thinking they didn’t own the Bluto character.

And, as the teaser said, we have the Whiffle Hen back. She’s a hen, too, hen enough to lay a square egg. Brutus swipes the surely valuable egg, and then it’s all a chase to get it back. Brutus is foiled when the egg cracks, but happy news: there’s a cubical Whiffle Chick inside. There’s a little tussle over who’ll take the Whiffle Chick, quickly resolved to “the kid will stay with the Hen”.

Thing is, this script feels like a first draft. There are a couple of good bits. Seeing that Brutus keeps the stolen egg in a birdcage. Or Popeye looking over the smashed ruins of his henhouse and declaring “everything looks normal”. The hallway-of-doors chase between a bunch of trees that ends with Brutus popping up in front of the camera to say, “I’m surrounded!”

Against that, though: when Popeye slowly reads the ransom note he declares, “Well blow me down! … Oh my gawrshk! … Well blow me down!”. It’s like Jack Mercer ran through all the plausible responses and they didn’t decide which to pick. I get lingering on the note so the audience can read it, but why not “Oh my gawrshk! We’ve been egg-napped?” All right; that’s a sloppy edit.

Swee'Pea, Professor Wotasnozzle, Olive Oyl, and Popeye standa around looking at the Whiffle Hen and the Whiffle Chick. The Whiffle Hen's a roughly ordinary chicken-size bird. The Chick is quite large, about as tall as Popeye, and has a vaguely cubical body and head, and with the beak at a weird angle looks with half-lidded eyes towards the camera.
The Whiffle Chick’s expression is my look in every picture, right down to my head being tilted for no obvious reason.

But consider earlier on. When Professor Wotasnozzle arrives, he’s stunned by the news of the square egg. What did they tell him he was coming out to see? Shortly after Olive Oyl says “Oh, Professor, you say such scientific things.” This after he said the egg would cause “a revolution in egghead circles”. What’s a scientific thing about that? Or the ending bit, with the newly-hatched Whiffle Chick growing quite large and then … being asked to pick where he’s going to go.

These aren’t major issues and I can imagine small dialogue changes that would fix them. Which is why I say it reads like a first draft.

I’m disappointed the Whiffle Hen doesn’t get to show off any of her natural extraordinary good luck. Or, as she’d become in other shorts, magic powers to do plot-generating stuff. But at least she gets to be mother to an oddly cute child considerably larger than she is.

60s Popeye: Bottom Gun, containing one (1) more Old West cartoon


So stop me if you’ve heard this one. It’s a 1960 Jack Kinney-produced cartoon, with a story by Raymond Jacobs. And it’s got Popeye and all in the Old West, Popeye facing down a gunslinger played by Brutus. You’re wrong. This is not Pest of the Pecos. This cartoon has animation direction by Rudy Larriva, instead of Harvey Toombs. Let’s see what a difference that makes. Here’s Bottom Gun.

My recent experience with Raymond Jacobs-penned shorts set me up to expect a sloppy cartoon. Not only that the story might not quite hang together. A lot of the King Features Popeye shorts lack story logic. I mean, like, the weird edits and scenes held a bit too long to make sense. Not so, though. This is much closer in spirit to Pest of the Pecos. So much closer it even copies the joke about Wimpy being the undertaker, and offering a lay-away plan.

This time around, Popeye isn’t the marshall. He’s a chicken farmer. And Brutus the Kid isn’t a particularly wanted desperado, although he is a notorious gunslinger. He’s also hitting on Olive Oyl, who hits back, with sacks of sugar. Popeye challenges him to a duel, but sets up a surprise. A cheat, if we’re honest: he pours enough molasses into Brutus’s holster that there’s no getting the gun out. Great credit to Popeye for thinking his way out of danger, This generates a lot of funny scenes, too, as Brutus fails to get his gun out. He eventually rips off his pants and gets himself knocked out.

Mondays, am I right?
Brutus looks to the camera, dazed and baffled. He’s pulled his pants off and stands with his long shirt draped over his stocking-clad legs.

Thing is, especially with Popeye shooting all the time, it gets to feeling unfair. It makes Brutus hapless, in much the way Marshall Popeye was in Pest of the Pecos. It’s hard not to sympathize with Brutus, who doesn’t get to look dangerous. (Granted, since Popeye takes about 800 shots without most of them even appearing on-screen, he’s not dangerous either.) When Brutus comes back, furious at his humiliation, it’s hard not to sympathize.

Sometimes I feel I write these looking for things to call “wrong”. Here’s a story that sets out a decent premise. It carries the story forward sensibly. It’s got a big center piece showdown with two solid joke setups. Popeye and Brutus stepping toward each other and then missing one another, with Popeye falling into a puddle, is great. The long sequence of Brutus trying every possible way to get his gun out is good too. And here I am sulking that the moral balance of the cartoon feels off. Still, Brutus deserves to be beaten, but he needs to be a bigger threat first.

60s Popeye: The Blubbering Whaler (fade out, fade back to the same scene)


With The Blubbering Whaler King Features’s YouTube page starts a new and unwelcome change. It cuts all the credits before the title card off the first short. You know, for everyone who thinks the unlikeable part of Popeye is one of the three most successful bits of theatrical-short-character music since sound came to movies. (I’d put it behind “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down” and ahead of “The Woody Woodpecker Song” and “No one But Donald Duck”. The Mickey Mouse song was composed for the TV Clubhouse so I don’t have to have an opinion on that.)

Still, from the title card it’s obvious this is a Jack Kinney production, and that it’s from 1960. The Internet Movie Database offers that the animation direction was by Jack Kinney, and the writing by Raymond Jacobs.

With credits given now, let’s watch.

Raymond Jacobs’s name is given as writer for ten Popeye TV shorts. These include Plumbers Pipe Dream, which was bonkers. Also Popeye and the Dragon, which was pleasant without quite making sense. Also Popeyed Columbus, a cartoon full of odd moments. So I come into this expecting a bunch of odd little moments.

I am not disappointed! This short is full of strange fade-outs, including one that comes seconds after the short opens. Or scenes that linger a bit longer than they ought. It adds this weird, awkward timing to everything. It would be fantastic editing for a comedy-of-embarrassment show and I don’t know how Popeye got this treatment.

As often happens it’s a story with a frame. Swee’Pea promises to sleep if Popeye tells the story of how he sang whales to sleep. Popeye does get there, in the smallest and least interesting part of the story. It’s hard to not suspect they did a bunch of whaling-cartoon gags and then remembered they had to show Popeye sing to whales.

The story Popeye tells — and feigns sleep to get out of resolving — is of his being on a whaling ship, under Captain Brutus. When they spot a mother and child whale together, Popeye refuses to harpoon either. Good for him. Standing up for animals is one of Popeye’s best, if inconsistent, traits. (After all, he signed on to this whaling voyage.) Captain Brutus orders the whale harpooned, Popeye accepts and then rejects the order, and then they get into a fight.

Popeye salutes, but is angry. Also in the frame is a bearded sailor wearing a striped shirt, leaning in from the opposite side of the screen from Popeye.
Congratulations to the winner of Cheerios’s “Appear On Popeye The Sailor” Sweepstakes!

Still, we’ll make time for odd moments like a view of some whaler who’s not Brutus or Popeye or seen a second time. Or Popeye holding his spinach up triumphantly … and holding … and holding, long enough for a wave to wash it overboard. There was no possible way to avoid that except by Popeye eating his spinach the way he does every other time. But that does mean the mother whale gets to eat Popeye’s spinach, a rare chance for an animal to get the power-up.

The mother wrecks the whaling ship, a most understandable action. This sets up Popeye’s best line, identifying the pair as “the fountain … and its youth”. The line sounds clever enough it doesn’t matter that its meaning is elusive. It’s merry enough. But the editing is sloppy. And the music is the usual shuffle of Kinney background music. It’s not forgettable like that bowling one a couple months ago was. But I wonder if Raymond Jacobs was an inexperienced story-writer.

60s Popeye: Hill Billy Dilly, featuring a cast of dozen (mostly Brutus)


I think this is the first Hillbilly cartoon in the King Features run, at least as they’ve ordered things. Hill Billy Dilly is a 1960 short from Jack Kinney studios. Story by Wesley Bennett, a new name around here. Animation direction by Harvey Toombs, not a new name. Producer, of course, is Jack Kinney, a pretty well-worn name by now.

The premise is that Popeye and Olive Oyl, looking for a picnic, accidentally wander into the middle of the Hitchfield-and-McGoo feud. They take a while to tumble on to what’s happening. I wonder if there were any impulse to have Popeye and Olive Oyl never suspect they’re being shot at. I imagine that would give a great comic tension. But leaving that unresolved might be moer than the kid audience would bear. (On the other hand, it’s not like kids couldn’t handle Mister Magoo.)

Popeye sits atop a heap of knocked-out Brutus clones, and holds his spinach up, ready to start eating it now.
So turns out the Crisis on Infinite Blutuses wasn’t that big a problem.

There is a lot of talking in this cartoon about two gangs of Brutus Clones who won’t stop shooting each other. I’m distracted trying to figure out who voiced the Hitchfield Brutuses. (They’re the ones wearing the blue shirts, like normal-model Brutus.) I didn’t think either Jackson Beck or Jack Mercer had this range, but it’s easy for me to be wrong about that. Beck, particularly, was on every radio program of the 1940s so he knew some things to do with his voice. The talk doesn’t get far — a punch line about how nobody remembers what they’re feuding over — but maybe I’m outside the audience that would find that a killer revelation.

And then to pad the screen time we get Olive Oyl being fickle. She set up, properly, that she was tired of Popeye finding someone to fight all the time. But then after the McGoos and the Hitchfields get to fighting over who’s protecting her, she blames Popeye for fighting. It’s a weird beat, allowing Popeye to spend some screen time doing she-loves-me/she-loves-me-not with flowers when Olive Oyl cries for help. Popeye beats up the Hitchfields, producing a funny pile of Brutus clones. Then the McGoos insist if anyone beats up the Hitchfields it’s going to be them. So Popeye needs his spinach to punch up another pile of Brutus clones.

Close-up shot of Olive Oyl screaming for help. We see into her mouth, seeing her upper teeth, her tongue, and the outline of the back of her throat showing two uvulas.
Peple asks Popeye what he sees in Olive Oyl, who is, after all, a fickle, quarrelsome, often aggravating person. And yes, she has these weaknesses. On the other hand: where else is he going to find a woman with two uvulas?

That bit of Olive Oyl complaining about Popeye is diagnostic of the cartoon, though. It’s reasonable for Olive Oyl to be tired of Popeye always fighting. And it can produce good comic tension if Popeye’s restrained from fighting. But it’s brought up at a moment, in a scenario, where it doesn’t make sense. So we have another cartoon where the flow of events is mostly all right, but the characters talk as though responding to a different plot line.

It’s all okay, but does feel like Popeye versus two mobs of Brutuses should be more wild.

60s Popeye: Popeye in the Woods and … did Wimpy invent the bacon cheeseburger?


Today’s is a cartoon from 1960. I always lead with that, but I want that year particularly remembered. The story is by Ed Nofziger, and the animation direction by Eddie Rehberg. So you know the producer (and director) was Jack Kinney. So, again, from 1960, here’s Popeye in the Woods.

This is another cartoon that feels like two cartoon ideas pushed together. In particular, it feels like a regular cartoon onto which a public service announcement was grafted, like Gene Deitch’s Tooth Be Or Not Tooth Be. Here, it’s a camping cartoon plus a warning about not setting the forest on fire.

So it sends Popeye and Wimpy out to the woods, past a quick shot of commanding billboards, to sleep. They’re out in the open, without even sleeping bags. Popeye is kept awake by the quiet sounds of the woods. Apart from a squirrel dropping an acorn and a frog beating its chest, these are all insects. Or mushrooms popping up. I’m not sure why it’s almost all insect noises, except I guess for the comic exaggeration that a caterpillar is so very slight a sound.

There’s also the good comic instinct that Wimpy falls asleep and stays asleep. This after complaining he wanted hamburgers that Popeye said they couldn’t cook here. Wimpy snores, so we know he’s asleep. But he’s also interrupted by mutterings about hamburgers. And the most interesting one is a muttering, “hamburger with cheese and bacon”.

So, do you know the story of The Bacon Cheeseburger? Granting, yes, it’s always hard to track down where foods actually started. But the least-disputed claim is that bacon cheeseburgers first appeared at an A&W restaurant on then-US 16 in Lansing, Michigan. In 1963. (The road is now either Grand River Avenue or Cesar Chavez Avenue, depending on where the restaurant was.) Then-franchise-owner Dave Mulder thought the cheeseburger would be even better with bacon, and what do you know, was right. (Mulder would go on to be chairman of A&W, so, good instincts all around.) Granted, it’s absurd to suppose that no person ever had the thought of putting bacon on a cheeseburger before 1963. This still seems like an early publication of the idea.

And this is not Wimpy’s only act of food pioneering this cartoon. After Popeye finally silences the forest, the quiet wakes him up. Again, good story structure there. Wimpy sees the mushrooms that appeared and declares “mushroom-burgers are delicious”. He sets them grilling on what seems more like a mushroom kebab than anything else, but, still. Today, restaurants offer portobello mushrooms, for vegetarians who want something like a burger only disappointing. When did that start? When did that become widespread? People aren’t copying Wimpy’s inspiration here, right?

A chagrinned Wimpy imagines the burned-out forest, with survivor raccoon, two deer, and a rabbit crying over their fates.
If that were a skunk rather than a raccoon, I would wonder whether former Disney animator Jack Kinney was alluding to the movie version of Bambi. I’m still a bit curious whether that was still the goal but they thought a skunk would be a distraction in a way a raccoon wasn’t.

Wimpy’s campfire starts a forest fire, and Popeye eats his spinach so he can stomp it out. Wimpy has to jump into the water to put himself out, and ruins his mushroom-burger-kebab. And Popeye explains how bad forest fires are, starting from the killed trees to the displaced animals to the floods and human misery that result. And then cooks a chagrinned Wimpy some hamburgers, in a proper grill, because he’s Popeye the safety-in-the-woods man.

As with the tooth cartoon I’d like to know if this was meant to be a public service. I wouldn’t think it hard to fill a whole five minutes with camping jokes, especially since so much of the time was jokes about not being able to get to sleep. It makes more sense they couldn’t find five minutes of jokes about woodland fire safety, at least not before deadline. It would also make sense of Wimpy feeling regret about the innocents he might have harmed.

And I would so like to know whether Wimpy bestowed on us all the bacon cheeseburger and the portobello mushroom burger and didn’t even make a fuss of it.

60s Popeye: Battery Up or we could sneak out and watch Baseball Bugs if you prefer


Nothing against today’s cartoon. It’s a 1960 cartoon with the story by Jack Kinney. So you know what that says about the production. Animation direction is credited to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. It’s just that there’s already a really good baseball cartoon out there. Still, we didn’t stop making space movies when there’s already the bits from Battle Beyond The Stars that I kind of remember from when I was sixteen. So let’s extend the same courtesy to other premises. Battery up!

We get a nice rousing start, with Jackson Beck doing his best sports-announcer voice. I haven’t listened to actual radio broadcasts of the 50s but it all sounds plausible enough. Introducing the characters with newspaper mockups is a good device and also lets them save like a minute’s worth of animation budget. From the headlines we see Thompson Tries for Records at least twice on the same page, so Thompson’s having a good season.

After that? Well, we get your basic jokes for one difficult half of an inning of baseball. It’s Popeye versus a team of Brutus duplicates. Brutus hits everything Popeye tosses at him, which is lucky because Popeye doesn’t have a catcher. It’s curious that having a team of nine Brutuses is okay in a way that nine Popeyes could not be. In the Fleischer cartoon The Twisker Pitcher Popeye and Bluto had anonymous teammates.

But even with a minute of staring at still pictures there isn’t the animation budget for teammates. There’s also no animation budget for crowds; the only person in the stands is Olive Oyl. She has a nice, underplayed joke where she has everything at her seat, including a coffee percolator, a TV set, and an alarm clock. It’s a surprise to have an understated joke, in this era; I’m glad seeing it.

Picture of a 1960-style TV set, with a smiling Popeye on screen sliding a pristine blank background in place of a 'broken' picture.
Be right back; I’m going to photoshop this into a Coming Up Next card for my fake TV station.

Most of the cartoon’s time is spent on silly pitches and silly fielding. Nothing at all wrong. Worst you can say about it is that there’s only one big, surprising joke. That’s the baseball heading right for the camera and then Popeye apologizing for breaking your TV. That’s a great moment of energy and if there were two more jokes like that I’d call this a great baseball cartoon. (Olive Oyl’s pile of stuff is funny and gets better each time you see it, but it’s not a big joke.) Instead, it’s pretty good for the cheap TV leagues.

A curious point here. Popeye gets around to his spinach, yes. But there’s no point where Brutus and the Bruclones are cheating. They hit everything Popeye throws at them, but they’re hitting fair and square. (And even at that, they hit one pop fly that’s so easy Popeye doesn’t have to move to catch it.) At least in The Twisker Pitcher Bluto did stuff like mess with Popeye’s clothes and swap his spinach out for grass. It throws the moral balance off. And there’s a curious not-quite-resolution. An unconscious Brutus accidentally hits a ball that knocks out Popeye and Olive Oyl. It’s a good idea for how to end the action, since we don’t have time to set up a way for Popeye to win the game. But without someone — it would have to be Wimpy — to observe anything, it leaves the cartoon petering out. Poor form. It’s essays written online reviewing things that are supposed to peter out, not cartoons.

60s Popeye: Jeep Jeep, the one with the Jeep


Today’s is a short from the Jack Kinney studios, so you know who’s producer. Story is by Ed Nofziger and animation direction Ken Hultren. Here is 1960’s Jeep Jeep.

The Popeye Wikia says Jeep Jeep “is not to be confused with Jeep Is Jeep. They have made their ruling; now let them enforce it.

1960’s Jeep Jeep is a Jack Kinney Studio production introducing Eugene the Jeep. 1960’s Jeep Is Jeep is a Paramount Cartoon Studios production introducing Eugene the Jeep. I’m curious whether all five 1960s King Features studios did their Introducing The Jeep cartoon.

This time around, it’s Swee’Pea who discovers the Jeep, after he wanders far from home. I like that as an idea. Travel as a way to encounter and be changed by magic fits. Even if Swee’Pea is only nine miles from Popeye’s Boring Suburban Home. Nine miles is a pretty good journey for someone who can’t walk upright yet.

Swee’Pea brings Eugene home. Popeye’s willing in the end to accept a magic pet who can broadcast music and CW ham radio. (I couldn’t make out what Eugene’s Morse code message was. I suspect it was nonsense.) Brutus and the Sea Hag decide they’ve got to steal a dog who knows how far away the Sun is. I understand this was shorthand for “knows everything”, but from what we see? It’s a dog that can help you win pub quiz night. Also not sure why Brutus and the Sea Hag teamed up on this. Or why it takes two villains.

Swee'Pea looking up delighted at what appears to be a large Jeep. It's Brutus wearing a Jeep costume; the audience can see the seams.
So did Brutus and Sea Hag make that Jeep costume, or did they rent it?

Their plan: kidnap Swee’Pea so they can kidnap Eugene. This seems like one kidnapping too many to me. Maybe the Sea Hag figures it’s the only way to keep Eugene from attacking her. Anyway, Popeye has a plan, which is to give the villains what they want, and then wait for their plan fall apart. And this works. Eugene’s treasure map takes them, by plane, by train, through swamps, to the desert, to dig into jail. Popeye barely has to get up from his chair.

I want to like this cartoon more than I do. It’s Jeep-centered, for one. The resolution involves out-thinking the bad guys instead of just punching them. But the story’s too ramshackle for me to quite buy. Like, why do Brutus and the Sea Hag grab Swee’Pea and not Eugene? Why do they take this long yet very quick journey to dig into a jail? How did they not notice they were next to a jail? (I expected Eugene to have them dig into Fort Knox, malicious compliance with their wish for a place with tons of gold.) Was there nothing Popeye could do besides follow these adventures over his hand-held Jeep TV set?

Could be I assumed a Jack Kinney cartoon is going to have more comical weirdness to it. Or I want too much out of a Eugene the Jeep cartoon. Hard to say.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Service Station, service with a sotto voce chuckling


Jack Kinney gets the story and the producer credits today. Animation direction goes to Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. Here fresh from 1960 is Popeye’s Service Station.

Another cartoon, another small business that Popeye’s running. He must go through so much seed capital in-between shorts. This time, no pizza; he’s running a gas station.

The cartoon spends a lot of time establishing what Popeye’s Service Station offers for free. Jackson Beck reads the whole list twice, once in Narrator voice and then later on in Brutus voice. It’s fair to spend the time on this. Half the cartoon is everybody demanding the free stuff, and without the narrator kids who can’t read fast could be confused. Does mean it takes a while for the action to get started. When the action does start, it’s Popeye chuckling odd resigned phrases like “what’s the use?” at how many cars don’t need service right this minute.

Eventually we get Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus together on-screen and things proceed as you’d imagine. Brutus tries wooing Olive Oyl away from Popeye, by having his car eat Popeye. Brutus runs Popeye over, flat, twice. I was shocked by that in the (Paramount) Oil’s Well That Ends Well, but not so bothered here. I don’t know why it plays different this time around. Anyway, Popeye eats his flat spinach, there’s punching, Popeye keeps Brutus trapped on the car elevator for hours upon hours, the end.

Popeye holding a water hose up to the mouth of a camel standing in the back of a truck bed.
Popeye’s lucky he didn’t accidentally grab the air hose and inflate the poor camel out of the picture!

I suspect I’d like this cartoon more if I hadn’t just seen Popeye’s Pizza Palace. By any of the ordinary measures of story this is better-made. At no point do I wonder why a character chose to do that. Nor do I wonder how one action caused the next. I could describe the plot without it sounding like a dream. Popeye’s Pizza Palace throws together so many bizarre choices that the result delights me. Popeye’s Car Wash (from Harmon studios), another short built on a similar theme, has the repeating refrain of Popeye washing a conveyor belt of Very 50s Cars as an image. At Popeye’s Service Station, we have simple competence, the loopiest gag being the fellow who needs his camel refilled as he’s off to a caravan. I’m afraid that’s doomed to be forgotten.

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