60s Popeye: Around The World In Eighty Ways, most of which are running


For today, we’re back to 1960. So I lose another hypothesis about how King Features is bundling these cartoons for YouTube. This is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story’s by Ralph Wright and the direction credited to Harvey Toombs. Here’s Around The World In Eighty Ways.

I grew up in a Golden Age of game shows, in the 70s and 80s. I felt betrayed when the genre’s revival in the late 90/early 2000s turned into reality shows. But shows about competitive stunts weren’t a new mutation; they go back to the game show’s origins. The stunts could be weird, abstract things. Thomas A DeLong’s Quiz Craze tells me one Truth or Consequences contestant who couldn’t say how many English Kings were named Henry received the consequence of “figure out a way to get more pennies in circulation”. (It was World War II; there was a penny shortage. She appealed to viewers to send their pennies in to the show, which would buy War Bonds. I agree this sounds like the joke you would make about World War II publicity stunts. Got 300,000 pennies in a week, though, and I assume Ralph Edwards knew what to do with them.)

What I never liked, as a kid, was game show cartoons, though. The plot logic always seemed to require the contestants not know the way the game worked. I could not imagine going on a show without having an idea what to expect. You would know if you were asked to go to all this trouble for a dollar and ninety-eight cents.

I no longer remember what I thought of this cartoon as a kid. I suspect I would have disbelieved the premise of Popeye and Brutus racing around the world on Wimpy Klinkclatter’s behalf. (Although, back in 2001 Conan O’Brien’s production company did a reality show that dropped a couple people off somewhere in the world, the challenge being to get home with only what they had in their pockets. So the show premise now seems more plausible.) The prize of a barrel full of money is great, but I was a smart enough kid to ask how much that was.

If you are not hindered by my game show nerd rage — and you should not be — then we’ve got a mostly good cartoon here. It’s a long sequence of geography-themed sight gags. Some of them are slight, like Popeye testing the water at the South Pole and finding it chilly. Some of them are gleefully dumb, like Brutus and Popeye running headfirst into the Eastern Seaboard. One of them inspired dread as it started: when they got to, as Popeye called it, “Singing-pore!” (In the comic strip Popeye often mentioned Singapore as one of his favorite places to get into a good brawl.) Mercifully we don’t see any locals, but the music and the background art gets into uncomfortable territory. Also, not to lean too hard on my five years living in Singapore but, really? A rickshaw rather than a trishaw? Someone failed to do the research for a more plausible bit of local color. Anyway, there’s a lot of small scenes, and many have fun bits of side business.

At the South Pole, Brutus smiles a little too deeply at a penguin who grins nervously back. Popeye, who's dipped his toe in the water, shivers and holds his feet. Nobody's wearing a jacket.
Brutus wins his side bet with the penguin that Popeye would so take the dare of testing how cold the water was.

We get another cartoon where someone besides Popeye eats spinach. Popeye doesn’t offer Brutus/Bluto/etc the chance to eat spinach and punch him often; it’s fair Brutus wouldn’t suspect something must be up. It’s an economical way to end the cartoon and get Popeye his win.

There’s a weird production glitch as Wimpy reveals what $1.575,928 lead pazookas are worth. Popeye repeats “lead pazookas”, but it’s Jackson Beck saying the second word. I infer that the script at one point had Popeye and Brutus both get back to the studio. I don’t know why the change. Maybe they found there wasn’t time for Brutus to race back after all? But then why not have Jack Mercer re-record the line? It’s not like they couldn’t get him in the studio. Maybe they figured the line was so short kids wouldn’t notice, especially since they couldn’t rewind and listen to it again.

It is weird that after Brutus drops a bomb on Popeye (and his turtle), Popeye rolls with pretending to be a ghost (or ghosk) to mess with Brutus’s head. It doesn’t feel outside the bounds of a Popeye cartoon for me. It’s just a weird place for a plot that’s “crazy race around the world” to go.

60s Popeye: Pop Goes The Whistle, a new decade with an old plot


I believe this is the first King Features Popeye that doesn’t have a 1960 copyright date. 1961’s Pop Goes The Whistle is another from the reliable group at Paramount Cartoon Studios, formerly Famous Studios, formerly Fleischer Studios. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Seymour Kneitel gets listed as director.

Why not Popeye Goes The Whistle?

We must be starting from Popeye’s Boring Suburban Home, although we don’t see that. We start up close on the teddy bear. It’s a good opening, much more interesting than an establishing shot of a house.

The teddy bear’s also set up as though an important part of the story. Whistling Willy is important enough in how it gives Swee’pea a reason to go wandering off. And it resolves with a good enough tag. But at heart this is another story of Popeye imperiling himself to chase the oblivious Swee’Pea. It’s rather close in spirit to Jeep Is Jeep. Also to older and better cartoons such as Lost and Foundry.

There’s several different settings that Swee’Pea wanders through. My impression is earlier iterations kept more tightly to a single location (even if that is wandering the streets of a city). Here, we get Swee’pea in traffic, and then off to a factory, then to the harbor, then to the circus. I didn’t notice until rewatching that it’s a bit weird to suppose all these things are in a child’s crawling range. So it’s not like this is something that demolishes the cartoon. The settings must just reflect that it’s hard to think of that many different places where you’d see a whistle. I imagine there might have been a football game, if King Features was going to pay for animating the referee and at least one team.

A trained circus seal blows a whistle and juggles Popeye on its snout.
Wait a minute, that conical snout with a little dot nose? Those circles for eyes and cheeks? That’s not a seal, that’s Otto Soglow’s classic pantomime character The Little King in disguise!

I always say I expect competence from Paramount Cartoon Studios here. And we get that. There’s no bizarre artistic choices or serious animation errors or anything. The pace is a bit slow, as though the studio has one gear and is sticking to it. The most odd bit is, on top of the factory, Popeye stopping to observe the stork nest and getting punched by the parent stork. I suppose, storywise, we need something to disrupt his pursuit of Swee’Pea. It’s an odd moment, but I guess if I were in the situation I’d pause to marvel at the bird nest too.

60s Popeye: Popeye the Ugly Ducklin, a good outing for the Goons


So, yes, this is not Sunday. You might wonder why I’m doing another King Features Popeye cartoon review so soon. Mostly, I’m feeling very overloaded, and very worried about what the week ahead will bring, and I need stuff that’s easy and even fun to write. Watching questionably good cartoons that I loved as a child? That’s right up my alley. I’m not giving up on the comic strip plot recaps, or something long-form for Thursday nights, nor Statistics Saturday, but for right now I’m taking the other days more easy.

Today’s cartoon is another Jack Kinney joint. Story’s by Ed Nofziger. Animation directors our friends Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. I remember this team from Out Of This World, which took a great premise and was not, and Shoot the Chutes, a sky-diving contest. Here, we have Popeye the Ugly Ducklin.

We start with what looks like Swee’Pea asking for a fairy story. Instead he’s asking what Popeye was like as a kid. Same structure, although it does open to Popeye telling a fairy tale that has reason to cast him in a role. Popeye denies he was strong and handsome as a kid. Well, denies he was handsome, anyway. And he proves it with a picture in the family album, which he has right there. I don’t know who was keeping this family album since Popeye was an orphink right up until he found his Pappy.

Anyway, we get one of those few cartoons showing Young Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Brutus. They’re playing school and shunning Popeye as somehow the ugly one. After being mocked enough, he runs away, landing eventually on Goon Island. This is an interesting riff on Popeye’s father being captive on Goon Island, in one of the Fleischer cartoons. Popeye’s been harassed even by the sea creatures on his way there. The Goons, ugly themselves, show him nothing but kindness, though.

Then some scenes of his growing up, reading books like The Wizard of Goon or playing goonball. Incidentally, if I’m reading things right The Wizard of Oz — the original book — was in the public domain by 1960. Why wasn’t there a Popeye version of this? Also, I notice the boat in the background of the goonball game is the Sea Hag. I’m not sure what that signifies. Back in Strange Things Are Happening the Sea Hag had henchgoons, of course, but different cartoon, different continuity, perhaps.

Kid Popeye dancing the Sailor's Hornpipe, while two Goons play flute and cello for him.
Not answered: is Alice the Goon one of the Goons who raised Popeye? Or was she in his age cohort? It seems like something that affects their relationship, whatever way it turns out.

There’s a nicely done growing-up montage of Popeye eating spinach at the table. Then it’s time to return “home” for some reason, so they give him a song and a pipe and the chance to grab a whale. Grown-up Olive Oyl is still a teacher, only now she finds Popeye cute. Grown-up brutus is still a lousy student, and hasn’t improved his bullying game any. A can of spinach later and Popeye is punching Brutus through the school, a pretty fun stunt, before finally knocking him to Goon Island. It’s supposed to see if the Goons can teach Brutus a lesson. I suppose we have to conclude they didn’t. And we close on the bare end of Popeye’s little rhyming couplet, starting at “Cause I eats me spinach”. I don’t know why not the full thing.

It’s all an okay origin story, sure. I like Robert Altman’s movie more, but this one is a lot zippier. It hasn’t got the snappy moral of The Ugly Duckling, although I’m not sure The Ugly Duckling has that snappy a moral either. Um. I guess something about how a thing you find ugly, you might just be holding to inappropriate standards. Which is a good thing to remind snarky Internet critics.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Testimonial Dinner and what the heck was that


Last week’s cartoon, built on the premise that Popeye’s friends have to sneak him in to a TV show in his honor, Paramount Cartoon Studios made. There were like 800 studios making Popeye cartoons for King Features in that early-60s rush. Here’s one from Jack Kinney, who’s credited as director and producer. Volus Jones gets the animation-director credit. The story’s given to Jerry Nevius, a name I don’t have recorded yet. This could mean anything. Here’s 1960’s Popeye’s Testimonial Dinner.

Why were there two let’s-celebrate-Popeye cartoons in a row, and from different studios? Maybe coincidence. Maybe, if they had as much as a year’s lead time to put cartoons together, everybody noticed it was the 30th anniversary of Popeye as a character. I had assumed King Features Syndicate was bundling these on YouTube in the order they were completed or first put into syndication. This makes the overlap of gimmick more prominent. But Strange Things Are Happening had nothing to do with any specific bits of Popeye history. This one is a clip show. That’s novel only in that I think this is the first King Features run clip show. Famous Studios’ 1953 Popeye’s 20th Anniversary was, similarly, a clip show hung around the frame of a testimonial dinner. There’s worse premises.

So what the heck did I just watch?

A clip show, sure. And the basic idea makes sense, Popeye taken to a dinner attended by Swee’Pea, Eugene the Jeep, King Blozo, Wimpy, Alice the Goon. Even some minor characters like Oscar and Ham Gravy and why is Ham Gravy suddenly turning up everywhere? But envious Brutus, uninvited even though he’s the person Popeye spends the most time with, sneaks in. When his sabotage fails Brutus complains about his lot in life. Popeye takes pity, gives Brutus some spinach and lets him take a good clean punch. Everyone celebrates Popeye’s magnanimous nature.

It’s implementing this that makes no sense. The first clip is King Blozo recounting the time the land was threatened by a dragon that Popeye beat up. That was in Popeye Versus The Dragon, a cartoon that King Blozo was not in. Also that seems to be set in Cartoon Medieval times. But, fine; it’s not like it’s impossible Blozo was part of that. But Blozo also says “I further recall a time when Popeye and Brutus were … ” Were what? This could lead into almost any clip, as though Jerry Nevius hadn’t decided or didn’t know what clip they’d be used. They ultimately used Golf Brawl, a cartoon I haven’t got around to yet. You can watch it from here, if you like. Jack Kinney’s credited with that story. They edited the clip, although to make it make more sense. There is no evidence that King Blozo witnessed any of it.

Brutus complains that “they’re making out like I was the villain”. This is a fair complaint for a clip unlike the one shown. The clip shows Brutus hitting a golf ball that bounces ridiculously off trees and knocks himself into the water. It hits Popeye in the nose, as it bounces around, but there’s no plausible way Brutus intended that. Also the clip’s sound is re-recorded, so that Brutus laughing is silent instead.

Olive Oyl starts telling about this time she was managing a store, and “this bully” came in. I don’t know what cartoon this is supposed to reference. We don’t get a clip from it anyway, just Brutus protesting and demanding to tell his side. Popeye says go ahead. Brutus does, but we fade to black and then return to him saying “naturally I had to protect myself”. What cartoon would even fit Brutus’s declaration that “so, outnumbered, I asked for help from a kindly old sea witch, who agreed to help”? As a general principle, I like the idea that we only ever see some of Our Heroes’ adventures, and they have stuff going on even when the cameras aren’t rolling. But it’s a bold move to do a clip cartoon without the clips.

Then he goes in to how he and his “girl” were sitting in this coffeehouse. It’s a clip from Coffee House, only with new sound recorded. It shows how much the animation of that cartoon depended on the mood music and finger-snaps of the coffee house patrons and such. Also, the clip is edited down to just show Brutus punching Popeye after not much provocation. Past clip cartoons with a Brutus-telling-his-side theme focused, rightly, on showing where Popeye was escalating things.

This convinces Popeye that Brutus isn’t all bad, because I guess this line was written before Volus Jones had picked out the Coffee House clip to show. So we get the unusual cartoon where someone besides Popeye eats his spinach, and the rare cartoon where Popeye gets beaten at the end of it.

Popeye sprawled on the floor, looking behind him at an empty table. Brutus is photobombing, holding up one finger on an arm he sways back and forth while singing.
Popeye is haunted by the voices of people he cannot perceive, while Brutus? Brutus just has fun.

After the one punch, at about 16:20 in the video, Popeye lands. His friends start singing this “Popeye, you’ve done it again” earworm. They had previously sung it at the start of the night, where it made no sense. (My notes had a line “why not For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow?”.) But they credit him with saving the day, cheering about how he marshaled his might to turn wrong into the right, while Popeye looks around at the empty table behind him. Also Brutus does this wonderfully hilarious conductor’s dance. Fade to black and then … about 16:38, we just start over again, Popeye landing from the punch. His friends start singing this “Popeye, you’ve done it again” earworm again. This is so baffling that I thought at first it was some weird YouTube-related file error. But there’s no possible upload error that made this play once with empty tables and one with everyone at the tables.

I understand why you make a clip cartoon. You have to deliver so much content, you have only so much time, and you have only so much budget. This fills that content hole, cheaply and quickly. Maybe it also gives an animation director some experience and credits in a production with lower stakes and lower demands. So why is this such a mess? I’m open to hypotheses.

60s Popeye: Strange Things Are Happening, and I have questions about them


We’re back in the hands of Paramount Cartoon Studios this week. Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer have credit for the story. Seymour Kneitel’s the director and the producer. It’s a group that I trust to be competent, if nothing else. From 1960 here’s Strange Things Are Happening. Popeye is in a boring house, but it’s not his usual Boring Suburbs house, and it’s not clear that he’s even in the suburbs. He might be in the actual woods, if you go by the initial shot.

One compulsive habit, watching these, is thinking of improvements. It’s a little game, one unfair to the people who made the cartoon. They were working under constraints of time and budget and other obligations. Me, I’ve had forty years to see these things and let them settle into my mind. And, if I can’t think of a fix, I don’t have to let on that I was trying to repair it.

Still, I watch this cartoon and try to think how to make it better. The starting gimmick is fine: a mysterious figure is suborning all of Popeye’s acquaintances to get him to a mysterious place. But we get this structural problem. Who the person is and why he wants Popeye is supposed to be a punch line. This is fine, but then: does it make sense that he would go to the Sea Hag, and her Goons, to beat up Popeye first? The sensible thing is to try to have Olive Oyl get him to the designated place first. If that doesn’t work, then try less-close friends like Wimpy or O G Wotasnozzle. Go to his actual enemies like Brutus or the Sea Hag as last resorts.

But then that order wrecks the suspense. Could someone bribe Olive Oyl into putting Popeye in real harm? … All right, yes, since disloyalty and shallow, selfish greed is core to every Thimble Theatre character besides Popeye and maybe Eugene the Jeep. This isn’t really Thimble Theatre, though. This is the characters as a sitcom cast in the back half of the tenth season. You know the mood. It’s when all the actors have been friends enjoying a good thing so long that all the sharp edges are worn off their characters’ interactions. It doesn’t make sense for the King Features animated Olive Oyl to sell out Popeye. It makes a little more sense for Wimpy to do so, but still not much.

(It is interesting Wimpy lures Popeye in with the promise of repaying him for a past hamburger. I guess Seer-Ring is Believer-Ring was right about how he keeps his line of credit going.)

Brutus and the Sea Hag, eyes closed, mouths smiling wide, and clapping. Both have quite large hands; the Sea Hag's are definitely larger han her head and her fingers seem to be leaning backwards.
Well, it’s nice that Brutus and the Sea Hag will put aside their villainy for the sake of celebrating — holy cow what is with the Sea Hag’s hands? I know we don’t look at Elzie Segar designs for anatomical realism but yipe? When she got up today did she accidentally put on a koala’s hand? Backwards?

I can’t remember what it was like watching this as a kid. Someone who hasn’t seen as many shows as I have wouldn’t expect they’re just trying to trick Popeye onto a version of This Is Your Life. (The trick needed because Popeye would never choose to go to something hagiographic like that.) So the lack of suspense is my “fault” for being the wrong kind of audience. But I can still be bothered by the internal logic. Granted the TV producer has all Popeye’s friends on board with getting him to the studio. What is his in-universe reason for making hushed, last-minute whispers to Popeye’s acquaintances to kidnap him? Why talk about getting him to “this address”, that they seem to not know, instead of “the studio” or at least “the place”? What were they going to do if Popeye didn’t decide to take the day off (from what?) and go fishing?

I was going to ask why the Sea Hag would go along with getting Popeye to the TV studio. But her plan did involve getting two Goons to beat him up, and then had it succeeded, would land him in a situation he found humiliating. So that actually hangs together, except again, this is the Sea Hag as worn down by season ten of the sitcom. (This even though she’d never been animated before 1960!).

I want to fix this cartoon but I don’t see a way to do it.


If Popeye’s Boring House is in the woods, why does he walk from there into the city to go fishing?

Wotasnozzle had all but succeeded. If he hadn’t started that foolish talk about surgery Popeye would have drunk the knockout drops and the cartoon would have ended there. This isn’t a plot hole. Characters making mistakes is not by itself a flaw.

We get another diner, but no mention of Roughhouse.

Also, without giving too much away … let’s just say the next cartoon is a companion piece.

60s Popeye: The Glad Gladiator and wait, is that Ham Gravy? I think that’s Ham Gravy!


This week’s King Features Popeye cartoon is another with story by Cal Howard. The only other Cal Howard cartoon I have got noted is Tiger Burger. The animation director is Eddie Rehberg, last seen doing everything on Frozen Feuds, that weird Alice the Goon picture. Jack Kinney’s the producer and ultimate director. Back to ancient days, then, with The Glad Gladiator.

Is deliberate anachronism funny? Sure, when it’s The Muppets doing it. But everybody else? I don’t mean whether it’s funny to snarkers pointing out historical inaccuracies in Hagar the Horrible. I mean to a normal audience.

This cartoon opens with the message that it’s set in Rome, 800 BC. Popeye ends up in a gladiator fight in the Colosseum. Before the eyes of the Empress, Olive Oyl. There’s a background gag where the restrooms are marked Ben Hur and Ben His. And then I come back to: 800 BC? For a Roman Empire setting?

This is not something anyone should care about. The setting is “Ancient Rome” and Popeye is there to do some stuff riffing on Roman Empire epic movies of the time. Fine and respectable enough. But then why set this to 800 BC, a time when Rome barely existed and none of the stuff that’s featured, including the Appian [Free]way Popeye riffs on, were around? Why give it a date at all? Other than to tease someone who’d know?

A historical story — book, tv show, movie — is always a battle between historical truth, story economy, and verisimilitude. (You could do a story with samurais tromping around 17th century Mexico, but would people buy the premise?) A cartoon especially has no reason to care about getting the historical details right. So why is this detail there at all? Did Cal Howard just write in an ancient-days number and not care afterward? Or was he doing this mindfully? Of course this Popeye cartoon isn’t history. But now it’s so much not history that even the seven-year-old watching it, who might know the legend of Rome’s founding being in 753 BC, would know it was off?

If he was being wry, I’m not sure it was a good joke. In part since I’m not sure a joke was meant. That’s a hazard of wryness, though. But if it were meant, it’s a very slight joke. “Ha ha, I know this quickly-made Popeye cartoon is of dubious historical integrity?” Am I making too much of an arbitrary choice? Maybe. But if something works, I like to credit it as deliberate. Even if the writer went with whatever came to mind, they chose to use that impulse, and to not edit it out. There’s judgement even in the arbitrary. And then there’s the crowd scene.

Scene of the audience in the Colosseum. The front two rows are filled with mostly minor characters from Popeye/Thimble Theatre.
Wait, but why aren’t Cole Oyl and Nana Oyl sitting next to each other? Oh wait yeah because it’s funny when husband and wife don’t actually like being around each other. Forgot.

We do get a couple glances at the audience in the Colosseum and the front two rows here are filled with minor Thimble Theatre/Popeye characters. And that is an interesting choice. I’m not sure about everybody because they’re out of their usual garb, and it turns out when you remove accessories, Elzie Segar used the same face a lot.

If I’m identifying things right, and I’m open to other opinions, in the upper row, left-to-right, are: Ham Gravy, original Olive Oyl boyfriend, who vanished after about 1930. Cole Oyl(?), Olive’s father. The Sea Hag, who’s appeared once or twice this series. Oscar, introduced to the comic in 1931 so Popeye could have a really dumb crewman. Nana Oyl, Olive’s mother. (Her name is a reference to “Banana oil”, 1920s slang for “nonsense”. Also 1920s slang for “nonsense”: any two-word phrase.)

Lower, front, row, left to right: George W Geezil(?), pawn shop broker and Wimpy-hater. John Sappo, bland protagonist of Elzie Segar’s other strip, the one that brought us O G Wotasnozzle. O G Wotasnozzle (or, possibly, King Blozo hunched down). Alice the Goon. I have no explanation for how Ham Gravy makes the cut and Wimpy or Rough House do not. Also, yeah I’m not positive whether Nana Oyl is sitting in the first or second row either.

Filling a crowd shot with minor Popeye characters? Sure. Anyone could do that. They’d put in Wimpy, Sea Hag, Alice the Goon, Swee’Pea. If you have to dig deep put in Rough House or Geezil. Someone had to think to put in Ham Gravy. Or Sappo. Or Oscar for crying out loud. Someone thought “we need a quick shot of Ham Gravy”, and had that vision carried out.

This, yeah, is the sort of deep focus I get into as I look for what’s interesting in the cartoon. We get Popeye in a Vaguely Roman-ish makeover for his sailor’s suit. It’s a nice look for him. But I expect being on a different model like that to require the rest of the animation to be cheaper. That expectation holds up; there’s a lot of characters sliding around or disappearing. And the story is all a lumbering push to have Brutus and Popeye fight each other in the arena. The opening credits for the cartoon run at 16:59 in the YouTube video link. They actually start fighting about 20:57, for a cartoon that ends at 22:45. And it’s not like we’re stuffed full of a lot of gags about contemporary America recast as Ancient Rome. The sign for the intersection of Columbus Circle and XXVIII Street is about it. That and — get ready to laugh — a guy twirling pizza dough! Shows how mores have changed. As a child of the 70s and 80s I know it’s sushi that’s the instant-laugh zany food. Not pizza. Pizza is boring.

And that’s my trouble with the cartoon. It has a few fleeting moments of personality. But it’s mostly a slow march to a small fight. The title card that maybe heightens the anachronism humor, and the attempt to identify all the bit players in the stands, is about all I’ve got.

60s Popeye: Popeye Revere, a title that makes me remember the cartoon wrong


A confession to a cultural blind spot: I’ve never actually read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem about Paul Revere. I know chunks of it, mostly because of cartoons quoting it, sometimes at what seems to be great length. This is one of those cartoons. Thanks to it, I feel like I know enough of the original I don’t have to know the original. There are a bunch of movies I know I’ll never watch either because SCTV gave me the essentials. That’s right, Humoresque, I don’t care if you’re showing in TCM or not! So there!

This is another Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. The story’s by Noel Tucker and the animation director Ken Hultgren. Here’s 1960’s Popeye Revere.

Some of these cartoons I remember nothing about. Some are seared into my memory. This was one I thought was seared in, largely by Popeye adapting Longfellow’s words. Who could forget about the chance “to hear// of the midnight ride of Popeye Revere”? Me, apparently, since that’s not what Popeye says. It’s Poopdeck Revere, everywhere except in the title of the cartoon. Why did the cartoon not have the correct name? What were you afraid of, Jack Kinney?

Which gets at my other question: why is Poopdeck Pappy in this? Were they worried it would confuse viewers to have Popeye-Narrator and Popeye-Revere both talking? In other tell-Swee’Pea-a-story cartoons Popeye gets cast as the male hero. Real Popeye does more narration this time than usual, yes. I think he says “to every Middlesex village and farm” at least eighteen times over the course of two minutes.

I’m not opposed to Poopdeck, mind. He’s a fun character. He can take the little-stinker roles Popeye evolved out of. But it’s not like Paul Revere is a little-stinker character. So why this choice?

Animation frame showing Poopdeck Pappy (dressed as Paul Revere) leaping handily over a barrel rolling toward him.
200 points!

The big addition to Longfellow’s poem, I assume, is Brutus as a Tory trying to stop Poopdeck’s ride. Brutus throwing barrels at Poopdeck, which he leaps over, reminded me “wasn’t there something about Donkey Kong starting out as a Popeye video game?” It’s more complicated than that but, yeah, the path to Donkey Kong included an attempted Popeye license. This is probably coincidence, though. The molasses, or as they spell it molassas, does give the cartoon a punch line.

There’s not much standing out in the animation here. There is one neat little effect, as Poopdeck rides and calls to every middlesex village and farm. As he turns side to side his figure grows larger and smaller. It’s a nice addition of life to a basic cycle.

Animation frame showing Poopdeck Pappy (dressed as Paul Revere) partly behind the barrel rolling toward him. His hand might be in front of the barrel; the animation cels are ambiguously placed. In any case it's too late for him to jump over the barrel, except by virtue of an animation error.
OK this looks bad but you actually want it, because it times-in a collision-detection glitch that gives you a frame clipping in your GPU that Metroids your gigablorpz. I don’t know how video game speedrunning works.

Swee’Pea seems to have an attitude about hearing all this stuff regarding Poopdeck Revere. At one point he holds up a sign, ‘PURE CORN’, for the audience. It seems like a cheap thrill, and an insincere one. (It’s your cartoon, after all. If you don’t like it, why didn’t you make a better one?) But then remember the opening of the tell-me-a-story frame. Swee’Pea asked if Paul Revere’s ride really went like that in the poem. And Popeye goes ahead and basically re-reads the poem, just with slight recasting. I understand Swee’Pea feeling caught in this fix.

60s Popeye: Seer-ring is Believer-ring, which isn’t about Wimpy offering to pay somehow?


This week’s King Features Popeye cartoon puts us back in the capable, if dull, hands of Paramount Cartoon Studios. Seymour Kneitel’s the director, with animation by I Klein, Jack Ehret, and Dick Hall. The story’s credited to I Klein. Here’s 1960’s Seer-ring Is Believer-Ring.

The sparse information that Popeye The Sailorpedia has for this cartoon does not say it was adapted from a comic strip or comic book story. I suppose it wasn’t, then. There is this feel, though. The cartoon introduces a new menace, Evil-Eye. I initially wrote him as a new “villain” because he’s coded as one. The name, sure. His being generically ethnic. Olive Oyl even calls him “a foreign-looking gentleman”. But his actions?

As presented, after all, all he’s really trying to do is get back the magic ring that Olive Oyl’s gotten. And Popeye slugs him for it. Evil-Eye escalates to hypnotizing Popeye and Olive Oyl. That is a heck of an escalation, although it’s also the clearly safe thing to do when you’re trying to get around Popeye. Evil-Eye would have presented himself better if he’d asked for the ring openly, though. You don’t need a ring of foretelling to know flirting with Olive Oyl in front of Popeye ends badly for you.

The ending feels unsatisfactory. It feels truncated in a way that I associate with the Bud Sagendorf comics, which would end when Sagendorf felt he’d shuffled the pieces around enough, never mind if anything was resolved. The setup’s decent. Evil-Eye, whose ring can foretell anything except how he’s going to lose it, loses it in a sidewalk vendor’s box. Olive Oyl picks it up and has amazing visions. Popeye doesn’t believe she can see the future. Sailors are, by reputation, a notoriously un-superstitious bunch, after all. But even her foreseeing Wimpy offering to treat everyone at Roughhouse’s Diner doesn’t convince Popeye. Also, what the heck is Wimpy doing offering to treat everyone to anything, ever? Possibly he figures he needs to do a little bit of paying-you-Tuesday in order to keep his line of credit open? It’s still a weird offer.

So Evil-Eye tries to swipe the ring off Olive Oyl’s hand by flirting with her, and that goes wrong, a scene not foreseen by Olive Oyl. Wonder how she missed Popeye acting jealous. Popeye spins him out of the picture. Evil-Eye zaps both with his hypnotic … evil eye … but that doesn’t stop the unconscious Popeye from pulling out his spinach and clobbering him. This sends the ring rolling off into the sewer and Evil-Eye has to fish for it. Also … maybe because of this? … Olive Oyl and Popeye wake up. Neither of them seems to remember Evil-Eye, or her ring. They just walk past and Popeye cracks a joke about Evil-Eye.

This may be another case where I’m too old to understand the plot. Maybe a kid is faster to accept the idea that of course part of Evil-Eye’s hypnosis is suppressing your recollection that he was even there. Or the thing he was interested in getting for you. It doesn’t seem like asking too much from the premise.

Popeye is staring huge-eyed, into the camera. In front of him, Olive Oyl has stretched out her hand and she's delighted by Evil-Eye holding her wrist and calling her 'Ninotchka' and trying to grab the ring off her hand.
[ Record scratch ] “Yup, tha’s me! I bets youze is won’nering how I gotsk meself into this sit’chee’ation.”

Evil-Eye is voiced of course by Jackson Beck. So is the ring seller. There’s an interesting bit in Olive Oyl’s visions of the future, in that Mae Questel tries to do the voices of Popeye and Wimpy and Evil-Eye. Her version of Popeye seems to land somewhere near the Sea Hag. Her Evil-Eye sounded closer to Swee’Pea than anything else. Her Wimpy didn’t evoke any particular character to me. It’s interesting we get yet another reference to Roughhouse without actually seeing him. Roughhouse is becoming the Boba Fett of this series, building up a lot of reputation without doing anything.

So far as I know this is the only appearance of Evil-Eye. That’s a shame. He seems to have more going for him than the usual one-shot villain. Not so much as the hypnotist from Nix On Hypnotricks, but still, he seems like he could have done more.

The art here strongly embraces a flatter, UPA-influenced style. Evil-Eye and the ring seller are much more deliberately limited characters than our regulars are. I’m curious how much of that was Paramount’s animators wanting the artistic challenge of the newer style and how much was just budgetary. It looks most distinctive when Evil-Eye is nearly done spinning about 10:02, and he’s represented with a simple slide back and forth under the camera. It suggests spinning without making any literal sense as a spin. That’s a neat effect to have.

Really would like an explanation of what Wimpy is doing offering to treat anyone, though. He has that wad of bills that would seem to show his sincerity. Maybe he’s figuring to coax them to Roughhouse’s and then dump the check on them? Something’s not working with that part of the story anyway.

60s Popeye: Weight for Me and a cartoon that’s aged without a single flaw


We have another Gene Deitch-directed cartoon here. So the only credits I have are that the animation was by Halas and Batchelor. No idea about story credits and all. The producer is Producer William L Snyder.

There’s a content warning, though, as you maybe guessed from the title. And as you maybe inferred from the screen grab YouTube uses for its previews. If it gives the same preview to everyone, I mean. The premise is, Olive Oyl is fat! And Popeye wants to fix here! So there’s a bunch of fat-phobia and body-shaming going on here. If you don’t need that, and you don’t want to see Popeye being casually ugly, you’re absolutely right. We’ll meet back up in a week.

For those who can put up with that, or want to see how this plays out, here’s Weight For Me, another cartoon from 1960.

Popeye and Brutus are back from six months at sea! And while they were away, Olive Oyl was so lonesome that she overate, and now she’s fat. It’s that most startling of thing to see thirty years into a franchise: a new premise. Where was this when Famous Studios was gradually whittling down the number of Popeye’s nephews all through the 50s?

It’s obvious the cartoon has to be about losing weight, then. It’s not quite required that Olive Oyl end the cartoon skinny again. (The other resolution would be that after a lot of diet and exercise she and Popeye end up enormous.) But is required that she try. Brutus likes the fat Olive Oyl, though. It’s presented with this interesting energy, as though even he didn’t realize he was going to like her being fat. And this sets up what should be a crackling good conflict. Popeye trying to make Olive Oyl skinny versus Brutus trying to make her even fatter.

Where it goes wrong is that word, make. Popeye never asks Olive Oyl if she wants to be thin again, or if she wants any help. Brutus never asks Olive Oyl if she’s happy being fat. You can argue Olive Oyl clearly wishes she were thin, but thinks trying is hopeless. You can argue that Olive Oyl finds being fat more comfortable. Certainly having ambiguous feelings about it is natural and normal. Olive Oyl’s fickleness works here to make her more psychologically realistic than normal.

Brutus offering a big box of chocolates to an extremely overweight Olive Oyl. The sofa they're sitting on is buckling under her weight.
You might think it sexist that the sofa is crumpling under Olive Oyl’s weight, when there’s no chance she’s heavier than Brutus. But this is because a guy can be five times as overweight as a woman before suffering the same sorts of social penalties.

But gads, the worst thing about being fat? Other than how doctors will blame your weight for any ailment, including Covid-19, a broken arm, and seven cop bullets in your back? Meddlers telling you how to stop being fat.

So Popeye starts out really ugly here. And he never gets better, as he keeps putting Olive Oyl through exercises after she says she doesn’t want to. Brutus never asks Olive Oyl what she wants either. But he at least does invite her to a malt shop or to a steak dinner and she accepts. She might be eating for emotionally unhealthy reasons but she’s at least asked.

There was, a decade-plus ago, a web site article that asked whether the Famous Studios animators were on Bluto’s side. It listed all sorts of plots where Popeye’s more clearly the jerk. This one fits that tradition.

Apart from that, though? … It’s a well-done cartoon, is part of the thing. The animation’s decent limited-animation work. It hasn’t got as much small movement as Potent Lotion. I assume that’s because everybody’s energy was put into drawing Olive Oyl to a strange model sheet. But it does have small filigrees of movement. When getting off the ship, for example, Brutus quickly welds Popeye by a chain to the ship’s deck. And Popeye uses his pipe to free himself. It’s nothing needed for the story; it just makes the cartoon better.

Popeye has assembled a bunch of weight loss machines; the enormous Olive Oyl is caught in the one that wraps a belt around your waist, or in her case her rump, to shake around. There's also a machine with rollers on arms that go up and down, and another semicircular machine with several small long cylindrical rollers. In the foreground is what looks like a three-part foldable cot with a record turntable hanging off the side.
Very disappointed we did not get to see how that sectioned cot with a vertically-slung record turntable was supposed to lose anybody weight.

Popeye also brings in a fun-looking bunch of weight-loss machines. That thing with the strap that goes around your waist and shakes you, for example. And a bunch that didn’t get to be cartoon-and-sitcom famous. This thing with two rollers that go up and down looks amusing, whatever its scam was supposed to be. I have no idea what the thing Olive Oyl ends up trapped on is, the little thing that looks like a dangerous hot dog roller. It looks like fun, though.

We end with Brutus resigned to “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”. He’s reading How To Reduce and is on the hip belt thing. Everyone laughs. It’s unusual for everyone to end on the same page and laughing about it. It’s appealing to see. I’m just sad it comes after a lot of Popeye being a jerk.

60s Popeye: Potent Lotion, when ‘Popeye Punch’ was just sitting there ready for the naming


This week I’ve got another Popeye cartoon directed by Gene Deitch. So there’s no information about story credits or specific animators or anything. Just his bunch in Czechoslovakia. Sorry. Here’s Potent Lotion, a title that seems like it should be a rhyme yet isn’t.

This is a weird cartoon. I know, a Gene Deitch cartoon turning out weird? Who imagined that? The core of the weirdness is that this is quite a well-made cartoon. The characters are all pretty angular, but that’s not a bad thing. The cartoon looks fresher than the usual. I think it’s the movement. The characters move like paper doll silhouette puppets, with discrete joints. Or like a Flash animation from about 2006.

Certainly the animation, while limited, does more than it needs. Everyone moves with their whole bodies. Brutus’s face clearly moves under his mask, when anyone would accept just not seeing anything there. When several characters are in a walk (or run) cycle, like the henchmen or the two cops, they’re out of phase, so it looks like there’s more movement than there really is. Or when Brutus is splitting up the loot. His hand reaches into the bag, and pushes the bag down. It’s an extra bit of life.

And it’s got a strong plot. Popeye gets a bottle of shaving lotion, and a telegram from Olive Oyl to meet her. Everyone he passes on the way punches him. It’s a mystery until we see Brutus and his henchmen robbing a bank. The cops are more interested in punching Popeye than chasing the robbers. Popeye works out it’s the aftershave that’s made him so punchable. He finds the gang’s hideout and in the end drops enough Punch Lotion on Brutus’s head to break up the gang. There’s more to the story but that’s the important stuff.

It’s well-organized, too. Even in the little things. Like, Popeye signs for the delivery package; he doesn’t sign for the telegram. First time through I noted that as a discrepancy. But then he comes back around, when he finds the gang’s hideout, and says he forgot to sign for the telegram. The henchman uses the chance to say he’ll get a slip of paper, and gets Brutus instead. Everybody’s being smart.

Two cops punching Popeye. One has hit him in the head so hard Popeye's smashed down to about half-height.
All Popeye said was “of course Black lives matter”, but he would go on to ask why the cops have chemical warfare weapons banned by the Geneva Convention.

So I can’t pin down just what about the cartoon feels off to me. I want to say it’s Brutus’s setup of robbing a bank, with a plan only incidentally involving Popeye. But that can’t be right. We’ve had any number of cartoons where Brutus is an actual villain. Even ones where he’s a bank-robber or other desperado. Those are usually set in Old Western towns, though, or in Yukon Gold Strike towns or things like that. And they usually have the setup where Bluto/Brutus hasn’t met Popeye when the action starts. Maybe that’s the weird thing. He’s not usually in Anytown USA and aware of Popeye and still scheming against society rather than against Popeye. Or maybe it’s that usually, once the cartoon starts, Brutus/Bluto focuses on besting Popeye. It’s rare that he treats Popeye as a feature of the landscape.

It’s also a bit weird that after eating his spinach — sorry, Brutus’s spinach. Still, it’s common enough for Popeye to eat environmentally-provided spinach — Popeye just uses the chance to break his bonds. He pours Punch Lotion on Brutus to get the gang to slug him. This is a good plan, yes. It’s just surprising to see Popeye resort to his smarts first and his fists second.

My reservations are weird, idiosyncratic, and not that important. This is a cartoon worth watching, and it’s one that shows even in the dire circumstances of 60s television animation, with characters who had already been wrung through three decades and hundreds of cartoons, there’s still good cartoons to make.

60s Popeye: Sure, I heard of a Sheepish Sheep-Herder


This week’s King Features Popeye takes us back to Larry Harmon’s studio. So, you know, the future Filmation crew. The story is by Charles Shows, of Muskels Shmuskels, of Foola-Foola Bird, and of Childhood Daze. The director here, as in the three already mentioned, is Paul Fennell. Here’s Sheepish Sheep-Herder.

So, first continuity error: Popeye isn’t a sheepish character. He might go reluctantly into something if he doesn’t see why it’s his business, but that’s not sheepish.

Popeye’s interrupted watching his Western show by Olive Oyl, bringing a telegram that I guess Western Onion trusted her with. Poopdeck Pappy needs help with rustlers. Plus, hey, Poopdeck Pappy! He disappeared after Fleischer Studios became Famous Studios, to fit Paramount’s vision of their cartoons being “not so interesting”. (There were a couple cartoons in 1952 and 1953 with him, one a cameo, one disappointing, and one a remake of Goonland too racist to put on TV.) King Features, though, was glad to use everything they had a trademark on.

Popeye heads out, in the engine of a small train; is it his? Anyway, Pappy meets him with a shotgun. Pappy is, as traditional, a twin to Popeye, except with a beard. And, here, a red cap. And, another continuity error: Poopdeck Pappy is also never sheepish.

Poopdeck Pappy, clean-shaven so he looks like Popeye, standing in cave with both eyes half-opened and looking off-screen. He's supposed to look devious, but the pose could also be read as sultry.
Sultry, yes, I’ll grant you Poopdeck Pappy is sultry sometimes. But not sheepish.

Brutus comes in, wearing a long coat, to swipe some sheep and I am childishly delighted that his plan is “sneak sheep out under his trenchcoat”. It’s the joke you’d make if you were a podcast host joking about the premise. The sheep are cute in this vaguely UPA style tool. Brutus goes in with a helicopter, too, having abandoned the trenchcoat plan because … I don’t know. This one outright fails.

Brutus orders Popeye out of town at gunpoint. Popeye uses the countdown to twist the gun barrel and, in a joke I like, ends up pointing it at himself and getting blasted anyway. He asks what he did wrong. It’s not only a good cartoon joke; it’s a joke building on decades of confident cartoon protagonists twisting the barrels of hunters’ guns.

Poopdeck Pappy, shaving, overhears the gunshots. Did you notice that he’s shaving? Because that’s important. But it’s also a good plant for what’s to come, and I imagine seven-year-olds who figure this out feel really clever. Anyway Brutus has tied up Popeye and shoots at his feet until he hops off the cliff. This seems like extra work to go to throw him off a cliff. But, confident he’ll never see Popeye again, who walks in but Popeye? In a red hat this time. Did you notice it was a red hat? … Not that it would be bizarre if Popeye were to be back on top of the cliff. That kind of thing happens in cartoons.

Brutus ties up Pappy with a stick of lit dynamite, and runs off. Popeye runs in, extinguishes the fuse and frees Pappy, and doesn’t say anything to his father. Nor does his father say anything back. I’m surprised by how much the animators are trusting the audience to follow what’s going on. I don’t think they’re wrong to, but I’d expected a reassurance line to emphasize that Pappy looks like Popeye now.

Oyl family reunion; Castor Oyl, Nana Oil, and less familiar relations are standing around. Popeye: 'I don't understands it. How can you be related to these people not look like any of 'em?' Olive Oyl: "I think there's a family resemblance.' Popeye: 'Resemblance sure, but why ain't ya all identical? Takes me family, f'rinstance! I yam the spittin' image of e'ryone in me family. If ya compares me to Pappy, or even me great grandpappy Patcheye we is practically clones o'each other. [ Pictures of Poopdeck Pappy and Patcheye, who look like redraws of Popeye ] Even peoples what marries into the family, like me dear old Ma or sainted Granny. Sure, they looked diff'rent before [ pictures of Popeye's mother and granmother, normal-looking figures ] but after gettin' hitched in, they started lookin' jus' like the rest of us. That's how you know they is family! That's how family works!' [ Pictures of Popeye's mom and grandmom, who look like redraws of Popeye.] Olive Oyl: 'I suddenly don't mind that we've never gotten married.' Popeye: 'It's just as well. This old world can only handle so much beauty.'
Popeye’s Cartoon Club made a reappearance this week, with a bunch of strips from Randy Milholland. This one, from the 30th of May, talks a little about everybody in the Popeye clan looking like Popeye. By the way members of the Oyl family include her brothers Castor and Crude Oyl, her parents Cole Oyl and Nana Oyl [ “Banana Oil” was a slangy way to call something “nonsense” in the 1920s ], Castor’s estranged wife Cylinda Oyl; nieces Diesel Oyl (we’ll see her) and Violet Oyl; uncles Otto Oyl and Lubry Kent Oyl. And, when Bobby London was doing his thing, a sultry blonde cousin Sutra Oyl and corporate-magnate Standard Oyl. Wikipedia figures “Violet Oyl” is a play on “volatile oils”. I guess maybe that’s what they were going for? It’s a tough name, anyway.

Brutus, not having heard the dynamite explode, goes into the mine where he had tied up Pappy. I admit I’m cowardly around fireworks and such. My college summer job was in a nitrocellulose plant. Still, I would not go in to investigate a stick of dynamite that isn’t exploded yet. Popeye appears to encourage him to go in and look, which makes good cartoon logic but: why would you do that, Brutus? Think out what things could follow from the information you have. How many of them are good for you?

Going on inside is Pappy re-lighting the dynamite so it’ll go off when Brutus arrives. And he walks past Brutus, again raising the question whether Brutus is paying attention to what he’s looking at. The blast throws him out the cave, and on seeing two Popeyes he goes bouncing off the cliff. He’s caught by what seems like an excessively deep tree root, right where a sheep can kick him over and over.

This is a pleasant cartoon. Solid enough story. Between the trenchcoat, Popeye asking “what did I do wrong” at twisting Brutus’s gunbarrel, and the way we get into the duplicate Popeye stuff, there’s decent comedy here.

The animation is pretty solid. Not so solid that, like, we ever see a character’s legs when they walk. We instead pull tighter in while the figure bounces up and down. But we do get tight focus on people’s faces, which gives us something to look at. Also to wonder at how everybody’s leaning so far over all the time. Their backs have to hurt so. It’s not a great cartoon; there’s not a moment of great delightful surprise to it. But it’s pretty good throughout.