60s Popeye: Ace of Space, in lifelike 2D

And now for another 1960-dated flying saucer cartoon. This one’s produced by Larry Harmon, so of course the story is by Charles Shows. Direction’s credited to Paul Fennell. Please enjoy, best you can, Ace Of Space.

There’s a moment this cartoon where Popeye says he doesn’t believe in flying saucers because he’s never seen one. The Popeye Wikia warns this cartoon is “Not to be confused with Popeye, the Ace of Space.” Good luck; the titles and premises are close. But Popeye, the Ace of Space is a big, sometimes frightening, theatrical cartoon released in 3-D. This is a more modest affair.

This one has a neat little twist. The typical Earth specimen that the aliens — robots, this time — pick is Olive Oyl. Popeye seems almost slighted, and lassoos the flying saucer to get back in the action. That’s also a little twist. Usually this sort of cartoon the alien has to drag Popeye in. Once Popeye’s aboard, Olive Oyl is back on her erratic anti-fighting thing. She scolds Popeye for “this nice space man! He’s just taking us for a ride!” This might set the record for Olive’s fickleness.

The Martian robot spaceman brings out a ray gun and shoots Popeye. The ray gun doesn’t seem to do much, but Popeye still gets out his “spinach ray”. This is him eating a can of spinach and blasting … a spinach flame from his pipe? Something? I’m not sure what exactly’s supposed to happen. You know, as is usual for Larry Harmon studios.

Olive Oyl watches nervously while Popeye is held at arm's length by a Martian robot.
Finally someone discovers Popeye’s weakness: arm reach.

It’s not that anything is specifically wrong. But, for example, Jackson Beck, as the news reporter for K-PLOT radio, says a flying saucer was observed “flying south over North Dakota”. It’s got the shape of a joke, but isn’t quite one, although a kid might laugh anyway. Better joke-shaped is a bit where Popeye demands Olive Oyl from the flying saucer, and the Martian Robot squirts a bit of motor oil. “Not motor oil, Olive Oyl!”

There’s a cute reversal of fortunes at the end. The robot floats out of the flying saucer, and Popeye commandeers it to fly back to Earth. The robot ends up in Popeye’s suspiciously-tiny-trunked car, though, driving that happily along. It’s a cheery enough ending to question the Popeye Wikia’s characterization of the Martians as “sinister”.

60s Popeye: Abdominal Snowman (it’s not clear he even *has* abs)

We’re with Larry Harmon’s studios for today’s Popeye of the 60s. Also with 1960 for the 1960s. The story is once again by Charles Shows. Directing the future stars of Filmation are Paul Fennell. Here’s Popeye searching for the Abdominal Snowman.

Abominable Snowmen were in the air, in the late 50s and early 60s. It’s reasonable enough to send Popeye after one. The premise seems clean enough so it’s odd there’s so much setup. Olive Oyl’s never-before-seen Uncle Sylvan gets introduced like he should play a bigger part in the plot. Claiming to finance things is about all he does that Wimpy couldn’t do as well. I also can’t make out a pun on Sylvan Oyl’s name, which makes him a real anomaly in the Oyl family. Maybe it was the company Larry Harmon got his heating oil from.

At the Explorers Club Popeye keeps asking when it’s time to eat, and when they can eat. I’ve seen this food-obsessed version of Popeye before, although I can’t find just which cartoon did that. I think it was another Larry Harmon-produced one. After maybe two minutes of setup we finally get to Popeye chasing the Abominable Snowman, which is where I’d have started the cartoon.

They crash into Mount Idiot. Why is it Mount Idiot? At Sylvan’s urging, Popeye yodels. The echo scat-sings back. Getting the wrong thing back from an echo is a solid joke starter. But all I get from the “Mount Idiot” name is the worry that if Charles Snows explained to me exactly what the joke was I would be offended. The Popeye Wikia says the name is “because the mountain can never make correct echoes”, which is consistent with what we see, I guess. But with one example it’s not clear the “idiocy” isn’t just scat singing.

Popeye, trapped under a mound of snow in an ice cave, looks up to see two giant green Abominable Snowman figures staring down at him.
“Ahoy! I don’t suppose any of youse Aplombinable Snowmen has seen Doc Harvey Camel, has ya?”

Popeye falls through the ice and meets the Abominable Snowman, who’s tiny and vaguely cute-shaped. He’s been sick, he explains, in a Wallace Wimple-esque voice. The Internet Movie Database credits only Jack Mercer and Mae Questel for this episode, so I suppose it must be Mercer doing the Snowman’s voice. And we get to the Abominable Snowman’s Gift Shop, where Popeye can get all sorts of trinkets including a “life size” snowman suitable for the Explorers Club. The idea of the Abominable Snowman supporting himself on gift shop sales is, again, a good joke starter. It doesn’t work for me and I can’t pin down just why.

Popeye pays for a “life size” snowman doll with a spinach sucker, the only spinach that gets eaten. It gives the tiny Snowman energy and vitality and good cheer. I’d have thought it would also restore the height he lost due to being sick.

Back at the Explorers Club, Uncle Sylvan talks up his heroism in bringing back the creature and conceding that Popeye assisted. So Popeye, in the doll’s mouth, growls and makes threatening noises. Once everyone’s scared he pops out and reveals it’s all in good fun here. It’s an odd ending. It feels like the ending to a different draft, one where Sylvan had more clearly annoyed Popeye.

60s Popeye: College of Hard Knocks (please ring doorbell to the left)

Larry Harmon produced today’s cartoon. So that might set some expectations. One is that Paul Fenell would direct, and that the story would be by Charles Shows. These expectations are correct. Here’s 1960’s College of Hard Knocks.

Another thing I expect from a Harmon-produced cartoon is that characters are going to stand around a lot. Thes are the animators who’d create Filmation, for which I have a nostalgic affection.

The premise is solid enough. It’s easy to imagine the classic-era theatrical-short version of this. The idea of Brutus as a fake instructor is even circled around by the 1938 short Learn Polikeness, not so closely that this feels like a remake.

It makes sense Olive Oyl would go to school for something. That immediately casts either Brutus or Popeye as the professor; you then have to decide who’s the authority and who’s undermining it to have a plot. Brutus gets to be the “professor”. So it’s a story of Brutus humiliating or injuring Popeye until he has all he can stands, etc. Solid enough story, even if it is the plotting equivalent of all the characters stand around a lot. But sprinkle in some good quips and at least one fanciful bit of violence and you have a cartoon that works. And there’s some decent quipping, mostly on Popeye’s part, of course. Declaring he’s as couth as the average rowdy, or asking if Olive wants an edjamacated ignoramus. Basic jokes, sure, but good for the audience.

Something I was never sure about: was Brutus a legitimate professor here? In Learn Polikeness he’s running a scam and everybody but Olive Oyl sees through him, fine enough. Here? I mean, he’s got a building with the name carved above the entrance. That’s an enormous investment if he’s just trying to get some time with Olive Oyl. But we only ever see him with two pupils and one of them just signed up today.

And, like, what class was this? I guess maybe Brutus was giving some basic physics, or basic science, class, from his demonstrations of “the law of pressure”, the “law of elasticity”, and the “law of gravity”. I realize I’m the only person in the world wondering this, but what would Brutus have done with that toothpaste and anvil if Popeye hadn’t stuck around?

A shocked Popeye, wearing an academic cap, looking at the diploma he's unrolled to discover it's a Marriage License, showing Olive Oyl and Popeye readying to marry.
Oh, yeah, and then the punch line. Olive Oyl gives Popeye a certificate of his being an edjamacated ignoramus; it’s a marriage license with their pictures on it. This because if there’s one thing the kids in the audience know is funny, it’s how THE WIFE THEY SO BAD RIGHT.

But I say that reflects on one of the differences between these and the theatrical shorts. I grant the writer for Learn Polikeness didn’t put any thought into Bluto’s career as a teacher of manners. But you can imagine if Popeye hadn’t intruded that Bluto would have had a day that made sense. Here, if Popeye hadn’t given Olive Oyl a ride to class? So I’ll stand by my controversial declaration that this is a worse cartoon than the 1938 one it echoes.

As he’s punched out of the cartoon Brutus looks to the camera and asks, “What did I did wrong?”, in this silly French accent. It sounds like the closing line from one of the theatrical cartoons, where Bluto’s a French-Canadian lumberjack or something. I don’t know if it’s literally the same line or if Jackson Beck just recorded it in the same accent. There’s no reason to read the line like that, except for fun. The line’s also a bit mysterious unless Brutus has no self-awareness, but he is a cartoon.

I may be giving contrary directions here. I want the cartoon makers to have fun, and to throw stuff in just because it delights them. Why should I complain that “What did I did wrong?” doesn’t make sense? I should at least be consistent in my demands.

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