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.
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.