We’re back on Jack Kinney’s turf, in the year 1960. Popeye and Buddy Brutus has the interesting trait that it’s produced by and story by Jack Kinney, although the director is Rudy Larriva. I admit an instinctive dread of Larriva’s directing. He had the thankless task of making those 1960s Coyote and Road Runner cartoons, when Warner Brothers wouldn’t pay for animation or a fourth bar of music. But the Popeye cartoons were … made under similar circumstances, really. Still, different studio, different circumstances. This could be Larriva’s chance to shine.
What this cartoon evokes is that thing Paul McCartney occasionally does, where he has a couple of songs he’s worked out only parts to and so he puts them together into a medley. Here, there’s a couple of partly-developed diving-based cartoon premises, somehow none of which are enough to last five and a half minutes, all leaning against each other. This all doesn’t work as well as Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, but I can’t say I don’t like it either. My reaction is more that I’m not sure what to make of it all.
We start with Popeye and Brutus setting out to dive in the same part of the ocean. After some squabbling Brutus proposes they be skin-diving buddies. It’s an interesting move for Brutus, who at least starts out the cartoon being the more peaceful one. It also reminds me of Dizzy Divers, the 1935 Fleischer short, in its setup. He even goes looking for Popeye after his rival disappears. It’s only when they run across some treasure that Brutus does his heel turn. Popeye and Brutus spend nearly the whole short underwater without breathing equipment or coming up for air. I know Popeye’s done this before. And the classic Bugs Bunny short Hare Ribbin’ did it too. I don’t know why, though. I mean, yes, I know they’re skin diving, but you could change that with one line of dialogue. Did they figure that if Popeye and Brutus’s faces were covered with masks, their bodies would have to move more to compensate, and they couldn’t afford that?
In their diving, Popeye and Brutus run across Atlantis. Neat idea. A unique one, too. If the Popeye Wikia doesn’t fail me, this is the only time Popeye’s been at an Atlantis. And it’s a weird Atlantis, as it’s an Old West city except populated by octopuses. We see a bar fight and ink-squirt “gunfight” and … that’s about it. There can’t be many octopus-based Old West Atlantises out in the pop culture and it’s disappointing that somehow that wasn’t worth four minutes of screen time.
Popeye and Brutus end up having a showdown in Old West Atlantis, one that involves none of the inhabitants of the town and barely any of the setting. It’s a very silly fight, although the kind of silly that tickles me. Brutus shoots with a harpoon gun that’s always got not quite enough slack to reach Popeye. Popeye shoots back with a water pistol, using one glass for his ammunition. Maybe this is what justifies making this a skin-diving cartoon. Brutus washing water off his face that’s already deep in the water is funny in a weird conceptual way. It’s sure to tickle the seven-year-old. It tickles me today, but I have that kind of brain.
Brutus ends up getting the bends, in that literal way cartoons used to convince the seven-year-old me was just a thing that happened to divers sometimes. Popeye hooks Wimpy’s fishing line to his buddy — them calling each other “buddy” is a motif that comes and goes this short — and he’s hauled to safety.
I can’t call this bad, although I understand people who’ll feel it’s disjointed and storyless. I may just be responding to the weirdness of the construction. And the weirdness of ideas like “Atlantis, but it’s an Old West town populated by octopuses”. But it also doesn’t work in a way that makes this jumble of ideas clearly good.