60s Popeye: Moby Hick (not the Gene Deitch one)

Paramount Cartoon Studios produced today’s short from 1960. The story’s from our old friend I Klein. Direction and production are credited to Seymour Kneitel. Here at least is Moby Hick.

A common problem to any longrunning series is the dwindling universe. It’s natural to focus on the most interesting character, or characters, and everything in the setting dwindles away. Moby Hick does something interesting, despite the only significant characters being the Sea Hag and Popeye. The Sea Hag doesn’t start this short with any interest in Popeye. When she does run across him she hasn’t any interest in destroying him. She keeps him in the cartoon because she figures she can use him. And her goal is something that’s in the backstory, something we don’t see much in these cartoons. Years ago (we eventually learn) she stole the Seamen’s Orphanage treasure, but lost it overboard where the great whale Moby Hick swallowed it. We have to suppose this was a Sea Hag caper that Popeye wasn’t involved in, since the treasury wasn’t recovered back then. These are small items. But they’re things that expand Popeye’s universe, making stuff happen that isn’t about him.

The Sea Hag gets a lot of nice business this cartoon. She has a solid introduction, the whole bar of sailors scared off by her reputation. Spotting Popeye as someone she could use, and spinning enough of a tale of being reformed for Popeye to buy it. Popeye’s usual sense for detecting bad guys seems to malfunction here. His Columbo-like eye was one of his defining characteristics. In his first story in Thimble Theatre he couldn’t stop socking John Stork, long before he had any evidence Stork was the bad guy. It’s not lost entirely; Popeye recognizes Moby Hick isn’t some rampaging monster from a good look at the whale. Maybe he wants to believe in reform that much. He hasn’t got much reason to expect it from the Sea Hag, or Bluto/Brutus. But, like, Toar came around fast, and so do a lot of his opponents.

The giant face of Moby Hick, a green whale, looks, smiling, to Popeye, who's standing up and looking happy back at him.
I know this is Moby Hick, the legendary … green … whale, but what I see is that space-energy monster from the advertisements for Arkanoid. Only, uh, not mean.

This is a more plot, less comedy-driven cartoon than usual. I have the impression Paramount-made shorts are more likely to have that sort of strong plot. I suspect the studio was better at stories than (say) Jack Kinney’s or Larry Harmon’s could be. The only mysterious point is how the Sea Hag came to learn Moby Hick had swallowed the treasure. I suppose it was some wicked bit of spellcraft or something.

It’s not just me, right? It is weird that Popeye’s been swallowed by jellyfish more than he’s been swallowed by whales? (He wasn’t even swallowed by a whale this time!) Only a stray thought; pay it no mind.

The Only Day Of The Year I Can Share This, Apart From Literally All The Others

I’ll get back to talking about story comics next week. Or later if I feel like. For now let me share this 1936 Fleischer cartoon. It’s a spinoff of the Betty Boop universe. And it’s in color, which you just don’t think of Fleischer cartoons being. It stars Grampy, who might or might not be related to Betty Boop. In any case he was introduced in the Betty Boop series. Apart from this entry he always appeared with Betty Boop. But the character probably could have supported a series of his own, at least as 1930s cartoons go. For all that’s unusual about this short it’s a pretty good example of Grampy’s nature.

Because Grampy’s basic gimmick is that he finds some people who’re depressed about something, and he sits and thinks a while, and then he concocts a bunch of amusing gadgets using the stuff at hand. There’s a lot that’s appealing to it, since he is a genial person doing his best to solve other people’s problems. If there’s a flaw it’s that every cartoon is the same one, with just the details of the inventions differing. But they’re also good inventions. They look funny. They stick close to something that looks like it might just work, if it weren’t for the way the real world is a little messy and unpredictable.

And the cartoon starts and ends with one of the characteristic bits of Fleischer 1930s wizardry. They had worked out a pretty good system for combining live-action models with animated cartoons. They used this in all their series, and for good reason. Even eighty years on it’s startling to see the styles of a 1930s cartoon world burst suddenly into three-dimensional life.

It’s built around a catchy song. It would be, of course. The melody would turn up in other Fleischer cartoons for a while, and Popeye and Bluto would sing it (although for New Year’s) at the start of the cartoon Let’s Celebrake. I think the song was an original composition and that there’s not more lyrics to it than we get, which is a shame. It’s the sort of peppy, cheery composition that would be a good minor Christmas song.

It’s a genial cartoon. It’s never a hilarious one, which is a flaw common to Grampy cartoons. They’re pleasant and about a nice guy making good stuff out of nothing. I doubt you’d feel cheated at spending time watching this. But I also doubt you’ll put it on your greatest-cartoons, or greatest-cartoon-characters lists. That’s all right. We need simply pleasant stuff too.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile traders took the day off as well you might imagine they would after the shocks and discoveries of the past two days. In so doing they foiled an otherwise brilliantly-planned heist wherein the distractions of the trading floor were to provide cover. The heist was planned by Ira Wallach and Peter Ustinov and filled in 1968 as Hot Millions. But since the security guard had nothing interesting to watch he noticed when the light to indicate there wasn’t anything being embezzled switched off. The whole scheme fell apart after that, but the music was swell.


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