I got to wondering this past week: what do I like about these 60s Popeye cartoons? Nostalgia, for one; I grew up watching these a lot and liked them in that way a six-year-old will like everything. This is sufficient reason for me to watch again, but why should anyone else care? Even the best-produced of these — and this week’s is produced by Jack Kinney, who’s done quite well in production — isn’t going to be lavishly produced. Animation director Phil Duncan may be doing his best, but it’s not going to compare to, like, a 1930s cartoon where Popeye’s on a skyscraper. What has to be any good about them is story. A good story can fit to a cheap cartoon as well to a pricey one. Do we have it here? This week’s cartoon has a story by Ed Nofziger. His past work has included Hamburger Fishing and Swee’Pea Thru The Looking Glass, pretty good fairy tale riffs. Also Jingle Jangle Jungle, not a fairy tale riff, but circling around being one. These have been interesting. So how is 1960’s Fashion Fotography?
I quite like the story here. It’s got texture. It moves in ways that Popeye cartoons don’t usually, but that still make sense. We start with Olive Oyl attempting to take her own picture. She’s confident she’s getting her picture in the fashion magazine — pardon, the fash-ion ma-ga-zine — but taking her own picture is hard. I did wonder if, like, she had an invitation to send a picture in or if she was just doing this on spec, but, no matter. When the camera falls onto her feet she tosses the stupid thing out the door.
This hits Popeye, who unfortunately couldn’t see the camera coming because cartoon characters can’t see stuff that’s off-screen. Also he was walking up the sidewalk with his eyes closed. But he figures it’ll be an excellent surprise present for Olive Oyl, because he’s not able to extrapolate why the person who lives in the house he was walking towards might have thrown a camera away. Olive Oyl’s unwilling to have visitors until Popeye promises presents, when her attitude changes; it’s a cute little filip that makes plot-necessary things into a joke. Popeye kicking the door open and knocking Olive Oyl over is also a good bit, adding something silly where it’s not necessary.
Olive Oyl declaring she hates cameras, until Popeye explains that he could take her picture, puts me in mind of Homer Simpson’s brain explaining how money can be exchanged for goods and services. So I like this line better than I would have in, say, 1980, but that’s all right.
Popeye attempting to get a picture ready is a bunch of sight gags built on premises almost surely passed from human memory. Someone might understand Popeye checking that there’s film by pulling the roll out is a self-destructive thing. But you need some deep memories of what film cameras were like to remember winding the film until you got to a frame number. Or symbols warning you were about to get to a frame number. Me, I like sign humor, so Popeye seeing a never-ending series of arrows and chicken footprints and cops directing traffic could not possibly go on long enough. I understand if people born this millennium think this is taking a long time to get nothing done.
Olive Oyl loses patience and kicks Popeye out, right into Brutus. They briefly compete to take her picture, and break the camera. So they go to learn how to take photographs properly and come back to compete for picture-taking honors. Which is interesting: Popeye and Brutus as rival professional photographers seems like the start for a cartoon and here it’s just one beat on the way to the end. They come back, taking cartoon flash photographs, which leave Olive Oyl dazzled. She sends them away, favoring instead a portrait painted by Alice the Goon. Which is a neat choice. This is the first time in my reviews of these cartoons that we’ve definitely had Alice in. (She possibly played the sirens in Golden-Type Fleece.) The King Features cartoons had a lot working against them, but they were happy to use the surprisingly big cast of the comic strip.
Alice the Goon does a Picasso-style portrait of Olive Oyl. Popeye and Brutus hate it, with the hatred that comic strips, surely the most commercial of 20th century illustrative art, have always had for fine art. They laugh at it until Olive Oyl smacks them with the painting, and they go off chuckling at themselves. They even figure a way to have a singing couplet that Brutus can sing with Popeye.