1960s Popeye has Plumber’s Pipe Dream


I’m taking this week to build myself some margin in the Popeye’s Island Adventure series. I’m doing that by filling in a week with an older cartoon. This one, Plumber’s Pipe Dream, is part of the notorious 1960s series. In that, King Features made over two hundred short cartoons over the course of about three years to fill television with a heap of content. Doing this required hiring, like, everybody who could hold a pencil. This is a short that I thought King Features had on their official YouTube channel. They have a couple dozen of that run. So I’m posting a copy I can find. If you find it’s been removed, please let me know. I’ll try to find a replacement. It could be King Features will have added it to their official channel by that time.

This cartoon, at least, I can give credits for. It was made by Jack Kinney Productions. Jack Kinney worked for Disney in the Golden Age — he directed sequences in Pinocchio and Dumbo. And he worked for UPA Studios at its peak too. You could get that idea from the stylish title card. By 1960 he had his own studio doing television work, King Features cartoons among it.

This is not a good cartoon. It is one I enjoy watching. It’s weird that those go together. A strain in pop culture, especially on the Internet, celebrates bad stuff. It’s been celebrated so long that we can forget that this is a strange choice to make. What’s fun about a bad cartoon, or movie, or book, or story?

I think it’s something you have to grow into. You start out taking in stories (cartoons, movies, whatever) and accepting them as stories. Then you get to knowing stories well enough. You can tell good from bad, and maybe why some are good and some bad. Most of us then stick to the good stories, and live a happy life with our entertainment choices. But some of us, in what feels like a nerdy thing to do, break that. I think some of us get so obsessed with studying stories, and why they work and why they don’t, that we overthink it. Like, we notice that most good stories follow (sensible) rules. A genuinely bad story, though? That won’t follow rules. Or it follows a weird distorted idea of the rules. It surprises in a way that a well-made story can’t. The surprise and novelty is great if you’ve consumed so much of a particular kind of story that normal ones are boring. And it’s great for showing by its mistakes how good stories come together. And, yes, a good story that defies rules and breaks expectations is also cherished. But there’s probably more ways to make a bad story than a good one.

So how does this hypothesis matter to this cartoon?


We start with Olive Oyl having a leaky faucet. Good premise. Plumbing cartoons are usually fun. Leaking water gives things a sense of urgency, and that often builds comic energy well. Swee’Pea suggests having it fixed, something Olive Oyl never thought of, even though they have the same voice actor. Olive Oyl insisting she wouldn’t have thought of that, and looking up “plumbers” under “P as in Plop”, are a couple cute throwaway dialogue jokes. They’re not quite laugh lines, but at least they’re cheery.

Popeye’s the designated plumber, and mentions how this call roused him from a snooze. There’s a weird momentary fade to black at about 1:31, before we see Popeye’s face making some weird expressions. This turns out to be plot-important, but you only know that in retrospect. Popeye’s first attempt only makes the leak worse and he rushes to the basement to turn the water off. This by the way takes about as long as a whole Popeye’s Island Adventure does. So I appreciate how much story compression has to go into those shorts.

Popeye can’t remember which apartment he needs to turn off, so he breaks that pipe too. So he figures now he has to go to the water main and runs out to the city sewer. Here, given the direction to turn the wheel right he turns it back and forth until it breaks off, sending even more water loose. You have get to wondering whether Popeye was always this incompetent. Boring Suburban Popeye, the character he mutated into in cartoons of the 50s, had a lot of problems. (And yes, this is Popeye in the city. But it’s the way he acts when the cartoon makes him the owner of a boring home in a boring suburb.)

Now the apartment is flooding to the point it looks lost at sea. Popeye needs to get to the city mains before a J G Ballard novel can break out. He hails a taxi, that gets there on distinctly dry streets, and calls out, “The City Water Works!” The shocked driver asks, “It does?” and so help me that makes me laugh every time. This is because I am a nerd. That a phrase might have more than one meaning is always funny to both nerds and four-year-olds. Four-year-olds it makes sense. They’re delighting in the discovery of how language works. Nerds, I don’t know. Might be we so like having things explained and sensible that a sentence which resists mono-meaning is delightful.

Now the water comes, with the city streets flooding or flooding more. Popeye swims toward the water works, only to find the water’s risen so high that it threatens to extinguish the Statue of Liberty’s torch. You know, the torch that has never been a literal fire.

There’s some spinach floating by, that Popeye grabs happily and eats. He gets his power-up fanfare and … water squirts out of his muscle bulges. Well, he puddles to the drowned shutoff valve, which opens a drain, threatening to suck him down. And then what do you know but it’s all a dream, and he’s still getting another call from Olive Oyl. He rushes to Olive Oyl’s apartment and once again forgets to turn off the water. The end.

Lay out the storyline like that and it seems workable. Making a small problem ever-worse is a standard comic method. It’s standard because it works so well. And there are a bunch of funny little drawings. Popeye asleep in his chair looks weird, but in a funny way. The taxi driver has some nice bugged-out eyes when he sees the flood coming. There’s more nice casual jokes than I remembered were in this short. It isn’t quotable, but that’s because all the jokes depend on their context to be anything. And a cartoon doesn’t have to be quotable to be good.

But what’s bad. Mm. Well, little things. Every scene takes a few seconds longer than it needs. The music was done by hitting shuffle on the King Features 1960s Background Themes playlist. I’ll give them a pass on how much animation gets reused within this short. They had like $20 and a heap of Green Stamps for an animation budget, and as many as twelve minutes to draw the thing. But did a third of all the dialogue have to be Olive Oyl crying out “Heellllp” in an endless repeated chant? (I likely find this more annoying than other people because the same chant gets used in many of the 60s cartoons. I recognize it like I recognize the exact same gunshot sound effect in half of all the M-G-M Tom and Jerry cartoons.)

For the most part, this cartoon is boring. Or it’s annoying, when Olive Oyl is crying out “Heellllp” in a sound clip they used in every King Features Popeye. It’s going a bit loopy, with the speed and magnitude of the flooding. But it’s not until 3:55, it changes. This is when Popeye notices the Statue of Liberty is almost drowned. Now the cartoon is not only bad, but great bad. Making the flooding worse by fixing it? That’s a normal line of action. That’s the plot thread that you could make a good cartoon around. Making the flooding “Oh, and it’s going to extinguish the flame in the Statue of Liberty’s Torch”? That’s not a logical thought. The cartoon leaps into some surreal, dream-logic territory. It’s surprising and weird. The rules of plot logic that we’re used to fail and that’s thrilling. Plus there’s a nice alarmed look on the statue’s face.

That it’s all a dream is … eh. The cartoon could as easily have had the big drain open up and let the city dry. Making it all a dream retroactively excuses Popeye making dumb mistakes, at least. And it sets up the here-we-go-again punch line. The cartoon manages, at least for a while, to be a great bad cartoon.


Next week I should get back to Popeye’s Island Adventures with a fresh essay at this link. Now watch as King Features double-crosses me and doesn’t post a new cartoon this week. Well, I have 219 other 1960s cartoons to look at. Plus they’ve posted episodes from Popeye And Son. I can wait them out.

Popeye’s Island Adventures springs leaks


This week’s Popeye’s Island Adventure has the title Plumbing Problems. It set my expectations high. Plumbing has been a really good theme for cartoons. Plumbing Is The Pipe, from 1938, was another of the masterful Fleischer-era Popeye cartoons. Famous Studios did one as Floor Flusher, in 1954, and that was pretty solid despite the layer of general boredom that settled on Popeye cartoons of that era. When King Features cranked out 286,000 shorts in twelve minutes in the early 60s, one of them was Plumbers Pipe Dream and while I can’t call that one good, it is certainly deeply weird and unpredictable and thus interesting. I may do a separate review of just that carton because it is so … so … very much itself.

So how was Plumbing Problems?

I didn’t like this one. I mean, not so much as I liked Popeye the Painter. Nor some of the other plumbing cartoons. The storyline seems too scattershot for me. What I think gives most plumbing cartoons their comic energy is how they normally have this nice, built-in ratcheting of comic tension. Water is coming, and then more water is coming, and everything done to stop the water makes the problem worse, until things get truly dire. I don’t insist that all jokes can be explained as releases of tension. But there are many jokes which do work that way, so this is a good platform to build on.

It’s a competent start: Olive Oyl tries to make tea, but there’s no water. Leaks appear all over her house. Popeye tries plugging them up, first with an umbrella. I liked the umbrella handle spewing water; that’s a good bit. Olive Oyl and Popeye take miscellaneous objects, a lot of them clam shells, to stuff into the leaks, which works for the moment that comic timing requires. The sink becomes a geyser, and Olive tries to make emergency repairs. This fits in line with her Island Adventures characterization as a tinkerer.

Popeye hands Olive Oyl a heap of miscellaneous things. After stuffing them all in the drain, the leak’s stopped for a moment. It doesn’t last, which says exciting things about Olive Oyl’s water pressure. The geyser returns, shooting all this kitchen stuff into the air.

And here — 59 seconds in — Bluto finally enters the short. He’s minding his own business, a nice change of pace for the villain. He’s startled by the fork landing in front of him, and cringes when he sees Olive Oyl’s kitchen flying toward him. The dining table, chairs, plates, and candlestick land in perfect shape, another good bit of business. And that’s ended well with Olive’s flower-in-a-shoe landing in Bluto’s face. And Bluto gets an idea.

So Bluto presents himself as a plumber. His fee: a can of spinach. This fits a long history of Bluto being smart enough to understand the importance of spinach, but not smart enough to just buy it himself. (Although since we’ve seen Popeye canning his own spinach maybe there isn’t an island grocery.) And this gives Popeye the idea of trying to use spinach to fix the leaks. This fits a long history of Popeye not just eating spinach early enough to head off his problems. Stuffing some spinach into the drain, for a wonder, doesn’t work. But it does give Bluto the chance to swipe the rest of Popeye’s spinach. I credit the cartoon for subverting my expectations. But: is this all that funny? It makes sense Bluto would use an opportunity like this to make mischief. It makes sense Bluto would try stealing spinach. But this means he’s skipping out on the main plot tension of the water in order to swipe spinach. I don’t think the short has enough time — two minutes, fifteen seconds — to make that change of plot focus work.

Popeye and Olive Oyl realize Bluto’s trick. Popeye eats his remaining can of spinach and turns into … I’m not sure. He looks a little like your classic Von Braun Man-Will-Conquer-Space-Soon style rocket. Or maybe an anchor? Neither quite makes sense, since he uses the geyser from the sink to launch into the air. Popeye grabs a windsock, and wraps up Bluto before he’s gotten all that far. Seems like Popeye could probably have caught him by running, too, although then where would the windsock have come from? The water floods out of Olive’s house, and Popeye has the idea to replace all the leaking pipes with empty spinach cans. This works right up until Olive Oyl tests it, when instead of water, spinach pours out of the faucets. This is what happens when you pay attention to your own needs more than those of the friend you’re doing the work for.

So none of these are bad ideas. But the short feels episodic, a bunch of good starting points for jokes. The storyline felt scattershot, as if the writer couldn’t think of a funny thing to do with Olive’s house leaking. Or a funny reason for it to have started leaking. It’s among the weaker of these cartoons.


I’m doing my best to review all these Popeye’s Island Adventures. Essays about them should be at this link.

In Which I Maybe Fail My Civic Duty


Well, that’s embarrassing. The City Clerk came over and asked if I would come over sometime around October or November 2027 and remind him to check whether the city was about to lose all its laws again. Or any important subset of them. And, like, I want to help. I want to be a good member of the community. But I’m really most apt at doing stuff like mowing the lawn right before I’m out of town for a week, or telling the new neighbors what the recycling schedule is. Reminders to take care of a thing?

Well, all I could do is show him the side door, where we’ve had this bag of wrong-colored-markers we’ve been meaning to return to Michael’s since February of 2013. (Don’t worry about them accepting them. We kept the receipt and it’s somewhere near the dishwasher most likely. Yes, I don’t know why we bought the wrong-color markers. I think we misunderstood, and thought the Right-Color Marker sign was in the middle of the section rather than at the start as you walked down the aisle.) We figure a bag of something on the door we use to leave the house all the time will surely leave the house with us, and it doesn’t. He agreed, yeah, we’re probably not the best family to send a reminder. But he’s all embarrassed after last year’s incident and is just hoping if he asks, like, fifty people to remind him then someone will definitely make it.

Maybe I can set an automatic post to come up here in like October 2027 so I have that taking care of things.

PS: there were more plumbing problems and they have festered.

The Social Animal


So yesterday we had over a plumber who was so charming and personable and easy to chat with it’s almost a shame we didn’t have a more complicated leak from the bathtub fixtures. And then in the evening there were an estimated 21,642 new people at our pinball league whom I did my best to smile to and help get to understand that they’re welcome and valued and we’re glad to have them try out the place. That all went well, and 142,000 of them said they were definitely coming back next league meeting. But after that many hours being outgoing and social and attentive to so many people I need to spend the next, like, week with the lights off and shades drawn, hiding underneath the bed and swatting at imaginary visitors so please pardon me, won’t you? Thank you.

I’m so lucky they were able to deliver one of those overcast, foggy days where you can’t see to the far end of the street of necessarily the house on short notice like this.

A Lot Of Math Comics


Over on my mathematics blog, a couple days ago, I had enough comic strips to talk about that there’s a fresh post of them. It’s just that between the big Friday-dated post and the usual video and then the Statistics Saturday thing I didn’t have the chance to mention them before.

So what I’m saying is, Comic Strip Master Command gave me a whole fresh bunch of comics and there’s another post of them that I didn’t get the chance to tell you about either. Sorry.

I’d like to offer a little more to talk about here for people who aren’t interested in mathematics-themed comic strips, but the fact is we’ve been dealing with a plumbing issue the past week. There’s two kinds of plumbing problems, and no, the division isn’t between “water won’t stop flowing” and “water won’t start flowing”, it’s between “annoying thing not big enough to call a plumber for” and “annoying thing you sit up waiting for the plumber to come over for”, and we’ve had the latter kind. Even though we’ve got it all fixed things we’re still trying to get household efficiency back up to about normal. You know how it is.

So Who’s Not There?


I got to talk with someone who designs those sensors for sinks and air dryers. Well, at someone. I couldn’t get his attention.

Still, I don’t get why public restrooms decided we had to give up faucet technology. It was really good. Anyone could go into a Meijer’s restroom any time, day or night, and fauce as much as they want. They were happy days, but that’s all gone now. We’re saved from going out with dried hands, or wet hands either.

Maybe the problem isn’t the sensors. Maybe the trouble is I don’t exist. That’d be a good gag on the guy I met. Of course, that means I’ve got more library cards than I really should.

Also my spell-checker says “fauce” is a word, so I think my spell-checker is messing with my head.

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