60s Popeye: I Bin Sculpted, a remake with a difference


Today’s is one of the rare Gerald Ray-produced cartoons. Direction for this 1960 short is credited to Bob Bemiller. There’s no story credit, always a shame. But there’s something interesting in the story. So let’s watch I Bin Sculpted.

There’s a couple genres of Popeye cartoon. One nice reliable one is Popeye and Bluto/Brutus competing at doing some job for Olive Oyl. That frame covers cartoons as diverse as Shoein’ Hosses, Popeye for President, and I Wanna B A Life Guard. There’s an even smaller genre, though, the one where the competition turns perverse. Hospitaliky, from 1937, and its color remake For Better Or Nurse, are the prime examples of that. In those shorts the boys are competing to get injured all the more, in the hopes Olive Oyl will nurse them back to health.

Olive Oyl’s not a nurse here; she’s an artist. She’s doing a sculpture to be titled “Pooped”, and she wants a model as worn-out-looking as possible. And so Brutus and Popeye compete to get themselves as battered as possible. The gimmick’s a good one, and probably could be used even more than it already was. Here, we get that basic structure, with the extra twist that Brutus and Popeye try sabotaging each other’s doom. In Hospitaliky and For Better Or Nurse, they go their separate ways until fighting at the railroad track.

Popeye, painted red all over (you know because of the paint bucket labelled 'red' beside him, even if you're watching this on a black-and-white TV) stands in a bull pasture with his hands comfortably behind his head. He's unaware that he's becoming invisible, and is at about 50% transparency already.
You know, you just don’t see invisible ink gags like you used to. I’m joking but I’m also in earnest.

So it’s an odd cartoon that is so much a remake of some theatrical shorts. Popeye tries to get run over by a steamroller in For Better Or Nurse; in the same short Bluto jumps off a skyscraper. In Hospitaliky Popeye goads a bull into attacking him; in For Better Or Nurse it’s Bluto. in both earlier cartoons Popeye uses an airplane, to jump from or to deliberately crash. But you notice none of these jokes gets done quite the same way here.

The theatrical-short vibe even extends to the introductory segments. Popeye and Brutus crash through Olive Oyl’s door simultaneously. That’s a joke done several times in Popeye-and-Bluto-compete shorts. There’s even a tattoo gag, of the kind I thought was abandoned in the 40s, with Popeye’s destroyer tattoo shooting a torpedo so sink Brutus’s battleship ink.

This is a model for remaking a theatrical short. It’s built on a solid premise. And while it uses joke setups that people might remember, it has different outcomes to them all. The plot complication of Popeye and Brutus foiling each other’s injuries, rather than chance working against them, makes for a fresher story too.

60s Popeye: Madame Salami, not the fortune-telling cartoon I expected


It’s another Jack Kinney-produced and directed cartoon today. The story’s by Tony Benedict and the animation direction Harvey Toombs. Here from 1960 is Madame Salami.

Yesterday’s was a Jack Kinney cartoon that presented a standard enough plot done well. Today’s is not done as well. Olive Oyl visits the fortune-teller at the worst-attended carnival on record. The fortune-teller is Brutus in disguise, and sees a chance to break up Popeye and Olive Oyl.

From this setup I did expect a clip cartoon. That Brutus would show a bunch of scenes where Popeye had been a jerk. And Popeye would answer by showing how nuh uh, it was Brutus was the jerk all along. It would have been a cheap cartoon, but it would’ve worked. This is still a cheap cartoon. But it’s all original material. But consider: it manages to use the same footage for both Popeye and Brutus being knocked into the air to land halfway across the park. That’s some economical use of footage.

I don’t know why Brutus is working as Madame Salami, but allow that he has his reasons. He gets Olive Oyl to test Popeye’s love by commanding him to do things liable to get him killed. Bit grim but in character. Popeye has to go do unspeakable things with a lion. I mean, yes, context tells us he must be trying to stick his head in the lion’s mouth. But we never even see the lion on-screen. And all we hear is Popeye confirming that she wants “this” done. Like I say, a very cheap cartoon. Since he’s not dead yet, the next challenge is … to … walk off the edge of a downtown building? And since he’s still not killed — Brutus gets in a good quick crack about that — the next challenge is Popeye going off in a rocket. You know, in those extraterrestrial rockets that badly underattended carnivals of the 60s have. Finally Madame Salami orders Olive Oyl to marry Brutus, today, and she resigns herself to her fate. When Popeye gets back he sees Brutus running back to Madame Salami’s tent and eats his spinach, I have to suppose because he guesses that’ll help. It usually will, but why did he think this particular problem needed super-punching?

Popeye beaten and scratched up, flopped forward on his face, in front of the sign pointing to the Lion's Den.
The worst part is the Lions Den wasn’t for the animals, it was for the service organization that, like, fundraises for people who have vision impairments. Something went wrong.

I lay the plot out like that and it’s a little wacky but within reasonable bounds. It doesn’t make Olive Oyl look good, but being petty or jealous or insecure is part of her personality. And it’s not like Popeye is so reliable an attentive, involved boyfriend that the idea of testing him is obviously unreasonable. But there is something mean in her ordering Popeye to risk death over and over. We’re supposed to take it that she’s convinced by Madame Salami that Popeye needs more testing. But it also looks like Olive Oyl doesn’t understand carnival fortune tellers. The tests are odd, too. Fine to have Popeye do unspeakable things with a lion. That’s close enough to sensible that I’ll allow it. Walking off a building? That hardly seems to be from the same cartoon, never mind the same carnival. And the rocket? I guess it can be a carnival attraction but it’s still weird.

A plot doesn’t need to make sense if it’s presented well. But I don’t care for most of the jokes. The ones I do care for are side effects of the animation cheapness. For example, Brutus walking over Popeye like he’s not even there is funny but I also recognize that’s using a stock walking cycle. Being cheap doesn’t make a cartoon inherently bad. But there is something slipshod in the whole production. Consider the early exchange where Brutus asks, “What is it you would ask of me?” Olive Oyl answers, “And how will I know whether Popeye really loves me or not?” What is that “And” doing there? It makes sense if Olive Oyl had a line that got cut, but why not cut the “And” also?

An interesting bit of character, though, is that Brutus seems eager to marry Olive Oyl. When does comedy writing of this era show the man as wanting to get married? It’s refreshing, but I wonder how that got through production.

60s Popeye: Pest of the Pecos, containing one (1) Old West cartoon


It’s back to Jack Kinney studios; he’s the producer and the director. Animation direction is credited to Harvey Toombs and the story to Raymond Jacobs. Here’s 1960’s Pest of the Pecos.

This is a great example of how execution matters more than originality. The plot is the first thing that pops into your mind for the idea “Outlaw Brutus messes with Town Marshall Popeye”. But it’s carried out with energy and humor enough to stay interesting.

We start with Brutus stopping and robbing a train, demanding “ten gallons of loot”, a good enough idea. I had thought Olive Oyl was on the robbed train, suggesting that she and Popeye might not even share any scenes. It’d be a rare if not unique distinction for the short. No, though; it was a woman with the same voice actor. Brutus goes to the nearby quiet town of Gravestone Flats and riles up the villagers. Olive Oyl is one of the people with complaints. Swee’Pea’s stolen lollipop riles Popeye into direct action.

Popeye makes a curious marshall here. He’s not portrayed as irresolute or anything, just a little bit not competent. That’s mostly shown by his terrible handling of his gun. He tries rolling it on his finger and drops it. He tries to shoot at Brutus, holding the pistol two-handed and looking away and still gets knocked backwards by the recoil. I understand presenting this for your cowardly-hero type, a part that Bob Hope or at least Don Adams might play. For Popeye it seems weird. It’s easy to blame this kind of thing on Concerned Parents who don’t want children imitating their heroes’ gunplay. But 1960 seems early for that, and I’m not sure that clumsy gunplay is any better. It seems to me more likely Raymond Jacobs figured it was funny if Popeye fumbled his gun.

A sad-looking Marshall Popeye sits, humiliated, on a smashed watermelon while surrounded by a circle of accusatory pointing arms.
Oh hey, it’s my nightly anxiety dream, that’s great.

I like the energy and the tone of this cartoon. Brutus gets, as you’d expect, most of the fun bits, including a nice casual air of shooting anywhere he figures needs to be a little more riled up. And smaller jokes too, like complaining that the wanted poster doesn’t look like him. Or the wanted poster listing crimes: school marm pinching, tilting pinball machines, and income tax evasion. Won’t say anything about pinching or income tax evasion, but your debt to society is cleared when you tilt the pinball machine. You get your penalty right then and there.

Wimpy gets a job as the undertaker long enough that we can see he’s got a lay-away plan. It’s the easiest joke for the spot, but it’s not like Wimpy is going to work hard.

I still don’t understand the line of action when Brutus shot that painter’s scaffold out from under. Doesn’t matter, I suppose.

60s Popeye: Poppa Popeye, about Popeye as a pop, not Popeye’s poppa Pappy


We’re back at 1960 Paramount Cartoon Studios today. This is another Seymour Kneitel showcase. He’s got credit for the story, the direction, and the production. This is Poppa Popeye.

Some of these shorts are condensed stories from the comic strip or comic books. I thought this might be too, but the Popeye Wikia doesn’t hint that it is. There are stories where Swee’Pea’s mother returns for him. There’s at least one version of the Popeye continuity where Swee’Pea’s the lost prince of Demonia. That all suggests this isn’t adapted from the comics.

But you see where I get the impression. There’s a solid premise here, with Swee’Pea kidnapped by a fake father. And a lot of story. There’s no wasted time in the cartoon. After one moment of Popeye entertaining Swee’Pea, establishing his father-ness, Sando enters. He takes Swee’Pea away, and we have a story less time than some cartoons need to get Popeye to Olive Oyl’s house. Even the stuff that’s meant to be silly, like Popeye’s regression to childhood, is quick and efficient. And the plot is more serious than usual. It’s not as moody as Myskery Melody, a comic strip adaptation (and Seymour Kneitel show). But it is more focused and more serious than usual.

I’m not satisfied with the cartoon, though I can’t pin down a specific thing it does wrong. The starting incident makes sense, and Popeye breaking down at the loss of Swee’Pea fits his character well. What everybody does from there makes sense. There’s some good business along the way, too. My favorite is Swee’Pea — running away from the circus to join home — writing a gibberish note.

Popeye, wearing a baby bonnet, lies in a baby carriage, looking sad to the point of crying. Olive Oyl stands over him, worried.
I don’t mean to be harsh but in my opinion Popeye is overreacting to Swee’Pea being at half-day preschool.

Popeye is a passive character here. But the story wouldn’t make sense if he were any other way. He does take the step of (somehow) nailing Swee’Pea’s clothes to the floor, to ensure the child can’t join Sando at the end. But that’s only revealed after the fact, and it’s not clear it was needed. It’s also cheating, but then Sando cheated first by carrying a bunch of toys in for the “let’s see who he goes to” contest. And, Popeye being knocked out as the protagonist gives Swee’Pea the chance to take charge. Maybe the trouble is we see so little of what Swee’Pea goes through that his initiative doesn’t register.

Motivations are a bit underdeveloped. Sando wants a kid for his acrobatics act, fine, but why Swee’Pea? Well, otherwise he wouldn’t be in this cartoon. Popeye gives up Swee’Pea pretty quick. And Sando gives him up at the end of the cartoon as quickly. These steps make sense if the story is condensed from a comic strip or comic book, where the obvious questions could be addressed. But the cartoon is only five minutes, after credits. There’s only so much time that should be spent explaining why we’re going to do the thing we have to do for the cartoon to happen at all.

If this premise had the two or three minutes more that it’d have as a theatrical short, it could have been an all-time great. As it is, it does well confirming a side of Popeye we knew was there, if we’re honest.

60s Popeye: Model Muddle, featuring one model, who’s not confused about it


Today’s is another Gene Deitch cartoon. There’s more credits than usual for this 1960 production: we’re told the animation was by “Halas and Batchelor”. We saw those names before, on Weight For Me, the one where Olive Oyl is fat. Is this another cartoon that’s got no toxic attitudes built in to a timeless premise? Only way to know is by watching Model Muddle, or reading my thoughts about it.

Olive Oyl has a surprise: we’re doing Modern Art jokes! Comic strips and cartoons have had a curious antipathy for Modern Art ever since both modes started. It’s curious because it’s not like either is a threat to the other’s cultural niche. It’s like if train enthusiasts were always mocking fire engine enthusiasts. I get that Modern Art leads itself to easy jokes. Well, to an easy joke. That’s because a lot of it will carry the question “what makes something Art?” and sometimes you don’t want to deal with that. But even in 2021, when society’s dropped all support for the humanities, we’re still interested in the question “what makes (this) and (something)”. Else your STEM friend would not have Opinions about whether a corn dog is a ravioli.

Still, we’re set up for this being a cartoon about Modern Art and don’t quite deliver. We get a couple minutes of Popeye in the museum. For me, this is the high point of the cartoon, sold by Popeye’s disproportionate anger. Jack Mercer reads his lines like Popeye is supposed to have been wounded by all this and it’s great. Characters reacting way out of line with the scene makes for hilarity.

Popeye stands proudly beside his sculpture, a giant marble figure of Olive Oyl's head, while Olive Oyl swoons at the work.
Yeah, it’s great work until you notice Popeye’s house doesn’t have any doors big enough to get that thing out.

But after that we move to Popeye as an artist. I appreciate the cartoon letting us suppose Popeye drew inspiration from the Modern Art after all. Seems to be a lot of traditional, representational work, but you have to start somewhere. He invites Olive Oyl over and she skips merrily along. Brutus overhears and takes up sabotage. He smashes Popeye’s tall marble sculpture of Olive Oyl’s head, and gets a mallet to his own head for the trouble. That in time for Olive Oyl to arrive and treat the rubble as Art.

Then for some reason she poses while Popeye makes a new An Art, in an abbreviated remake of 1937’s My Artistical Temperature. Popeye way over-explains why he can eat his spinach off a painting, and we get a longer fight with Brutus than usual. Like, for the King Features shorts I expect Popeye to hit Brutus once or twice to knock him out of the cartoon. Here, we get a lot of action. Particularly, Popeye swinging Brutus again and again at the marble to carve a new Olive Oyl head. It’s more painful than I expect. I think that’s from all the time Popeye spends swinging around a hollow-looking, dazed Brutus. The pain is less real when it looks like Brutus would clobber Popeye if he could get a fist in edgewise.

So, in the end, Brutus is dazed, a lot of marble has been quarried and destroyed, Popeye’s made a pretty representative head of Olive Oyl, and Olive Oyl is happy. I guess the museum trip was a success?

60s Popeye: Tooth Be Or Not Tooth Be, with extremely little Popeye


Before I get to the cartoon here’s a bit of Popeye news. Stephanie Noell, who runs the Out Of Context Popeye panels Twitter feed, put together an e-book. It collects the Spinach Juice Springs story from Thimble Theatre. This was the first full storyline after Elzie Segar’s death, and the story by Tom Sims and Doc Winner seems to have gone uncollected before. It’s available from Gumroad.com as a pay-what-you-will download. Sims and Winner here put forth a couple neat ideas that they shuffle around a while before running out of stuff to do, then toss in a new idea and shuffle that a while, before finally everyone agrees the story is done. So they kept that Elzie Segar vibe pretty well at this point.


Tooth Be Or Not Tooth Be is another Gene Deitch-produced cartoon. So, good luck finding who’s responsible for story or who the animators were or all that. It is dated 1962, the first time I’ve noticed that late date in one of these.

This extends the streak of Gene Deitch cartoons that inspire the question, “the heck am I watching?”. In this case, not because the story is playing with a weird idea. More that the cartoon is disjoint.

Really it’s two cartoons. One is Poopdeck Pappy babysitting a teething Swee’Pea. Swee’Pea goes wild chewing things. Thumbs, most often, but a phone book, a table, anything he can get near his mouth. It looks like the premise is Pappy trying to keep up with Swee’Pea’s devouring the world. That seems viable enough for a five-minute cartoon to me. You can imagine the Tex Avery, or at least Dick Lundy, cartoon built on that.

But just as that’s settled — with a cute bit where the dentist examines Swee’Pea through binoculars, out of biting range — we shift to a different plot. This one’s the story of the Sea Hag kidnapping Poopdeck Pappy so she can steal his teeth. Pappy’s able to escape, thanks to a campaign of expert biting. This, too, seems like it could have been a five-minute cartoon. So why smash these two premises together?

Might be they couldn’t figure a way to extend either premise to the five-and-a-half minutes needed. In which case, yes, better to do two half-cartoons they have inspiration for. But that pushes the question to why they had a pair of tooth-themed premises going at once. Did someone have the idea for the title and then they pitched ideas to fit it?

Also, why is this a Poopdeck Pappy cartoon? Like, why wouldn’t it be Popeye watching Swee’Pea teething instead? (Which would make the non-emergency dentist visit less odd.) I guess Pappy’s willing to punch the Sea Hag, when Popeye never would, but it’s not like Pappy punches her this cartoon either. It allows for a punch line, Popeye coming in to see Swee’Pea brushing his teeth. But that could be done just as well if (say) Olive Oyl came in to see how he was doing. The side effect is this is another candidate for the title of Least Popeye in a Popeye Cartoon.

Part of me wonders, not completely facetiously, if this started out as a public service cartoon for dental hygiene. The repeated instructions about brushing teeth and going to the dentist fit there. As does Pappy telling a story where good teeth saved the day. And Swee’Pea doing a closing rhyme of “They’ll last to the finish! If he eats his spinach! And brushes them twice a day!”

This might even explain the sketchiness of the animation. I don’t think Popeye’s ever been animated on ones, and by this era it certainly couldn’t be animated on twos. Here I estimate them as animating on the eighteens. Or maybe it’s simpler than that. Could be the Deitch studio was running out of the time and animation budget and they had to put out something. It’s a shame if the answer is all that dull, though.

60s Popeye: Partial Post, featuring alien behavior and a flying saucer


1960’s Partial Post is a Gene Deitch cartoon, so that’s about all the credits we get for it. I’d love to tell you more.

So, this is a weird one. I mean weird even for a Gene Deitch cartoon. I like it, mind you. I won’t think ill of people who feel the story is gibberish. But the ridiculousness is so proudly worn that I can’t hold that against the cartoon. I mean, it’s about an alien mailbox stealing Olive Oyl’s rose and messing with Popeye’s head. I’ll give it a hearing.

This has me wondering about the origins and writing of the cartoon, although not quite enough to see if Gene Deitch’s web site said anything. A flying saucer cartoon makes sense, especially for 1960. The alien messing with Popeye and Olive Oyl is inevitable from that. Why is the alien a mailbox? Why is it grabbing random objects? But rejecting Popeye’s mail? It feels like a parody of something and I can’t think what.

Olive clasps her hands together and looks happily at Popeye, who's poking his head out of the Mailbox Alien.
Do you suppose Popeye wondered what the fire hydrant was doing in that mailbox with him?

There’s some alien behavior this short, and not all the Mailbox From Space. Popeye and Olive Oyl have a bunch of dialogue where they talk past one another, or past the scenario. Like, Olive Oyl says her rose is gone, and Popeye answers, “yeah, it’s real gone,” like he thinks he’s in a Beatnik cartoon. Or, as the Space Mailbox tries to inhale Olive Oyl, Popeye says, “That’s a pretty good trick, but I thought you wanted to go for a walk.” These are lines funny for being inappropriate to the scene. I like the comic style of characters talking past one another (see every episode of Vic And Sade). But again, I understand the viewer who keeps asking, “The heck am I watching?”. Popeye getting to Olive Oyl’s and saying how “the feeling is mucilage” is great, though.

As typical, Deitch animates cheaply but well. It starts with a good use of a long camera pan to simulate animation. If the aliens had any reason to send a mailbox, it must be that this is an easy figure to draw. There’s lots of shots of the characters looking funny. As far as I know there wasn’t any overlap in animators between this and Jay Ward studios. But they had a similar attitude that limited animation doesn’t justify drawing boring poses.

I won’t fight you if you don’t like this, but I’m happy with it.

60s Popeye: Coach Popeye, crowding on Gil Thorp by not teaching sports any


We’re back to a Jack Kinney-produced cartoon. It’s also Kinney’s story. The animation direction, though, is Volus Jones. The year is 1960 and the name of the short is Coach Popeye.

It’s a rare appearance of Olive Oyl’s niece Deezil Oyl! Deezil first appeared in the 1960s shorts and I’m not sure if she’s been promoted to the “real” comic strip. She got to be in the Popeye’s Cartoon Club feature that ran for a year, but that’s noncanonical.

Deezil’s not here for a deeper exploration of her character. She’s here because if Swee’Pea were throwing baseballs through the window on his own, he’d be a jerk. Instead they can just be kids playing. Popeye steps in to show the kids how to play properly, and Brutus interferes because he’s Brutus. The resulting cartoon is a weird one. The story feels developed well enough. But there’s also a lot of dead air between things happening. Maybe Jack Kinney was leaving space for the kids to finish laughing. I don’t think of other Kinney-produced cartoons having quite so much space between events, though.

I’ve been trying to figure what feels off about Popeye’s and Brutus’s dialogue. It feels, to me, written to be a bunch of wordplay jokes, whether or not they make sense. Like, consider the exchange where Brutus declares “I can do better’n that!”. Popeye answers, “Ya can’t, cause you’re a bully!” Brutus answers, “Bully for you too!” There’s no logic there, but I can absolutely imagine being seven and delighted by the shifting uses of “bully”. Brutus and Popeye then get into a back-and-forth of “Can!” “Can’t!” and I go back-and-forth on that myself. On one watching of this cartoon it struck me as what writers put in when they want a fight but haven’t got anything to fight about. On another watching, the rhythm and pointlessness of it was funny. So I’ll suppose Jack Kinney knew what he was doing and did it.

A dazed Brutus jumps rope while Popeye plays jacks.
Popeye playing jacks on the lawn implies he’s either really confident about his ball-bouncing skills or he has no idea what he’s doing.

A slightly odd moment is Popeye declaring, “Kids, this is the wrong way, but I gots to teach him a lesson” before eating his spinach. Popeye’s always held up spinach as a good thing everyone should eat more of. With that setup, though, it plays into treating spinach as an illicit advantage. I suppose that attitude was in the air. In the 60s we’d still get Underdog having his Proton Energy Pills and SuperChicken havin his super-sauce. But we’d be taking that sort of power-up out of children’s entertainment soon enough.

An unreservedly good bit here: Brutus declaring to the camera, “Gee! I didn’t count on this!” after Popeye eats his spinach. It’s the sort of absurd, facetious touch that I liked as a kid and still like today.

60s Popeye: Psychiatricks, and I really want to believe something else


It’s another Seymour Kneitel festival today. He’s credited for the story, direction, and production of 1960’s Psychiatricks. So let’s watch.

This feels so much like a clip cartoon. Even more specifically, it feels like the Famous Studios clip cartoon Friend or Phony, where Bluto tricks Popeye into thinking spinach makes him a murderer. Things are gentler in this made-for-TV production. Here Brutus merely tricks Popeye into thinking spinach makes him reckless and violent.  This based on some incidents from childhood when there’s as many as 62 other Paramount Cartoon Studios shorts they could have used here.  Popeye throws his spinach away, Brutus starts clobbering him, Olive Oyl recovers the spinach, all ends well.  (Also, Olive Oyl says it’s Popeye’s brand of spinach.  Does she mean his preferred brand?  Or does she just mean any opened can of spinach that’s been warmed by contact to body temperature must be Popeye’s?)

You see why I think it’s a clip cartoon. It’s got an extended flashback to infant Popeye and Brutus fighting. Then another of young Popeye-and-Brutus fighting over Olive Oyl. What I can’t do is figure which cartoons these are excerpted from. I don’t recognize them. The Internet Movie Database offers no connections. And looking over the list of Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced shorts doesn’t suggest anything. If I’m overlooking a source I hope someone will say. Maybe I’ll notice in time.

Brutus, disguised as a psychiatrist, glares sinisterly and cups a hand to his chin. He seems ready to cackle.
He seems trustworthy.

I don’t understand the cartoon if it’s not. I admire when a production uses the frame of a clip show to present original material. It’s a clever manipulation of audience expectations. But I also know these cartoons were made without the time and budget for luxuries like fake clip shows. And these clips require a lot of work, with new models and new animation for the characters. They reused the footage of Popeye trotting along, blowing heart-shaped bubbles from his pipe. If they were going to blow the budget on this cartoon why make it look like a budget-saver?

There’s much I’d like to understand better about these cartoons’ making.

60s Popeye: The Spinach Scholar, by Seymour Kneitel and a bunch of Bazooka Joe wrappers


It’s a 1960 cartoon, it’s from Paramount Cartoon Studios. Of course it’s produced by Seymour Kneitel. And directed by Seymour Kneitel. And you know where the story’s coming from. Let’s watch The Spinach Scholar.

The cartoon starts again with Popeye’s full-length scat intro. It feels like padding, although there’s funny pictures to spruce it up. Popeye leaving a trail of heart-shaped bubbles behind, particularly. But also his oblivious walking through danger. He rings the doorbell several times, the last time accidentally hitting Olive Oyl’s nose, a joke he’s done in the theatrical cartoons since … not sure. The black-and-white days, anyway.

The premise is Olive Oyl wants Popeye to get an education. (Olive Oyl hasn’t got whites to her eyes, most of the time, only pupils.) So he goes to elementary school. The principal, Jack Mercer trying to do a voice that isn’t exactly Wimpy, puts him in eighth grade. (One teacher meanwhile appears to be an off-model Olive Oyl.) What follows is a string of scenes where the teacher asks a question and Popeye gives a silly answer. The class laughs, and he gets put into a lower grade to try again.

Popeye sits at a schooldesk too small for him. He's waving both hands and puffing smoke from his pipe, eager to answer the teacher.
Speaking as someone who’s taught, I’d take the enthusiastic-but-wrong Popeye. It brings energy to class and makes it easier for other people to speak.

It’s all competently done stuff. And we do see Popeye finally growing reluctant to say the first thing that pops into his head. This can’t save him from being called on and humiliated. The plot requires that, yes. It does add a dose of the inescapable nightmare to things. But it’s too gentle a cartoon to feel like a nightmare. And there’s some fun understated jokes of Popeye fitting into ever-smaller desks. Also the way he expresses his shame with his head morphing into a dumbbell or shrinking or such. Still, this is very much an okay cartoon.

60s Popeye: Jack Kinneys’s Popeye’s Folly


We’re at the Jack Kinney studios in 1960 today. The story’s by Raymond Jacobs and animation direction by Volus Jones and Ed Friedman. Please enjoy Popeye’s Folly.

It’s another cartoon with the Popeye-tells-Swee’pea-a-story frame. The device excuses setting a cartoon anywhere, anytime. It also excuses skipping any boring scenes. I was impressed that Popeye explained that Robert Fulton’s Clermont was “one of the first” steamboats ever built. It’s almost impossible to correctly dub the first of anything historic. So, points for precision to Raymond Jacobs. (And I’m not deducting points for calling the boat the “Clermont”, when Fulton called it the “North River Steamboat”. Clermont is a name — really, the name — by which it’s known.)

I like the setup for this, a story of Popeye’s great-(etc)-grandfathers, Popeye and Pappy, building their own steamboat. And facing down Brutus and Sea Hag, who’re trying to protect their own sailing ship interests. It’s a natural conflict, and it justifies ending things in a contest, a reliable conflict.

Much of the start is Popeye and Grandpappy trying to build a steamship at all. I could watch more of that. Yes, I’m a history-of-technology nerd. But there’s good jokes to make from struggling to invent a thing. The only scene that gets at that is the second attempt at a boat. The one that either Pappy or Popeye forgets to untie from the dock, and that rips apart. An engine that’s too much for the boat is a plausible enough problem. Forgetting to untie the ship seems like a terrible mistake for a family of sailors.

Or they’re not good sailors. In the contest, for example, their steamship almost immediately runs out of coal, as though Popeye didn’t know it was needed? Chopping up the vessel to keep it going has a long history in comedy, but it’s normally set up why they’re out of fuel. It suggests that Brutus and Sea Hag don’t need to sabotage them.

So the plot suffers from this sloppiness. It has some lovely touches, though, particularly in the dialogue. Take Brutus sneering, “Imagine building a ship to use legs when we’ve already got wings”. It’s poetic enough to have confused me about what the legs were. Or sneering that Popeye’s “engine is louder than the whistle”. Which is another insult I don’t quite understand, but never mind. (Also Popeye ends up with an engine that’s very quiet, like the sound was mixed wrong.) Or the Sea Hag speaking of the steamboat as “sailing along like the devil was a-pushing it”. During the race, there’s a nice bit showing Brutus’s ship from the front, the riverbanks receding behind him. Brutus chuckles, “With the Blackhawk wearing her Sunday best and a stiff breeze I can’t lose.” It’s again a more poetic way of describing Brutus’s thoughts. It also trusts that the audience spotted the name of his ship, or could work it out from context.

There’s even a moment of deft plotting. It’s only in setting up the contest that we get a specific reason for Brutus and Sea Hag to want to sabotage Popeye and Pappy. They’re protecting their sailing business. It’s a stronger motive than Brutus and Sea Hag being jerks.

Were I to rewrite the cartoon, the important change I’d make is swapping the first two boat failures. Popeye and Pappy making a boat that tears itself apart, to start. (And find a better reason than “forgot to untie it”.) Then Sea Hag can sabotage the next, when the boat could be competition.

60s Popeye: Wimpy’s Lunch Wagon so why is it about Popeye?


We have seen the name W Schmidt before. He was credited or co-credited for the story for Popeye the Popular Mechanic, for Popeye the Piano Mover, and Popeye the White Collar Man. The Internet Movie Database also credits him for the story for Popeye the Fireman, though the title card says otherwise. Given that pedigree it’s odd to see a cartoon suggesting Wimpy gets a job instead. Volus Jones gets the animation direction credit, and Jack Kinney produced. Here’s the 1960 sort Wimpy’s Lunch Wagon.

Why is Wimpy in this? I trust Wimpy enjoys rare expertise in the eating arts. But in cooking? Why not Rough House, who does run a cafe, and who in the 1960s was finally allowed into animation? It’s got me wondering which studios got to use which minor Thimble Theatre characters, although it’s far too late for me to start tracking that. All the character does is leave Popeye in charge, and then come back to see the aftermath of the chaos. That doesn’t have to be the more familiar Wimpy.

But also, why does Popeye need an excuse to be in charge of something? W Schmidt was comfortable giving Popeye jobs like piano-mover or fireman without explaining how he got there. Why not short-order cook too? It would make more sense out of pleasant little jokes like Popeye observing how the newspaper guy never misses.

In the kitchen, Brutus laughs at Popeye, who's fallen and is covered by a set of pots and pans and strainers and such. Popeye's oversized spinach hoagie sits on a table.
My friends with kitchen jobs tell me it’s like this all the time.

The conflict, once it starts, is Brutus pushing a juke box into the restaurant and shoving the organ-grinder (and monkey) out. This is surprisingly realistic, given how vicious the coin-op business could be back in the day. Popeye’s lucky not to have got shoved into a pinball machine. Brutus moves in, to “protect me business interests”, and we get a quick version of the Brutus-grabs-Olive-Oyl, Popeye-rescues-her storyline. It’s all ordinary enough, but well done and nicely decorated. There’s fun bits like Olive Oyl calling “save me, sir knight!” to a Popeye covered in tin pans. Or Olive Oyl answering Popeye “we’re out of duck … oh, that kind!” when she has to dodge. I don’t have any serious complaints about any of this; it does its business well. I just don’t see what Wimpy adds to the events, besides a punch line that everybody forgot the organ-grinder.

60s Popeye: The Ghost Host, eventually


Sure, you like Seymour Kneitel as a producer. Maybe you also like Seymour Kneitel as a director. Do you also like Seymour Kneitel as a story writer? If you do, you’re in luck, as the 1960 Paramount Cartoon Studios short The Ghost Host is as much Seymour Kneitel as you could hope for. Enjoy!

So here’s another cartoon with Popeye facing ghosts. The thread isn’t continued, sorry to say. You expect ghosts to be good antagonists for Popeye, what with his being afraid of them and unable to hit them and all. So why does this cartoon take forever to get to them? Stranding Popeye and Olive Oyl at a haunted house is a good setup. But we get a flat tire and driving-a-convertible-in-the-rain as excuses for them to stop. Either would be enough. This eats up even more time than the extended cut of Popeye’s scatting to start. Why?

The budget, I imagine. If Popeye in the car isn’t already stock footage this sets it up to be. The new animation needed is for the ghosts, a trio. It’s hard not noticing that they only interact with Popeye while they’re invisible. Most of the time they’re using the same few shots of peering at the keyhole and laughing.

Maybe this is all meant to save money, or animation time, for other tasks. It’s an honorable goal. It cheats the story, though. The ghosts play pranks on the intruding Popeye and Olive Oyl by … lighting a fire for them, and then making a meal for them. The invisible ghost walking in shoes doesn’t even stop to kick Popeye in the rear. The ghosts sweep the meal away to replace with a horse, when Popeye says he could eat a horse, but then sweep it back in place again. Finally they gather the food up to smack Popeye with it, as if they just realized they haven’t actually done anything menacing yet. Popeye declares that’s all he can stands and whips out his spinach. It makes sense for the run time, but considering the provocation? The ghosts are fair when they call him a real kook.

(Also, the animation budget for the rain runs out the moment Popeye and Olive Oyl enter the house. Look behind Olive Oyl as the door first closes on them, and every view of the exterior afterwards.)

The ghosts talk like Beatniks, or at least what ageing comedy writers think Beatniks talk like. There’s no clear reason for this, not even an attempt to spoof Beatniks. I like it, though. It simulates giving the ghosts personality without requiring them to do much. This is a slight cartoon; we’re fortunate the ghosts were not made more boring.

This cartoon has about the write-up you’d expect on the Popeye Wikia. It has a more extensive write-up on the Halloween Wikia. From this I infer the Halloween Wikia takes an expansive view of their responsibilities. There’s nothing, not even the original airing date, about this short that’s Halloween-related. (Its first airing was the 6th of November, 1960, says the Popeye Wikia.)

60s Popeye: Deserted Desert (could use a few fewer people)


We’re back to Jack Kinney here. Kinney gets credit for the story as well as production. Animation direction’s credited to Eric Cleworth and Bill Keil. So here’s 1960’s Deserted Desert.

The easy joke is that these shorts had eight bars of music and had to make them last. In truth, yeah, they had libraries and not much time or money to go outside that. I have the feeling each of the studios had their own music libraries. What starts me thinking about that is how this short starts with a peppy, anxious background music. This for Popeye driving alone in the desert. He crashes into the one tree soon enough, but the music feels like a bad fit for the scene. The have more laid-back music. It’s used for Popeye walking in the hot sun, or even when he’s grabbed by a vulture for some reason. Was the tense music opening a mistake?

This cartoon’s got a very slight plot. Popeye’s in search of the Lost Dutchman Mine, and he has a bunch of mishaps on the way there. Really he endures everything but a flash flood and JJ Looper holding a gun on him. It’s one of the rare cartoons where Popeye is mostly on his own. Brutus doesn’t show up until almost four minutes into a five-and-a-half minute cartoon. Olive Oyl and Wimpy appear for the tag. In the main, this is Popeye battling nature. The vulture, the extreme heat of the desert day and cold of the desert night. Oases.

The exception is the population of the ghost town. We don’t get to see the ghosts as characters, though. They’re strange outline figures making weird noises, in a scene that looks like it was fun to storyboard. The ghosts are usually out-of-focus outlines slid past the camera, but that’s some merry action. Popeye tires of this fast enough and punches them. It’s a fun gag. The superfan remembers that ghosts are the rare thing Popeye actually fears, because he can’t punch them. But the superfan also admits the comic strip has probably retconned that long, long ago. And Popeye just ploughing through troubles has a compelling logic to it, too.

Popeye, sleeping unprotected in the desert, has his head on a pillow. The sun has just risen but he's encased in a block of ice. He's snoring.
This bit with Popeye using a rock as a pillow reminds me of a Hagar the Horrible that I read somewhere around 1980 . Hagar and Lucky Eddie are settling down in camp for the night. Lucky Eddie gets a rock because he just can’t sleep without a pillow. Hagar calls this being a ‘softie’. The paradox enchanted my young mind and apparently I’m still captivated. I’m not surprised the joke was done before Hagar. Just delighted it could be done by Popeye.

I’m a bit disappointed when Brutus enters. Popeye lurching ahead through the elements, and muttering to himself, is interesting enough. And the cartoon makes time for some fun animation. There’s the blurry outline ghosts doing their bits. There’s Popeye tossing a rock to break the Sun, and muttering, “Uh-oh, now I went and did it.” There’s also Popeye’s shoes opening their maws and barking, after Popeye says how the sand ‘makes me dogs start barking’. It’s a throwback to 1930s cartoons where idioms get drawn literally.

Brutus, in comparison, isn’t so interesting. And Popeye’s a jerk for declaring the mountain not big enough for both of them when the gold mountain is. Their fight has more action and more punching than a lot of cartoons where Brutus actually deserves it.

I don’t know how you’d resolve a version of this cartoon without Brutus. I think I’d like the fight they have put into a cartoon where it’s more justified, though. Instead end this cartoon the way the first three minutes and fifty seconds were going. Popeye was doing quite well in the desert by himself.

60s Popeye: The Green Dancin’ Shoes and worrying news about the Tasmania spinach crop


I’m not reviewing Westward Ho-Ho, which is the next cartoon in this series. That cartoon’s one in which Popeye tells of grandpappy sailing his prairie schooner to the West. Along the way he Pappy faces peril from the Cleveland Indians and the Milwaukee Braves. These are presented as tribes of Brutuses. They throw baseballs at Pappy; he bats them back. That’s unreal enough I was considering doing the cartoon anyway. But then Pappy’s ragweed allergy gets him sneezing — second cartoon in a row where sneezing comes into play — and he sneezes all the way to China. Where he faces a Chinese version of Wimpy who talks like 1960-era children’s cartoon writers would figure funny. And that crossed my poorly-defined lines. I’m not being paid enough to write up cartoons that offend me.

So the next one in line is The Green Dancin’ Shoes and it … also has a character get to China. And also see the Chinese Wimpy. He gets one line and gets out of the cartoon. I don’t know why Jack Kinney (producer) figured we needed this. But it’s small enough that I don’t feel a nope-out is appropriate. If your lines are harder than mine, you’re right, and you might want to skip this one.

The Green Dancin’ Shoes is a 1960 production from Jack Kinney. Story is by our old friend Ed Nofziger and animation direction by Ken Hultgren.

This is another cartoon using the frame of Popeye telling Swee’Pea a story; here, a “Popeye Fairy Story”. A Popeye Fairy Story is like a regular fairy story except people eat spinach. Here, it’s a version of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Red Shoes. This makes maybe three adaptations of the Anderson fairy tale I’m aware of in one decade. The other two are the Porky Pig cartoon The Wearing Of The Grin (1951) and the Donald Duck cartoon Trick or Treat (1952). The last maybe stretches a point, since Donald doesn’t wear shoes and doesn’t dance. But, like, Witch Hazel enchants Donald’s feet to move against his will. Anyway none of these adaptations pick up anything from the original story — not even red shoes — except the protagonist losing control of his or her own feet.

Within the story, Olive Oyl is a dancing fiend, wanting to do nothing but this big, silly move that Swee’Pea and everyone else asks, “That’s dancing?” Story-Popeye brings a gift, the kind that’s really for him: the “last can of rare Tasmanian spinach”. This seems like an ecological tragedy to me. But it gives Sea Hag a reason to want the rare spinach: she’ll use it to make Popeye be a pirate for her. Put that way it sounds daft, but I get where everybody’s coming from here. Apart from the story’s Popeye. Olive Oyl is not a hard person to shop for here. He shouldn’t be getting this wrong.

Olive Oyl, wearing the Green Dancing Shoes, bounds happily out into the forest.
How it started …

So now’s a good moment for a question: why is this framed as a Popeye Fairy Story? Why have Popeye read the story to Swee’Pea instead of having this be the things that are “really” happening? I guess Popeye cartoons tend to be set in the present day, instead of the generic fairy-tale past. But that’s not a hard rule, not even among King Features cartoons of the 60s. It’s not to keep magic out of the “reality” of Popeye’s and friends’ lives. The Sea Hag and a bunch of magic characters and items (not even counting spinach) are a part of the setup. The biggest advantage the frame offers is that the cartoon can skip dull parts of the story. Or Popeye the narrator can fill in exposition with a sentence to Swee’Pea. But that’s not relied on here either. It seems like they used the frame because they had it already.

Here’s a point where the frame maybe hurts things. Once Olive puts on the shoes, the Sea Hag enchants them to never stop dancing. Olive Oyl needs about four weeks to realize this is happening. But why does the Sea Hag do this? She got the spinach she wanted, and Olive Oyl’s enchantment doesn’t seem to be part of getting Popeye to do her bidding. If this all “really” happens, then the Sea Hag’s action can be justified. She was too caught up in the fun of making mischief to realize this wasn’t helping her. But as part of a story Popeye is reading — well, why did story-Sea-Hag make this mistake? That is, why didn’t the author of the book Popeye is reading work out the Sea Hag’s motivation there?

Yes, I know; Ed Nofziger wasn’t being paid enough to work that out. Fair. And, after all, a story about dancing shoes where the shoes don’t start dancing is even more flawed. I suppose framing this as a story allows Story-Popeye to fight the Sea Hag. The Real Popeye would have to fight her vulture, who’d need to be in the rest of the story. So the framing does save the screen time and animation budget Bernard would need.

Olive Oyl, wearing the Green Dancing Shoes, is strapped in a hole that the shoes keep digging deeper and deeper, while she cries out for help.
How it’s going.

Still, it’s trying to catch the out-of-control Olive that gets Popeye to run into the Sea Hag. And get the spinach from the Sea Hag, this while Olive’s shoes dig a hole that takes her all the way to China. We get that view of Chinese Wimpy who is, at least, reasonable in not understanding what he’s seeing, and leaves.

Popeye’s able to pull the shoes off Olive, thanks to eating his spinach. They get back home, punching a pile of rocks off, and the Sea Hag gets trapped in her own shoes and dancing into orbit.

This is, Chinese Wimpy aside, a fun cartoon. I enjoyed watching. I enjoyed Olive’s tuneless song to herself about dancing, dancing, dancing. It feels spontaneous and bubbly, with the spirit of children singing their delight at whatever they were doing already. I grant other people may hear Mae Questel tunelessly repeating the word dancing dancing dancing. Would still like reassurance there’s a future for Tasmanian spinach, though.

60s Popeye: The Big Sneeze (warning: sneezes not all *that* big)


Today’s is another Gerald Ray-produced cartoon. Direction is credited to Tom McDonald and there’s no story credit. I can tell you it’s copyright 1960, at least. So here’s The Big Sneeze.

This is not an Abominable Snowman cartoon. It’s circling around the idea, though. I guess Popeye cartoons come closer with the Alice the Goon cartoon Frozen Feuds. But Popeye, Swee’Pea, Olive Oyl, and a St Bernard are out enjoying the mountain peaks and playing with the echo and all that. I thought the St Bernard might be the dog that turns up in Hy Eisman’s Popeye strips on Sundays, the one whose name I can’t remember. His name is Chester, in Hy Eisman’s take on things. Or Birdseed, in earlier Thimble Theatre comics and comic books. Anyway neither seems to be the dog here, who gets called Bernie.

The story’s this amiable, mostly nonsensical stuff going on. While Popeye is off skiing, figures unknown swipe Olive Oyl’s new raccoon coat. She storms off, following it, to a little door on a cliff side. There she’s encased in ice and captured by Jackson Beck doing his French Guy accent. Popeye, Swee’Pea, and the dog follow the tracks and Swee’Pea gets caught in ice too. We meet the mysterious figure: it’s Quasimodo, the Halfback of Notre Dame.

This is an identification aimed at kids smart enough to know there’s something called the Hunchback of Notre Dame. And who are so pleased that the cartoon acknowledges they know of such a thing that they don’t care the reference makes no sense. So I thank Gerald Ray for thinking of young me. Also adult me.

Bernie the St Bernard breaks into an ice-covered cave. Inside Olive Oyl and Swee'Pea are frozen into blocks of ice, and Popeye and Quasimodo are encased in snow.
Popeye wasn’t really worried about being trapped in snow until he noticed he was shaded in graphite and didn’t have animate eye holes, the mark of being immobile for the whole scene.

Quasimodo’s the echo of Echo Peak. He stole the coat for good reason: this is the first time he’s been warm in years. Why not light a fire? Quasimodo shows, by lighting a fire, which melts enough of his ceiling that everybody gets frozen. At its worst, this gets him to sneeze, get buried in an avalanche, and be lost until spring, which cuts into his work as an echo. Fair enough. And then Quasimodo pours water over Popeye to freeze him until spring. Popeye protests he only has a two-week vacation (from what? Or is that the joke?).

Everything works out basically nicely, though. Bernie’s able to dig in and pour spinach into Popeye’s pipe. He punches Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl free of the ice, and she grabs her coat back. And Olive Oyl has a plan for Quasimodo to get warm. Bernie goes off and gets little collar-casks of spinach for him. Happy ending for everybody.

This isn’t a zany cartoon. It’s more silly, with a few doses of wacky humor like making the menace be Quasimodo the Halfback of Notre Dame. It feels rather like a comedy sketch about the Old Man of the Mountain that Popeye and company got cast in. I’m amused by it all, anyway.

60s Popeye: Beaver or Not (Popeye’s swimming in air)


It’s several kinds of unusual in today’s King Features Popeye cartoon. The first is it’s a Gene Deitch-directed short. So, unfortunately, there’s no credits given for story or any of the Czechoslovakian animators. Just Deitch and producer William L Snyder. It’s from 1961, also, which I think makes this the first 1961 cartoon that isn’t from Paramount.

And then the distinctive thing: this is a cartoon where Popeye interacts with no other humans. There’s rather few like that. We know where that’s several cautions. But, here we go, Beaver Or Not.

Does Popeye ever think to try giving up when he notices he’s in a Popeye-Versus-The-Animal cartoon? These cartoons never show him at his best. They run against his (inconsistently followed) “be kind to children and dumb animals” ideal. He usually looks like the jerk. He ends up having to give in and letting the animal have his way. And Popeye is one of those characters who recognizes he’s in a cartoon. Does he ever think to jump to the happy ending?

This time around, Popeye’s battling a pair of beavers. Not sure why a pair, other than to give them a reason to say stuff to each other. Popeye doesn’t need an excuse to say his thoughts aloud, but a beaver needs some pretext. Popeye’s gone to a cabin in the woods for his vacation, and the beavers just then dam the river up. He tries tearing the dam apart so he can have his river.

One can sympathize with Popeye for wanting his vacation to be free of nonsense. But the need to draw the beavers as damming the river up right beside Popeye’s cabin damages the ability to sympathize. So, what he has to walk twenty feet upriver to get to the water? This is worth getting upset about? I grant it’ll be annoying paddling his canoe back through the mud to get home. He already had to paddle about eight minutes of screen time to get to his cabin. That’s an annoyance for off at the end of the vacation, though.

An angry Popeye stands in a dried riverbed, scowling at the two beavers sitting atop their dam which blocks it.
Popeye gets partly or fully covered in mud at least twice this cartoon. Getting covered in mud feels like something that happens a fair bit in Gene Deitch cartoons but I worry I’m just remembering wrong.

Like with any Popeye-Versus-The-Animal cartoon, Popeye tries various ways to get the animals to do what he wants. They don’t care. There’s some good cartoon action about batting dynamite back and forth. Popeye finally resorts to his spinach, with the beavers wondering “what’s he up to now?” and shrugging “who knows?” Popeye does take the gentlest approach, at least, lifting the dam out of the way and tossing it aside. Could have been meaner.

But the animals must prevail. They do it by discovering more spinach. (Often the way the animal gets the upper hand on Popeye.) “Let’s try it!” “Why not?” Reasonable. They cut Popeye’s cabin down into the river, for an even more of a dam. And finally Popeye yields to the cartoon he’s in and accepts he has to swim with the beavers or not at all. It’s a happy ending that Popeye could have gotten to sooner if he remembered every past cartoon starring an animal.

It’s all pretty good if you don’t feel like Popeye should be to smart to get in this fight. You know what Gene Deitch cartoons will look like, lots of good funny drawings and a strange soundscape. Sometimes mixed poorly: when he’s done changing Popeye can hear “a sawmill”. I can’t hear it at all. Or working so hard to be funny they don’t quite make sense, as in how the beavers roll around laughing and weightless. They look better for the short segment they’re under water, which is a feat. Usually animating something in the water is the hard part. Solid enough cartoon.

Here are some Popeye-Versus-The-Animal theatrical cartoons:

I bet I’m overlooking some, even besides the hunting cartoons and the bullfighting cartoons. And this is without looking into the many made-for-TV cartoons out there.

60s Popeye: Popeyed Fisherman, which can’t land a whale pun


After a trip into 1961 — and 1936 — with Myskery Melody we’re back to 1960. And to the Jack Kinney studios. This is another cartoon with story credited to Jack Kinney. Animation direction is given to Murray McClellan, a new name in my records here. This is the only time he’s credited as animation director for a Popeye cartoon, too. The Internet Movie Database has him listed mostly as animator, for things ranging from a bunch of Disney shorts through to 60s made-for-TV animation like The Archie Show, the Batman/Superman Hour, and Fantastic Voyage. Also, this is the first I learn that there was a cartoon based on Fantastic Voyage. I don’t know how many stories I expected could be told about a team of heroes who get really small. They made 17 of them.

That takes me off point. But it is a wonder. Here’s the cartoon he has an animation director credit on, though. Here’s Popeyed Fisherman.

This cartoon suffers from coming right after Myskery Melody, I admit. I couldn’t say enough about that one; this is just a normal cartoon. It’s got a nice absurdity. The prompt is that Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea want to learn fishing. Its first joke is given by Popeye in the tag: “inexperience is the best teacher”. For all Popeye’s patient instruction and legitimate-sounding advice about how to fish, Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl are actually able to catch fish. Traditional setup for a fishing joke.

It gets bigger and loopier with fishing from a boat, as Swee’Pea determines to catch a whale. While Popeye instructs them and ignores everything, the boat’s swallowed by a white whale. Popeye finally freaks out, and gets kicked out of the whale. Swee’Pea declares he wants to eat the whale for dinner and Olive Oyl, embracing the daftness, gets out a mop and pail to get ahead on cleaning the ‘fish’. The whale eventually returns to Fishland amusement park, and the cartoon concludes that the whale is Fishland’s somehow and Swee’Pea gets a reward and there we go.

A passed-out Popeye slumped over the tail of a white whale. The whale, on the surface of the water, glides through the sea gate of 'Fishland', clearly some kind of water park; there's a King Neptune figure on the side of the gate. Men along the line of the pier wave their hats and cheer.
Though it’s not my intention to critique the realism of this cartoon, I will say I’ve been fishing twice and nothing like this has happened to me.

It’s easy to claim that any cartoon that doesn’t make sense is ‘dreamlike’. This has a better claim than most, though. It starts from a reasonable, even dull, premise. Going to sea and having weird things happen is an escalation that makes sense. Swee’Pea and Olive Oyl behave daftly once the whale swallows them, but perhaps they’re wiser than Popeye is about how dangerous an early-60s TV cartoon could be. Though what happens is ridiculous, it feels thoughtfully so. It does not make me wonder how the story is supposed to make sense.

60s Popeye: Myskery Melody, a cartoon people have been asking for


For today I have a 1961 Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced cartoon. Myskery Melody is credited to Seymour Kneitel for the story and the direction. And it features something that Garrison Skunk has been asking for! So let’s watch the cartoon.

The story credit is a bit of a fib. Not to discount Seymour Kneitel’s work in putting the story together. But it was based on the 1936 comic strip storyline Mystery Melody. As often happens with the conversion of a print story to screen, the print version is better. But the print version had five months at six strips a day to tell its version. The cartoon has five minutes. Kneitel had to do serious work to shrink and adapt it. He’s helped by reducing the character set to the bare minimum, and cutting out side stories. And by Elzie Segar’s tendency to get caught by a funny idea and do that for three weeks straight while he thought of the next plot point.

Dark, foggy, swamp-bound scene of the Sea Hag on a raft, the full moon in back of her. She plays her flute with her vulture sitting up ready to launch.
I don’t know why she covers her face to play the flute. I know she was introduced that way in the comic strip, as part of making her the more mysterious and inexplicable, but I don’t know if that signifies anything more than we’re supposed to find her mysterious.

The story as we get it animated: Poopdeck Pappy’s haunted by a weird melody that Olive Oyl and Popeye can’t hear. We see it’s the Sea Hag playing her flute in a wonderful dark, spooky swamp. She sends her vulture to grab Pappy’s hat, and he tells the backstory. When a young sailor he courted the beautiful Rose of the Sea — “afore I was married”, a reassurance that Popeye is not literally a bastard. But when he finally kissed her, she transformed into the Sea Hag. He freaked out and ran, and the Sea Hag has held it against him for 80 years. Pappy looks a bit shallow, but he was young and saw his girlfriend transform to a witch. It’d be strange if he weren’t freaked out. And it’s got the feel of a folk take. I’m too ignorant to pin down one that quite works like this, but discovering your beloved is secretly an evil spirit has got to be done before.

Pappy says the Sea Hag’s been looking for him for 80 years, which indicates he has a high opinion of himself as a suitor. Well, he is a guy. It doesn’t seem like she must have been looking for him long. He was sitting in jail on Goon Island for forty of those years. But this may be a continuity separate from the Goonland short. I mean, I know it is. The continuity of Popeye is about personality and attitude, not about what happened when. In the comic strip Mystery Melody was only the first major story after Pappy was found.

In a bright purple sitting room, young Poopdeck has opened his eye in horror that the woman he's kissing is the Sea Hag.
I’m looking at how Sea Hag’s shoulder and neck have to be twisted so she can hold her hands like that while kissing Poopdeck. I can’t see where that’s comfortable for her.

The Sea Hag uses her flute to bewitch Pappy. She gives him a chance to love her as Rose of the Sea and when he refuses, she puts him in the dungeon. Popeye reasons that what he could use is Eugene the Jeep, who what do you know but is right there. Eugene charges for the castle and chases off the Sea Hag, shooting electricity from his tail, a thing we didn’t know he could do before. Didn’t know it in the comic strip version, either. The Sea Hag’s vulture tries to take Popeye away, but he eats his spinach and punches his way free. And pushes the castle out of the way, freeing his father. We have a happy ending, with the last joke being Pappy spooked by a mysterious whistling that’s the tea kettle. It’s one of the few jokes in the short.

I like this short. It’s one that gives the Popeye characters history, the illusion that there’s a world going on even when Popeye isn’t on-screen. And it has some nice haunting moments; that shot of the Sea Hag playing her flute in the swamp is a good spooky one. And the Rose-of-the-Sea backstory for Pappy feels like the sort of folklore that belongs in a story about a rough-and-tumble sailor from a rough-and-tumble family. The time spent on setup does mean there’s no time for development; we have to go almost directly to the resolution. It’s a good trade, though, as the setup is good.

It’s unusual for the cartoons in being dramatic rather than comic. And it’s unusual for the King Features era in being plot-heavy. (Though Paramount cartoons seem to be the most plot-driven of the King Features run.) Nobody’s acting dumb, or even petty. It’s even got structure, with Pappy telling his history while the vulture flies back to the Sea Hag. Popeye cartoons don’t usually have things developing in parallel.

The Sea Hag runs, screaming, down a hill while Eugene the Jeep shoots electric bolts from his tail, jabbing her back.
This seems harsh but you do have to remember, she kissed Poopdeck without revealing that she was secretly ugly. Also there was that thing where she kidnapped Poopdeck too.

That I know the comic strip version of this story spoils things a little. Comics Kingdom reprinted it in the Vintage Thimble Theatre run. So I know the pieces of the comic strip story dropped, most of them for time. Much of this is Wimpy coming along and getting his greedy hands on the Sea Hag’s flute. I’ve mentioned the relationship between Wimpy and the Sea Hag before. Mystery Melody isn’t the comic strip series that established that relationship, but it did build on it. The comic strip also had two disturbing sequences. In one, Popeye beat up the Sea Hag’s vulture, literally tearing him apart. She used her flute to stitch him back together and restore his life. Great stuff, inappropriate for this cartoon. This audience anyway. But if they wanted to make an animated Popeye Movie? That would be a powerful scene.

Wimpy, speaking of the Sea Hag: 'Do you think she really has passed on?' Popeye: 'A'course, I ain't positiff, but I think the Jeep turned her into a mummy. ... We can't leave her standin' there against the wall ... le's put'er into a easy chair.' Wimpy, exiting: 'Well, that's that. Let's be going.' Popeye: 'Jus' a minute, Wimpy.' A somber-looking Popeye carries a pillow over, and sets it behind the seated, mummified Sea Hag's head. He walks off, mournful, and carrying his hat in his hand.
Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre for the 22nd of August, 1937, reprinted the 20th of August, 2020. The story had been quite a lot of silly fun before this, and right after this bit of Maybe Eugene Just Killed Her, went into several weeks of jokes about what they could do with the Jeep’s electric-power tail. Elzie Segar: master of a consistent and not-at-all jarring tone.

The other bit from the comic strip dropped here is the battle between the Sea Hag and Eugene the Jeep. In the cartoon, the Sea Hag’s terrified and runs off. In the comic strip Eugene hunts down the terrified Sea Hag, electrifying her until he finally leaves her “mummified”. That, too, is a downright disturbing moment, especially as it comes after a lot of funny bits where Eugene surprises the Sea Hag. It gives Popeye a fantastic moment, though, mourning the possibly-dead Sea Hag and scolding his father for not pitying her in that state. Again, so inappropriate for a cartoon with this scope and audience, but also, a great bit for the full-length movie.

There’s some other things dropped from the comic strip version. Toar, for one, but also Alice the Goon and the Sea Hag’s new lackey of Bolo. I can’t fault them cutting these characters, who didn’t have much to do in the comic strip version anyway.

You see how enthusiastic I am about this cartoon and the original comic strip story. The 1960s run of cartoons had much working against them. But this shows how much they could work well, too.

60s Popeye: Egypt Us, a cartoon that needs a better name


Ugh, that title. I’m sorry. I was considering skipping this cartoon altogether. Besides the title, it’s also got a plot which depends on The Natives picking up a white woman as their priestess/human sacrifice. There’s bits suggesting the cartoon means to teach the audience that the premise is nonsense. It’s a weak case, though. If you decide you don’t need to deal with this in your recreational reading, you’re right, and we’ll catch back up later.

Pushing me toward giving this 1960 cartoon any attention is that it’s a Gerald Ray-produced short. The Popeye Wikia lists only ten Ray-produced cartoons, the fewest of the five studios roped in to the project. So I’m slower to throw it out, although I’m not sure that’s right.

Tom McDonald is listed as director. There’s no story credit. Here’s the cartoon, though.

What keeps me from skipping this cartoon altogether is attitude. Driving the plot is that a “tribe” of “Egyptians” kidnaps Olive Oyl with intentions of human sacrifice. They don’t seem to be taking the sacrifice all that seriously, though. The Leader, questioned by Popeye about why they’d sacrifice their own priestess, shrugs and answers “Doesn’t everybody?” This all fits in line with that era’s Cartoon Existentialism. Think of all the Flintstones animals who work as appliances because “It’s a living”. It takes some edge off if the characters seem to be going about it because they’ve got to do something, even if they know it’s ridiculous.

There’s a pleasant ridiculous air to the whole thing. Even the voice acting feels lighter and more playful than usual. Things like Popeye calling Olive Oyl “a venison of loverliness”. His mangling of loveliness would have been enough, but the whole line is better still. The cartoon starts with a nice underplayed joke that they’re in Egypt because they got lost driving to Coney Island. The car’s overheated; there’s a quick glance at the dashboard being silly and breaking down. Olive Oyl calls the Sphinx the funhouse; she puts on a bathing costume like you’d joke about for the 1890s. Wimpy finally nags everyone into letting him start making lunch; in seconds he puts together a hamburger stand.

Popeye is dragged, one person on each arm and leg, into the underground temple where Priestess Olive Oyl sits on an elevated throne, surrounded by worshippers.
Popeye has had lower-drama girlfriends, but this kind of mess is part of the appeal.

And, well, the “Egyptians”. They speak in “hieroglyphs” that I’m going ahead and assuming are fake. But they’re spoken in word balloons, as though this were a 1910s cartoon. After Popeye calls for subtitles, the “hieroglyphs” even translate to English. Popeye has always been a cartoon that breaks the fourth wall. Part of what makes the black-and-white cartoons so appealing is the sense that Popeye’s chatting with us about the artifice around him. Having a character’s word balloon be on-screen, and tangible, is an unusual sort of joke, though. There’s precedent, in the theatrical shorts where Martians kidnap Popeye, and he learns what’s going on from reading the subtitles for the audience. It’s still a kind of joke that works for Popeye and its rarely done.

In an 'Egyptian' temple the leader of the 'Natives' smugly declares, 'DOESN'T EVERYBODY?' in a squared-off word balloon. Popeye has his head turned away from the camera to read the word balloon.
I am thinking of pulling out this screenshot next time I’m in a conversation thread that just Will. Not. End. in the hopes of confusing everybody long enough to make my getaway.

The cartoon also has a plot tick that reliably entertains me. Popeye keeps running back from the “Egyptians” to remind Wimpy not to eat without them. It’s the plotting equivalent of a spinning-plates act. This isn’t many plates. Nothing like in Barbecue For Two, which had a nice stretch of Popeye trying to keep even with things. It’s enough, though. It lets the Olive Oyl plot advance without having to explain why anything is happening now. Popeye can just come back to find she’s over a fire pit or whatever. It also must have helped production that they didn’t have to show things happening. Popeye can ask what’s going on and it doesn’t seem out of place.

It’s the unusual cartoon to feature a full-body morph for Popeye too, as he turns into a bowling ball to knock down the “Egyptians”. It also features Popeye starting his rhyming couplet too “soon”, and Wimpy delivering the closing lines. Lot of fun stuff here. Shame about the embarrassing stuff.

60s Popeye: Messin’ Up The Mississippi (it’s in fact quite tidy)


Soundtrack recommendation: a little piece by Sparks.

Wow, feels like forever since I did a cartoon here. Messin’ Up The Mississippi is a 1961 Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced short. Story by Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer and directing by Seymour Kneitel, almost the team you’d expect if you just knew it was a Paramount cartoon.

I don’t know why this is set on a showboat. Like, what about this cartoon couldn’t be done at any theater in any town? The only joke here that would need to be rewritten is Brutus’s comeuppance, where he’s forced to run along the paddle wheel.

This isn’t to say the cartoon is wrong to set things on a showboat, or to set it in some generic Mississippi River town. It’s that Meyer and Mercer decided they wanted this set on a showboat for some reason, and that reason isn’t obvious in what came out. Did they discover in writing there weren’t any good story bits to do that involved the boat? Or at least weren’t bits that they had time for, once the essentials of the plot were out of the way? Or did they want nothing more than to give Mae Questel the chance to try a Southern accent?

On stage Brutus wears a caveman's skinned-hide outfit; he's holding his hand up and speaking confidently to Olive Oyl at the piano to play on.
How long has Brutus had that costume, and what was it acquired for?

The plot’s all good enough. It’s almost archetypical for a particular kind of Popeye cartoon. Popeye’s a performer, Olive Oyl the manager, and Brutus is the stagehand and janitor and ticket-taker and all. He’s jealous so figures to sabotage the act and take Popeye’s place. The sabotage works long enough for Brutus to run on-stage in his caveman skin. But Popeye’s finally aware that he wasn’t tossed greased bowling pins by mistake. So, he grabs some spinach and lifts Brutus who’s himself lifting a whole lot of weights. Even juggles them with his legs, which is quite the feat. There isn’t a fight after this, not really; we just go to Brutus tied up and trapped on the paddle wheel. This supports the idea they just ran out of time for the premise.

It’s all done with the general, steady competence you’d expect from Paramount. It had much of the feel of one of the theatrical shorts. It’s certainly in the vein of Tops in the Big Top, where Popeye and Olive Oyl are circus acrobats. In that one Bluto’s the ringmaster, and has only jealousy of Popeye’s relationship with Olive Oyl to motivate him. Here he’s motivated by a desire for celebrity. So it’s the unusual cartoon where Brutus isn’t interested in Olive Oyl. Just in being on stage.

60s Popeye: Hag-Way Robbery, and the mystery of how you kidnap a Jeep


There’s no story credit for the 1960 William L Snyder-produced Hag-Way Robbery. I regret this. It is directed by Gene Deitch, and made by his team of Czechoslovakian animators. You all know I like Gene Deitch cartoons. They have a weirdness that I enjoy, starting with how the opening credits fanfare begins early and so Popeye’s pipe-tooting sounds like it comes in late. Let’s see what happens after the credits.

Eugene the Jeep is kidnapped! And it’s the Sea Hag who did it! Popeye has pulled together his trusted regular cast and sails to rescue him! It’s a bold opening, one signalled by rousing music and the camera panning in on his ship moving at an angle.

Olive Oyl, hands clasped together and eyes closed in joy, looking at a room stocked floor to ceiling with cans of olives.
Um … sure, this is a thing that motivates Olive Oyl!

Popeye’s assembled a crew of Olive Oyl, Wimpy, and Swee’Pea because who else are you going to call on? I mean and not seem like you’re being a Popeye Hipster. (Toar, Professor Wotasnozzle, Alice the Goon, and maybe the sheriff from this one story in 1930 would be my selection, though.) He’s stocked up with plenty of canned spinach, canned hamburgers, canned baby food, and … canned olives. I think this is the first and last we’ve ever heard of Olive Oyl caring about olives, but she has to eat something for the gimmick to work. It seems odd to establish these supplies, but the cartoon knows what it’s doing. These are important to the plot.

The Sea Hag’s plot, anyway. From her shark submarine — where Eugene looks adorably cross in his cage — she pipes in a tube to steal all Popeye’s spinach. And to spray in labels so that everything else pretends to be canned spinach. You may ask how she can spray in labels that all land perfectly on their targeted cans. Sea Hag’s magic, you have to give her that. With Popeye unknowingly disarmed she shoots torpedoes, and he goes belowdecks for a can of spinach and finds nothing. He sees no choice but to try everything else. Meanwhile Wimpy, Olive Oyl, and Swee’Pea eat a lot.

The Sea Hag cackles as she connects a cylinder vacuum cleaner to the periscope of her submarine. Eugene the Jeep, caged, looks on angrily.
The Sea Hag woke up this morning figuring that her day would go something like this.

It’s all strongly paced, with the story just not pausing. It’s a good reminder that limited animation does not mean it has to be slow or even dull to look at. Deitch follows Jay Ward’s rule that even if you can’t animate smoothly, you can at least have all the pictures be funny along the way. The strong pace also keeps questions of story logic from cropping up. Like, why doesn’t Popeye have a can of spinach in his shirt like he always does? Or, more importantly, how do you kidnap a Jeep, who can just disappear and reappear anywhere he wants? As, indeed, Eugene does, when Popeye gets to the final can and it’s canned orchids, the Jeep’s particular food. Also, where did the canned orchids come from?

Eugene we can answer at least. He’s a magical being, closer to the fae folk than you see in your average comic strip or cartoon. He’s content to go along with personal inconvenience if it promises some interesting mischief.

Eugene the Jeep sniffs at an opened can labelled spinach and that actually contained orchids. Popeye, desperate, on his knees, throws his arms out in frustration, apparently yelling at the Jeep.
I didn’t mention explicitly but there are a lot of funny expressions and poses this cartoon. Most of them for good effect, like making Popeye look the more desperate as he searches for spinach. Some for arbitrary effect; like, there’s a joke early on (about 18:23) where Popeye tells Wimpy to “keeps a sharp eye out for a ugly dame”, the Sea Hag. Olive Oyl steps in, asking, “did you call me, Popeye?” And he and Wimpy act all abashed, as though they were saying anything about Olive Oyl, let alone anything derogatory about her. It’s like the compulsion to fit a joke in overrode the logic that Popeye hasn’t got anything to be embarrassed about here.

But there’s little time to consider the rest. Sea Hag, low on fuel, tosses Popeye’s spinach into the boilers. The smell is “the next best thing to eating spinach”, and Popeye gets his power-up. One might complain about the logic; I’d ask, is that really less plausible than the time he ate his spinach after being disintegrated? Anyway, Popeye won’t hit the Sea Hag, but he will maroon her, on a beautiful island where the can learn to be good.

So, I like this. A lot. It’s energetic, it’s silly. Sea Hag’s got a pretty good plan. There’s bits of plot that don’t make sense and I don’t care about rationalizing them, which shows how well they did entertaining me.

60s Popeye: The Medicine Man, not a musical-romance, sorry


We’re back at Paramount again today. The story’s from Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer and direction by Seymour Kneitel. Here’s the 1961 short The Medicine Man.

Popeye and Olive Oyl sell a “Spinach Health Juice” this cartoon. They do it in the form of the patent medicine show. At least the pop-culture version of the patent medicine show. It’s an interesting choice since, like, was anyone bothering with this sort of show after it became possible to buy radio time instead? But it’s presented as though the audience knows this kind of thing happens all the time.

Something else interesting in the choice. By doing their patent-medicine show they attract the attention, and ire, of Brutus, who’s got his quack doctor business in town. Never mind that it’s odd Popeye and Olive Oyl would be selling a fraud. It’s a spinach potion, so it works. No; it’s that Popeye and Olive Oyl are the ones disrupting the equilibrium. And not from a motive of foiling Brutus’s deviousness. All they’re doing is looking out for themselves.

After that nice, morally ambiguous start, the cartoon settles into more normal things. Brutus sabotages the show, giving Popeye an unstoppable hiccough. If you have unstoppable hiccoughs in a cartoon like this, the cartoon becomes about stopping them. Brutus’s first attempt: jumping beans, of course. Next: dive bombing a plane. It’s not the escalation I’d have expected, and Brutus does complain how it’s a “perfectly good plane gone to waste”. Then have Popeye breathe from a paper bag full of pepper. This gives him hiccoughs and sneezes, an escalation of silly noises. Then a sleeping pill makes Popeye start snoring, for a good silly rhythm. Anyway, some violence, spinach juice, more punching, Brutus flees the scene.

Olive Oyl watching over a poor, sickly Popeye. In the foreground Brutus as a doctor pours sneezing powder into a paper bag.
Also, hey, a cartoon where the action doesn’t all take place in the same plane. That’s always nice to see.

Popeye closes with a couplet, this one promising an apple a day keeps the doctor away. It suggests the writers forgot Popeye and Olive Oyl started out selling patent medicines.

I can’t fault the cartoon for going in the unstoppable-hiccoughs direction. It’s a venerable and funny enough physical problem to have. Jack Mercer’s rhythm in hiccoughing, sneezing, and snoring is funny. But I’m more interested in Popeye and Olive Oyl being the instigators of trouble. It’s an unusual role for them and the story shift means that’s irrelevant. Also more could be done with the Spinach Health Juice since it is a thing that works in-universe. I know that’s possible since the 1932 Betty Boop, M.D. has her selling a potion that does work. (In that cartoon, the potion is just water, but it works anyway. A warning about that cartoon, if you decide to watch: Betty Boop’s potion has a name that’s based on a slur. The cartoon might also inspire feelings of body horror.) As with the plane, it’s a waste of a perfectly good premise.

60s Popeye: Duel to the Finish, one of the good ones


Today’s is another Seymour Kneitel festival: he gets credit for the story, direction, and production of this 1960 Paramount Cartoon Studios piece. Here’s Duel to the Finish.

It’s hard to have no sympathy for Wimpy. He’d have taken over Thimble Theatre, if only Popeye hadn’t been there first. He has this great blend of gluttony and larceny. He pairs well against Popeye. There’ve been a couple cartoons that pitted him against Popeye. The most notable was 1939’s Hello, How Am I. In that one Wimpy pretends to be Popeye so he can get hamburgers out of Olive Oyl. Here …

All right, there’s a certain overlap. But it has a different start, and different progression. Here, Olive Oyl is bored with Popeye, and we can see why. She wants to make him jealous, so starts making hamburgers to woo Wimpy. And Popeye sees this for what it is, Olive Oyl and Wimpy using each other. It’s not until Olive Oyl offers a kiss that Popeye cares. Which is a nice dramatic irony as Wimpy couldn’t care about such things as kisses. So it’s a duel.

A contented Wimpy sits at the table, surrounded by dirty plates, with three hamburgers in front of him, a hamburger in his right hand, and a fork holding a chunk of hamburger in his left hand.
Olive Oyl has a lot more plates than I do. Also, Wimpy has the power not just to eat hamburgers with a fork but to single-handedly cut out a slice of hamburger using a fork.

Wimpy makes it an eating duel, challenging to see who can eat the most hamburgers. He’s not a stupid person; it’s just amazing Popeye accepts it. Right away we see Olive Oyl worn out from making burgers, and Popeye struggling to chew. And Wimpy puttering along, happy, even eating burgers with both hands. One of those hands has a fork. I’ve heard of people eating New York-style pizza with a fork, but hamburgers is a new one. And he beats Popeye! This is the rare cartoon where, not only does Bluto/Brutus not appear and not be the antagonist, but Popeye also doesn’t win. You have to appreciate Wimpy’s cunning.

But Popeye has to win anyway, and it comes about by forfeit, again a rare event. Olive Oyl can’t cook another hamburger. This breaks Wimpy’s interest in her, because he’s unaware that she might be able or willing to cook at a later date. The beaten Popeye grumbles at Olive Oyl for having started the whole mess, and that’s the end.

Bedraggled Popeye and Olive Oyl slumping on the couch after being exhausted in the eating contest.
In retrospect, this makes Popeye being boring at the start of the cartoon look like wisdom.

Wimpy goes home. It’s never clear what he thinks about this whole day. That he recognized a chance to eat if he flattered, yes. He had a similar relationship with the Sea Hag, at least in the comic strip. He came in, spotting an advantage he could take, and used it for as much as he could, and wandered out again. It’s as though he barely notices the mortal lives of Popeye and Olive Oyl and drifts in, like a magical creature, while there are rewards to be had.

The whole cartoon’s a story well-established by the characters in place here. And it explores consequences that aren’t obvious from what we already knew of them. Solid stuff. Could have been a quite good theatrical cartoon.

60s Popeye: College of Hard Knocks (please ring doorbell to the left)


Larry Harmon produced today’s cartoon. So that might set some expectations. One is that Paul Fenell would direct, and that the story would be by Charles Shows. These expectations are correct. Here’s 1960’s College of Hard Knocks.

Another thing I expect from a Harmon-produced cartoon is that characters are going to stand around a lot. Thes are the animators who’d create Filmation, for which I have a nostalgic affection.

The premise is solid enough. It’s easy to imagine the classic-era theatrical-short version of this. The idea of Brutus as a fake instructor is even circled around by the 1938 short Learn Polikeness, not so closely that this feels like a remake.

It makes sense Olive Oyl would go to school for something. That immediately casts either Brutus or Popeye as the professor; you then have to decide who’s the authority and who’s undermining it to have a plot. Brutus gets to be the “professor”. So it’s a story of Brutus humiliating or injuring Popeye until he has all he can stands, etc. Solid enough story, even if it is the plotting equivalent of all the characters stand around a lot. But sprinkle in some good quips and at least one fanciful bit of violence and you have a cartoon that works. And there’s some decent quipping, mostly on Popeye’s part, of course. Declaring he’s as couth as the average rowdy, or asking if Olive wants an edjamacated ignoramus. Basic jokes, sure, but good for the audience.

Something I was never sure about: was Brutus a legitimate professor here? In Learn Polikeness he’s running a scam and everybody but Olive Oyl sees through him, fine enough. Here? I mean, he’s got a building with the name carved above the entrance. That’s an enormous investment if he’s just trying to get some time with Olive Oyl. But we only ever see him with two pupils and one of them just signed up today.

And, like, what class was this? I guess maybe Brutus was giving some basic physics, or basic science, class, from his demonstrations of “the law of pressure”, the “law of elasticity”, and the “law of gravity”. I realize I’m the only person in the world wondering this, but what would Brutus have done with that toothpaste and anvil if Popeye hadn’t stuck around?

A shocked Popeye, wearing an academic cap, looking at the diploma he's unrolled to discover it's a Marriage License, showing Olive Oyl and Popeye readying to marry.
Oh, yeah, and then the punch line. Olive Oyl gives Popeye a certificate of his being an edjamacated ignoramus; it’s a marriage license with their pictures on it. This because if there’s one thing the kids in the audience know is funny, it’s how THE WIFE THEY SO BAD RIGHT.

But I say that reflects on one of the differences between these and the theatrical shorts. I grant the writer for Learn Polikeness didn’t put any thought into Bluto’s career as a teacher of manners. But you can imagine if Popeye hadn’t intruded that Bluto would have had a day that made sense. Here, if Popeye hadn’t given Olive Oyl a ride to class? So I’ll stand by my controversial declaration that this is a worse cartoon than the 1938 one it echoes.

As he’s punched out of the cartoon Brutus looks to the camera and asks, “What did I did wrong?”, in this silly French accent. It sounds like the closing line from one of the theatrical cartoons, where Bluto’s a French-Canadian lumberjack or something. I don’t know if it’s literally the same line or if Jackson Beck just recorded it in the same accent. There’s no reason to read the line like that, except for fun. The line’s also a bit mysterious unless Brutus has no self-awareness, but he is a cartoon.

I may be giving contrary directions here. I want the cartoon makers to have fun, and to throw stuff in just because it delights them. Why should I complain that “What did I did wrong?” doesn’t make sense? I should at least be consistent in my demands.

60s Popeye: Popeye the Lifeguard, and the jealousy that inspires


Fleischer Studios did a cartoon in which Popeye and Bluto competed to be a lifeguard. Famous Studios did one in which that blond off-model Bluto was the lifeguard. Now, it’s Jack Kinney’s turn to do a cartoon in which Popeye’s the lifeguard. The story’s credited to Milt Schaffer and animation direction to Harvey Toombs. Here’s 1960’s Popeye the Lifeguard.

Jealousy drives a lot of Popeye cartoons. The generic plot has Popeye roused to eat his spinach because Bluto/Brutus is taking away Olive Oyl, often by force after charm’s worked inadequately. Here’s a rare cartoon where Olive Oyl gets to be jealous of Popeye. Popeye, the lifeguard, gets all this attention from more realistically-drawn women. She tries to get his attention back by having an accident. This is a good plan since lifeguards love the part of their job where they have to save people. It’s far better than days where nothing much happens. She then has a legitimate accident, knocking out the nozzle of an inflatable horse with a lot of air capacity. Popeye gives chase, and lassoos the horse, only to send Olive Oyl smashing through a whole boat.

Brutus finally enters. I’d been all ready to make notes about the strangeness of a jealousy-driven cartoon without Brutus. Ah well. They team up as beach buddies, which Olive figures will serve Popeye right. And this does get under Popeye’s skin. So the plan may be petty and all, but it’s successful and targeted well. Brutus and Olive Oyl go in a row boat; she paddles, the way women always do in these cartoons. That’s just everybody making the same joke, right? I don’t know how to be romantic myself, but I’d always assumed the practical thing was the guy would row. If nothing else because he’s usually the stronger so you could get where you were going the faster.

Lifeguard Popeye playing the ukulele. Surrounding him on the beach are several women with slightly too-wide and fixed grins with unblinking eyes.
I admit not really knowing what fun looks like, but do those women look like they’re having it? I feel like they’re hoping Popeye will set that ukulele down for one blessed minute of peace.

But Olive Oyl resists kissing Brutus, so he ties her to a post, as one will. Popeye gets into the action and there’s the fight you’d expect. Mostly expect, anyway: I was surprised Brutus came back after being knocked into the garbage heap that he came back to be knocked into the garbage heap again. I’d expect him to need to be punched only the one time, for these shorter and less violent cartoons. Or that if he needs to be punched again, that the second time is a really big hit that sends Brutus way out of action. To be punched into the same place twice makes me ask why he stopped then.

What strikes me about this is the cartoon seems almost ready to be a Paramount Cartoon Studios production. The setup is quite close to things they’d already done. The building of story beats, too, has the sort of steady pace and linearity I expect from Paramount. I expect a bit more loopiness from a Kinney cartoon. That’s not calling this bad or even disappointing. I’m just surprised it isn’t quirkier.

60s Popeye: Robot Popeye, because everybody gets a robot cartoon


Today’s is a 1961 Paramount Cartoon Studios cartoon. So you know that means the direction is by Seymour Kneitel. It’s also a story by Seymour Kneitel. That’s been a weird combination before. Here’s Robot Popeye.

I once asked whether every major cartoon character in the 60s built a robot. That in the Jack Kinney short where Popeye builds a robot. Popeye has also, in a Larry Harmon cartoon, fought against a robot. And, in a Gene Deitch cartoon, has had to face a robot duplicate Olive Oyl. It’s only ringing the changes to have a Paramount-made cartoon where Brutus builds a robot Popeye.

Brutus makes a mechanical man with a model of simple user interface design. The control offers the actions to stop – walk – run – sit; and there’s a dail for his voice. Robeye talks in a bit lower voice than Popeye does in, I guess, a cue to the audience. He’s using Robeye to mess up Popeye’s good name, much like he’d done with a simple marionette in 1944’s Puppet Love. Robeye meets the actual Popeye, sending Popeye into a fit of self-doubt we haven’t seen since 1939’s Hello, How Am I, when Wimpy impersonated Popeye. There have been a lot of duplicates and robots in Popeye, who, let’s not forget, is a rough-and-tumble sailor who likes a good fight. It’s surprising there haven’t been more Popeye robots before. The would do it again.

Brutus and Robeye’s first steps are pretty low-key ones. Confusing Popeye. Going to Roughhouse’s Diner to put Wimpy’s meal on his tab. Also, I guess Popeye has a charge account at the diner. It gets serious when Robeye shows up early for Popeye’s dinner with Olive Oyl and does the usual sorts of tricks. Calling her food poison. Yanking a chair out from under her. Throwing water in his face. You’d think Olive Oyl would recognize when she’s in another duplicates cartoon. But these patterns are always more obvious to outsiders.

Popeye meeting Robeye, a robot duplicate, walking the other way up the street. Robeye is drawn with more angular, straight lines all over, and bolts at his wrists and elbows and hips. Also importantly horizontally across the middle of his shirt is a straight line with bolts underneath the seam.
I recognize that bots and flat panels are important to indicating something’s a robot to the audience, and that they want things that fit over the stock footage well. But do you suppose Robeye’s lower shirt there is just a metal panel bolted to his torso or what?

Speaking of patterns. Once again Brutus sabotages his own successful scheme. Not, for once, by getting grabby at Olive Oyl. By showing Robeye off so Popeye understands what’s going on. It’s common enough that a villain’s hubris wrecks them. And the cartoon only has like five minutes of screen time for the whole plot, so you have to get to the climax somehow. Here, Popeye grabs the remote control and switches it to ‘Get Brutus’. I hate to cut a Roughhouse appearance but Brutus fighting Popeye for the control could have used the time better.

And we close with Olive Oyl recognizing she should have known. Popeye explaining Brutus “wanted to quiz me with you”, a use of the word quiz I did not know was out there. And Robeye eating the cans of spinach. All fair enough, the sort of competent if unexceptional cartoon you expect from Paramount.

I bet Brutus is so embarrassed he put a “Get Brutus” option on the control.

60s Popeye: Timber Toppers, another lumberjack cartoon


We’re back at Jack Kinney studios for today’s 1960 Popeye cartoon. This one’s got Noel Tucker credited for the story. We’ve seen his name before, for Popeye Revere and for Popeye and the Giant. The animation direction’s credited to Osmond Evans, of Popeye’s Picnic and Popeye the Fireman. Here’s Timber Toppers.

The four cartoons I mentioned, in which Noel Tucker or Osmond Evans did stuff, were all weird ones. Stories that more riffed around an idea, or that turned dreamlike in the flow of events. This continues that tradition. The premise is that Popeye’s a lumberjack, something done in like 84 cartoons in the Fleischer or Famous Studios runs. He seems to be in it for himself, or at least to show off for Olive Oyl. Brutus comes in stealing the trees Popeye fells. And then they get into fighting. Less fighting than you’d figure, since Popeye spends about three hours of the cartoon stuffed into a hollow log, with Olive Oyl tied to the outside. Brutus gets stuck too. Once that’s sorted, he ties Popeye and Olive Oyl to a log moving into a circular saw and we get the ending you’d expect. Apart from the reference to nose cones, because 1960 was a good time to fit rocket stuff into your story.

Brutus, this short, doesn’t seem to know Popeye, possibly because Popeye’s out of his sailor suit. That’s all right. Popeye seems unable to see Brutus pulling the log that he’s clinging to, possibly because Brutus is out of camera frame. I’ve joked that cartoons which get the characters in non-standard clothing have to cut costs somewhere. I’m not sure it’s a joke. I haven’t added up all the time this five-and-a-half-minute cartoon spends just showing stock footage of Brutus laughing, but I believe it’s over eighteen minutes. Also we see a lot of that one shot of Popeye chopping down a tree, although at least it’s mirrored some to look different. Same with the trees falling.

There’s a lot of small, strange moments. I like small, strange moments, generally. Popeye looking for a missing tree underneath a leaf, for example. Or just how long Popeye walks around stuck in the tree log. I understand Brutus laughing at this. The freed Olive Oyl, at the end, saying how the saw almost ruined her coiffure. Popeye pointing to the bump he somewhere got on his head saying he almost wrecked his.

Brutus and Popeye stuck to opposite sides of a long hollow log. Olive Oyl's tied around the midsection. Brutus is standing up, swinging the log around his body. It's already knocked down one tree, although an animation error had them forget to include the just-knocked-down tree trunk. The Brutus-log-Olive-Oyl-Popeye contraption is swinging into the camera so it's a bit more three-dimensional than necessary.
You’d think this is an inefficient way of cutting down trees but notice they cut that rightmost tree down so well it won’t even appear for another quarter-second after this shot.

There is also a lot of this cartoon where I can’t tell you just what happened. (Other parts where I could only barely make it out; it was my fourth watching, I think, when I finally saw just how Popeye got unstuck from the log.) Like, when they first fight, Brutus punches a tree. Then he’s far enough away to throw a boulder at Popeye. How did Brutus get there? It doesn’t much matter; we can imagine his escaping Popeye’s counter-punch and getting to the rock. But I’m confident that if this were a fully-animated short, we’d see that on-screen. Part of what makes limited-animation work is moving complex actions off-camera. They happen either physically out of frame, or temporally, happening during a cut between reactions. Telling those moments in the story becomes the viewer’s job, not the creator’s.

That’s not all bad. For one, it does engage the viewer, whose narrative sense now has to explain how these things happened. I wonder if part of the appeal of limited-animation shows is how kids are encouraged to fill in parts but still enjoy the whole cartoon. And whatever someone interpolates will be satisfying, at least. Certainly well-timed.

Did Noel Tucker have an idea how Brutus got off to the boulder? My guess is no, just because that would demand fleshing out the story more than was needed to make the cartoon. It’s enough to have the major points. I’m curious whether the Kinney studio writers were encouraged to set out big points and let exact details slide. It would explain the dreamlike nature of so many of their shorts, where we go from one scenario to another without a clear transition.

When he has Popeye and Olive Oyl in front of the circular saw, Brutus recites “Two for the show … and off we go!” What happened to one-for-the-money and three-to-get-ready? Of many weird moments this short, this is one of them.

60s Popeye: Motor Knocks, where Popeye loses his car inside a covered bridge


Here’s a 1960 Paramount Cartoon Studios short. As usual the director is Seymour Kneitel. The story’s credited to Al Pross, a name I don’t see mentioned before. Pross is credited as an animator for nine shorts, but has story credits only for this and for a 1963 short called Harry Happy. And a quick warning before getting seriously intoMotor Knocks. Popeye’s rhyming couplet at the end includes a verb derived from a slur against Romani people.

Is Brutus a songwriter? This cartoon, I mean; I embrace how his background is whatever the premise of a short needs. But he presents himself as a service station owner whose real ambition is songwriting. He reels off funny bad titles to an impressed Olive Oyl. Is it all a line to impress her, or is this a bit more personality than Brutus needs for the cartoon?

Steve Bierly, author of a delightful Popeye fan page, wrote a book extolling the Famous Studios cartoons. He includes some mentions of the Paramount-produced King Features Syndicate cartoons, this one among them. It’s a nice change to be in dialogue with another critic. One of Bierly’s themes — writing about this cartoon and others — is how often Famous/Paramount cartoons have Olive Oyl be genuinely interested in Bluto/Brutus. She’s at least listening to his flirting here. She stands up for Brutus when Popeye’s ready to slug him. When Brutus is towing the car, she accepts the logic that it’s safer for her to ride in the tow truck cab while Popeye rides in the car.

I’m not sure how to evaluate that, though. I suspect Olive Oyl’s just impressed, as many of us are, with people who know how to Do Things. And Brutus does present himself as knowing how to Do Things, at least with cars. Could be anyone … except that Brutus/Bluto ends up being the guy who (seems to) know how to Do Things a lot. Some of that because if anything’s going to come between Olive Oyl and Popeye, well, who else you cast? Wimpy? (Watch this space.)

Olive Oyl, in the car, sits with her eyes fluttering and her hands held up together to her chin, dainty and flattered by the attention. Brutus is leaning way over the door of the car and smiling while talking to her.
So, gas station mechanic who plays guitar and composes silly songs that woo the ladies … if this short were made three years later I’d say it was starting to spoof Elvis Movies. How is Brutus somehow anticipating a Generic Elvis Movie role?

Bierly also points out this is one where Popeye is, first, doing something with Olive Oyl and, second, jealous of Brutus’s attention on her. Often Popeye seems barely interested in her and doesn’t notice the wooing until Olive Oyl tells him off. Plot requirements — that Popeye has to wait until he’s all he can stands before swallowing his spinach — tend to make Popeye look passive. That’s avoided, but at the cost of making him look more like a patsy. But he can’t be blamed for taking Olive Oyl’s advice to pretend Brutus’s shenanigans were an accident, for example. Or respecting her desire to ride in the tow truck cabin.

Much of this cartoon is what you’d expect from Paramount. The story’s all reasonable, reasonably constructed throughout. The animation’s all smooth and steady enough. There seem to be more jokes than usual, or at least they land better. There’s even sign jokes too, like Brutus’s garage offering “expert windshield wiping”. Brutus’s song titles, whether or not Brutus means them in earnest. Or Brutus claiming he ran across the stranded motorists while he was “just going mushroom-picking”. Also, wow, gas was a dollar a gallon back when this cartoon was made in 1960. Imagine that!

Bierly’s book, by the way, is Stronger Than Spinach: The Secret Appeal of the Famous Studios Popeye. Much of it overlaps Bierly’s web site, but they are different creatures. And I do quite like Bierly’s web site and its enthusiastic writing.

60s Popeye: Who’s Kidding Zoo, a title that needs some baby goats to really land


Who’s Kidding Zoo is a 1961 Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced short. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer, and the direction to Seymour Kneitel. This is not the same credit given to every Paramount Popeye cartoon of the era. It just feels like it.

This is an example of a particular stock Popeye cartoon plot: Popeye and Bluto/Brutus battle each other for the chance to work for Olive Oyl. It’s a solid story. I’m surprised they had never competed for a job at the zoo before. You’d expect the setting to offer a lot of chances for good animal jokes. They’d done cartoons at the zoo before, like 1944’s Pitchin’ Woo at the Zoo, where Bluto was the zookeeper. He doesn’t bring up the experience here. I suppose it’s important to mention how annoying society makes changing one’s name.

The cartoon follows the structure well. Popeye and Brutus are hanging out at the zoo. They overhear zookeeper Olive Oyl phoning in an advertisement for an assistant. Mae Questel performs Olive Oyl with this odd tone, a more formal voice than usual. I’m not sure why. I suppose to underscore how in this cartoon she’s unfamiliar with Popeye and Brutus. Or that she’s in a high-class position at the zoo. She sets the two competing, here, to see who can cheer up Gloomy the hyena by telling one joke each. I suppose it’s important to mention that back then credentials weren’t as important a thing as they are now.

Since he lost the job, Brutus switches to sabotage, volunteering to help Popeye carry water to elephants. Brutus pours in weight reducer, which deflates Hannibal, Olive Oyl’s “best elephant”. Popeye blows into Hannibal’s trunk, inflating him to “better than before”. I suppose it’s important to mention that back then zoos had no idea how to keep elephants healthy. (It turns out it’s by not putting elephants in zoos. I’m sorry but it’s so.)

The next attempted sabotage is putting springs on a baby kangaroo’s feet, so he can’t help jumping into a lion’s mouth. Popeye rescues him and Olive Oyl is impressed that Popeye doesn’t want baby kangaroos to jump into lion mouths. So we can make inferences about why the last assistant zookeeper left.

Popeye looks startled that the kangaroo joey he's brought a carrot to is hopping off, past him, thanks to springs stuck to the joey's feet. The mother kangaroo stands over all this, looking asleep.
Why the surprised look, Popeye? Everyone knows a kangaroo’s favorite food is … uh … carrots … I guess?

With sabotage not working Brutus turns to costumes. He puts on one of those gorilla costumes that looks like a perfect gorilla to a we-have-assumed-trained zookeeper. He uses it to abduct Olive Oyl and knock out Popeye. The costume works until Brutus nods. Hannibal remembers Brutus’s part in the weight-reducer thing. And somehow intuits that Popeye needs spinach. A quick punch and Brutus, in costume, is put in a cage as the Half-Man Half-Ape, “Only One In Captivity”. This is a funny scene when you’re a white guy who doesn’t know about the history of zoos putting people on exhibit.

The story, particularly, hangs together well. Brutus shrinks the elephant; the elephant remembers this and acts to foil Brutus. Brutus’s kangaroo stunt lets Popeye impress Olive Oyl. Upset that they’re going to lunch, Brutus pretends to be an animal. I understand if the cartoon doesn’t work for you. It’s Paramount, so everything’s paced a little slow (although that likely helps kids understand and anticipate what’s going on). Exactly one thing moves at a time, although it moves smoothly. (I exaggerate, but not much.) But it’s a well-crafted cartoon, throughout. The viewer’s not stuck wondering what something is supposed to mean, or why it’s in there. It’s comfortable and easy to watch.