60s Popeye: Paper Pasting Pandemonium, but a polite pandemonium


We’re back to the Jack Kinney studios this week. The story is again by Ed Nofziger. The director is Rudy Larriva, whom you remember from those 1960s Warner Brothers cartoons that looked all weird and had six bars of background music, repeated endlessly. King Features paid for a little more music. There’s one unusual bit of music that stood out. It’s this sort of marching-music from when Popeye i sgetting to work. From 1960 here’s Paper Pasting Pandemonium then.

To believe in this premise we have to suppose Olive Oyl has a circle of friends besides Popeye and Brutus. All right, I suppose we can allow that. She’s spoken of going off to garden parties and there’s probably been a cotillion or something too. We also have the setup that she’s just decided, an hour before the party, that she wants her house re-wallpapered. I understand the narrative point of a deadline. And that Olive Oyl is somewhat fickle. It seems like a bad plan to me.

Still, Popeye and Brutus competing to wallpaper a room should be a good setup. The Platonic ideal of this cartoon exists, after all, in that Pink Panther cartoon where Pink and Big Nosed Naked Guy competitively paint a room. Still, the Pink Panther series remade the premise and got some good other cartoons out. And I’d have sworn there was a version of this in the Popeye series too, but I can’t track it down. (I thought there was one where Popeye and Bluto/Brutus/* were each building half of a building while sabotaging the other’s half? Am I just kidding myself?) There’s abundant room for physical comedy, too. Anyone can have an accident anytime, by their own clumsiness or because someone else sets them up.

That I’m talking about better versions of this cartoon tells you my dissatisfaction. And it’s a vague one. There’s no point where I can say a particular joke is wrong. It’s just not funny enough. It feels like a first draft. For example: Brutus gets a roll of paper stuck on his head, and it looks like antlers, so he charges Popeye like a bull. Good start. Why don’t we get more of Popeye as a toreador? The wallpaper sheets are a natural cape.

Brutus standing in front of wallpaper that's several days' worth of the Popeye daily comic strip.
I remember as a kid thinking it would be great to have comic strips for wallpaper. But I thought it wasn’t practical, because lining up strips between sheets would be hard. Also I couldn’t think of any comic strip page I’d want to re-read over and over every day. This is really weird since as a teenager and young adult I’d be a fan of hard science fiction and that’s all about reading the same twelve books that hit you Just Right and being unhappy with every book that isn’t exactly the same as those and also angry at everyone who points out those books are really not good and psychic powers aren’t hard science even if you say they’re the result of scientific breeding.

Yes, I spotted that the paste came in a sack labelled “Kinney Goo”. The comic strips pasted to the wall are, of course, from the comic strip. The Popeye Wikia dates them to when Tom Sims and Bela Zaboly were drawing Thimble Theatre. This is an era that’s not much collected; Zaboly and Sims worked on the daily strips together until December 1954, and the Sunday strips until 1959.

Popeye finally eats his spinach (soundlessly), and spends a sequence of tossing paper on the walls that seems like it takes more than the one minute he has to paper the room. It doens’t; it takes thirty seconds of screen time. That’s still a lot of screen time. It comes out as this bizarre criss-cross of unmatched patterns that, yeah, I kinda like. It harmonizes with the UPA-inspired backgrounds from the start, where the color and the outline of Olive’s furniture never matched up anyway. Her guests love it, of course, because this is a 1960 cartoon so the guests Olive Oyl wants to impress are — you snickering yet? — beatniks!

It’s all okay. I suspect the limited animation is really sinking this one. Good slapstick gimmicks like getting stuck to things needs to show frustrated movement. Throwing a colored rectangle over Brutus’s face isn’t enough.