60s Popeye: Autographically Yours, my King Features Popeye Encore!


You are not imagining things! At least not this thing. Finding all my reviews of King Features Popeye cartoons of the 60s let me discover the ones I had not reviewed. And, better, I discovered that some of the ones I had not reviewed have been posted to King Features’s YouTube channel of “Classic Popeye”.

This short, and three others, were in what they bundled s “Episode 42”. This episode was, for some reason, marked private for a long while, until I forgot about going back and checking. At some point it became public again so I can bring you these four shorts. The first one up is Autographically Yours.

It’s from 1961 and is another Paramount Cartoon Studios short. So Seymour Kneitel gets credit as both producer and director. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. And now, let’s watch.

This is another cartoon where Popeye and Brutus/Bluto compete by showing off spectacular skills. Paramount’s team had done this a hundred thousand times in the three decades leading up to this. The stunts even hearken back to the earliest Fleischer Studio shorts. Shooting the eagle out of a gold dollar, and having it fly off, is the sort of thing that wouldn’t stand out in 1934. Popeye shooting a match to light it, and using the falling match to light his pipe, would also fit. It’s also a startling moment of Popeye using his pipe as a pipe. He mostly used it to toot or to inhale spinach. Actually suggesting smoking feels transgressive, especially in a cartoon made-for-tv. Eventually Brutus decides to try doing something stupid, risking everyone’s life. In this case it’s accidentally letting out a hungry lion. Popeye wakes, eats his spinach, and saves the day. All right.

What makes this stand out, and intrigue me so, is the setup for this. Seeking the autograph of movie-star Popeye is a vaguely UPA-styled kid. As far as I know he doesn’t appear in anything else. It would’ve been very easy to cast Olive Oyl as the autograph-seeker and I’d love to know why she wasn’t. I’m sure the 1951 version of this cartoon would have.

But then Brutus/Bluto’s motivation would have been easy. He’d be hitting on Olive Oyl. Here he’s driven by a jealousy that feels more mature. He wants the acclaim that Popeye gets, noting that in all those pictures that “Marathon Cartoon Studios” makes, Popeye’s written to win. That doesn’t mean he isn’t as amazing as Popeye. It forces us to think of Popeye and Brutus as actors playing the parts of themselves. It’s a motivation you could imagine driving the “real” behind-the-scenes Brutus.

Popeye, dressed as a Western sheriff, stands proud while a little kid with a severely stylized head holds his autograph book out. In the background Brutus, dressed as a Western gunslinger, stands sheepishly holding his hands behind his back.
You can really see this kid bonding with Popeye over their experience having chins that reach way the heck far out.

I doubt that Meyer and Mercer were thinking to write a story about struggling against the roles we play. They happened to hit one, though, and it usually works for me. (I credit watching The Muppet Show while young. The show was about half about performances and half the nonsense that goes into those performances.) Brutus wanting to be celebrated circles that. There is some kind of irony when he asks himself what the writers would have him do, forgetting his complaint the writers make Popeye look good. It’s at least a starting point for someone trying to rebel against his lot in life without yet having the tools for it.

Another neat bit which makes this short stand out: Brutus and Popeye start out as friendly, as they do many shorts. But they end as friends too, Brutus even being a fan of Popeye’s. That’s much more rare, especially if we discount shorts such as Fightin’ Pals where their fighting is key to their friendship. I don’t think I’m overly crediting the novelty in appreciating seeing Brutus from an unusual angle that doesn’t feel out of character.

I’m also interested in the choice to have Popeye and Brutus being on set for a Western. I suppose that reflects the then-popularity of Westerns. And that making their ‘show’ a Western justifies their being able to do any stunts, including gun tricks, automatically. I wonder if it’s an unconscious acknowledgement that it’s kind of weird Popeye the sailor has like sixty cartoons where he’s a sheriff or a cowhand or at least living in the desert or prairie. Probably that’s more subtle than the writers were thinking, but it is a coincidence that adds depth to the story.

I’m glad I can start this review encore on an up beat like this.

What I Thought About All The Paramount Popeye Cartoons


Paramount Cartoon Studios, formerly Famous Studios, formerly formerly Fleischer Cartoons, was one of the two most prolific makes of the 1960s Popeye shorts. As their corporate history indicates, they had nearly three decades of experience making Popeye cartoons before getting their slice of the King Features contract. So, I notice, a lot of my reviews express similar sentiments. Paramount was by this time very good at making a cartoon that parsed. The stories almost all had clear plots, and straightforward narratives. The animation might rarely be very good, or even lively, but it would never be bad. This was always the quietly competent studio, not worried that they never hit a home run because they can get on base any time they want.

So a lot of these cartoons feel very routine; you’ll see how many of them I describe as Popeye and Brutus compete for a job, or soem similar stock premise. They sometimes break through, though, particularly when they try for a heavy plot. The best is likely Mystery Melody, adapted from the comic strip. But there’s a version of the search for Poopdeck Pappy here, also interesting; or a five-minute Gulliver’s Travels, or Popeye saving Goon Island. Most any time they try for a more complex narrative it works, and gives us a good interesting story.

In going over the list I find there weren’t any cartoons that I skipped for being too racist. (There is one that wasn’t put on King Features’s YouTube channel and it might have been for a troublesome character depiction, though.) That stands out; there’ve been a number of cartoons I noped out of, mostly for poorly-considered depictions of Native Americans, sometimes for depictions of, say, Chinese people. I’m not sure how Paramount Cartoon Studios avoided that. It’s easy to say their long experience working under the Hays Code trained them to avoid ethnic stereotyping except they did theatrical cartoons with “Indian princessess” and other motifs that these days get a disclaimer.

In any event. If one of these cartoons comes up and you see Seymour Kneitel’s name all over it? You’re in for a safe enough watch. Might not be the great cartoon you’re hoping for, but it’s not going to leave you wondering what the heck that was all about.

Here, with a list order taken from whatever made sense to the Popeye Wikia, is the list of Paramont-made cartoons and what I thought of them.

  • Hits and Missiles – one that I did back in 2014 and didn’t revisit for this sequence. I need to replace the video, though.
  • The Ghost Host – not enough ghost shenanigans.
  • Strikes, Spares an’ Spinach – A bowling cartoon! You never see Popeye go bowling.
  • Jeep Is Jeep – another chance to meet Eugene the Jeep for the first time!
  • The Spinach Scholar – Popeye goes back to school and gets mostly shamed for his trouble.
  • Psychiatricks – It looks like a clip show, but isn’t!
  • Rags to Riches to Rags – King Features has withdrawn the video for some reason. Features a P G Wodehouse reference.
  • Hair Cut-Ups – Another withdrawn video, this one where Popeye tells the story of Samson and Delilah to encourage Swee’Pea to get a haircut. Features Brutus not being the antagonist.
  • Poppa Popeye – Swee’Pea gets swiped by a fake father, and Popeye loses it entirely.
  • Quick Change Olie – The Whiffle Bird sends Popeye and Wimpy back to Ye Olden Days.
  • The Valley of the Goons – Popeye’s shanghaied into a Goon-hunting expedition and fights for their liberation instead.
  • Me Quest for Poopdeck Pappy – Another take on what must be Popeye’s most-retold story; features comparisons, of course to Goonland and to Popeye’s Pappy.
  • Moby Hick – The Sea Hag tricks Popeye into helping her recover proceeds from a backstory crime!
  • Mirror Magic – Popeye’s Mother in one of her very few animated appearances!
  • It Only Hurts When They Laughs – Not reviewed and I don’t see any mention of why I skipped it.
  • Wimpy the Moocher – Not reviewed and I don’t see any mention of why I skipped it. The Popeye Wikia’s article mentions how this is mostly a Wimpy-versus-Geezil cartoon, though, and Geezil is so heavily ethnically coded I imagine without knowing that King features maybe didn’t want to show anything where he was a load-bearing character.
  • Voo-Doo to You Too – another withdrawn video, this one where the Sea Hag makes a voodoo doll of Popeye. I imagine without knowing that the casual depiction of voodoo might be why the video was withdrawn but can’t say.
  • Popeye Goes Sale-ing – another withdrawn video, of Olive Oyl and Popeye doing department store gags.
  • Popeye’s Travels – yet another withdrawn video, somehow, but you get the part anyone remembers about Gulliver’s Travels wrapped up in five and a half minutes.
  • Incident at Missile City – one I’ve looked at twice now, with a strange world of missile-people, plus Popeye.
  • Dog Catcher Popeye – Popeye saves a dog from the catcher, that’s all.
  • What’s News – one more withdrawn video, for a cartoon adapted from the comic strip where Popeye takes over a newspaper.
  • Spinach Greetings – the Sea Hag has captured Santa Claus and only Popeye can save him!
  • The Baby Contest – Swee’Pea and Brutus’s son compete for a baby contest, eventually.
  • Oil’s Well That Ends Well – Olive Oyl buys a worthless oil well from Brutus that, whoops, turns out to be a gusher.
  • Motor Knocks – Yup, another withdrawn video. But it’s the rare short where Popeye starts out being attentive to his girlfriend.
  • Amusement Park – Swee’Pea gets roped into the freak show somehow.
  • Duel to the Finish – Olive Oyl tries to make Popeye jealous, so she woos Wimpy because, I mean, have you seen her other choices? And Wimpy beats Popeye in a duel!
  • Gem Jam – Sea Hag hypnotizes Olive Oyl to steal a cursed gem. This one is set in India and avoids having offensive depictions of Indian people by not having depictions of anyone besides Popeye, Olive Oyl, and the Sea Hag.
  • The Bathing Beasts – Popeye and Brutus compete for the Mister America title.
  • The Rain Breaker – Popeye goes up to the clouds to work out why the weather forecast is wrong.
  • Messin’ Up the Mississippi – For some reason it’s set on a river showboat.
  • Love Birds – Olive Oyl’s pet love bird needs a girlfriend, so Popeye goes to a pet shop run by a monkey.
  • Sea Serpent – a withdrawn video, because it shows the shocking truth about the Loch Ness Monster.
  • Boardering on Trouble – Popeye and Brutus fight over … the management of their Old Western hotel? Also Popeye draws a gun on Brutus for some reason?
  • Aladdin’s Lamp – Olive Oyl accidentally buys a genie lamp and the Sea Hag wants it.
  • Butler Up – Once again a withdrawn video. Popeye pretends to be Olive’s butler so she can impress Brutus.
  • The Leprechaun – There’s a whole bunch of leprechauns in this, and Popeye gets honorary leprechaun status, which is nice for him, I suppose.
  • County Fair – Popeye and Brutus compete to win the county fair.
  • Hamburgers Aweigh – another withdrawn video. Popeye uses the Whiffle Hen to turn Wimpy into a burger-hater and the Sea Hag gets in on the mind-control game.
  • Popeye’s Double Trouble – yet another withdrawn video. Sea Hag tries to pass her bad-luck coin off on Popeye but, what do you know, but she has the bad luck to slip him her good-luck coin instead. Also, Sea Hag impersonates Olive Oyl and Popeye doesn’t catch on.
  • Kiddie Kapers – With a dose of Fountain of Youth potion Brutus turns handsome. With some more, Popeye and Olive Oyl turn into kids.
  • The Mark of Zero – Telling the story of Popeye as the people’s hero, Zero, to Olive’s niece Deezil Oyl.
  • Myskery Melody – A good moody piece, adapted from the comic strip, revealing the Sea Hag and Poopdeck Pappy’s past.
  • Scairdy Cat – Brutus turns to chemical warfare, deploying Fear Gas against Popeye, a thing that won’t ever backfire.
  • Operation Ice-Tickle – Popeye and Brutus compete to bring back the North Pole and win a date with Olive Oyl! Not the first time I’ve shown a cartoon featuring a balloon flight to the North Pole, somehow!
  • The Cure – Wimpy signs up for Hamburgers Anonymous, to overcome his shame at swiping a quarter off of Popeye, and Sea Hug works to bust him out of there.
  • William Won’t Tell – A remix of the William tell story. Features Shaggy in a bit part, wearing Olive Oyl’s outfit and Brutus’s beard!
  • Pop Goes the Whistle – Swee’pea goes in search of his lost teddy bear and Popeye almost kills himself trying to catch him.
  • Autographically Yours – Not reviewed and I don’t know why; I don’t think they posted it.
  • A Poil for Olive Oyl – Popeye figures to dive for pearls himself rather than pay for someone who’s already done the work.
  • My Fair Olive – Popeye and Brutus compete for Olive Oyl’s affection by … jousting? For some reason?
  • Giddy Gold – The Whiffle Bird turns the contents of a Tunnel of Love ride into real things! Oh, Tunnel of Love rides often depict monsters, that’s right. Well, I’m sure it’ll all work out great.s
  • Strange Things Are Happening – Everybody is being all weird around Popeye and why are they all talking like they’re trying to kidnap him?
  • The Medicine Man – Popeye and Olive Oyl are selling patent medicine and somehow Brutus, the town’s doctor, is the bad guy?
  • A Mite of Trouble – once more a withdrawn video. Sea Hag sneaks a fake Swee’Pea into Popeye’s house to find a treasure map.
  • Who’s Kiddin’ Zoo – Popeye and Brutus compete to be the new assistant zookeeper, Finally, some kangaroo content!
  • Robot Popeye – another withdrawn video, this one where Brutus gets to build the robot Popeye.
  • Sneaking Peeking – Popeye tells a fairy tale about the Happy Princess opening a box that contains Mister Mischief.
  • Seer-Ring Is Believer-Ring – Olive Oyl accidentally gets a magic ring so Evil-Eye hypnotizes her to get it back. Also somehow Wimpy declares he’s treating everyone at Rough House’s Diner.
  • The Wiffle Bird’s Revenge – Her revenge is turning Wimpy into a werewolf for some reason. Also, we get to see Rough House!
  • Going… Boing.. Gone – It’s Wimpy and Brutus struggling against each other, with Popeye just included because it’s his name on the series. Features some vanishing cream, a carton motif we don’t get enough of anymore.
  • Popeye Thumb – What if Popeye but small? And this teaches Swee’Pea to play baseball.

60s Popeye: The Leprechaun, a title that gives away the last scene


The title of this week’s King Features Popeye had me expecting a Jack Kinney short. Somehow it felt like a story built around a “real” legendary creature fit that studio’s style more. Nope; this is Paramount Cartoon Studios. So director and producer credits go to Seymour Kneitel. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. From 1961 let’s see Popeye tangling with The Leprechaun.

This is not a funny cartoon, which does not bother me. This is an adventure cartoon instead, a striking lot of story for five and a half minutes of animation. The Sea Hag has a plan to set her up for life: catch a leprechaun and steal his gold. Popeye spots her — in a neat and surprisingly smooth bit of animation, at about 33 seconds in — and decides he needs to be in the cartoon too. The Sea Hag finds the leprechauns on an island so lush it has detailed, even shaded, backgrounds. Her not-bad plan: beg for help from a kindly leprechaun, and to repay him, offer him tea. It’s laced with truth serum so he can’t not tell the location of the leprechauns’ gold.

The other leprechauns banish him for this. This doesn’t seem fair of them. I don’t know much about Irish mythology but from what I have learned, the only thing more dangerous than accepting a stranger’s offer of food and drink is not accepting. They should have sympathy; it could have been any of them. Popeye runs across the poor leprechaun, “banished forever” until their gold is returned, and he catches the Sea Hag at the docks. She uses her Evil Eye Whammy. He uses his spinach to punch it back at her, knocking her out. I guess this doesn’t break his resolve to not hit a woman, but it’s a close thing. The gold’s returned, Popeye’s made an honorary leprechaun, and I’m not sure we ever hear the victimized leprechaun’s name.

A leprechaun lifts the unconscious Popeye's nose ahead of pouring 'Shamrock Juice' into his now-open mouth.
I’m not the only person who expected a mention that Shamrock Juice contained a squirt of spinach, am I? Really expected that, possibly as the way Popeye would get his spinach power-up. Maybe if they had a full seven minutes for the short.

As said, this isn’t a funny cartoon. I’m not sure there’s even an attempt at joking. Doesn’t matter. There’s a story here, and a well-constructed one. For example, when Popeye first challenges the Sea Hag her buzzard sneaks up and knocks him out. This balances with Popeye sneaking up on and knocking out the buzzard at the end. The kind leprechaun finds the knocked-out Popeye and helps him; this establishes his nature before the Sea Hag can take advantage of it. And while we know Popeye would help a sad-looking fellow, it gives him a stronger reason to try and help the banished leprechaun.

And there’s some production bits. The bit with Popeye looking through his telescope and turning his head, for example, a bit of animation so good I expected them to reuse it at least once. Maybe it’s put into the Paramount stock library and turns up in other shorts. Or there’s the great children’s-book illustration of the forest. It’s got so much depth as to make the other backgrounds look chintzy. It gives a suggestion of the forest as this magical, more-real-than-real setting. Or maybe it reflects the background having been designed for a theatrical cartoon and getting pressed into service here. I don’t know, but I love the decision to use this.

I bet Popeye gets a lot of mileage out of being an honorary leprechaun in future cartoons. Can’t wait for next week.

60s Popeye: Boardering On Trouble, prequel to the Dan Aykroyd film Nothing But Trouble


Today’s is a Paramount Cartoon Studios cartoon. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Directing and producing we credit Seymour Kneitel for. From 1961 here’s Boardering On Trouble.

A strength in how Popeye adapted to animated cartoons is in the flexibility of setting. The characters are like figures of the Commedia dell’arte. They’re types you can put into any setting with whatever backstory makes the premise make sense. So you can set Popeye and Brutus as co-owners of an Old West hotel/boarding house and you don’t need to explain more than that.

And yet this cartoon doesn’t work. The basic conflict — another rivals-fight-for-Olive-Oyl story — is one Paramount Cartoon Studios had done a million times before. This may have worked against them. They’re so busy with the mechanics of the story that they forgot to justify it. Like, Popeye and Brutus are fighting; that’s what they do. Only here, Popeye throws the first (metaphorical) punch, pulling a gun on Brutus over whether their hotel should specialize in fine dining or quality entertainment. It’s a water pistol, yes, as we know because we overheard Popeye talking to himself about it. But it’s still a jerk move, and it’s a mistake for Popeye to be the lead jerk.

An angry Popeye holds a pistol on a shocked, terrified Brutus.
Popeye! What brought this on, besides the past thirty years of Bluto/Brutus’s bullying, harassment, and assorted villainy?!

Still that Paramount steady basic competence shows through. The water pistol gets set up early so that Brutus can suppose the next pistol drawn on him is also a toy. The cartoon would not make less sense if Brutus just assumed Olive Oyl had a water pistol, but they can’t help giving him a logical reason to expect it. It’s weird to explain that but not, like, why this is set in the Old West rather than the modern day. (Maybe it’s so that there’s a reason the hotel can’t do both fine food and quality entertainment? Why Popeye has to be the chef and Brutus the performer?)

I talk a bunch about cartoons that Paramount could have animated in their sleep. This sure feels like one. It gets the mechanics of Popeye and Brutus’s duel — each does their thing and the other sabotages it — well. It even tosses in a nice bit where Olive Oyl defends herself from the Masked Bandit (Brutus, pursuing a logic I don’t follow). But it’s so busy doing that that it fails to motivate the duel, or to avoid making Popeye the person who causes the trouble.

60s Popeye: Gem Jam (it’s more of a jelly)


Before I start, folks who remember the Talkartoon Twenty Legs Under The Sea, starring Bimbo and with a cameo from a proto-Betty-Boop, might like to know something. The Max Fleischer Cartoons channel on YouTube has a cleaned-up version of that cartoon just published. Theirs is a channel worth watching. They’re doing a lot of cleaning-up and posting obscure shorts. If I ever turn to reviewing the Fleischer Color Classics series I’ll likely depend on their versions of the cartoons.

And a spot of trivia. One episode of Let’s Make A Deal this week closed with a Quickie Deal with an audience member dressed as Popeye. The challenge: if he could name when the Popeye series started (to within a decade) he’d get a hundred dollars. 1933, right? Well, he guessed wrong. And they answered wrong, offering 1960 as the start! Have to guess whoever was pulling up trivia for the Quickie Deals didn’t realize how ambiguous asking when “the Popeye series” started was.

Back to the King Features Syndicate Popeye shorts, though. Today’s is another Popeye cartoon from the Paramount Cartoon Studios group. The story’s credited to I Klein. Direction and production are credited to Seymour Kneitel.

The cartoon is set in India. I’m relieved to report that it has no racist or even questionable depictions of Indian persons. This because the budget was too tight to represent any Indian persons at all. It does depict India as a place with strange statues bearing curses, though. If you don’t want that sort of exoticizing South Asia in your recreational reading, you’re right and just skip this piece. You aren’t going to miss anything important in understanding the Popeye canon. This never quite tripped over the line to get me angry. I think because it interacts with the setting so little. The story wouldn’t change if the Sea Hag were trying to get Merlin’s Macguffin from an English castle.

For those who are venturing on, here is 1969’s Gem Jam.

I mean, there’s this episode of Dave the Barbarian where the lead villain has to trick one of Our Heroes into swiping this cursed magic item for him. You could watch that, if you want this premise done with more fun and energy. Dave the Barbarian was a mid-2000s goofy cartoon set in a fantasy magic kingdom, so a cursed item has a subtler set of issues behind it. It also has a more specific curse. The first person to take it will turn into cheese. Dave the Barbarian had that 90s-web-comic style of wacky wacky zany and oddly angry humor. But I’m sure there’s nothing we now notice as regrettable in the series at all.

But this short, mm. Popeye and Olive Oyl are in India, while every Indian person is out of town visiting friends. The Sea Hag is, too, hoping to swipe a gem from a statue. But the gem puts a curse on whoever steals it, so, she whips up a perfume potion to make Olive Oyl steal it for her. I’m sure the Sea Hag would have preferred anybody besides Popeye’s girlfriend to do this, but again, there’s not even people in the distance in background paintings here. She had no choice. Also, apparently, in this cartoon’s continuity Olive Oyl hasn’t met the Sea Hag yet. I suppose this justifies the Sea Hag relying on Olive Oyl instead of, like, training a squirrel. But it’s going to mess up any kids trying to put all the Sea Hag/Popeye/Olive Oyl interactions in a consistent order. Good luck.

The Sea Hag, wearing a turban, holds out her hand expectantly . Olive Oyl, who's fallen on the ground, sits up, looking confused by all this.
“Come with me! We’ll find a better cartoon for you to be in!” “What, like where I’m in the Army with Alice the Goon?” “Eh, maybe skip it.”

Olive Oyl’s tricked into stealing the gem, but the Sea Hag can’t get it from her because the characters are explaining what just happened to each other. And the statue decides its ill-defined curse is going to mess with Popeye more than Olive Oyl. Well, he leaps in to take hole-in-the-earth meant for her. She feeds his spinach into the crack in the Earth, and Popeye remembers he can’t hit a woman even if she is the Sea Hag. So Olive Oyl eats the spinach and beats up the Sea Hag instead, off-screen. This is a rare cartoon where Olive Oyl eats spinach. The others I can think of are the Fleischer Studios Never Kick A Woman and the Famous Studios Some Hillbilly Cartoon, Right? This is because I have no memory of the Famous Studios Firemen’s Brawl. Anyway, Our Heroes return the emerald and we get out of the cartoon.

I always talk about how these Paramount-made cartoons at least always have basic competence, even if they’re dull. This one leans more on the boring side than usual, though. The repetition of explaining how the Sea Hag tricked Olive Oyl sure filled time. The curse wasn’t that interesting. We didn’t even get a good fight cloud between Olive Oyl and the Sea Hag. This would be a story to launch your existentialist fanfic about these characters going through the motions of protagonist and antagonist, except it’s not even an interesting enough routine plot to sustain that. Really, if you like the “trick the hero into stealing the cursed item” premise, try that Dave the Barbarian episode instead. That’s got jokes at least.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

60s Popeye: The Bathing Beasts, in which nobody bathes or even gets wet


We return to Paramount Cartoon Studios for today’s Popeye short. The story is credited to Irving Dressler. Direction and production, though, are credited to our old friend Seymour Kneitel. Here’s 1960’s The Bathing Beats.

This is another in the long-running string of “Popeye and Bluto/Brutus do feats of strength for Olive Oyl’s attention” cartoons. Paramount — which used to be Famous Studios, which used to be Fleischer Studios — had done about 740 of them at this point. They could probably do them in their sleep. There’s a fair chance nobody planned to make this short, it just appeared, the byproduct of working on other shorts.

The feats-of-strength-for-Olive’s-attention cartoon lives on how inventive the gags are. It should also rely on how interesting the stakes are, but those are almost never interesting. It’s usually who gets a kiss from Olive Oyl, or maybe a date. (In Popeye for President the stakes are becoming President of the United States and yet that doesn’t do anything for the cartoon.) Here it’s … who gets to ride in front in Olive Oyl’s new car.

So the contest is at the local Mister America pageant where whichever wins gets to ride shotgun. The pageant is lucky Olive Oyl bought a car as they’d otherwise have no competitors. And then we get a bunch of basic, easy-to-animate gags. There’s bits of life. I like the pacing of Popeye and Brutus pulling the other out of the front seat. I like Popeye knocking on his head like a xylophone. But, consider the joke where Popeye slaps Brutus’s back to make him swallow his harmonica. Brutus says something unintelligible. It’s funny enough, but it’s also done already, in Symphony in Spinach. Only there it was Bluto slapping Popeye, acting as villain. I’m not sure Popeye stumbles over the line between being mischievous and being the jerk, but it’s closer than I’d like.

An exhausted Popeye, about to fall asleep, slumps over a set of weights he's trying to lift.
Actual photo of me attempting to critique this cartoon.

Brutus drugs Popeye to sleep, but accidentally drops spinach in his mouth. The big climax is Popeye dead-lifting Brutus and his weight, a feat that’s so ordinary it appears as a pre-spinach warmup feat in The Anvil Chorus Girl. There’s nothing wrong in repeating a good joke. It shows the diminished budget and scope and ambition of these shorts, though, that what used to be a warmup act is now the closer.

The punch line, of course, is that Popeye remembers Olive Oyl is a woman driver and flees into a tree to be safe. It’s not that this genre of jokes can’t be funny, because Bob Newhart’s “Driving School Instructor” routine exists. But this joke doesn’t have any sincerity to it. The cartoon would be better if we ended with Olive Oyl driving Popeye off somewhere.

This isn’t a bad cartoon. But it doesn’t feel like it was made, that is, that no creative decisions went into it. It just animated whatever they had and never thought about why, or what they could do better, or uniquely. And, as mentioned in my essay’s title, nobody in this short titled The Bathing Beasts ever gets wet.

60s Popeye: Me Quest For Poopdeck Pappy (how does he keep getting lost?)


We’ve seen Poopdeck Pappy in shorts from at least three of the King Features Syndicate cartoon makers. But, you know, it was 1960. It was time for Seymour Kneitel to write, direct, and produce Me Quest For Poopdeck Pappy. Here goes.

Is there a more iconic Popeye story than his search for his Pappy? (Bluto/Brutus harasses Olive Oyl until Popeye punches him is any 30s-cartoon Bully harasses Female Lead until Little Guy fights back short.) In the comic strip, it was one of the stories that defined his character. For the Fleischer studios it became Goonland, one of the best theatrical cartoons ever made. (One semester campus cinema put a short before every movie. Usually Road Runner-and-Coyote; it was an engineering school. But one time they showed Goonland. I recommend the experience of watching it with an audience that has no idea what’s coming or how Popeye and Pappy will escape the Goons.)

For Famous Studios it got remade as Popeye’s Pappy, a cartoon you probably don’t know because Famous Studios decided to make it racist.  So it didn’t get shown much on television. (Who looks at Goonland and thinks “what this cartoon lacks is a two minute prologue of Whoopi Goldberg saying times were different then”?)  Then Paramount Cartoon Studios — the same outfit as Famous and Fleischer, really — put in one more take. And elements of the same core idea would go into Robert Altman’s movie. And into the 2004 direct-to-video-that-I-never-saw Popeye’s Voyage: The Quest For Pappy.

A startled Popeye is held tight in three of the tentacles of Charlie the Octopus.
“What a week, huh?” “Cap’n, it’s Sunday.”

It’s easy to see why to keep going back to this story. The inciting incident of Popeye learning he might not be an orphan, is compelling. The dynamic of Popeye utterly devoted to a father he’s only ever imagined, and Pappy utterly contemptuous of his son? “I hates relatives,” Pappy declares in I think every version of this story. The setup alone generates comedy and drama. In this cartoon Pappy concedes that Popeye can take it, like his son would, when Popeye absorbs a fist straight to the jaw. “But my son woulda hit back,” which Popeye finds unthinkable. That is a master class in defining two people and their relationship. Pappy is a hilarious character, a caricature of Popeye that somehow still has some believable core. Pappy’s heel-face turn, bonding with his son over spinach and punching, is silly but makes such good character sense that it works every time. So the core story is so strong it’s hard to imagine anyone messing it up.

That isn’t a setup to saying this messed it up. The cartoon is lesser than Goonland, but, c’mon. Goonland is one of the best theatrical shorts American animation ever made.

The most relevant comparison is to Popeye’s Pappy. Me Quest For Poopdeck Pappy is almost what you get if you remove all the racist depictions of cannibal islanders from that. The role that Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea serve here, letting Popeye explain the premise of the cartoon, is served in Popeye’s Pappy by Popeye’s mother (!)(!!!)(!!!!!) in what is surprisingly not her only depiction ever. They then disappear wholly. Goonland has Popeye explain the premise in song, to himself and the audience. I’m curious why the later shorts aren’t comfortable with Popeye addressing the audience.

As with Popeye’s Pappy we see Popeye face the creatures of the island, all of them powerful and menacing, though not to Popeye. Pappy even sends Charlie the Octopus, an animal friend of his from the original comic strip story. (In Robert Altman’s movie I think the octopus was named Sam and his connection to Pappy was vague.) Pappy’s on “Goony Island” this time, a name that evokes Goonland, but there’s no Goons to be found. The Monster of the Sea is such a big, if pink Godzilla-esque, menace that Popeye can’t handle it without the spinach that’s rolled away. But that’s the impulse for Pappy’s change of heart here. And, as in Goonland, he observes he hasn’t had spinach in years. In Popeye’s Pappy, Pappy has a can of spinach with him all along. It’s kept inside a box with a ‘Break Glass In Emergency’ sign, a joke that belongs in a more watchable cartoon.

A giant pink/maroon Godzilla-style sea monster has their beak wide open. Poopdeck Pappy is standing, floating in midair, punching the monster's open mouth.
You see how much might there is in Poopdeck Pappy’s fists here when you consider he knocked the Monster of the Sea over the horizon without even touching him, just swinging his fist into the Monster’s mouth.

As every version of this story ends (that I’ve seen), Popeye’s reunited with his Pappy. And his disregard for Pappy’s autonomy — in this, Popeye’s Pappy, and the movie Pappy ruled his own island and seemed content there — is forgiven. Even by Pappy, who (as in Popeye’s Pappy) closes by singing how “Now I am happy / I found I’m the Pappy” of Popeye the Sailor Man.

As a cartoon? Well, this is limited by the things that always hit Paramount Cartoon Studios work. There’s too little variation in tempo to build up the drama to things. (Though the timing on the gorilla passing out after Popeye’s hit is quite good.) But it does have Paramount’s reliable competent animation. Everything’s fit together well. There are even flourishes of style. (Olive Oyl poses against the mast of Popeye’s ship in a pose like she uses in the two-reeler Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor. There’s no need for her to do that, even so far as there’s a need for her in the short at all, but why not be there with style?) If this short had some zany energy to it, then the strength of the story and of Popeye-Pappy interactions, would make this a really good one.

60s Popeye: Amusement Park, a cartoon set in, I don’t know, an accounting office?


It’s an amusement park, of course, as we know from the rare (for Paramount Cartoon Studios) title card that dissolves into the front scene. With a story by Howard A Schneider, and direction and production by this Seymour Kneitel chap, here’s 1960’s Amusement Park. All those tents make it look more like a county fair or a circus to me, too.

Popeye worries that Swee’Pea hasn’t got through the Funhouse yet and it’s been over two hours. This is a funny line, reason tells us, as it’s good understatement in the face of absurdity. I didn’t chuckle. And that’s the cartoon for you. The cartoon is constructed right, with the setup making sense and the story developing reasonably. It leads, as amusement park cartoons have always done for Popeye, to antics on the rides, particularly the roller coaster. It just isn’t funny.

Some of that is the fault of the limited animation. Brutus fleeing on a Ferris wheel or a roller coaster is a silly idea, if you think about it. While waiting to catch up with why this is silly, though, you need some spectacle. The theatrical shorts could afford that. King of the Mardis Gras ends with a glorious ride along a beautiful giant wooden roller coaster. Abusement Park skimps on the roller coaster support footage but makes up with a string of elephants flying through the air. Here? … well, Popeye and Olive Oyl ride a Ferris-wheel car through a tunnel of love. It’s obscured but we get to hear the chaos.

Sitting on stage are a thin man, Swee'Pea wearing a top hat, and a bearded lady. The sign behind them reads, in order, 'THIN MAN // BEARDED LADY // BABY MIDGET''
I don’t want to nitpick but the sign lists them in the wrong order. (Also, ‘Baby Midget’ is a good bit of bunkum.)

The limiting of the animation spectacle works against everything here. Like, Swee’Pea going through the funhouse, while Brutus tries to catch him, and escaping each time? That should work. The innocent wandering heedless of danger might be Swee’Pea’s best role. But what makes a funhouse is having lots of stuff moving in surprising ways. In this funhouse, Swee’Pea crawls through what looks like an empty barn while Brutus is too slow to catch up.

It’s all animated and written with the usual Paramount competence. I can’t pin down what I’d rewrite to make it better, at least within what I imagine the limits on budget and time were. Popeye and Olive Oyl riding a loose Ferris wheel car through the air to crash into a horse-drawn wagon ought to be exciting. Something’s gone wrong if it’s not.

Early on Brutus explains he wants Swee’Pea “to take the place of the midget what drowned in the salt-water taffy”. That seems a surprising grim backstory for the cartoon, although it wouldn’t have felt out of place for a theatrical short. I wonder if the script was pulled out of storage from the Famous Studios days.

60s Popeye: William Won’t Tell, because in this one, William is Popeye, that’s why


Have we entered a new round of Seymour Kneitel-mania? … Almost! It’s a Paramount Cartoon Studios production this week, so yes, he’s the producer. And the director. The story, though, is given to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. So here is 1961’s William Won’t Tell.

I’ve mentioned the curse of competence. It’s not hard to write about great cartoons. It’s easy to write about the fabulously incompetent. William Won’t Tell is mostly a good enough idea done well. But I’ll try to give some decent attention to a cartoon that sets a reasonable ambition and does it pretty well. It shouldn’t be neglected for that.

It’s a fairy-tale setting, like a fair streak of King Features cartoons are. This one doesn’t have a narrator, or any kind of framing device. It doesn’t need one, although that does raise the question why any of these cartoons ever need one.

The town crier reads from a long scroll. He's a skinny, narrow-faced person, with a shaggy, Brutus-like beard.
One of the first bit parts played by Shaggy before he landed that Scooby-Doo job. In his memoir Shaggy admitted the Brutus beard was a strange choice and nobody remembers who suggested he wear it.

The story’s inspired by the legend of William Tell. Popeye Tell pauses in his day of doing good deeds to help the Queen replace her broken wheel. She gives him a kiss on the forehead, that he has to keep secret from the jealous King and the no-less-jealous Olive Oyl. The King learns of this anyway and demands all men pass before him with their hats off. When Popeye refuses the King forces him to shoot an arrow off Olive Oyl’s head. He does, but the trick arrow that makes this easy also knocks his hat off, revealing everything to everyone. The Queen saves the day, with a well-timed explanation and birthday gift for the King, and we have a happy ending.

I don’t have a national-identity attachment to the legend of William Tell. So I don’t mind the shifting of events and motivations and all. There’s a solid logic behind the whole story, too. We get Popeye to be heroic to start with, and for that resolute good nature to get him in a fix, and for that virtue to be what brings the last-minute save. It fits well enough I only noticed later that nobody brings up spinach.

A stubborn and annoyed Popeye blows 'NO' out of his pipe.
Saving this reaction shot for every e-mail I have to answer this week.

There are several nice fangles in this, mostly in the animation. Popeye refusing the King’s order by blowing his pipe to spell out ‘NO’ in smoke. Popeye felling a tree by using arrows that spiral around each other and do the work, the sort of stunt often done in the theatrical shorts. The King trying out and rejecting two apples before putting the tiniest one on Olive Oyl’s head. These all add vitality to the cartoon, and also reward watching. They lift the cartoon beyond the illustrated-radio default.

I bring up again how well I find the story structure. When I look at the other cartoons credited Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer I find one that I thought well-structured (Who’s Kidding Zoo) and some others with decent premises done okay (Messin’ Up The Mississippi or The Baby Contest, for example). I’m curious what happened to make everything come together this time.

60s Popeye: Valley of the Goons, the rare cartoon where Popeye goes sailing


After a bit of Jack Kinney we get back to the comfortable grounds of Paramount. Once more we have story, direction, and production by Seymour Kneitel. This for 1960’s Valley of the Goons.

Considering his name Popeye doesn’t spend that much time at sea. Especially in the King Features shorts, where he got stuck in a boring suburban house. Here, he’s finally at sea — and even in a sailing ship! — but it took being shanghaied to get him there.

I like this one a lot. Not just because it has Goons, although that does help. It does a lot of things right, including getting Popeye on an adventure. It’s also a strongly-plotted adventure. Poachers hoping to make a fortune in goonskin shanghai Popeye, presumably because they need the extra muscle. Popeye, being a hero, isn’t having it. He breaks out of the brig and gives the Goons the spinach they need to kick the pirates out. And the spinach seeds so they won’t have to rely on him anymore. The story’s sensible, the motivations clear enough, and Popeye is resolutely heroic for it all.

As seems to happen, I wonder if this was a condensed version of a comic strip or comic book adventure. Neither the Popeye Wikia nor the IMDB suggest it was. And it’s unfair to say that because a story is coherent and entertaining it must come from somewhere else. There’s no reason Seymour Kneitel can’t write good stories. Still, a condensation would explain why Rough House isn’t suspicious when the Captain takes the knocked-out Popeye.

Someone off-screen pulls by a leash a decoy rabbit, holding a carrot in its mouth. An enthusiastic, happy Goon chases the decoy.
So anyway I hope your year is turning out productive like this.

We get introduced to Goon Valley as “A Backwards Country”, along with some jokes about things being done the wrong way around. Putting a mailbox in a letter, for example, or a mugger forcing cash on someone. (Who seems happy about it, too.) A serious critic might consider the colonialist implications of these pirates raiding a country explicitly labelled “backwards”. And being saved by the white guy coming in and defending them, and encouraging them to adopt his own techniques to fend off future incursions[*]. Me, I’m considering: is this a ripoff of Bizarro? The character first appeared, in Superboy, in 1959, and was popular for good reasons. But he was a lone “backwards” figure. Bizarro’s world (Htrae) first appeared in April 1960, if Wikipedia doesn’t mislead me. It’s … conceivable that this was filling out a couple minutes of screen time with a Bizarro World riff. But I find coincidence is the more compelling explanation. It’s not a unique genius that would think of “what if everyday life, but backwards?” It must have antecedents.

The captain of the poachers isn’t a Brutus figure, although Jackson Beck does the voice. Beck also does Rough House’s voice, using a southern-fried accent I think is unique to this short.


[*] One might ask whether I’m trivializing a serious and worthwhile form of criticism by putting it to a disposable cartoon from the 60s. I don’t intend to trivialize, no. I argue, first, that we learn how to think seriously about things by first thinking lightly about things. Whether by shallow thoughts or by simple topics. If the text doesn’t have enough of a point of view to criticize, it’ll fall apart under examination, and it’s worth learning how to spot that, too. And some serious thinkers would agree that the pop-culture stuff shoveled into kids’ heads deserves examination. But, again, these are for real critics, as opposed to what I do around here.

60s Popeye: Spinach Greetings, unrelated to Seasin’s Greetinks


And now Seymour Kneitel-mania gets us to 1960 and the most seasonally appropriate King Features Popeye of all. How could this have ever lined up so it would publish, in my time zone, Christmas Eve? Other than by my shuffling my schedule around to fill it with reviews this past week? Hey, it happened, that’s enough. Now with story, direction, and production credited to Seymour Kneitel, let’s enjoy some Spinach Greetings.

The Sea Hag has captured Santa Claus and only Popeye can rescue Christmas.

This is a freaking great premise. That may be the best half-hour Christmas special you could make featuring Popeye. This turns out instead to be your regular five-and-a-half-minute cartoon, but never mind. The idea is first-rate.

So I’m sorry that I don’t like the cartoon more. So much about it is appealing. Settling in with Popeye reading ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas. The stockings set up at the fireplace, with the mouse hanging up a tiny stocking ultimately filled with cheese. Wimpy’s stocking having a hole that leads to a garbage bin. Sea Hag’s clear statement of motivation: “Everyone is happy this time of year and it’s all Santa Claus’s fault!” Santa flying a reindeer-headed jet plane, too. The change in vehicle must be easier to animate than eight tiny reindeer. It also fits with Space Age attempts at updating Santa to jets and rockets and other modern vehicles. That didn’t stick, but it makes sense to try.

Popeye learns the Sea Hag captured Santa. He sneaks into her castle. She sends her Vulture to capture and dispose of Popeye. He’s eaten his spinach, so he can kill the Vulture instead. She drops Popeye down her trap door; he punches the alligators in the pit into luggage. She throws a tantrum while Popeye frees Santa. It’s a happy ending. It’s all competently animated, and it all fits together well. But the cartoon somehow fails to have a good escalating tension or action or anything. I’ve mentioned how Paramount Cartoon Studios shorts have only the one gear. That serves a mood piece like Myskery Melody fine, and it works great for Sisyphean cartoons like Popeye Goes Sale-Ing. Here, it keeps the exciting part from being exciting.

Santa, in the cockpit of his reindeer rocket sleigh, waves to Popeye, Swee'Pea, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy.
I understand the plotting reason that Wimpy and Olive Oyl didn’t go along: they’d have to either be captured or else do things that don’t save Santa. If the short had seven minutes to play, there might be time for that. But it’s odd there’s no excuse given for their not helping, not even “The Sea Hag is too dangerous, you hasta stay home”.

Here’s an example of something unsatisfying here. Santa says nothing after he’s kidnapped. He sheds a tear, a moment that works great. But the whole short goes by with Santa doing and saying nothing, at least until his final farewell. I don’t have a good hypothesis why not. If he said nothing though the whole short his wordlessness would seem like a thoughtful choice. It would put Santa outside the normal world even despite being someone who could be tied to a chair. But as it is, it feels like they couldn’t even have Santa be interested enough to tell the Sea Hag she was being naughty. Why not have Santa and the Sea Hag squabble? How could that not be great?

Popeye kills animals this short. It’s something he’s done before, and even jokes he’s done before. Coming back with the cooked carcass of the Sea Hag’s Vulture evokes returning the Sindbad the Sailor’s Roc. Knocking alligators into luggage he’s done several times over. I don’t like that side of Popeye, even when he is doing it to stay alive. And it plays meaner here than it did in the theatrical shorts. Some of that’s because the made-for-TV shorts are less rowdy and rough than the theatrical shorts. Some of that’s because it is a Christmas cartoon. I mean, Santa is looking at you, Popeye.

The Sea Hag ends her part in the short crying how “My Christmas is ruined! Everybody’s gonna be happy!” That moment surprised me. It’s a funny and appropriate way to go out, but I’d expected some softening at the end. That Santa would give her a present. It could be a piece of coal, that she could take as confirmation of her special wickedness. I bet if this were a half-hour special they’d have included that. But I like that it isn’t softened. It surprises while staying the logical result of the characters’ choices.

(Seasin’s Greetinks is a 1933 theatrical short, from before they got Jack Mercer, Mae Questel, and Jackson Beck to do the voices. It’s got no Santa Claus in it, but Popeye does decorate a tree by punching.)

60s Popeye: Popeye Goes Sale-ing, the closest he’s been to sea in ages here


We’re not done with Seymour Kneitel-Mania yet! Story, direction, and production are all credited to him in 1960’s Popeye Goes Sale-ing. Thank you, Paramount Cartoon Studios. Let’s enjoy.

The short starts with Popeye doing his scat singing. It’s nice and cozy and I wonder if they re-recorded it each cartoon or not. I also wonder why it’s used. Is it a simple way to pad out a cartoon that’s run too short? I could imagine doing a bit more of the shopping follies here, although I don’t know if it would make the cartoon any better.

Olive Oyl spots a half-off sale on everything in the department store, giving the opening for a couple reliable jokes showing sofas, tables, coats, that sort of thing cut in half. And then we go into the store and a bunch of schtick. It’s all constructed well enough, although we can fairly ask: is this a Popeye story? It could be any woman-and-man pairing from that era and you’d get about the same scene.

The joke is simple enough. Olive Oyl dives into the mob packed around a sale table and comes out with something she declares a great bargain. Also one that she doesn’t want, so she sends Popeye to get her money back. Getting the refund requires filling out great bunches of forms. I dimly remember the days when returning merchandise involved at least some explanation or effort, mostly writing down on a sheet how this was “not what you wanted”. I’m told that in older days yet it was harder still, except at stores that promised they did no-effort returns. Since there’s no comic value in returning merchandise being no effort, Popeye gets a bundle of paperwork with excessively fussy questions.

Popeye looks over his shoulders, at the camera, while shrugging his shoulders.
“It’s a living.”

And I did want to mention the studio did a nice job on the background. This is not sarcasm. I appreciate how few lines and colors they used to suggest the department-store setting without interfering at all with registering the characters or action.

Brutus isn’t here. But there’s no need for any antagonist. The point isn’t overcoming anything; the point is the Sisyphean nature of the event. And there are two cycles, Olive Oyl’s attempt to get something to find it’s not right, and Popeye’s work returning it. Since our focus stays with Popeye that’s not as obvious as could be. The only way off is for one person or another to get tired of it, and Popeye does, eating his spinach and finally doing something that some other woman-and-man pairing couldn’t.

We leave back on the road again, with Olive Oyl confined to wearing blinders. That’s a joke used in the theatrical cartoons, although mostly for cartoons about Olive Oyl learning to drive. I think this is the first time it was used to keep her from spotting department stores.

60s Popeye: Hair Cut-Ups, part of Seymour Kneitel-Mania here


Seymour Kneitel-Mania continues here at King Features Popeye review headquarters. 1960’s Hair Cut-Ups credits Max Fleischer’s son-in-law for story, direction, and production of this Paramount Cartoon Studios short. Let’s watch.

In form, this is another of the tell-Swee’Pea-a-story cartoons. It’s got a more interesting framing device, since it’s not Popeye reading from a book. The frame, of Swee’Pea being afraid of his first haircut, even has a thematic resonance with the story told. That story is some riff on the tale of Samson and Delilah, casting Popeye as Samson and Brutus as an unnamed bad guy who disguises himself as Delilah.

This kind of setup, Popeye recast as a figure of legend, they’ve done before. Greek Mirthology, from 1954, has Popeye cast himself as Hercules to talk his nephews into eating their spinach. The stories are different enough I can’t call this is a remake of that Isadore-Klein-written cartoon. It’s a variation, though, especially in how the Popeye-figure switches his source of might to spinach. 1948’s Popeye Meets Hercules has a similar “ancient origins” theme, but that Popeye is already hep to the spinach deal.

Popeye, as Samson, holds some of his long, dark, thick hair against his cheek and smiles, so very happy with the feeling and the texture.
Now, if I were an actual critic, I’d have some thoughts about the cartoon having “Brutus” assume a — the — female role in the story. What does it signify that after years trying to beat Samson, “Brutus” is able to win when he abandons the male role altogether? And that his win is immediately destroyed when he sheds the Delilah persona, taking on his male identity again? No, I don’t believe Seymour Kneitel was thinking of investigating gender roles in the Popeye universe this way. But why did Kneitel feel it right to have “Brutus” shed his face covering and Delilah voice before punching out Popeye? Anyway, since I’m not a critic, I won’t think about that instead and will instead giggle about “Popeye” here loving his hair.

As I’d expect from the Paramount studios the cartoon’s competent, even efficient. The modern-day cast is as tiny as it could have, giving Brutus a rare non-antagonistic role so his double can be the villain. Ancient times have an even smaller population, only Samson and his rival fighting over who’s strongest. This opens to a couple of feats-of-strength jokes of the kind the Popeye animators could likely do in their sleep.

There’s a neat little bit when ‘Delilah’ invites Samson into the barber shop. Smoke from Samnson’s pipe threads underneath Delilah’s face covering. It seems like a good visual joke showing Samson’s attraction to Delilah. ‘Delilah’ sneezes, though, revealing that Brutus face. It explains the plan ‘Brutus’ concocted without him having to say it to the viewer. Good bit of work and I imagine a fair number of kids giggling as they worked it out. One strength of a Kneitel production is getting simple things like that done well. When the same element can serve two roles without drawing attention it’s doing well.

60s Popeye: Rags to Riches to Rags, with Wimpy, who never wears rags


And now as promised we are into the big patch of Seymour Kneitel. He’s credited for the story, the direction, and the production of this 1960 Paramount Cartoon Studios short. Here’s Rags to Riches to Rags.

Wimpy is such a great character. If Elzie Segar had created him before Popeye, it surely would have been Wimpy that took over the strip, down to its name. Wimpy’s blend of sloth and gluttony and intelligence and venality and luck fits so well together. As it is Wimpy almost overthrew Popeye. The Lost Popeye Zine has been publishing late-30s and early-40s Thimble Theatre strips showing how much more action Wimpy drove in that era.

So this cartoon is Wimpy-focused. Popeye’s essential, sure, but we open with Wimpy inheriting a fortune. Also a butler, Jeevie, a joke I wouldn’t get when I was six, voiced by Jack Mercer finding the median of his Wimpy and Popeye voices. Also since Lord Percival Wimpy has only the one living heir we learn Wimpy’s the only survivor of his immediate family. I’m sure that’s the one piece of the Popeye continuity to never be challenged in any medium, ever.

If I expect anything from Paramount Cartoon Studios shorts it’s competence. The premise will be clear, it’ll develop reasonably, it’ll end at an appropriate spot. Also, I’ll wonder if this is adapted from a Thimble Theatre storyline. I don’t see that it is. I have suspicions, though. That Popeye’s scheduled fight is against “Kid Nitro”, not Brutus or a Brutus-model character, is suggestive. The scene of Kid Nitro training by punching out a train of identical boxers is the comics strip’s sort of thing. Jeevie also feels like the sort of supporting character brought in for a Thimble Theatre story.

Wimpy counts out Kid Nitro, who's been knocked through the floor of the boxing ring. As he counts, a bag of money with angel wings slowly floats away from him.
How do you get decent odds going up against Popeye? His fight record is something like 2,038-0, with 2,036 wins by knocking the opponent out of the arena and into the crescent moon, that flashes a giant ‘TILT’. Kid Nitro would have to be rated as, like, a thousand-to-one shot, surely, in which case Wimpy can’t put his whole fortune up. There isn’t the money to cover the bet.

And the central scheme of the cartoon feels very comic strip. Not that Wimpy would see a way to double his fortune gambling. But why bet against Popeye? Other than how the cartoon needs some conflict? (Maybe also a way to reset the status quo, but there’s many ways to do that.) Wimpy or Olive Oyl would bet against Popeye in this sort of scenario all the time in the comic strip. But this would get some motivation, like, they think Eugene the Jeep predicted Popeye to lose. Or the odds given for Kid Nitro are just so good it’s almost wrong not to rig the fight.

That logic gap aside, there’s a lot done nicely here. You get why Wimpy’s doing all this. Joining the fight as referee makes sense, and opens the prospect for good mischief. Likely that’s more fun than just seeing him enjoy his wealth. (Although there’s probably jokes about Wimpy living in a hamburger mansion they could have made.) Wimpy’s change of heart is inevitable, and maybe sketchy but reasonable. And it has a nice sequence of Wimpy imagining his fortunes floating away as he counts Popeye out.

The resolution, Wimpy cadging a burger at a diner (Roughhouse’s Cafe?), is emotionally satisfying. Popeye closes by singing how “Even down to the end // You’re still the best friend // Of Popeye the Sailor Man”. The sentiment is almost justified by the action. It’s one more thing to make me wonder if the story’s condensed from a better-motivated version.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Double Trouble, featuring 1 (one) Popeye


So, everyone here. Do you like Seymour Kneitel? Like, a lot of Seymour Kneitel? Because these Popeye cartoon reviews are heading into a thick patch of Seymour Kneitel-produced, Seymour Kneitel-directed cartoons. Today’s has a story by Joseph Gottlieb but don’t worry, after this, we get a bunch written by Seymour Kneitel too. This … is Popeye’s Double Trouble, from 1961.

The cartoons I watched growing up led me to believe I would encounter doubles of myself much more often than I actually have. It’s easy understanding why physical doubles turn up so much, though. They let you get into comedies of misunderstanding and you don’t even have to make a new character sheet. This cartoon’s one of the set where there’s a specific reason for a double. This time, the Sea Hag poses as Olive Oyl. She’s trying to get back a wish-granting good-luck coin that she accidentally gave Popeye.

Put like that, the gimmick of the cartoon sounds goofy or ridiculous. It doesn’t feel goofy, though. It’s set up matter-of-fact enough to seem reasonable. Sea Hag meant to jinx Popeye by giving him her bad-luck coin, that she carries around with her. She never wonders if keeping her bad-luck coin on her might relate to how Popeye foils all her schemes. Her vulture, in an inexplicable stroke of bad luck, pulls out the good-luck coin. She doesn’t realize until Popeye’s picked it up and wished for a chauffeur. Also the good-luck coin grants wishes. This seems like an arbitrary trait, or two magic-item ideas getting conflated. But the wish-granting turns out to serve the plot well. It gets Popeye out of the trouble of not being able to tell which is Olive Oyl and which is the disguised Sea Hag, since Mae Questel does both their voices.

The Sea Hag, disguised as Olive Oyl, holds Popeye upside-down, smashing his face into the floor.
Really feel Olive Oyl should see a warning sign that Popeye did not think this was out of character.

The story feels well-constructed. Not just in comparison to the loose motivations given the last couple Jack-Kinney-produced cartoons. And there are some touches I quite like. For one, I’m amused that Popeye accepts how the disguised Sea Hag smashes him into a wall or holds him upside-down to shake the coin off him. This doesn’t register as un-Olive-Oyl behavior. Also the waving her arm to shift into Olive Oyl’s appearance is a nice effect. I also appreciate that Olive Oyl gets to take the story lead. She sings the Vulture to sleep, unties herself, is sensible enough to wear a different hat so the audience can tell her from the Sea Hag. And she gets a rare chance to eat the spinach and so save the day. Good showing all around even if she wanders around like she’s dizzy and drunk after her spinach power-up. Well, they have to get a punch line to the dance contest from somewhere.

Wonder if the Sea Hag considered and rejected just asking Popeye for a coin for the phone or something. Yes, I know, if he turned the coin over then the short would be over too soon. Still, it would’ve been the first approach I’d try.

60s Popeye: Mirror Magic, and look, it’s Popeye’s mother!


Today we’re back to the Paramount Cartoon Studios, and another Seymour Kneitel-fest. He gets credit for story, direction, and production in this 1960 Popeye cartoon. So let’s give that to him and see what Mirror Magic is all about. It’s not much magic, especially not compared to Popeye and the Magic Hat.

There is a curse to competence. It tends to be boring. The last couple Jack Kinney cartoons I looked at had sloppy stories and a lot of animation cheats. But that also gave them this weird, unpredictable nature. Here, Paramount Cartoon Studios, which had been animating Popeye for 27 years already, gets all the craft of cartooning right. But it’s less fun.

The story is an adaptation of Snow White. For once it’s not a story Popeye tells to Swee’Pea. Jackson Beck in his narrator voice sets the stage, in the land of Muscleonia, where the strongest man rules. Little Popeye, whom we meet as an infant lifting his grandmother in her chair, is destined to be strongest in the land. We see it in scenes like Popeye bringing all the cows in the pasture in when his mother asks him to. Also we see Popeye’s Mother, the only time — in animation or in the comic strips — I remember seeing her.

King Brutus doesn’t suspect until the Magic Mirror, Jack Mercer doing his best Ed Wynn, drops the news that the change of might has happened. And so Brutus goes in disguise to kill an unsuspecting Popeye. He tries by dropping stuff that would kill a normal man, all of which Popeye shrugs off. Funny enough. Also interesting: despite the title, there’s no use of magic besides the Wynn Mirror’s ability to tell who’s strongest in the land. And not warn of anyone stronger growing up. Brutus drops his disguise, for not much reason, but gets the drop on Popeye, who eats his can of spinach. I was surprised he had a can. I’d expected the vase he was knocked into to happen to contain spinach.

Popeye, having noticed the back of his outfit was chopped off by a fallen scimitar, turns around to see Brutus, in his old-lady guise, about to smash him with a chair.
“He’s got a chair! He’s got a chair! Oh, what a moment for the referee to have turned his back to scold Popeye’s manager!”

It’s all done competently. The one moment I didn’t understand was Popeye saying how he couldn’t hit an old lady, and Brutus tearing off his old-woman guise, declaring “So you’re not as strong as the mirror said you were!” But that’s a tiny logic gap, so compelled by the plot needs you might miss it. And there are a few neat bits, mostly animation of Brutus leaning into the camera. But that’s all. You can tell from how much of this essay is recapping what happened that I just watched the story, nodded, and didn’t have deeper thoughts about it. The cartoon proves that not everything this era was badly made. But I know which of the last couple cartoons I’ll remember in two months.

At the end of the cartoon Popeye sings about how he’s Popeye the Sailor Man, even though he’s been established as the Pleasant Peasant throughout, and has not been in the same frame as any more water than the glass he holds. I trust there is an explanation for this blunder.

60s Popeye: The Mark of Zero, and the mystery of the Mark of Zero


We continue in the wilderness of shorts for which King Features’s YouTube collection includes no credits. The style of the title card gives away that it’s a Paramount Cartoon Studios production, from 1961. Seymour Kneitel is the producer and, per the Internet Movie Database, director as well. Irving Dressler has a story credit. He seems to have gone without mention here before. Here, now, learn the mystery of The Mark of Zero.

Zero, here, is the hero of a bedtime story Popeye tells. He’s a dashing, sword-wielding force standing against Brutus and his gang. There’s a good bit to like in Zero’s story. For one, he’s got a lighthearted tone. Zero quipping about how he’s kind of a cut-up is the sort of joke Jack Mercer would mumble if this short were made in the 30s. And that includes some nice cleverness, such as by disarming Brutus’s band of thugs by using a magnet.

Also, Brutus’s band of thugs is well-populated, especially for this era, and by more than one character model and voice. And his battle of wits with Zero develops. It’s got a proper introduction, build, and climax. Brutus declares “dames is Zero’s weakness,” on grounds not evidenced on-screen, and puts on a dress to catch Zero by surprise. The framing device excuses Brutus giving Zero the precious bit of spinach. This is the rare bit of suspense where you know how things are going to go the hero’s way.

It’s all done in the lumbering, steady pace of a Paramount cartoon, of course. Look at when Zero’s caught in a barrel with Brutus sitting on top. We get a good solid reminder that Zero has a sword, before he swipes Brutus’s rear end. The joke setup is sound. Set up the action and pay it off. What it’s not is fast. With better pacing the cartoon could be twice as good.

Brutus, wearing a dress, whips off the wig and mask he wore to conceal his identity and holds his sword out on Popeye-as-Zero's chest. As Zero, Popeye's wearing a loosely Robin Hood-like outfit, with a nice purple cape.
By the way that’s a look that works for Popeye. I’m not being snarky here. He fills it out well.

So the mystery. It’s not why frame this as a bedtime tale. It’s why tell the tale to Deezil Oyl? Why not Swee’Pea? Deezil was a character created for the 60s cartoons, I think to have a kid who could be more rambunctious and chaotic than Swee’Pea could be. (Also to be a companion in case the plot needed two kids.) The closing scene, with Deezil having zero-swiped her whole bedroom, would be unusual for Swee’Pea, but I don’t feel it’s out of character. There’s no need to set up telling Swee’Pea a bedtime story either.

She never got to be a regular in the cartoons, and as far as I know never appeared in the comic strip proper or another Popeye series. So I don’t want to cheat her of her few appearances. I’d like to know why she got this, though. Maybe they were looking for things to do with Deezil? But you get a lasting character when they do something someone else in your cast can’t, and “hear a bedtime story” is well-covered already.

60s Popeye: Strikes, Spares, an’ Spinach, from Seymour


Today’s is a Paramount Cartoon Studios cartoon. It’s one of the most Paramount cartoons, too. The ever-reliable Seymour Kneitel takes the credit for story, direction, and production. From 1960 here’s Strikes, Spares, an’ Spinach.

This is Popeye’s first bowling cartoon, isn’t it? I can’t think of an earlier bowling cartoon. Bowling gags, yes, such as against the Forty Thieves, or when Popeye met Rip Van Winkle, but not one a whole cartoon built around a bowling alley.

The other day I quipped I needed more Popeye cartoons where all I can say is this was a Popeye cartoon. I didn’t have this one in mind, but it is close to that. Most of the action is Popeye teaching Olive Oyl to bowl. Meanwhile Brutus leans in through one of those huge windows bowling alleys are famous for and sabotages the lessons. Mostly by, like, pouring rubber cement into the bowling ball holes. That kind of gag. Popeye has enough of this, eats his spinach, bowls Brutus out to the trash.

The interesting story choice is that the cartoon explains why Brutus is trying to sabotage this lesson. It’s revenge, or jealousy, over Popeye cancelling their bowling date. Why was that motivation needed, though? Granting it’s rude at least that Popeye didn’t tell Brutus before he came all the way over. Or invite Brutus to teach with him. That setup would have made it easy for Brutus and Popeye to compete in sabotaging each other.

Scene of Popeye and Olive Oyl at the start of a bowling lane, getting ready to pick up a ball. There's a large open window behind them. The ball return lane has a curved top which seems too low to have allowed the balls already returned to have gotten there.
How … how does that ball return lane work? Like how does the ball get past the upper lip of that piece, particularly? Anyway it turns out you can just look at videos of how actual bowling ball return lanes work, and can then ask questions like: is a bowling ball return mechanism a roller coaster?

But granting they wanted to give Brutus a particular reason to be a jerk for once. They chose to use time having Brutus run over and lie to Olive Oyl about Popeye not making their date. This justifies all that time spent in Popeye bathing and getting dressed and all. If we didn’t see that, it would be less credible that Brutus had time to get to Olive Oyl. But all the time spent on that means a minute and a half, of five minutes’ screen time, is spent getting to the bowling alley. And that’s all stuff that could start any cartoon. Were they short of bowling alley gags to use? Or did they write that setup, which would have less overloaded a seven- or eight-minute theatrical short? And then not cut bits once they reached five minutes of screen time?

I’ve sometimes described the Paramount Cartoon Studios shorts as having one gear. This is another example of that. There’s no change in tempo over the short, no acceleration of events as we reach a climax, nothing. It’s a string of decent enough jokes until Popeye decides to eat his spinach now (with a well-timed “Uh-oh” from Brutus) and then we’re done. All that’s okay enough. But I’m already forgetting this cartoon and if you watched it, you are too.

60s Popeye: Hamburgers Aweigh, featuring gross violations of Wimpy’s autonomy


Paramount Cartoon Studios gives us today’s 60s Popeye. The producer is, as ever, Seymour Kneitel. He’s credited as director as well. Story is by Joseph Gottlieb. From 1961 here’s Hamburgers Aweigh.

The Popeye Wikia does not say this cartoon was adapted from the comic strip. I do wonder, though. It’s got a curious structure, feeling as though important pieces are missing. For example, we start with Popeye and Olive Oyl setting off on a voyage. To where? For what purpose? The cartoon ends at sea, with all their food eaten, and there’s not a hint of what they’ll do about that. (Granting the comic strip often forgot to resolve whatever the instigating event of the story was.) Popeye is able to call on the magical Whiffle Hen Bird. The Whiffle Hen Bird is an old and important piece of Popeye’s story, older even than spinach. But why is the Whiffle here? Why is Popeye able to call on him for a wish? (Eugene the Jeep hangs around Popeye enough that his presence doesn’t need explaining. But his magic seems defined in a way that the Whiffle Bird’s isn’t, and that would prevent what’s needed here.) Why did the Sea Hag stow away on Popeye’s ship? It can’t be the Whiffle Bird: she never knows this fantastic wish-granting creature is on board. Is it related to the unknown objective of Popeye’s voyage? (She offers to split the hamburger cargo with Wimpy, but that is the thing to bribe Wimpy with.) If this is condensed from a comic strip story, the condensing was done well. None of these questions really matters, apart from why the Whiffle Bird happens to be here.

A wide-eyed happy Wimpy stares at the camera as his body shakes, freed of all magic spells. The Whiffle Bird is in the air beside him, happy also.
No quarreling with Wimpy’s priority of getting all those spells off him, but it does seem like he’s uncharacteristically slow to see the power of having a bird who grants wishes on hand.

This is a cartoon with far more mind control than I expect from Popeye. And all about mind control of Wimpy, which also seems unusual. Wimpy is almost one of the magic cast himself, wandering through adventures barely touched. It’s weird when he’s turned into a werewolf or, here, gets the most important element of his personality wished away.

There’s some good plotting here. Particularly, the Sea Hag orders Wimpy to toss all of Popeye’s spinach overboard. Good thinking. It’s dumb ironic luck that the spinach cans land where her vulture drops Popeye. It’s particularly nice as the Sea Hag had just cackled how everything was going according to plan. I’m not clear what the plan was. It involved tying up Olive Oyl, only to have her walk the plank. Also it involved catching Popeye unaware, except also flying her flag so anyone could see she was up to something. I don’t quite follow her reasoning, but children’s cartoon villains sometimes have to cut some story-logic corners.

Sea Hag and her Vulture stand, glaring, next to Wimpy, who stands guard with a giant knife/saber resting on his shoulder.
“I regret, Miss Sea Hag, that no one over 48 inches may ride Pirate Boats and the park strictly enforces this policy.”

Popeye, unable to hit the Sea Hag, has no trouble giving Olive Oyl spinach so she can hit her. He’s ethical but he’s not above obvious loopholes. Meanwhile Wimpy’s used the Whiffle Bird to take all the magic spells off of him. Interesting that he’s aware of all the mind control and that nobody wished for him to be content with his new programming. If she had thought of it, the Sea Hag … well, she would have been in the same fix. But Popeye and Olive Oyl wouldn’t be doomed to starve at sea after Wimpy eats all 200 cases of canned hamburger. Live and learn, mm?

It’s all a competent, reasonable done cartoon. Something about it gives me the feeling there’s more to this story. Or it could be Joseph Gottlieb conveyed the tone that there was more going on than they could show. I’ll still be thinking about this one a while.

60s Popeye: A Poil For Olive Oyl (I count at least 28 poils myself)


Back today to Paramount Cartoon Studios, and the year 1961. Seymour Kneitel gets credit for direction and (of course) production. Joseph Gottlieb gets the story credit. He also had the story credits for Operation Ice-Tickle and for Going … Boing … Gone. So I’m glad to have a title from him that doesn’t make me wonder if I’m missing an obvious pun. We search now for A Poil For Olive Oyl.

The hosts of bad-movies podcast The Flop House once offered that a common bad-movie mistake is explaining wrong things. Too much time on backstory that doesn’t matter, not enough on why characters would want to do this thing now. A Poil For Olive Oyl is an example of this explain-the-wrong-things error.

Popeye wants to get Olive Oyl a birthday gift. She looks at a $12,000 mink coat and then a $5,000 strand of pearls. This setup takes about as long as third grade. I don’t mind giving Popeye a reason to go pearl-diving. But how long did we need the jewelry store owner to spend figuring out 20% off of five thousand dollars? We could have started with Popeye on the boat, saying, “And now I will collect the poils for your birthday presenk, Olive!”. We’d lose the not-quite-jokes about Popeye being a cheapskate. But the cheapskate jokes also imply that Olive Oyl can’t guess, to within four thousand dollars, what’s a reasonable cost for a birthday gift.

When Popeye gets to the oysters we have a modest but actual flight of fantasy. The beds are literal beds, oysters tucked in under blankets and all. The whimsy isn’t bad or unprecedented. Paramount Cartoon Studios was the Fleischer Studios reorganized. Surreality was the Fleischer’s greatest strength. But it has been a while since this studio put this sort of fantasy in its Popeye cartoons. I like the intent behind putting this whimsy in. But giving the oysters eyes and beds and pillows anthropomorphizes them in a way that makes taking their pearls more like theft.

Olive Oyl (seen from behind) watches a TV set showing Popeye swimming underwater.
Hey, nice of Olive Oyl to watch the cartoon along with us!

Even more like theft: the Sea Hag says Popeye is stealing from her oyster beds. Popeye insists that’s false, but … is it? I’m not asking about the actual maritime law about ownership of oyster beds. If she’s been farming oysters and she’s come out to chase off a tresspasser? Explain it to me like I’m a seven-year-old who’s accepted the folk-Lockean notions of the origins of property that every American grows up with. Because that gets the end of the cartoon, and finally some action, on a bad footing. Which is a shame. It’s the rare example of Olive Oyl eating the spinach and punching the bad guy. You don’t want that foiled by doubts about who’s right.

So there’s the problems here. We spend a lot of time justifying why Popeye would dive for pearls. But we don’t get to hear why the Sea Hag hasn’t got at least equal rights to the pearls. The cartoon counts on “she’s the villain so she must be being villainous” and that doesn’t work. My quick fix? When Popeye gets to the oyster beds, ask for volunteers to donate pearls to Olive Oyl’s necklace. Then Popeye’s not stealing from the anybody while the Sea Hag is. And start the cartoon at the oyster beds. We don’t need it explained why someone might gather pearls to make a necklace.

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. They 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: Giddy Gold — and wait, could Popeye return to the comics page?


First things first: so, this is going around.

The survey asks what classic King Features comic strips people would like to see brought back, and what ones they would not. Included on the list are Popeye/Thimble Theatre, Apartment 3-G, Krazy Kat, Mandrake the Magician, and some others, plus spots to write in your own. I certainly have my preferences, but do encourage you to vote as you like. I would love to have more story strips, to read and to recap. I notice that The Amazing Spider-Man is not on the list of possible revivals.

And I’m aware that revivals and new-artists to comic strips are a controversial thing. I’m not sure if, besides Annie, there’s been a revival of a moribund comic strip that’s succeeded. One can fairly ask whether comics page space should go to Johnny Hazard, who’s a heck of a forgotten character, when some new and original idea might flourish. But if comic strip readers are reading more online, then there’s less of a limitation on space; the constraint is how much editorial support the organization can give. I assume the effort of supporting 55 strips is not so much more than that of supporting 50. (To pick numbers arbitrarily; I don’t know how many they’re maintaining offhand.) If a new Heart of Juliet Jones makes the whole enterprise a bit less fragile, good, then, let’s have it.

Does an online survey result in anything? I don’t know. The last time I saw something like this from Comics Kingdom it was choosing among possible names for John Kovaleski’s comic strip Daddy Daze. So it’s at least plausible. We’ll see.


Giddy Gold is another 1961 cartoon made by the Paramount Cartoon Studios crew. The story’s credited to I Klein; the direction, to Seymour Kneitel. It’s a basic story, yes. But it’s another cartoon in the era of Deep Cuts of Thimble Theatre cast. No, Roughhouse still hasn’t appeared on-screen. I swear, he appears eventually.

Popeye, like Superman, has an ambiguous relationship with magic. He lives in a world full of it, and people who can use magic to produce wonders. But he’s not comfortable with magic, since he can’t punch it. The Sea Hag is the most frequent source of magic imposed on Popeye’s world. Sometimes there’ll be a magic ring or a genie introding. Sometimes it’s Eugene the Jeep, whose powers — at least in the Fleischer cartoons — stick mostly to fortune-telling and harmless mischief. But there is another magical creature. She’s the thing you need to know to enter the club of Hardcore Popeye Fans. This is Bernice the Whiffle Hen.

Bernice the Whiffle Hen was a magical, luck-giving bird from Africa, given to Castor Oyl by uncle Lubry Kent in a 1928 sequence of Thimble Theatre. Castor Oyl hired the first sailor he saw to sail him to the gambling casino on Dice Island and that’s how Popeye joined, and took over, the comic. And more: Bernice’s luck gave Popeye the super-strength and invulnerability he needed to survive the gamblers shooting him. Popeye’s super-strength would eventually be explained by spinach. Bernice would (in a 1930 story) meet a Whiffle Rooster. She looked ready to leave with him, but came back, and now they live wherever the heck Ham Gravy and other lesser characters went. When Popeye needed a magical animal companion, Eugene the Jeep would do.

So here, now, we finally get an appearance by the Whiffle Hen. Or at least the Whiffle Bird, as Popeye calls her. Jack Mercer does the voice for the Whiffle Bird too, in a voice that sounds male. Really that sounds like he’s trying to do Wallace Wimple (Bill Thompson) from Fibber McGee and Molly. I don’t know why not have Mae Questel do the voice except maybe they didn’t want to give her three parts?

The Whiffle Bird is about to land on the Tunnel of Love boat. Popeye is delighted to see Whiffle; Olive looks surprised but interested.
Is it economy of storytelling or just the assumption that kids don’t ask questions that keeps anyone from explaining how the Whiffle Bird is magical? I mean, the Whiffle Bird saying he’ll grant a wish explains that, but what preps kids for the bird talking other than that kids don’t see any reason a bird shouldn’t talk if it has something to say? (In the comic strip she says nothing but “Whiffle”.)

This is one of the few Popeye cartoons we can place to a specific time: the Whiffle Bird says it’s the 7th of day of the 7th month. July the 7th, then. Also, it’s the 7th hour, so Popeye and Olive Oyl are at the amusement park way too early in the morning. Maybe it’s the seventh daylight hour. Our Heroes are in a Tunnel of Love ride. I’m an amusement park enthusiast and I love particularly the more old-fashioned rides. So between that and the Whiffle Hen this cartoon is tightly aimed at my niche interests. There’s not many Tunnel of Love rides — also called Old Mill rides — out there anymore. I’ve been able to get to three, at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Rye Playland, and Kennywood Park.

The cartoon’s depiction is basically right: you putter in a boat past scenes of, like, gnomes digging in emerald mines and stuff. Rye Playland’s got a really great example of this and if you can get there when the pandemic is over, I recommend you do. (Kennywood’s, last I visited, had themed their Old Mill ride to Garfield. It’s been re-themed since then, but I haven’t been able to see it.) Olive Oyl wishes the fabulous scenes were real and the Whiffle Bird decides to make this of all possible wishes come true.

Olive Oyl’s eyes bug out and stay bugged out. Popeye, instinctively distrustful of magic and easy riches, wants to drop the buckets of treasure. Especially when he hears there’s three dangerous dangers to overcome before they can leave. The first danger’s a stone tunnel slapping shut in a move that looks like a platformer game 25 years early. Popeye’s able to clip through it, of course.

The next danger is Medusa. Olive Oyl finds the menace laughable because she hasn’t been paying attention. Medusa turns her, and her buckets of treasure, to stone. This includes precious gems that, as a know-it-all, I must point out were already stone. Popeye offers a beauty salon treatment to beat Medusa, which is a good 1960s-tv-cartoon solution. It works, breaking the spell, when she accepts the beauty treatment. I’m sorry there wasn’t time for, like, twenty seconds of Popeye as a beautician. I’m not sure where to cut the time from, though.

Olive Oyl, carrying two buckets full of treasure, is turned to stone and stands mid-step on a plinth inside a long tunnel.
The town of Chester, Illinois, is more indoors than I thought! Anyway if a Medusa is going to turn you into stone make sure you’re posing so you have natural balance. Medusa should provide the base that you stand on, though. Don’t give her any money for one! If a Medusa asks you for plinth money, however good her rationale sounds, it’s a con. Turn around and have a board-certified basilisk petrify you instead.

The last peril’s the Siren, and I have to say, this is a great Tunnel of Love. Popeye tip-toes towards her charms in a way I’m not positive wasn’t sarcastic, at least to start. Olive Oyl eats Popeye’s spinach and slugs the mermaid, which is enough to get them past the perils. They get to the boat, emerge into the sunlight and oh! Bernice(?) forgot to mention that the spell would wear off when they reached daylight. I understand the instinct to reset the status quo, although it’s hard to think why the Whiffle Bird would cast such a limited spell. Maybe s/he just likes causing mischief. I can respect that.

Making the Whiffle Bird talk, and cause mischief like this, expands her role from the comic strip. But it gives her character a clear separation from Eugene the Jeep. And she can introduce mischief in a way that Eugene couldn’t, at least not outside the Popeye’s Island Adventures shorts. So as character retcons go this is probably a good one. At least as long as talking animals don’t break the rules you perceive Popeye’s world to have. We’ll see her, or maybe him, again, although not enough.

60s Popeye: Scairdy Cat


This week’s 60s Popeye cartoon is another one made by Paramount/Famous Studios. For a change, Jack Mercer doesn’t have a hand in the story. The story’s by Joseph Gottlieb instead. The director is again Seymour Kneitel. So here’s Scairdy Cat.

I may sound like I’m slighting the cartoon to put so little focus on the story. It’s a decently organized story. Brutus finds a potion to induce cowardice in someone, and he sees this as his chance to crush Popeye. Sensible work there. He sprays Popeye with the fear gas, using the chance to throw away Popeye’s spinach. Again, good thinking there, Brutus. And he humiliates Popeye in front of Olive Oyl, which, again, good work. Brutus slamming the door shut causes the spinach can to roll into Popeye’s hands. It makes the structure better tragedy: Brutus causes his own undoing. It does mean Popeye doesn’t really have anything to do with his own story, but that’s all right. The story hangs together sensibly throughout.

What caught my interest was — knowing this was a Famous Studios short — the first scene. The establishing shot of the library. The building itself is rendered in three colors, as I make it out, including the shading used. Granted a library of this vintage might have a marble front, and not need many colors, but that’s still sparse. The whole scene, counting the background, is five. It’s a deeply stylized, UPA-style rendition of the building.

This continues throughout the short. Brutus’s kitchen is a (speckled) mustard yellow surface, with a red quadrilateral for a stovetop and two white rectangles for cabinets and counter. Olive Oyl’s living room is a similar mustard yellow expanse, with a white box, a purple chair and a purple wall hanging in the background. Many of these details are even lineless, or nearly so.

UPA-style rendering of a PUBLIC LIBRARY, a great marble building, done with extremely flat coloring and what look like hand-drawn lines for the steps and columns and windows.
Maybe my librarian friends can help. Would your books that contain actual working witch’s spells to alter people’s moods be in general circulation or would they be in special reserve?

The UPA style, with its flattened shapes and colors and great abstraction of space, isn’t one I cared for as a kid. I liked lush, photorealistic watercolored backgrounds where possible. These days, I better understand the appeal. Not just why animators would want to depict something with as little drawing as possible, but why they’d admire doing that.

Famous Studios was, usually, not a visually inventive studio. It’s easy to read its greatest animation as things left over from Max and Dave Fleischer. For much of their history they drew things in a basic, photo-realistic, functional style. This isn’t a bad thing. I understand the animators wanting, sometimes, to try a stylistic experiment, though.

Famous Studios had done this before. There’s some cartoons from late in the theatrical run of Popeye, such as Parlez-Vous Woo or Spooky Swabs, with a similar style. Later in the 60s the studio would become much more experimental, as animators like Shamus Culhane and Ralph Bakshi were put in charge for short whiles. It’s not that they couldn’t do more innovative work; it’s that they only sometimes took the chance.


And some stray thoughts. Brutus finds the Fear Gas recipe on page 13 of Ye Olde Reliable Witche’s Cook Book. I like the Olde Thyming of that title. Page 13 is the left-hand side of the page. I think that’s an extra subtle joke, mostly because the surplus ‘e’ in Witche’s convinces me they were looking for chances to do that.

Brutus tests the Fear Gas potion on himself. This seems dangerous. If the cartoon had a higher budget he probably would’ve had a cat to test on and send running from a mouse.

When he’s first Fear Gassed, Popeye grows a nice yellow streak up his back. And then the word ‘YELLOW’ appears across in what seems like too similar a shade. But I remember this seemingly-low-contrast color choice reading cleanly enough on the black-and-white TV of my youth. So to sum up, there is no excuse for any web site to have light grey text on a dark grey background.

The Fear Gas works on Popeye, the first time, for only a couple minutes. This doesn’t seem like enough time to make him, as the spell promises, your slave. Or does Popeye just metabolize fear that quickly? I think he might just metabolize fear very quickly.

60s Popeye: returning to the Aladdin’s Lamp


It’s another Paramount/Famous Studios-produced 60s Popeye today. The title, Aladdin’s Lamp, is a mix of expectations. Toss in a genie and you have an excuse to do any crazy idea that couldn’t fit into a reasonable story. But for the seasoned Popeye-watcher there’s knowledge. Whatever they do must pale before the Fleischer Studio’s two-reeler Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp. There’s just not the time or budget to do anything that ambitious. The story’s by Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer, as usual for Famous Studios work. The director’s Seymour Kneitel again. Let’s take a few minutes to see Aladdin’s Lamp.

I’m sure that she isn’t the most common villain. But it does seem like the Sea Hag gets to be the antagonist for a lot of these 60s Popeye cartoons. There’s good reasons to use her. After 250 cartoons, the depths of Bluto/Brutus’s character may have been exhausted. Or at least gotten boring. Sea Hag lets the writers pull in magic, to send stories going weird directions. And there’s the good plot dynamic that Popeye can’t hit a woman even if she is the Sea Hag.

We open on Sea Hag, who happens to wonder what happened to Aladdin’s Lamp. Turns out right then Olive Oyl bought it. Think how lucky the cartoon was that the Sea Hag didn’t look up the lamp two days earlier. Sea Hag steals the lamp, using a great big horseshoe magnet, because she respects cartoon conventions. Popeye’s off in pursuit.

Sea Hag summons the Genie, who looks faintly like they were going for Jeeves and who talks with Wimpy’s voice but cleaned up. Sea Hag starts making wishes, something we see from a nice three-quarters view with her right hand making great sweeping motions. I recognize this animation from Voo-Doo To You Too. Well, it helps the cartoons come in on budget. The genie turns various ship equipment into treasures. This seems great since doesn’t need the ship’s equipment as ship’s equipment.

On a ship's deck, a ghostly pink genie holds up his arms, having just shrunk Popeye to about the size of his foot. In the background a wooden barrel is now 14 karat gold.
Popeye: “I wish this sort of thing would stop happening to me! … Saaaaaay!”

Popeye races in. Sea Hag orders the genie back in the lamp. She feeds Popeye a line about her love of antiques getting ahead of her. She uses this distraction to rub the lamp and orders: “Quick, Genie; ‘fore he can get the spinach from his blouse// Shrink Popeye down to the size of a mouse”. I have questions. Yeah, the dictionary insists it’s fair to call what Popeye wears a “blouse”.

So why order the genie into the lamp and then back out again? It seems like this gives Popeye the information about there even being a genie, which I expected to come back to bite the Sea Hag. Maybe she panicked. Also, why shrink Popeye to the size of a mouse? Why not wish him to outer Mongolia or something? Sea Hag did cast her wishes, for treasure and for Popeye’s shrinking, in rhymes. Is that part of the rule? I can’t blame her not having a rhyme for “outer Mongolia” off the top of her head. I suppose she could wish to have a rhyme for “outer Mongolia”, but that’s a bootstrapping problem. Also, how large are the Sea Hag’s mice? Is she not distinguishing between mice and rats, and has she still got somewhat large rats?

Popeye rolls with being small pretty well: he ties the Sea Hag’s dress into a knothole. Uses that diversion to grab the magic lamp. Here’s where I figured he’d start making wishes. He’s been coming up with rhyming couplets, at this point, for 28 years. He can do anything as long as he ends it “… Popeye the Sailor Man! [ toot toot! ]” Not so, though. Sea Hag catches in a can which, of course, is a not-quite-empty spinach can. His spinach can, he says, even though he hasn’t pulled out a can this cartoon. Maybe it’s from an earlier adventure.

The spinach returns him to normal size, like you’d expect. And next time Sea Hag summons the genie, he’s ready with an office-cooler water bottle(?) to catch, cork, and toss away the genie. Being tossed into the sea breaks the spell that transformed the Sea Hag’s ship’s equipment into treasure, for the reasons. And she goes swimming off after the genie. Since that takes her and the genie out of frame, it’s done.

Popeye gleefully has the ghostly pink genie caught in a large glass jug and is about to cork it.
So, you’re a genie. Is moving from that small brass lamp to this big glass bottle a step up, because there’s space, or a step down, because there’s no privacy? Discuss. (Before taking this screen grab I hadn’t noticed the shadow of the ship’s mast here. It’s a good detail to put on the background. It doesn’t really cost more to paint it this way and it makes the ship look more real.)

Popeye brings the lamp home, triumphant, and of course his work was in vain. Olive Oyl has a new lamp, one that — get this — is also a coffee grinder! The joke is adequate, but I do admire how ugly this new lamp is.

I still like the premise. Maybe I’m an easy touch for genie stories. I’m disappointed by what’s done with it. I don’t think just because it’s lesser than the two-reel cartoon was. (Also I’m amused that in writing up the two-reel cartoon I wondered whether the Sea Hag might be a fitting villain.) Not enough magic, or not enough wild magic for me. Shrinking Popeye is a good bit of business, but I feel like the Sea Hag could do that herself. Why not trap Popeye in the lamp, or give him some other reality-breaking problem to punch his way through? The genie acting as a valet is a decent character. Why not a set of quick gags of Popeye going up against the genie and being dismissed with a snap? The premise is almost pure play; why not play more?

60s Popeye: Go see Sea Serpent, you’ll see it and serpent, I love it


Never mind the subject line. I was referencing this one Saturday Night Live bit from 1989 where they were really laying it on that Gene Shalit guy. They had him say, “Go see Sea of Love, you’ll see it and love it!” For some reason, my brain has decided this is one of the most important things I could ever remember.

Anyway I had good feelings going into this week’s cartoon, Sea Serpent. First, I’m a fan of sea serpents. I support the work they’ve been doing. Second, this is another Famous Studios production. The story’s by Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. Director Seymor Kneitel. I could expect the cartoon to be competent in writing and animation. And how did those expectations pan out?

Olive Oyl’s a reporter, a promising start. I wanted to say it’s a new role for her, but I have the nagging feeling there was some Famous Studios cartoon with the same gimmick. I can’t place it, though. The gag of Olive Oyl’s typewriter barrel flying loose and having to be put back in place is standard, but I always like it. Popeye’s expositional lump that he never gets to see her since she took this job seems at odds with her anticipating her first assignment.

Editor Mr Byline — Jackson Beck, showing that he’s got range — sends her to Loch Ness on rumors there’s a Monster there. This reminds us that newspapers used to have travel budgets for their staff. Loch Ness seems like a far place to send a new reporter, especially on rumors. Maybe it’s not the Loch Ness in Scotland, though. Could be it’s a local lake that happens to share the name. This would be consistent with Brutus not affecting any kind of accent, and charging $10 an hour and $5 per picture for visitors.

Popeye protests he’s never seen a sea serpent, and you know, I think that’s right. He’s seen Jeeps, Goons, whiffle hens, and The Rokh, but a sea serpent? … Oh, wait, he has encountered a sea serpent too. Well, the serpent wasn’t the main menace. Maybe it slipped Popeye’s mind. Anyway Popeye agrees to take Olive Oyl to Loch Ness. If this is the one in Scotland, then he managed a long sailing expedition without getting shipwrecked, so his day’s looking up.

Brutus is tour guide, answering my notes’ question about why he wasn’t the newspaper editor. He’s got a nice fake Loch Ness Monster but business is awful, and he sees in Olive Oyl one really good mark. She ought to be counted as a loss leader, good press bringing in good business. But maybe Brutus has been at this a while and knows the attraction is tapped out.

Olive Oyl buys everything Brutus presents. Popeye uses his Columbo-like powers to tell right away who the bad guy is. Granted, if he just guesses “It’s Brutus” he’s going to be right … I think all the time? For the King Features cartoons anyway. But Popeye’s buying none of it, so Brutus kicks him into … the cave where he left the fake Monster foot. Olive Oyl won’t believe Popeye’s discovery and insists he made it, in seconds, without tools or raw materials. In fairness to Olive Oyl, the rules about what a character can and can’t do with a few seconds of work are vague. Especially when it could be Popeye’s eaten his spinach.

Brutus has more evidence: a sea serpent egg. This turns out to be a rock, which is not a pun here. Popeye learns that it’s a rock by Brutus dropping it on his head. This ruins a perfectly good rock. Can’t be easy finding egg-shaped rocks that size. Brutus must be readying to burn the Loch down for the insurance money.

Olive Oyl scolding Popeye, who's smugly holding his hand up to a green door. The green door is the chest panel of a Godzilla-like sea monster. There's a control panel of circles and an analog meter hanging in the center of the black void within the sea monster.
Olive Oyl is having absolutely none of Popeye’s claim that with vacuum tubes you get a warmer, better-rounded analog sea-monster roar.

Brutus has got a great centerpiece, though. An actual remote-control robot sea serpent. Or, well, off-brand Godzilla anyway. This is a heck of an up-front expense for his Loch Ness Monster tour thing. I too am surprised Loch-zilla is not drawing crowds. As it rises from the waters, Popeye races in so fast he doesn’t have time to have his eyes colored white. (Look at about 10:16, a rare, and trivial, animation error for Famous Studios.) Popeye sees the remote control, then swims out to take local control of Loch-zilla. With the creature storming out of control, Brutus out-runs Olive Oyl out of there, and Popeye laughs at all this.

Popeye explains how all this was done. This makes Olive Oyl angry, because she’s a person and that’s how people work. Popeye shrugs it off, saying he came for the laughs and this was funny! The end.

The conclusion’s a little weird. Never mind that Popeye never eats spinach, or comes near it. The end feels unresolved. After confident dismissing of a sea serpent as a possibility, and debunking Brutus’s hoax, it feels like comic logic requires an actual sea serpent. Or at least Olive Oyl getting some final line in. I wonder if they ran out of time for that.

Besides the unfinished resolution, this is about what I expect from a Famous Studios-made cartoon of the era. The story’s quite sensible, if a bit plodding. The animation’s solid, never doing anything great but never being bad. It has a couple of nice small touches, including the camera looking over characters’ shoulders. I’m always impressed when this era of cartoons lines up the characters in anything besides a plane parallel to the screen.

Really it’s all satisfactory. I would like more sea serpent, is all.

Popeye’s Island Adventures ditched me this week so here’s another Popeye birthday with the Jeep


So, there hasn’t been a new Popeye’s Island Adventures uploaded since that one for Popeye’s birthday. I have not the faintest what this signifies, or even if it’s anything more than “the person who approves these cartoons before posting them had a vacation week coming”. It throws me off, though. I’d been expecting something to review. For a wonder I’ve got stuff to post sketched out for nearly a week ahead. But today? No, all I have for today is the conceptual fragment “the largest-ever spill of working fluid from the Shrinkatorium, a volume estimated at nearly four tablespoons” and it’s possible I might build that into something, but it’s not there yet. (I also think I should do more with “Muppet Babies Kids”, but at least I was able to put that idea somewhere it did some good.)

Well. King Features’s Popeye account posts stuff besides these weird new Flash(?)-animated two-minute shorts. They’ve also been posting stuff from the King Features archives. So here’s one from the 1960s run, that I picked out because I didn’t have the time to watch a half-hour episode of the 70s-80s Hanna-Barbera run, nor of the late 80s Popeye and Son. It’s from 1960, one of the mass of 800 billion cartoons they made in ten minutes: Jeep Is Jeep.

The cartoon was animated by Paramount Cartoon, their Famous Studios, and for that matter the former Fleischer Studios. The credited animators were Morey Reden, Isadore Klein, and William B Pattengill. Reden had done a couple of Pluto shorts for Disney, moved over to Famous Studios in time for, like, The Anvil Chorus Girl, and would go on to animate stuff like Beetle Bailey and Milton the Monster before getting into the Hanna-Barbera circuit. Klein was an animator some in the 40s, then moved into story for a long while for Famous Studios (he’s also credited with the story here), and then back into animation. Pattengill was also a career Famous Studios artist, starting with (it looks to me) the Little Lulu cartoons, Herman and Katnip, and Popeye. He did also work on the 1973 Charlotte’s Web. And Seymour Kneitel directed, like, everything the Fleischer or Famous Studios ever put out.

Toward the end of the Famous Studios run the Popeye cartoons were getting pretty dire, boring things with mediocre animation. But among the 1960s King Features cartoons, mediocre animation looked pretty good. And they knew the characters and settings well.

Very well, at that. The short is almost made up of scraps of other cartoons. I’m not counting the mention that it’s Popeye’s birthday, although that makes a nice link for me to last week’s cartoon. Also apparently Popeye’s birthday is in April, or the present is arriving quite early or late. But Popeye getting a mysterious box which contains Eugene? And a note that explains it all? Fleischer studios did that in 1940, in Popeye Presents Eugene, the Jeep. Swee’Pea gets out of babysitter Popeye’s care and Eugene the Jeep leads him in a rescue? That was Popeye With The Jeep, from June 1938. Yes, Eugene appeared in a cartoon before he got “presented”. Just roll with it. Popeye has to keep performing to keep Swee’Pea from crying? I Likes Babies and Infinks, 1937.

So this cartoon isn’t an improvement on any of those. Knew that going in. There’s some good stuff here. One is getting Eugene the Jeep back in action. For whatever reason the Famous Studios cartoons never used Eugene. For all the mistakes of the King Features run, they got back interesting characters who’d been forgotten after the Fleischer Studios closed up (Eugene, Poopdeck Pappy, Goons), or that somehow never got used at all (the Sea Hag, the Whiffle Hen, Roughhouse). He’s a bit more angular here, and his patterning is simplified, but what the heck, it works for me. Eugene here is a gift from “the Maharaja of Pasha”, a character I think was made up for the short and that shows how hard they worked on “foreign” names back then.

Eugene the Jeep has traditionally been from Africa; I’m curious why he’s from India now. Or, I guess, they just establish he got to India, without quite saying the Jeep is an Indian animal now. All right; no problem with Eugene having a life before he meets Popeye. But I’m curious if the shift to India reflected some pop-cultural idea of India as a land of mysticism and magic. Or if they just had that great “Maharaja of Pasha” joke ready to go and were going to use it. Or if they couldn’t think of a joke African name. I’m sure a circa 1960 joke African name would have aged well.

The jokes about Eugene’s magic seem reused, even if I’m not sure he actually did make traffic vanish in an earlier short. I notice Popeye gets hit by the same two cars that Eugene made vanish. So it’s comforting to know Eugene didn’t banish them to the cornfield, he just moved them like two blocks away instead. Eugene walking through a wall and Popeye chagrinned that he can’t do that too was done before, along with mutterings about why he can’t do that too.

Popeye punches a locomotive into oblivion. It’s a move he’s made before. Really seems like he would have had an easier time grabbing Swee’Pea and running. But we need some action. Also Swee’Pea riding Eugene like a horse is adorable.

Eugene’s ability to teleport gets set up properly, but doesn’t come into play. And that muddies one of the few moments of animation style here. Popeye teleporting around the room searching for Swee’Pea should be a good, cheap way to show frantic energy. But if we’ve just had Eugene teleporting with the same style? I’m sure this never bothered me as a kid; today, it seems a misstep. At least Popeye needed to move around with a swooshing noise instead of the bell chime. His walking through walls at least pays off with a joke. And it gets used for a nice bit where Eugene walks at an angle toward the camera, a rare and welcome moment of characters not just walking perpendicular to the camera. The characters crossing the street is a similarly welcome, not-quite-perspective movement.


Well, if Popeye’s Island Adventures comes back, I’ll review them at essays available on this link. If it doesn’t, I’ll do something else.

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