I need to invest less energy in coming up with subject lines for these little cartoon reviews. The urge is to come up with subject lines that invite the reader in. But for most of a post’s life I need it to be easy to figure out which cartoon a particular essay is about. Cartoon title and maybe a distinctive element is all that’s needed.
This week’s is the 23rd of the series, Gone Fishing. It starts that way at least.
I’ve always loved Popeye. That’s involved a lot of defending the cartoons against the complaint that they’re all the same formula. They’re quite diverse in structure, even if they nearly all share the Popeye-eats-spinach climax. Still, there is a formula. And it’s always thrilling when a cartoon breaks from that. The commonest break, it seems to me: someone else eats the can of spinach to save the day. Like, say, in this one.
The cartoon starts with Popeye and Bluto fishing. More, with actually catching fish. This felt anachronistic. It seems, to my uninformed eyes, that cartoons are likely enough to show characters fishing. But actually catching anything? As in, ripping animals out of their homes and suffocating them? That’s gotten perceived as too openly cruel to show. Our characters will still eat fish, of course. They’ll just leave the killing off-screen. Well, they’re all ones and zeroes imitating ink and paint anyway. They can’t feel it.
This builds into a natural little rivalry, Bluto and Popeye trying to out-catch the other, and I figured this would be the plot for the cartoon. It’s got some nice sound and, at about 0:32, even a rare screen split. I’m an easy touch for that sort of action-across-several-screens shot. They end up tied together in the water and from there stop being active parts of the plot, to my surprise.
So over to Olive Oyl, who’s made one of those Newton’s Cradles things of snail shells. One still has a snail, who reasonably takes her leave. The snail grabs a couple spinach leaves and scurries to the water, while Olive follows along. I’m not sure why Olive would. I get her accidentally bothering a live snail, but why chase after it? To apologize?
Our hero spots the stranded Bluto and Popeye, just in time for them to be menaced by a giant snail kraken. To let you in on how unperceptive I am: I wasn’t sure at first this was the spinach-transformed snail from seconds before. The snail seems to be overreacting to the offense. Still, Olive paddles into action, with a pretty cute “I’m watching you” finger-point. She surfs skillfully enough to tie up the snail-kraken’s tentacles, but there’s still the snail’s claws and screaming.
So Popeye opens his spinach and shoots the can at her. She gets your nice classic muscle bulge, flexy-long arms, and tosses the snail-kraken out of the cartoon. Then spins Popeye and Bluto free and tosses them into Popeye’s hammock, sending them each to their respective boats. Happy ending for everybody but, I’m going to guess, the episode of Shimmer and Shine that’s now about a snail-kraken somehow.
I like that Olive Oyl got something to do this cartoon. She’s always gotten the occasional chance to play the Popeye role, and I think this is her first turn in the Island Adventures cartoons. I think the music’s a bit better this week, too. I’ve never been really happy with the music on this cartoon series. It’s seemed a little too generic, like they had a stock library of tunes that are never really wrong for a short, but also never really right or distinctive. Or tied particularly to the action. This time, the music as we first saw Olive Oyl felt like a good change. I like having a different audio feeling for being on a different plot thread. Olive Oyl on the surfboard also gets more distinctive, with some brass instruments adding new energy.
It’s a bit surprising to notice how passive Popeye and Bluto are. But that is a danger of being the person-to-be-rescued. I get Popeye being reactive; even in the Fleischer cartoons he was mostly inclined to go about his business until bothered. Bluto going inert seems surprising. But cartoon fishing wire can be pretty tough stuff.
I’m doing my best to review all these Popeye’s Island Adventures. Essays about them should be at this link.