Soundtrack recommendation: a little piece by Sparks.
Wow, feels like forever since I did a cartoon here. Messin’ Up The Mississippi is a 1961 Paramount Cartoon Studios-produced short. Story by Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer and directing by Seymour Kneitel, almost the team you’d expect if you just knew it was a Paramount cartoon.
I don’t know why this is set on a showboat. Like, what about this cartoon couldn’t be done at any theater in any town? The only joke here that would need to be rewritten is Brutus’s comeuppance, where he’s forced to run along the paddle wheel.
This isn’t to say the cartoon is wrong to set things on a showboat, or to set it in some generic Mississippi River town. It’s that Meyer and Mercer decided they wanted this set on a showboat for some reason, and that reason isn’t obvious in what came out. Did they discover in writing there weren’t any good story bits to do that involved the boat? Or at least weren’t bits that they had time for, once the essentials of the plot were out of the way? Or did they want nothing more than to give Mae Questel the chance to try a Southern accent?
The plot’s all good enough. It’s almost archetypical for a particular kind of Popeye cartoon. Popeye’s a performer, Olive Oyl the manager, and Brutus is the stagehand and janitor and ticket-taker and all. He’s jealous so figures to sabotage the act and take Popeye’s place. The sabotage works long enough for Brutus to run on-stage in his caveman skin. But Popeye’s finally aware that he wasn’t tossed greased bowling pins by mistake. So, he grabs some spinach and lifts Brutus who’s himself lifting a whole lot of weights. Even juggles them with his legs, which is quite the feat. There isn’t a fight after this, not really; we just go to Brutus tied up and trapped on the paddle wheel. This supports the idea they just ran out of time for the premise.
It’s all done with the general, steady competence you’d expect from Paramount. It had much of the feel of one of the theatrical shorts. It’s certainly in the vein of Tops in the Big Top, where Popeye and Olive Oyl are circus acrobats. In that one Bluto’s the ringmaster, and has only jealousy of Popeye’s relationship with Olive Oyl to motivate him. Here he’s motivated by a desire for celebrity. So it’s the unusual cartoon where Brutus isn’t interested in Olive Oyl. Just in being on stage.