Popeye: Swee’Pea Soup


Previously:


OK, this is an odd one. It features King Blozo, another character who’d been in the Popeye comics since the 1930s but who’d somehow not gotten an appearance in the theatrical shorts, as well as O G Wotasnozzle in a surprisingly villainous role. King Blozo rules Spinachovia with a semi-competent, perpetually worried, often faltering hand. (Indeed, King Features’s current comic strip offering is a rerun of a story in which Blozo loses his rule to a homemade computer.) About all that eased Blozo’s worry in the comic strips was getting American comic strips delivered to him, although Popeye could help by telling jokes or, when he got around to it, straightening out Blozo’s ridiculous issues.

So the premise of this cartoon, Blozo losing control of the country when the population finds it thinks Swee’pea is just too cute, is really not far off something that might happen in the original source. The cartoon beginning in media res is a striking one; it starts the action off with some energy and vitality that pretty well mask how the cartoon takes three minutes before anything really, properly speaking, happens, and how it really only has the two scenes. I don’t know why Wotasnozzle is so villainous in this one, though; he was well-intentioned if impish in the comic strip and the 1960s cartoons in which he sends Popeye through time are … well, he’s a jerk to do it, but that’s a different kind of thing from trying to cook Swee’Pea. (Seriously, how is this even supposed to work? Go back to making Sappo’s wife a young woman again so he thinks he’s cheating on her with her, O G.)

You might guess the animators behind this from the drawing style and the pacing, although I spotted it by listening to the sound effects, especially of the shattered vase. It’s the same sound used for some shattered objects in the Tom and Jerry cartoons made in the early 60s by Gene Deitch for William L Snyder’s Rembrandt Films. We saw Deitch directing some of those 1960s Krazy Kat shorts, too.

While the cartoon’s pretty good at steadily presenting funny pictures, I don’t think Rembrandt Films manages to be as good at that as Gerald Ray Studios were. Individual shots are surprisingly long (though they do pan side to side quite a bit), and they don’t try to be silly as still frames. Of course, it is animated and if you watch with the sound off, you get to a funny part soon enough. That’s pretty satisfying.

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Krazy Kat: Housewarming


Previously in Krazy Kat cartoon adaptations:

So, television. After decades of anticipation, and a false start just ahead of World War II, and a couple rounds of confusion about various technical schemes that among other things took Channel 1 off the air, television finally became a successful mass medium in the 1950s. And more than anything else it needed programming, or as we call it these days, content. Movie libraries were the obvious cheap stuff to program, and they were raided with a vengeance, resulting in jokes about all the rotten old movies you caught on TV that filled up non-television mediums through the decade.

Programmers quickly figured out that kids would watch cartoons, and concluded that kids needed new cartoons, because apparently they had never met any kids and didn’t realize that they are actually pretty much fine with watching the same cartoon every day for what feels like a century. King Features Syndicate, in a rush that looks to me strikingly similar to their attempt to make every comic strip they had into a cartoon in the 1910s, decided in the early 60s to raid their comic strip properties and make lots of cartoons. Thus we got a new series of Popeye cartoons, as well as Beetle Bailey and Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, and for that matter Krazy Kat.

Fifty of these were made, between 1962 and 1964, animated by the legendary Gene Deitch and his studio in Prague, which you may remember as the studio that produced those really weird Tom and Jerry cartoons that sound like they were recorded in a bathroom and play out like fever dreams (I think they’re great, or at least a good step ahead of the Cinemascope cartoons). Deitch’s studio brought the mid-century modern feel and style of UPA cartoons to what it drew, and while I do not know for a fact that he was a fan of the comic strip, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that of course he was. The animation style is on-model for George Herriman’s comic strip in a way not seen since Li’l Ainjil:

Even more remarkably, in this, the debut of the series, the characters are on-model. The basic relationship of cat-mouse-brick-dog is made plain early on, and the characters stick to it. I don’t know that the first two scenes, of Krazy walking past Offisa Pupp with a door and a window, are drawn from the original comic strip, but they have to me the feel of them, particularly in the curious way the dialogue is both sparse and rococo. It builds into a wonderfully weird scene of Krazy’s imaginary house in the midst of a surreal landscape. I can see someone who liked this cartoon going to the comic strip and seeing something that may be different but is at least compatible, and probably more easily than someone could go from the 1930s Popeye cartoons to the comic strip.

So finally, and in a medium, and in an era for that medium, that gets no respect, we finally see what might be the best adaptation of Krazy Kat into a cartoon.

And yet …

Krazy Kat: The Mouse Exterminator


Previously in Krazy Kat cartoon adaptations:

Don’t think I’m not extremely agitated at how the subject lines aren’t consistently formated.


I confess I don’t have a particularly strong historical reason for including this week’s example of Krazy Kat cartoons. This isn’t from a different studio or even a different run of cartoons from the earlier examples; it’s another Charles Mintz-produced cartoon, distributed by Columbia Pictures, and like nearly all the cartoons that preceded it any link to George Herriman’s comic strip is theoretical.

But I felt like it belonged anyway. The previous examples have been from the mid-1910s to the mid-1930s, an era showing animation being discovered as an art form. The cartoons were still experimental, sharing a certain vitality, but that also shows some crudity. The drawing wouldn’t be as refined or the animation as smooth as could be. Even sound was still learning the grammar of the animated cartoon.

So I’m putting “The Mouse Exterminator” out as a statement that, yeah, the Mintz studios got better. The cartoon looks and moves well: the animation is full, the backgrounds as lovely as anything you might expect in 1940, the camera moves with ease, and the story makes sense. The cartoons made for Columbia Studios have, it seems to me, been pretty well forgotten, surely the result of Columbia/Screen Gems not thinking much about them; but just because they’re forgotten doesn’t mean they couldn’t be competent.

But that competence … This cartoon’s theatrical release was the 26th of January, 1940. Fifteen days later MGM would release Puss Gets The Boot, later recognized as the start of the Tom and Jerry series. That wouldn’t be the best Tom and Jerry, but it was already an order of magnitude better. It’s a bit sad that the final theatrical Krazy Kat cartoon was merely a competent but unremarkable cat-and-mouse cartoon, but, it’s also not the end of the story.

How It Being Barefoot Weather Changes The Sense Of How Clean The Floor Is (Illustrated)


A foot, in a sock, as drawn by me.
Figure 1. A foot, in a sock, as drawn by me.

Figure 1 shows a sock-clad foot. With the sock on, the floor feels clean, smooth, almost like that little ice rink that Jerry and that Other Mouse made out of the kitchen in that Tom and Jerry where they go ice skating to the tune of that music they lifted off Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. It’s hard to resist gliding around the living room and tripping over the fence used to keep the rabbit out of the dining room. You could imagine the floor to be liquid helium for all the friction you feel on it, except for not actually falling over.

A foot, not in a sock, as drawn by me.
Figure 2. A foot, not in a sock, as drawn by me.

Figure 2 shows a sock-unclad foot. It … hey, come to think of it, these are some pretty good drawings of feet. I mean, the leg in the first is clearly better, but the foot in the second is nothing to sneeze at. I’m not saying that I expect an invite to the Foot-Drawing Hall of Fame, not on the strength of these drawings alone, but I am saying that for someone who’s in my skill grade of foot-drawing, that’s doing pretty good. I mean, you can mostly tell what all the major parts of the foot are without labelling, and there’s even toenails and there’s that one where you can see the little bitty toe knuckle or whatever they call it when it’s on the foot. I’m not bragging here, I know there’s friends of mine who could draw a foot that so evokes “foot” that it would smash my drawing flat, I’m just saying that is definitely a drawing of a foot, and it came out way better than I figured it should, and I’m just awfully proud. And it’s not just a side view, this is in kind of an isometric view or something like that where you have to see things from a tricky angle, and it all works out basically all right. That’s pretty good stuff. Thanks for putting up with me. Is the big toe on the correct side of the foot there?