21 July 2003 | stp43
Popeye Comes To Television
After some 24 years in theatrical shorts, the longest tenure of any running cartoon character to that time, Popeye was curiously stricken from Paramount Pictures' cartoon cast. However, King Features, owner of the character, revived the spinach-eating sailor man and friends for a series of televisions shorts, totaling some 220 cartoons farmed out to Paramount Pictures, Larry Harmon/UPA, Jack Kinney Studios, William Snyder & Gene Deitch, and Total Television.
These television cartoons "updated" Popeye's world by mixing 1960-topical suburban settings with use of characters, such as the Sea Hag and King Blozo, who came from the original E.C. Segar comics but were never used in Popeye's theatrical shorts; also brought in for several shorts were the Goons, hulking mute characters first seen in the 1930s, and Eugene The Jeep, another revival from the 1930s comic strip. Character designs were also changed to reflect the "back to the future" quality of the shorts, particularly in the design of Olive Oyl, while some new characters were introduced, notably Olive's troublesome niece Diesel Oyl, a female counterpart to Popeye's four nephews (curiously not revived from the 1940s-50s cartoons).
The different studios used made for an uneven quality to the cartoons. Some of the best animation came from the Snyder-Deitch shorts, especially those which utilized Britain's famous Halas & Batchelor animation studios, while the best character gags often came from the Harmon/UPA shorts, which sometimes used background music first used for Mr. Magoo cartoons.
Paramount and Kinney released the highest number of cartoons, and the differences in style and intangibles were striking. The Kinney cartoons strove to be funny, and often were, but suffered from inconsistent character designs (Ken Hultgren was the animator most frequently used and his character designs were periodically the sloppiest of the series) as well as some of the weakest soundtracks of the series, re-using the sound FX library used for "Rocky & Bullwinkle."
The Paramount shorts, meanwhile, had by far the best production values of all, in character designs, backgrounds, sound FX, and in the use of Winston Sharples' background scores; some of the animation was also quite good, even in the budget-crunched era of that time.
Given the enormity of quantity and the differing studios involved, the quality of stories tended to differ, but overall the scripts were engaging and sometimes genuinely brilliant, such as the Paramount short "It Only Hurts When They Laughs," a hilarious takeoff on Popeye and Brutus' long-running feud over Olive. The Paramount shorts tended to be the most melodramatic of the show and worked very well as such; particularly effective here was the Paramount short's treatment of Olive, who is by no means the damsel-in-distress so often portrayed in the past. Here Olive gets substantialy to flex her own muscle, such as in "A Poil For Olive Oyl," when she spots the Sea Hag sending swordfish in pursuit of Popeye at the ocean floor and downs a can of spinach for the strength to finish off Haggie. Popeye for his part had shown a mild chauvinism in 1940s and '50s cartoons (such as the hilarious 1956 short "Car-razy Drivers") but here recognizes his love's own strength and actually encourages it, in "Hamburgers A-weigh" when, after using spinach to acquire Superman-esquire power (a favorite cliché of the Popeye series from the late 1930s onward), feeds a large swig to Olive to give her the same power, so she can fight off the Sea Hag - Popeye being too much of the gentleman to strike a woman, even if it is the Sea Hag.
The 1960s shorts build on the strengths of the 1940s and '50s shorts and remain engaging cartoons in the long-running series.