Pastor Steve's Popeye Page






PART I (of three parts)

It's amazing what we learned watching cartoons AFTER school!  Here are some philosophical, theological, and psychological observations that come from the toons.



It's His Cartoon, After All!!!

The Resurrection Factor

The Bigger They Are, The Easier They Fall

I'm Strong To The Finish 'Cause I Eats Me Spinach

The Long Shadow Of Segar

A Tale Of Two Redheads


Time Marches Backwards!



For more essays...

Popeye Essays 
Part II

Popeye Essays
Part III


Last updated 10-24-08. 
See What's New for details.


It's His Cartoon, 
After All!!!


Poor Bluto sometimes can't figure out just how everything goes so wrong. In the cartoon, "Symphony In Spinach," for example, he's tricked Olive into giving Popeye the brush-off, disposed of The Sailor Man, gotten Olive alone at last, and is wooing her using the same techniques that have won her heart in previous scenes of the film, when all of a sudden, she takes offense and yells, "Help, Popeye!" A spinach powered Popeye then returns and beats the stuffing out of him. 


Likewise in Vacation With Play, a swooning Olive is putty in Bluto's hands, but then, "Help, Popeye!" And, Kapow

Bluto never can win!


Even when Bluto tricks Popeye into throwing away his spinach (in "Friend Or Phony"), the can itself comes to life and rushes to Popeye's aid. If Bluto snatches the can from a trapped Popeye and drives away with it ("Taxi Turvey"), a traffic accident will send the green stuff flying into Popeye's mouth again.  Even when Bluto destroys the cartoon world's spinach crop, a fan from our universe throws our hero a can and suddenly Bluto finds himself facing an army of Popeyes!


Why is Bluto destined to fail? Why does Popeye always triumph? Well, the simple answer would be, "It's his cartoon, after all!" He's The Star. The films are meant to showcase Popeye's strength, resiliency, and resourcefulness - not Bluto's.

And when we look at the world, we need to remember this important truth - "It's God's World, after all!!" He's the one who created the whole thing. He's in charge of the whole thing. The universe was brought into existence to showcase his power, wisdom, holiness, and love. The forces of evil need to realize that ultimately, no matter how it looks right now, they are doomed to defeat because it's not their show!

As I look at my life, I need to remember that it's not my show. The Westminster Confession Of Faith, an old document that summarizes the Bible's teaching, asks why we were put here on earth. The Answer? "To glorify God and enjoy him forever." My life isn't about attempting to make me look good. It's about showing the world how good God is. And all my planning, dreams, and schemes will come to nothing if they don't showcase God, or go against his perfect wishes.

I need to take a lesson from Bluto. How much easier would it be on him if early in the cartoon he said, "Okay, I'm licked. I admit I was wrong. I give up. Now, how can I get on your good side, Popeye, and go on from here?" Why should I wait to be pummeled into submission? The Bible says that every knee will bow to Jesus eventually, either out of willingness, love, worship, friendship, or by force.

Which is it going to be for me? 
Which for you?




The Resurrection Factor


Popeye is known for the incredible way he can spring back from seemingly fatal events, whether it's being eaten by an octopus, or getting his neck broke, or having his body twisted into a pretzel in the comic strip, or being knocked off a sky scraper, or having chains wrapped around him and sinking down to Davy Jones' Locker, or finding himself wrapped as a mummy and entombed in The Sphinx in the animated cartoons. 

His strength, tough hide, the Wiffel Hen's magic, and/or a can of that trusty spinach brings him "back to life," good as new again.

Of course, Jesus Christ is the ultimate real-life example of someone who was crucified by his enemies, only to rise from the grave alive again.  He didn't need spinach.  It was the power of The Living God that did it.  But in my own life, there have been times when I felt it was all over (ex. a broken engagement, a lost job, etc.), only to have God comfort, strengthen, and guide me to a "new life."  As you reflect back on your own life, can you see evidence of God's rejuvenating power leading you "out of the grave" and helping you "live again?"

Even if right now you feel that you are "down in the pit,"  remember that your story isn't over yet.  In the Popeye cartoons, there is always hope. 

Badlands Bluto may have buried our hero on Boot Hill  and is chasing Olive Oyl around the saloon, but not to worry - Popeye will soon be back on top again. 


God's Word says that there is always hope for us, too.  Even when those who belong to him face the end of their lives, the day will come when they will live again.  God doesn't abandon believers to the grave.  Jesus Christ proved that.


The Bigger They Are, 
The Easier They Fall

Popeye is at his best when facing off against major threats like Hercules, Tarzan, alien invaders, angry tribesmen, attractive sheiks, etc. 

With, and even without, his spinach, he meets the challenge, standing up to, and besting, his foes.

When The Sailorman is pitted against little pests ("funny animals" - a woodpecker, a horse, a fly, a mouse, a goat, a gopher 

- or his nephews), 

he often doesn't fare so well. Instead, Popeye plays the part of the fall guy, becoming an Elmer Fudd/ Yosemite Sam/ Wile E. Coyote/ Tom The Cat kind of character whose best laid plans are always thwarted.  The critters or the kids usually get their way at the end of the cartoon, leaving Popeye either incapacitated or going crazy in helpless frustration.  Some hero!

Yet, how like us.  Many of us Christians believe that we can handle the so-called "big" temptations in life.  We're not going to murder anyone or commit adultery.  We don't take up armed robbery as an occupation.  We campaign for our candidates, write letters to the editors, picket, protest, and contribute money in order that the great social ills of our day might be cured.

We meet the "important" challenges just fine.  It's the "little things" that constantly trip us up. Temptations to gossip, worry, lust "in our hearts" for people and things we can't have, brag, set our hearts on money, fly-off-the-handle at our spouses, kids, and parents, hold grudges and complain (all of which the Bible labels as "Sin") can trip us up every time.  And, if we're not careful, we'll find that, like Popeye, these "little things" will cause us to do things we'd rather not do, or to go crazy, or to become much less of a "hero for Christ" in the eyes of those who are watching us.

Let's go ahead and watch out for, and fight, the "biggies," but let us oppose all the "small stuff" with equal determination and vigilance.


I'm Strong To The Finish
'Cause I Eats Me Spinach

Popeye can do some pretty amazing things without his spinach (for example: wrestling and skinning a polar bear in Snow Place Like Home; standing up to Hercules in Popeye Meets Hercules; making eighteen holes-in-one on the golf course in Vacation With Play; lifting "Tarzan" and two elephants in Safari So Good); yet he still needs to down the green stuff in order to have complete triumph over his adversaries.  He gets placed in situations where all  his powers count for naught and where he must rely on spinach to save the day.

In your life, you'll find yourself in those kinds of situations.  Hopefully, you won't be wrapped up as a mummy and buried inside the Sphinx (A Wolf In Sheik's Clothing), 

knocked off a skyscraper  (The Royal Four-Flusher), or have your head encased in cement (Jitterbug Jive).  However, you may get laid off from your job, or go through a messy break up, find yourself in over your head in a relationship, suffer with a chronic illness, face an uncertain future, or be forced to make hard decisions, watch a loved one die, or be buried under piles of bills.  You'll definitely need your "spinach".

My "spinach" is: my relationship with family, friends, and God; studying the Bible; reading books; listening to music; watching and meditating on thought-provoking movies and televisions shows.  And I'm not ashamed to admit I need it.  Like Popeye, I'll proudly and gladly "down my spinach" in full view of the crowds (Rodeo Romeo, Toreadorable).  And I'm trying to learn not to wait until the last minute to "eat my spinach."

Why wait until Bluto has buried you in Boot Hill and is chasing Olive around the saloon (Tar With A Star) to start looking for your spinach?  Why not cultivate your relationships with others and work on expanding your mind, heart, and soul now so you'll be strong when the crises come?   No matter how strong, talented, or gifted you believe you are, you will always need help and strength from outside sources in order to get through life.  Even mighty, confident Bluto could have used spinach, because once Popeye ate it, it was all over for the big ox.  Carry "cans" of "spinach" around with you at all times.  Better yet, be like the comic strip Popeye and just "eat spinach" as part of your regular diet, so the strength will always be there when you need it.



The Long Shadow 
Of Segar

Some Popeye fans dislike and dismiss the incarnations of The Sailorman and his supporting cast which vary the most from the original Thimble Theater strips by saying, "They aren't really Popeye."

I can certainly understand this point of view because to me the second "Airwolf" television series, the pilot for a sequel to "The Greatest American Hero," and the movies "Superman III" and Superman IV" are apocryphal.  Sorry, but they never happened.  Stringfellow still flies the hi-tech helicopter looking for his brother, Ralph still has the magic jammies, and The Man Of Steel never took a back seat to Richard Pryor.  That's just the way I feel.

But, while I've been introduced to the genius of E.C. Segar and his wonderful comic strips through the Popeye Fanclub, its website (see MY FAVORITE POPEYE LINKS), and its members, I can't write off the Paramount/Famous Studios' films or the majority of the KFS toons as not being real.  To me they certainly are "really Popeye," albeit maybe the Popeyes of other dimensions.  There is enough of Segar's original creation and inspiration left in these later versions to satisfy me.

How so?  Glad you asked.

The Famous Studios' and KFS cartoons have been criticized for being too violent and for having villains who were too negative.  However, let's remember that in Popeye's very first Segar adventure he was shot full of holes and barely made it through the night.  When Popeye fought Bluto The Terrible in Thimble Theater, the pirate literally wrapped him around the mast.  And one of Popeye's opponents, I believe it was Toar, broke our hero's neck.  When Popeye boxed Jimmy Jab, the action got so intense that the crowd yelled for the fight to be stopped.  Segar's introduction of Alice The Goon to the strip brought him letters of protest that he had created too horrific a character for children to read about.  And what about the Fleischer cartoons?  When Sinbad squeezed Popeye so hard his head became a real beet, and the dwarfs pounded Popeye down into a shrimp, and Bluto wrecked Popeye's train, were they just being friendly?  The point is that violence and nasty enemies have always been a part of Popeye's sagas from Segar on down.

As has Popeye's ability to come back from unbelievable physical punishment.  True, in the cartoons that's usually because he downs a can of spinach, but Chuck Anders convincingly pointed out in one of his excellent Fanclub News-Magazine columns, the fact that Popeye had eaten spinach every day since he was a wee tot was the only reason Segar ever gave for the sailor's toughness and his ever-increasing invulnerability.  It was just much more dramatic in a cartoon to have Popeye make a desperate last-minute grab for the green stuff than it was to say, "Don't worry, folks!  He's been imbibing spinach all of his life so he's going to be all right."  But the cartoons used the same solution as Segar did for Popeye's woes.

It's said that in the comic strips, Popeye could perform feats of super strength without eating extra spinach.  He can also do so in the cartoons.  Watch Me Quest For Poopdeck Pappy, Safari So Good, Popeye Meets Hercules, Tar With A Star, Snow Place Like Home, and The Island Fling to see examples of the incredible super-powered stunts the sailor can do as a matter of course.  In fact, in the latter two cartoons, Popeye's cheerfully taking in stride and overcoming every obstacle the villain places in his path reminds me of the way Segar's Poopdeck Pappy handled whatever the Sea Hag threw at him in the "Myskery Melody" storyline.  But when Segar had King Popeye go to war, our hero wanted he and his men to tank up (literally) on spinach.  And when Popeye was trapped in the octopus, he yelled for Olive to throw in a can of the green stuff.  It was also because the jail served spinach that Popeye was able to escape in "A Sock For Susan's Sake".  So, in the cartoons when Popeye faced the ultimate challenge, he needed a spinach "booster shot."  And, in a lot of the animated cartoons, it actually takes more than spinach to ensure Popeye's survival and to save the day.  For one thing, in many films, Popeye undergoes a lot of trauma, fights, traps, and hurts before he even eats the spinach.  I dare say that if you or I went through half of what our hero does, we wouldn't be in any condition to imbibe the green stuff. :-)  Popeye survives in the cartoons, as well as in Segar's comic strips, in part because he is one "tough Gazookas!" 

As an example of Popeye's toughness, think of all that he survives in Snow Place Like Home even BEFORE he eats the spinach. He's blown across a continent by a tornado/hurricane thingy, he's deposited at the North Pole wearing only a swim suit, 

he treks across the ice hauling Olive, his face is smashed into a counter by muscular Pierre, he successfully fights and skins a polar bear, he survives being sucker punched by Pierre and chased (naked and covered with oil!!) across the ice by a lovesick seal, 

he and Pierre trade strong blows during a fight, he's scrunched into a bear trap 

and rocketed out to sea into the mouth of a hungry whale. 

And then he has the presence of mind to make a pun!!! What a guy! 

Also, in the films The Island Fling, Tops In The Big Top, Abusement Park, and The Fistic Mystic, among others, Bluto is able to hold his own against Popeye even AFTER the sailor gets a strength boost from his favorite vegetable.  The two trade blows, sometimes furiously, sometimes knocking each other around, with the outcome of the battle in doubt.  Then Popeye gets in a well-timed blow or a "lucky punch" that, when backed by his superstrength, takes Bluto out.  It's Popeye's battle savvy, fighting experience, endurance, and boxing skills (all well-documented traits by Segar) that help save the day along with the spinach. 

Popeye's altruism was highlighted in Segar tales, like when he gave away money for free at his bank, or when he and Swee'Pea gave the clothes off their backs to the needy, or when our hero delivered "A Sock For Susan's Sake."  In the KFS offering The Billionaire, Popeye gives his money away to his friends.  In Paramount's Punch And Judo, he gives the orphans a TV set.  In that cartoon, as in Out To Punch, Spinach-Packing Popeye, and From Rags To Riches To Rags, Popeye is a prize fighter, as he was in Segar's tales.  In fact, From Rags To Riches To Rags was taken from Thimble Theater.

Speaking of Popeye's profession, Segar had our hero do more than just sail and climb into the boxing ring.  Popeye also tried his hand at being a newspaper editor, a banker, a detective, a rancher, a political consultant, and a king (actually, a "dictapator").  The Thimble Theater cast members weren't content to remain in their seaport hometown either.  Their adventures took place out west in Skullyville, in King Blozo's Nazilia, on the island nation of Spinachovia, Plunder Island, Poopdeck's Island, The Valley Of The Past, Dice Island, Africa, The Eighth Sea and the sunken city, and other locales.  So, it was really not such a big stretch for the creators of the animated films to put them in the Alps, or the jungle, or the arctic, or the desert, etc., nor to have Popeye (not to mention Bluto and Olive Oyl) in a wide variety of occupations like saloon owner, archeologist, traveling salesman, lifeguard, or movie star.

A plot device used in the KFS toons was Popeye telling Swee'Pea fairy tales featuring characters resembling his friends and enemies.  And both the KFS cartoons and the Famous Studios' productions often put Popeye and Pals in different eras of history or cast them in familiar legends and stories.  Segar's Popeye was a fountain of misinformation regarding such things as the English language and biblical history.  He massacred the story of Noah's Ark.  So, it's no stretch to imagine that when Popeye recites fairy tales in the cartoons, he messes up the facts, or that when he thinks about history, he imagines that things happened then much the same way they happen to him or his friends today.  Some cartoons are perhaps giving us a look inside the mind of Popeye, a mind very much on the same wave-length as the mind that was on display in the comics' section.

The cartoons are often criticized for relying too much on love-triangle stories.  But Segar first used the plot of another guy (or guys) competing with Popeye for Olive's affections.  Ham Gravy, Julius Herringbone, Hector Hardegg, an unnamed masher, a nazalian count Olive met at a party, Eggy, Johnny, Harold Hardpan, and Mr. Holster were all suitors who would up violently fighting our hero for Ms. Oyl.  True, a couple of them were after money or favors, but most were actually smitten with her. 

And vice versa.  Olive's fickleness didn't start in the animated cartoons.  The Segar Olive Oyl could easily get enthusiastically swept up and carried away by whatever was happening and whatever line she was handed.  She changes her opinions and loyalties at the drop of a hat.  She's a prisoner of her intense emotions.   Guys could turn her head. 

And, while one writer criticized the Famous Studios' Olive Oyl for being too flirty, "a mischievous miss on the make," consider that Segar's Olive Oyl said the following:

" 'Snice to be popular - but then there's a reason - look me over, Castor - I'm hotsy totsy from head to feet."

"Lotsa girls around here haven't got one sweety to take 'em to a party - but me - Hmm - I've got two.  I'm a O.K. kid."

"Oh, Count, you thrill me strangely."

(Johnny arrives, but Eggy is already there holding Olive's hand.) "I've only got two hands, Popeye."  (Popeye holds her foot while the other guys hold her hands.)

Sounds like the animated Olive Oyl to me!  The Segar Olive Oyl would often make dates with more than one guy at a time, telling them to have fun together, and to quit fighting, as she would in numerous animated cartoons (ex. Beaus Will Be Beaus,

A Wolf In Sheik's Clothing, 

Beach Peach). 

Segar's Olive, like the animated Olive, often rejected Popeye because he wasn't gentlemanly, was too uncouth, embarrassed her, ignored her, and/or fought too much.

While it's true that Segar's Olive Oyl was not exactly what you'd call a beauty,  she could inflame males, as she did to the inhabitants of Popeye's island nation when she did her dance on the beach.  (Granted, they were love-starved, but so were some of the guys who fell for Olive in the cartoons - the Pre-Hysterical Man, for example.) 

And remember that when Segar's Olive Oyl decided to pretty herself up with a little lipstick and a fancy dress, she had guys, including Popeye and King Blozo, panting after her. 

Given Ms. Oyl's Segar-established personality, when the animated cartoonists made her more attractive than Segar ever imagined and made Popeye's antagonists handsomer, more charming, and slyer, and then placed the characters in exotic settings, romantic plots seemed very natural.

So Segar's long shadow fell across the decades after his death and upon the creators of the animated cartoons.  The essences of his Popeye and Olive Oyl remained - however modified, distilled, or, some (not me) would say, "distorted."  Even the Paramount and KFS cartoons are a monument to his vision.

But the Hanna-Barbera Popeye cartoons?  They are apocryphal!

I just didn't like them, that's all.


A Tale Of Two Redheads

 Popeye and Archie Andrews are characters that have been around for decades in comic strips, comic books, live-action productions, animated cartoons, and licensed merchandise.  However, new Archie comic books continue to be regularly published today, while Popeye seems to be fading from the American scene.  Why?

 After all, some of the unenlightened criticism that is leveled at Popeye as reasons for why the sailor's popularity has gone south could also apply to Archie and company.  Some believe that the personalities of the characters in Popeye's adventures have remained too static over the years.  Yet the gang from Riverdale hasn't change that much either.  Archie is still basically the loveable, slightly bumbling teenager he started out as.  Jughead is still the loyal friend, hamburger fiend, and girl-hater.  Betty is always the All-American Girl Next Door, Veronica the selfish, spoiled, rich glamour girl, Reggie the sneaky, mean-spirited rival.  The basic essence of these characters never changes.

 Some have complained that Popeye is too politically incorrect for today.  Yet the covers of Archie Comics still regularly feature teenage boys ogling girls in bikinis, miniskirts, etc.  Veronica is still portrayed as a fickle flirt.  Jughead's attitudes aren't exactly up to date.  And no one complains.

 Some feel that Popeye's story lines are too repetitive.  Yet Archie has gotten lots of mileage out of the same situations for years and years.  If you've ever read Archie Comics you will be very familiar with: the Betty/Archie/Veronica love triangle; the Archie/Veronica/Reggie love triangle; Archie bugging Mr. Lodge or Mr. Weatherby; Veronica's selfish schemes backfiring; Archie needing to earn money to take Ronnie out; the gang trying to get Jughead to break his hamburger habit or to date a girl; the Riverdale students undertaking a project to benefit the community or school.  These basic plots have been reused and embellished on over and over again.

 So why does Archie keep going strong, while Popeye appears to be stumbling a bit?  I can think of several things that Archie Comics and the hands guiding them have done right over the years.  In a perfect world, Popeye and company would have been handled correctly as well.  Perhaps it's not too late.

 1.  Archie and friends always made strong personal connections to their audience.
Think of the titles of some of the comic books that have been published - "Betty and Me", "Archie And Me", "Reggie And Me".  It was implied that the reader had a relationship with the characters.  Fans of Betty and Veronica were encouraged to design new outfits for the teen queens, send in their drawings, and have them modeled by B & V.  Readers could also ask Archie's gals "Dear Abby-Type" questions about boys, money, babysitting, parents, school, etc.  Popeye, too, used to connect with his fans when his cartoons were hosted by live, local television personalities. The hosts would have viewers join clubs, enter contests, come to the studio as part of the audience, and enjoy the adventures of "Our old pal, Popeye."  But when the era of the cartoon host ended, children's shows got very impersonal.  By the time the Hanna-Barbera Popeyes came out, they were as cold and distant as anything else on the tube.  One could remain pretty detached while watching them.  Can Popeye ever become "our pal" again?  Well, having Popeye and company walk around Florida's newest theme park as real, live beings (presumably hugging tourists, signing autographs, and posing for pictures) is a start.

 2.  Archie's backlog of material has been made readily accessible to everyone.  Supermarkets, bookstores, convenience marts, and department store chains all carry regularly published, inexpensive Archie Digests that combine some new material with reprints of the old stuff.  I've even seen them in doctor and dentist offices.  By contrast, old Popeye comic books are hard to find and reprints of the classic newspaper strip are only available in expensive (and out of print) editions.  Somehow the excellent material by Segar, Sagendorf, Wildman, etc. has got to find its way into the hands of the general public again.

 3.  Archie Comics, though primarily aimed at kids, can be enjoyed by all ages.  A pastor friend of mine reads them to unwind and relax.  When I was a teenager and into Marvel Comics, I would still sneak a peek at my sister's copies of "Betty And Veronica" just to look at the pictures!!  A couple of years ago, a comic book critic named "Veronica" as one of The Ten Best Comic Books Of The Year, right along side of such luminaries as "Astro City" and "Robin," citing it as a well-written, entertaining humor book with sterling examples of a genre professionals and fans call "Good Girl Art."  When Popeye cartoons were made for theatrical release, anyone from 5 to 95 could and did enjoy them.  The KFS films were designed more to appeal to children (as was the comic strip as time went on).  When the Hanna-Barbera era came, the cartoons were directed exclusively at kids.  This gave the public the impression that one outgrows Popeye (though anyone exposed to Segar's work and the best of the Fleischer, Famous, and KFS cartoons knows how wrong that notion is).  New animated adventures of Popeye have to be produced along the lines of "Pinky And The Brain" - appealing to children, but with enough heart, satiric edge, and adult humor to keep Mom and Dad in the room when broadcast on the tube.  (For examples, see my Popeye Fan Fiction page.)

 4.  Archie Comics give their most popular supporting characters their own books.   Rare is the fan who only buys one Archie title a month.  Instead, fans are attracted to many books telling the story of the "Archie family."  Think of the Thimble Theater characters who could have been spun-off into their own comics.  Wimpy's appetite, ego, schemes, cons, and strange and tumultuous relationship with the Sea Hag make him a natural.  How about a comic featuring adventures of Swee'pea and The Jeep?  Why not have Olive get into trouble pursuing the wrong men in her own title, or having her selfish schemes backfire ala Veronica?

 5.  Archie Comics stay up to date without violating their characters.  Over the years, the Riverdale gang could participate in the current teenage fads (be they hula hoops, coffee houses, video games, or Beanie Babies) and youth movements (be they bottle drives, the Peace Corps, or Earth Day) because, after all, they are teenagers.  Even when Archie ventured into the realm of the fantastic, the characters remained in tact.  During the spy craze when Archie became "The Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.," the plots centered around intrigue involving the Lodges and their business dealings, which was only natural as they are millionaires.  During the superhero craze, Jughead gained superpowers by eating hamburgers.  However, when Hanna-Barbera updated Popeye, they had him married and living in California with his surfing son.  Where did that come from?  And why in the world would the Olive Oyl and Alice The Goon we know ever join the army and take orders from Joanne Worley?  Surely there are enough evils in the modern world for Popeye to fight, enough new schemes for Wimpy to try, and enough new places to explore - outer space, the arctic, the ocean floor, etc. - that new adventures could be made without making the characters into something they aren't?

 6.  The Archie characters modified their appearances to fit the times.  Archie doesn't wear raccoon coats anymore.  Betty and Veronica don't wear their hair like black-and-white movie stars, or their dresses always below the knees anymore.  If we're going to insist that Popeye and  Olive look and dress the same as they did in the thirties, then why should we expect that young people today would be interested in them?  Believe me, I don't want the Hawaiian-shirt and sweat- suit wearing Popeye and Olive of "Popeye And Son" or the totally re-designed Ocean Comics characters.  But there must be a middle ground between those ridiculous extremes and the black sailor suit and dowdy dress.  The challenge will be to find it.

 I hope the hands that guide our favorite sailor's future take a few cues from what works for another famous redhead, so that we can all be enjoying Popeye well into the new millennium.


Time Marches Backwards!

 As I was growing up watching Popeye on TV, there were certain cartoons that bothered me.  They were the ones that seemed like throw-backs to an earlier era, cartoons in which the cast looked or acted out of character with how the creators had been portraying them in the other films made during the same time periods.  Though I didn't know much about the cartoons' release dates when I was young, it was still pretty obvious which films were made earlier and which were made later, and how the characters had evolved with the passage of time.  Now that I'm older and do know when the cartoons were made, the inconsistencies jar me more than ever.  Allow me to explain.

 Whether one approves of how Famous Studios handled the Popeye characters or not, the fact remains that the creators changed them from what they had been in the first series of Popeye cartoons from the Fleischer Studios.  Bluto and Olive Oyl even became romantic leads!

 In Bluto's case, Famous Studios accomplished this by giving him a body builder's physique and a more handsome face than he had in the Fleischer films.  Some Famous Studios' cartoons even featured a clean-shaven matinee idol Bluto (Shaving Muggs, Parlez Vous Woo, 

Jitterbug Jive,

and, assuming, as some do, that the lifeguard is really Bluto, Beach Peach). 

They also turned him into a character who could be subtle and smooth and could sweet talk his way into Olive's heart.  But then the cartoon, Alpine For You came out from Famous Studios in 1951.  It featured a Bluto apparently modeled after The Goodyear Blimp, with a body that would have embarrassed even the earlier stocky Fleischer Bluto. 

And when Bluto became Brutus in the KFS made-for-TV cartoons (made after the Famous Studios films), he was positively dumpy and had a countenance that conveyed dark evil. 

His looks and name weren‘t the only things changed. Gone, too, was Bluto's ingratiating manner.  While he could still be seductive in some scenes of certain cartoons, Brutus more often was a bully and/or a blowhard.  For example, the plot of Butler Up (KFS) has an excited Olive Oyl getting herself all dolled-up for a visit from her old college boyfriend (?!?!?) Brutus.   When he arrives, based on conditioning we baby boomers underwent by watching the Famous Studios' Bluto in action over and over again, you'd expect the sparks between Brutus and Olive to fly. 

And while the two of them do generate some heat, Brutus spends most of his time lording his position over Popeye, bragging, and trying to shortcut the wooing and move right to the kissing. 

In two other KFS cartoons, The Super-Duper Market and Bird Watcher Popeye, there's no wooing at all.  Brutus just snatches Olive.  There's no subtlety, finesse, or romantic tension.  Of course, the Famous Studios' cartoon, Gym Jam, (1950) was very much like this, too.  In it, Bluto spots Olive jogging, decides, "That she is for me," and grabs her.  And then immediately it's, "How about a kiss, Babe?"  Understandably enough, Ms. Oyl screams for help. 

This "kidnap and impose" style of obtaining a mate was the Fleischer Bluto's earliest method of pursuing Ms. Oyl.  But  it certainly seemed out of place later in the Famous Studios' series of cartoons that had featured rivals of Popeye who could, in Olive's words, "schmooze," use "high-falutin' language," and leave her "feeling soooo weak!"

 Speaking of Olive, she became a romantic lead as the Famous Studios' creators changed her from the homely, old-fashioned spinster she had been in the Fleischer films into a cute, hip girl.  (In some cartoons, like Cops Is Tops

and Parlez Vous Woo

she could even be competition for some starlets.)  And they changed her personality as well.  She went from being a whiny, high-strung, changeable female, who could show quite a mean streak at times, to a Betty Boopish mixture of fun-loving young woman, accomplished flirt, and, paradoxically, a total innocent. 

Yet there were jokes in the 1950s Famous Studios' cartoons, Alpine For You and Ancient Fistory which centered on Olive's big nose.  The only problem is that, by the time those films were made, the Famous Studios' Olive Oyl no longer had a big nose!  And the Olive in 1949‘s Tar With A Star is drawn as a plain jane whose appeal seemed to come mainly from her padded and shaped costume, even though the films released before and after Tar featured the pretty Olive. 

When the KFS cartoons were made in the early 60s, though Olive was rarely drawn with any curves or in fancy dress or exotic costume, she kept the appealing face and hairstyle that Famous Studios had given her.  From the KFS films, we learned that she had been voted the prettiest girl in her college class.  And she was declared to be "the fairest of feminine femininity." 

Yet in the KFS cartoons Popeye The Lifeguard and The Billionaire, jokes are made about how ugly Olive supposedly is.  In the former, Popeye assures Olive that he doesn't want pretty girls, he wants her.  And in the latter, when the new face Ms. Oyl had received at a beauty parlor falls off, Popeye tells her that he likes her ugly.  The problem, though, is that she wasn't and hadn't been for a long time.  Instead, it had been established that, in the KFS universe, she was very desirable! 

Humor that would have been appropriate to the comic strip or the Fleischer Olive Oyl made no sense when applied to the Famous Studios' and KFS' versions.  And in the Famous Studios' cartoon, Cookin' With Gags, the usually good-hearted Olive Oyl displays a vicious, cruel side that outdoes anything we had seen in much older Fleischer cartoons which featured a cranky Olive, like Wotta Nightmare, Let's Celebrake, and I'll Never Crow Again.  In Cookin', Olive sides with Bluto from the very beginning of the cartoon, laughing uproariously at all the mean, health-endangering pranks he plays on Popeye.  When Popeye protests and tries to strike back, she chides him for not being able to take a joke, even though she goes on to show that she, herself, can't take one, either.  She is the one who then suggests that she and Bluto go off alone, leaving the flustered and frustrated Popeye behind.

 "Flustered and frustrated" could also describe me, as a boy, when confronted with Blutoes, Brutuses, and Olives who didn't quite fit in with the newer images that had been built up over time.  Why were they acting, looking, or being treated as if they were still the "older" characters?  Even now, while I can guess the reasoning behind some of the cartoons I've described, and know the story of the whole Bluto into Brutus deal, I still find the films unsettling.  And while I, as a child, came to accept that Brutus was the villain in the "KFS Popeye universe," I still often found myself wishing he could be more like the Famous Studios' Bluto.  I still do.

 To me, the characters of Olive and Bluto were improved, or maybe I should say enhanced, by the changes Famous Studios made.  The Fleischer Olive is a comic riot to be sure, but many have told me that they found her mannerisms grating.  And while there's comic potential in a homely person who, inside, thinks she's Marilyn Monroe, the plots about guys falling for her made more sense when she actually was attractive in appearance and spirit.  As for Bluto, though I appreciate watching a thoroughly evil villain (like the earlier Fleischer Bluto and the KFS Brutus) get his comeuppance, there are times when I'm more intrigued by the insidious evil of a person who can pass himself off as a great guy.  And a villain, like the FS Bluto, who, nonetheless, has some admirable qualities, strikes me as being true-to-life, because few people are pure demons or pure saints, but are mixtures of both.  Again, as with the cartoons featuring the improved Olive Oyl, the plots using the FS Bluto, and the villains patterned after him, made more sense.  I could readily accept that Olive might fall for him, Pierre, the sheik, etc. 

But why would she ever give the time of day to the Fleischer bully?  The "new, improved" Olive Oyl and Bluto made the cartoons more convincing to me.

 So, it never sat well with me when the creators seemed to forget the improvements for the sake of a joke or a story and regressed the characters back to the way they once were.

 It doesn't sit well with God either when people who have been touched by his grace, received the Holy Spirit, and who were placed on the path of sanctification seemingly forget their blessings and the changes God has brought to their lives and act, think, and live as they used to in their "pre-God" days.  The Bible commands us to live the "improved" life.  The book of Galatians urges us to keep in step with the Spirit.  And Ephesians urges us to keep putting off the old self and keep putting on the new.  The book of 2 Peter says that people who aren't making progress in their faith and don't possess such things as brotherly kindness, self-control, and love have forgotten that they have been cleansed from their past sins.  We should reflect back on the changes he has made, be thankful for them, live according to them, and seek even more of them. 

 Speaking of changes, Popeye, himself, evolved during his years as an animated star - and not all of his changes were for the better.

 In his earliest films, he was portrayed much as he was in his first Segar adventures.  The sailor was a grizzled tough guy who did pretty much what he wanted when he wanted and didn't much care what anybody else thought of it.  But later, the Fleischers, seemingly following Segar's lead, mutated him slightly by making him a champion for the bullied and the underdogs.  His confidence, single-mindedness, perseverance, and stick-to-it-iveness were now used in the service of justice.  This was the heroic Popeye so many remember.

 But eventually the Fleischers made some cartoons which featured a different sort of Popeye.  He was still recognizable as Popeye, but he seemed to be developing some self-doubt.  Instead of being the "rush in and try anything" man, he appeared, in cartoons like Learn Polikeness and The Spinach Overture, to question his own competence and worth.  And, indeed, in those films he WAS pretty incompetent until he ate his spinach.  In the classic, Hello, How Am I?   he even questions his own identity.  When Popeye gets involved with the military in Many Tanks and The Mighty Navy, he's a bumbler who makes Gomer Pyle look like a four star general, until he imbibes spinach, of course.  And he was outwitted and outfought by a housefly in Flies Ain't Human.  (Say, I wonder if Hanna-Barbera got the idea for one of my favorite lines in the Atom Ant series from the title of this cartoon?  "That ant ain't human!")  Instead of Popeye standing up for the underdogs in these cartoons, he was the underdog.

 The Famous Studios Popeye offerings continued to make Popeye an underdog, often making it seem as though he wasn't up to being any real competition for the villain.  In She-Sick Sailors and Quick On The Vigor, he's even afraid to try Bluto's stunts.  The Segar Popeye wasn't afraid of anything (except maybe "ghosks," witches, "evil spiriks," and Olive Oyl).  In some FS cartoons, he is so easily and repeatedly manipulated and fooled that, though the villain is doing terrible things to him, it's hard to root for him (ex. The Royal Four Flusher, Snow Place Like Home, Mister And Mistletoe).  He seems like such a dunce! 

 Don't get me wrong.  The Famous Studios Popeye still had his roots in Segar and could be very heroic and admirable at times.  But during the Famous Studios era, the less-than-desirable traits that had appeared in some Fleischer films were emphasized and magnified.  The FS Popeye could be hesitant, indecisive, nauseatingly naive, and ineffective.  This was done, I'm sure, to increase tension in the films.  This Popeye could easily lose to Bluto!  Yikes!  However, in some cartoons it seemed as if the villain SHOULD win.  Popeye just wasn't very likeable. 

 Segar's Popeye was funny, empathetic, and charming, in his simple way, when he tried to bring everybody, and the world itself, in line with his own views, even when those views were hilariously off-base.  But when the Famous Studios Popeye tried to change Olive's party plans in Jitterbug Jive, he is just plain annoying, maybe because his ideas are too grounded in the real world. 

It's one thing to laugh at a Segar Popeye who thinks the dictionary must be wrong because it disagrees with him, or that banks should give away free money to pretty women, or who calls the people he's governing "sheeps," and declares himself  a "dictopater," but it is quite another to tolerate someone who comes to a jazz dancing party and insists that the waltz music he brought be used,

 that everybody plays the old-fashioned games he wants to play,

 and that he has the right to approve the invitation list.  Segar's Popeye was an eccentric.  The FS Popeye could be a boor and a pest!

 Segar's Popeye was comically self-assured.  The Famous Studios Popeye could be irritatingly self-absorbed.  While the other guy was wooing Olive, Popeye could happily be off in his own little world.  (See The Island Fling

or A Wolf In Sheik's Clothing

or Quick On The Vigor for example.)

 The KFS cartoons reversed the trend of films featuring a less likeable Popeye  with some of their stories.  In Oils Well That Ends Well and Kiddie Capers, it is Popeye who sees through the deceptions.  And Popeye purposely interrupts the Brutus/Olive romance in Motor Knocks, My Fair Olive, and Butler Up, instead of doing it accidentally as he did in the Famous Studios films The Island Fling and Mister And Mistletoe.  Some (not all) of the KFS cartoons seemed to bring back the more heroic Popeye of an earlier era.  And some even brought back the earliest, amoral, semi-nasty Popeye.  He steals his neighbor's flowers in Barbecue For Two, horns in on Olive's pre-arranged date with another guy in Coffee House, and is cruel to Olive in Popeye The Lifeguard. 

 Of course, the KFS cartoons weren't the last Popeye animated films to be produced.  Now, I readily admit that I am no expert on the Hanna-Barbera Popeye episodes.  I found them bland, unfunny, non-violent, and unromantic, so I had no interest in them.  But I seem to recall that, in most of the ones I did see, Popeye, though he wasn't allowed to throw punches, was once again the competent, take charge, heroic nice guy, as he had to be in order to star in a network children's cartoon show of that era.   The Hanna-Barbera creators ultimately seemed to bring Popeye back to his golden age identity.  They returned him to his roots.  I just with they could have brought back the golden age fun, wit, and excitement, as well.

 God calls his people back to their "roots."  He wants us to be what we were created to be.  In the Garden Of Eden (appropriate, huh, roots, garden, get it?), humans had fellowship with the Lord, were his agents superintending Earth, and loved and helped each other.  Imagine if we would all have as our goals to know God, to take care of his world with, and for, him, and to love and aid others.  I think the fun, wit, and excitement of living would return.



More essays in Part Two!!!





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This page was created using Corel Word Perfect Suite 8 and Netscape Navigator Composer. All characters and images are legal properties of their respective companies and are used here without permission for entertainment, review, and informational purposes only. All other material is copyright 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 by Steve R. Bierly.