Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee’pea in BABY WANTS A BOTTLESHIP (1942) – Farewell, Fleischers


Swee’pea is by far my least favorite Popeye character; even more so than Olive when she’s in Bluto’s clutches, Swee’pea exists for the sole purpose of being rescued (and annoyingly oblivious to the trouble he’s caused). So I’m doubly sorry that the Fleischers’ final Popeye cartoon is another routine Swee’pea entry. One has to believe that the Fleischers were indeed yanked off the Popeye series with no forewarning and that if they’d had a chance, their finale would have been far more ambitious.

Olive drops off Swee’pea so that Popeye can spend the day babysitting him aboard ship (because we all know that Marines had nothing better to do in 1942). Swee’pea, to no great surprise, gets loose aboard the ship and nearly causes more havoc than the Japanese could have done on their own. This cartoon brings you right to the brink of wishing that Swee’pea could have gotten what he deserved — maybe a Wile E. Coyote-like ride on one of the rockets he set off, or getting scooped up by Child Services once and for all.

Well, Messrs. Fleischer, it was nice while it lasted.

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon: CanCanCanHalf

Popeye, Bluto, and Swee’Pea in THE FOOTBALL TOUCHER DOWNER (1937) – A downer, indeed

popeye1-32(WARNING: Spoilers abound!)

Popeye tries to feed spinach to baby Swee’pea, who will have none of it — even when Popeye downs some of it and shows Swee’pea that it gives muscles to his muscles. Popeye confesses to Swee’pea the incredible revelation that he didn’t like spinach when he was a kid, either. (Oh, so that urban legend didn’t begin with Robin Williams’ version of Popeye in 1980, then.)

Popeye then gives Swee’Pea a flashback about how spinach saved the day when he was a little kid playing football against Bluto. Depicting kiddie versions of cartoon icons was probably a novel idea in 1937, decades before the gimmick was worn thin by TV spin-offs such as “Muppet Babies” and “Flintstone Kids.”

So what’s left is mostly a series of football spot-gags, the likes of which were far funnier in You Gotta Be a Football Hero. This cartoon’s voicework is a mixed bag, too. While Jack Mercer’s mumblings have never been so welcome as they are here, whoever is doing the junior version of Bluto sounds more like Elmer Fudd.

Oh, yeah, Swee’Pea eats the spinach and gives Popeye the beating that Popeye usually gives to Bluto. Sometimes the lesson parents teach aren’t always the ones our kids learn.

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon:  CanCanCanHalf

Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Swee’Pea in PUTTIN’ ON THE ACT (1940) – How can we enjoy your comeback if you won’t go away?


Olive brings Popeye a newspaper which reports that vaudeville is making a comeback. (Must be the same paper that reported “Dewey Defeats Truman.”) A delighted Popeye decides to revive the duo’s old act (billed in typical Fleischer style as “Olive and Popeye – Half Song, Half Wit”).

This is mostly a (very delightful) excuse to showcase Popeye and Olive in a number of show-biz routines, the best of them being Popeye imitating Jimmy Durante, Stan Laurel, and Groucho Marx. (Olive does a pretty good imitation of a pretzel, too.)

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon: CanCanCanCanHalf

Popeye and Swee’Pea in DOING IMPOSSIKIBLE STUNTS (1940) – Stunt baby


Popeye interviews for a job as a movie stunt man. Swee-Pea tries to tag along.

It’s cheater time again! Popeye’s stunt reel consists of clips from I Never Changes My Altitude, I Wanna Be a Lifeguard, and Bridge Ahoy!. The snooty film director asks, “But don’t you have anything more daring?” (Yeah, because flying circles far up in the air just isn’t fearless enough.) Then the little brat shows a clip from Lost and Foundry (showing the aftermath of havoc he caused) and swipes the job out from under Popeye’s nose. Hollywood brat!

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon: CanHalfCanHalfCanHalf

LOST AND FOUNDRY (1937) – Damn, Swee’pea, enough already!


Popeye is on a lunch break outside the factory where he works. Olive, with baby Swee’Pea in tow, happens by and sits with Popeye. Time to place bets on how long before the pair get distracted and Swee’Pea does his crawling-within-an-inch-of-my-life routine from his debut cartoon, Little Swee’Pea (1936). (Quite a factory, too — it looks like a cross between Charlie Chaplin’s joint in Modern Times and the nasty club initiation in Popeye’s Can You Take It?).

As with the earlier Swee’Pea cartoon, the saving-Swee’Pea ritual is enlivened by the Fleischers’ astounding perspective work and on-the-nose pacing. In the end, Swee’Pea downs some spinach and actually ends up saving Popeye and Olive, and he even gets to do the closing theme as a reward for his (!) trouble.

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon: CanCanCanCanHalf

THE JEEP (1938) – Can I have a dog instead?


Twice, baby Swee’Pea crawls right out of Olive Oyl’s apartment window (several stories above ground) and dangles from a clothesline before Olive comes to his rescue and lectures him. Nothing like tough love. Ever thought about closing the window, Olive?

Popeye visits Olive and offers a “Jeep” to play with Swee’Pea. Popeye offhandedly describes him as “a magical dog that can disappear and things” — just the type of creature to give to a baby who suffers from attention deficit.

Turns out the baby’s gone again anyway. Popeye offers the Jeep an orchid to eat (yum-o!) if he’ll find Swee’Pea. The Jeep leads Popeye on an extravagant chase across rooftops in his search of Swee’Pea.

This cartoon seems strangely surreal — people are surprisingly nonchalant about an animal who can levitate and disappear at will. (Yeah, I know, he started out in E.C. Segar’s comic strip, but it doesn’t look as though he was explained any more clearly there.) But the weird nature of this cartoon is offset by the usual, delightful skewed perspectives of the Fleischers, and the great gags inspired by such heights. (Among other gems, there’s a wonderfully animated shot of Popeye climbing out of a full water barrel and shaking himself off like a mutt.)

Don’t rush to pick up a Jeep from the humane society for me, though.

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon: CanCanCan

Popeye, Swee’pea, and Poopdeck Pappy in CHILD PSYKOLOJIKY: Paging Dr. Spock!


(Yesterday was the 73th anniversary of the release of the Fleischer Bros.’ 97th Popeye cartoon Child Psykolojiky, and the final such cartoon to feature the ship-door opening credits. WARNING: Spoilers ahead!)


The story: Popeye and his Pappy are babysitting Swee’Pea, who is up to his usual shenanigans. Pappy wants to give the baby a good thrashing, but Popeye recommends a gentler, diversionary approach to discipline. Unfortunately, neither method is very effective.

This is another of those Popeye cartoons that got by in a less politically correct era, but today it comes off more cringe-worthy than funny. Popeye tells Swee’Pea the story of “George Wash-Lincoln” and how George confessed when he was caught chopping down a cherry tree. Swee’Pea gets about half the point; he chops a hole in the floor and lets Pappy fall through it, and when Swee’Pea confesses to the misdeed, Popeye goes out to buy him a toy as a reward for confessing to the wrongdoing. (Uh, yeah.)

On the other hand, it’s also not a good idea to leave a baby alone with Pappy, who dangles Swee’Pea out of his apartment window and tries to teach him to shoot a gun, all so that he’ll be less of a sissy. Then when Pappy practically blows the place up with his gun, he tries to pin the rap on Swee’Pea upon Popeye’s return.

Wherever Olive Oyl is, text-message her and get her home, real fast.

On a rating scale of 1 to 4 spinach cans, I give this cartoon: CanCanCanHalf