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Dec. 3 – Popeye the Sailor – “Mister and Mistletoe”

Originally released September 30, 1955.

Last year for the Christmas Spot we took a look at the 1960’s TV series Popeye the Sailor and its Christmas episode “Spinach Greetings.” There are a lot of Popeye fans in the world and my assumption is that most would not put Popeye the Sailor above the theatrical shorts that helped catapult Popeye to stardom in the preceding decades. Popeye the Sailor was a TV series produced on the cheap. It wasn’t much to look at and it was missing some of the classic stars, namely Bluto, though it did have the added charm of working in some forgotten foils for Popeye like the Sea Hag.

Still not the best era of Popeye cartoons, but better than the TV series of the same name.

This year, we’re going back to a more beloved era of Popeye, though probably still not the preferred era, as we have here a cartoon from the Famous Studios era of Popeye the Sailor shorts. These ones are notable for being mostly in color and for not featuring the work of the Fleischer brothers. Their ouster at Paramount is another story, but suffice to say that Popeye would not be a star without their contributions. The Famous Studios era would total 122 cartoons and run from 1942 – 1957. Many of these cartoons would find their way to television and could even be seen on Cartoon Network in the 90s. Not all of them were considered suitable to air though as, you could probably guess, there are some unflattering depictions of Japanese people during the World War II era of the shorts. Today’s selection, Mister and Mistletoe, is the 215th Popeye cartoon and was first released on September 30, 1955 alongside Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry.

This one takes place at Olive’s house on Christmas Eve and that’s going to cause some confusion for me.

The cartoon begins at Christmas time and Popeye’s nephews are present and all ready for bed. It’s Christmas Eve and they’re informing Popeye (Jack Mercer) and Olive (Mae Questel) that they’ve been good and need the adults to relay this important information to Santa Claus upon his arrival. Of note, only three of Popeye’s nephews appear in this one. Popeye usually has four nephews: Pepeye, Peepeye, Pupeye, and everyone’s favorite, Poopeye. I don’t know which one is missing here, but I refuse to believe it’s Poopeye!

There’s one in every family.

The boys are dismissed, but before they head upstairs to bed, they hang their stockings by the fireplace. One nephew, predictably, has an absurdly long stocking. Olive and Popeye then start decorating, while that crafty Bluto (Jackson Beck) lurks outside an open window (even though this takes place in a cold climate). Popeye shows off his impressive Body by Spinach by holding Olive up off the ground one-handed. She’s basically standing in the palm of his hand, but in a seated position, which just looks awkward. Bluto bemoans the fact that Popeye got here first which implies that this is Olive’s house (her name was also on the mailbox in the opening shot). Why are Popeye’s nephews sleeping at Olive’s house on Christmas Eve? I have so many questions!

Wait! That’s not Santa!

As Popeye and Olive decorate, Olive remarks how wonderful it is to see children believe in Santa Claus while Popeye wishes there was a Santa for adults. I don’t like Olive’s phrasing here as it implies there is no Santa Claus, but I guess since this was screened with a Hitchcock black comedy maybe kids were never expected to take this one in? Popeye’s comment seems to inspire Bluto to swipe a Santa suit and sack of presents that were by the open window. Now decked out in Santa’s threads, Bluto makes for the chimney and utters his own version of the jolly, fat, man’s signature laugh which gets Popeye excited. He peers up the chimney and as he does Bluto rips the top portion of it from the house and sends it down what’s left of the chimney to smash into Popeye.

Popeye seems to enjoy his “gift” from Santa Claus.

Bluto is then able to enter the home and Olive is instantly smitten. Popeye doesn’t seem to mind the mishap with the chimney either and is delighted to see Santa pay them a visit. Popeye and Olive not doubting the man’s identity seems to make-up for the prior comments about Santa. Olive leaves to fetch Santa a cup of hot chocolate while Santa suggests to Popeye a good spot for the mistletoe. Once placed, Popeye excitedly calls out to Olive to set himself up with a perfect opportunity for a smooch only for Bluto to literally pull the rug out from under him exposing a vent in the floor. Popeye goes sailing through an open door leading to the basement with the rug allowing for Santa Bluto to movie-in for a kiss with Olive. Before his lips find hers, Popeye pops up from the vent in the floor and Bluto’s kiss lands on the back of Popeye’s head causing Popeye to giggle and blush suggesting Santa is embarrassing him.

Saved by a tree on Christmas.

Mildly dismayed by Popeye’s intrusion, Bluto tries to get him out of his beard by asking Popeye if he’d like to help him with the toys. Popeye enthusiastically races over to Santa’s sack and starts filling his arms with toys. Bluto then sneaks up behind him, dumps him into the sack of toys, and chucks it out the window. As the sack of Popeye and toys sails through the air the drawstring snags a pine tree outside. The tree bends back, then snaps forward sending the sack back through the window. When it arrives, Santa and Olive are found seated beside each other on a lounge chair looking cozy while Santa starts to recite A Visit from Saint Nicholas. Olive looks primed and ready so maybe this was an erotic version of the Christmas classic? The sack smashes into Bluto and Popeye pops out looking a bit irritated. Santa Bluto laughs sheepishly and offers an apology.

An interesting way to play with a train set.

Bluto suggests Popeye setup the electric train set and we cut to Popeye excitedly doing just that. As he snaps pieces of the track together, Bluto pops out from behind a chair to plug the set in. When Popeye snaps the last pieces of track together he gets a mighty jolt of electricity. Who designed this thing?! This hardly seems safe for children! Popeye lands on the floor on his stomach with his mouth open in a cartoonishly large manner. Track is coming out of his mouth and the train engine soon drives out.

This poor guy just wanted to celebrate Christmas.

We then cut to Santa and Olive, and Santa has his arm wrapped around her, as they place lit candles on the Christmas tree. Every time I see this tradition acted out in old cartoons it floors me that anyone would have ever willingly placed a flaming object on a dead tree in their own house. Santa bemoans to Olive that it’s a shame Christmas only comes once a year and Olive, rather suggestively, replies that he can drop by anytime. Popeye then interrupts to ask Santa if he can help light the tree. Santa Bluto laughs boyishly as he apparently doesn’t mind the interruption and tells Popeye he sure can. We then see why he wasn’t frustrated with Popeye’s intrusion as he produces a stick of dynamite from behind his back. He tells Popeye he saved the last candle for him and instructs him to place it on the top of the tree. Popeye races up a ladder and does as he’s told. With the “candle” lit, he shouts out a hearty “Merry Christmas!” just before it explodes sending him smashing through the roof (Olive now has a busted chimney and a massive hole in her roof). Popeye soars through the air once again and crashes through a frozen river. The water splashes upwards and freezes instantly with Popeye trapped inside.

Donald Duck shares your pain, Popeye (note: see the entry for December 1st)

Admiring his handiwork, Bluto laughs heartedly while Olive looks worried, either over Popeye or the hole in her roof. We also seem to have switched locations in the house as the pair are still by the tree, but it’s now in a corner of the house. As Bluto laughs, he doesn’t notice his beard has landed in a candle and it catches fire. The flames burn away the false, Santa, beard leaving Bluto’s normal beard intact. Once Olive sees that this Santa is a phony she gets angry. Bluto brushes her anger aside and grabs her around the waist and suggests she give him a kiss. She clearly doesn’t want to as she wrestles against this would-be rapist’s grasp and is able to squirm free. She jumps on a tricycle and starts racing around the room on the walls while Bluto chases after her. He too is able to defy gravity by running on the walls. As Olive tries to avoid her attacker, she calls out to Popeye for help.

There’s the good stuff!

Popeye, hearing Olive’s cries, wakes up only to find himself encased in ice. He then blows hard on his pipe producing a blast of fire which melts away the ice freeing him. Popeye races back inside the house and, rather than immediately go to Olive’s aid, runs for the sack of presents. We soon see why as he pulls out a golden can of spinach. It’s addressed to “Me Nephews” and it’s from Popeye explaining how he knew it was there. He devours the contents and is then able to morph his left arm into a massive mallet (I love when the spinach gives him absurd powers beyond just ludicrous strength).

Bluto gets a brain injury for Christmas. I suspect it’s not the first time.

Popeye runs into another room and sees Olive go racing past him. When Bluto appears behind her Popeye blasts him with his mallet arm knocking him right out of the Santa suit. He bounces, in his long underwear, along the floor and comes to rest beside the tree. The stars spinning around his head then wrap around the tree and one comes to rest at the top. A very resourceful way to decorate a tree, Popeye.

Go get ’em, Poopeye!

Popeye then dons the Santa suit and belts out a “Merry Christmas” as he puts on a spare beard. The nephews hear the call of Santa and emerge from their room. They excitedly race down the stairs and dive into the sack of toys. They immediately recognize Popeye and as they jump into the sack each one asks a question of “Uncle Popeye” like “What did you bring me, Uncle Popeye?” “Did you bring me my gun, Uncle Popeye?” Realizing his disguise is no good, Santa Popeye just has a laugh at his own expense and the cartoon fades to black.

The expected ending of a Christmas Popeye short.

It may not have included a wacky flying reindeer airplane, but I feel comfortable declaring Mister and Mistletoe a superior Christmas cartoon to “Spinach Greetings.” It’s a pretty standard Popeye short with Bluto and the sailor battling over Olive only this one is set at Christmas and Popeye is mostly ignorant of Bluto’s advances until the very end. It certainly is a bit confusing as far as the setup goes of Popeye seemingly bringing his nephews along for a sleepover at Olive’s on Christmas Eve, but apparently someone at Famous Studios felt it had to be set at Olive’s house as opposed to Popeye’s. Those two certainly have an odd relationship.

Bluto is such a disgusting creep that I wouldn’t have minded a little more violence directed his way.

Being a Famous Studios production and not a Fleischer one, it likely comes as no surprise that this isn’t the best looking Popeye short out there, but it’s far from ugly. The animation is fine and there appear to be few shortcuts taken. There are a few hard cuts which are a bit unusual, but maybe that was to imply a longer passage of time. It’s only six minutes long so those kids were basically in bed for a wink or two before getting up for presents. None of the physical comedy is particularly original for a Popeye cartoon as I know I’ve seen Olive ride along a wall like she does in this one before. Popeye getting smashed with an entire chimney is certainly a violent touch, though the mallet transformation was a bit too conventional. Why not have his arm turn into something more festive? This is a Christmas cartoon after all.

I still have questions about this relationship.

Being that this is a fairly typical Popeye short, it’s also no surprise that there isn’t any sort of message baked into it. We don’t expect life lessons from Popeye (at least during this era) so it’s fine he has no Christmas wisdom to share. I do wish they had snuck in confirmation of the real Santa Claus as I do hesitate to show this to my “true believer” kids for that reason. It’s not the electrocution or the smoking that concerns me as a parent, it’s the Santa stuff! At any rate, this one is relatively easy to find online if you wish to make it part of your Christmas viewing this year. And with MeTV airing Toon in With Me and a Popeye show on Saturday mornings, there’s a decent chance this one will show up on television too this year.

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

Dec. 3 – The Simpsons – “The Way of the Dog”

It’s not often I get to look at a Christmas special from the same year I’m doing The Christmas Spot, but it also helps when that Christmas special premieres in May of the same of year. May?! Yeah, it’s weird, but for the 31st season finale of The Simpsons the show rolled out a Christmas…

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Dec. 3 – Mega Babies – “A Mega Christmas”

Considering how gross a lot of cartoons had become in the 90s, it should come as no surprise that the decade concluded with Mega Babies, a cartoon about literal snot-nosed, super-powered, babies featuring diapers overflowing with excrement in the opening title. Mega Babies was a short-lived production from the Tremblay brothers, Christian and Yvon, who…

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Dec. 17 – Popeye the Sailor – “Spinach Greetings”

Original air date November 15, 1960.

One of the big, early, cartoon stars was Popeye the Sailor. Popeye starred in newspaper strips, radio plays, and theatrical shorts with contemporaries like Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. His star has faded over the years, but few would deny Popeye’s place among the greatest cartoon stars of all-time. Come the 1960s though, Popeye and really the entire cartoon industry was going through a change. The era of the theatrical short was basically over as the television came to be the new home for cartoon stars. Studios started to look for ways to continue to keep profiting off of these characters, and while some simply packaged up their shorts for syndication, others developed new cartoons specifically made for TV.

Popeye the Sailor was one such show. It was produced through King Features Syndicate and utilized multiple studios to bring it to life. Because this was TV, and studios either didn’t realize as much money for these airings as they did for a theatrical short or just were more aware of their direct profits, the animation quality had to be compromised. Anyone who has seen a United Artists release or even Hanna-Barbera is familiar with the animation shortcuts TV would often take. Popeye was at the forefront of that, and as we’ll see in today’s subject, some shots can barely be called animation.

Popeye the Sailor debuted in 1960 and would produce 220 episodes lasting all the way through 1963. Following that, the show would be syndicated for decades and shown in various places alongside theatrical shorts and newer cartoons. The show featured familiar characters like Popeye, Olive Oyl, Wimpy, and Brutus. Wait, Brutus? Yeah, apparently someone thought there was a rights issue with Bluto so they went with the similar, but slightly different character, Brutus. No matter. The show also featured villains from the world of Popeye like the Sea Hag, who previously only existed in print.

“Spinach Greetings” is the show’s Christmas episode. It was produced by Paramount Cartoon Studios and aired in November of 1960. Even though it’s a cartoon produced for TV, it’s pretty short. It’s even shorter than some theatrical shorts. In it, Popeye and the gang are getting ready to welcome Santa Claus, only for the Sea Hag to come along and mess things up. It’s a conventional premise with some unusual choices, but hey, it’s Popeye and it’s Christmas!

This is about the only conventional thing about this one.

The cartoon begins in the home of Popeye (Jack Mercer). Popeye is reciting A Visit From St. Nicholas with Swee’pea on his lap and Wimpy (Mercer) and Olive Oyl (Mae Questel) present. Remember how I said there’s a lot of animation shortcuts taken in this show? Well, the only thing animated is Popeye’s mouth, which because of how he’s drawn, doesn’t even require his jaw to move. His pipe actually bobs up and down too. When he hits the line about a mouse, an actual mouse pops out of a hole in the baseboard and nails a stocking for himself on the mantel. Wimpy’s stocking is missing a toe while Olive Oyl’s is exceptionally long.

Well, they’re clearly evil and I’m sure they’re no fans of Christmas.

Outside, the Sea Hag (Questel) and her pet vulture are watching from the window. No one apparently notices her ugly, green, mug in the window. She tells her strange, purple, vulture that she hates Christmas. She blames Santa for Christmas being so terrible and instructs her vulture (who is apparently just named Vulture) to intercept Santa before he can make his first stop this evening. She then does a witch’s laugh as she looks at the camera because she knows the role she’s expected to play.

That is one bizarre looking reindeer.

Inside, Popeye is tucking Swee’pea into bed as he finishes the poem and then returns to the living room setting. On his way, he slams the door for some reason (or rather, he appears to close it quietly, but the sound effect sounds more like a slam) then announces to Olive and Wimpy, in a loud voice, that they should be expecting Santa any minute now. He’s apparently not too concerned with not waking up his kid. We then cut to…a reindeer’s face? No, it’s far weirder. It’s a jet shaped like a reindeer being piloted by Santa! This is the craziest thing I’ve seen in a Christmas special in some time. There was no warning that this was going to happen. Is there something I don’t know? Was there an earlier Popeye comic or cartoon involving Santa trading in his customary sleigh for a fighter jet?! Why are we bothering with this other setting when there’s a far more interesting story literally staring us right in the face?!?

What sort of abomination is this?!?

Soon the hag’s vulture comes along, his wings not flapping or really moving much at all, and spots Santa. He dives at the jet, and since it’s an open cockpit, he merely grabs Santa and pulls him right out of the airplane. We then cut to the Sea Hag’s lair as she’s tying Santa to a chair. She’s laughing as she does it while Santa doesn’t seem interested in putting up a fight. He just sits there sullenly. The hag, without so much as pausing her laughter, is then shown smashing Santa’s toys with a hammer. The vulture smiles and the camera cuts to Santa’s face as tears run down his cheeks.

Well, blow me down! Someone blew Santa out of the sky!

Back at Popeye’s house, the sound of sleigh bells mixed with the droning of a jet engine can be heard from inside. Olive Oyl declares they need to hide so Santa doesn’t see them, so Popeye jumps into a drawer, Wimpy hides under the kitchen table (and snatches the turkey from the surface), and Olive Oyl hides behind a floor lamp which draws attention to how thin she is. We then hear the unmistakable sound of a plane crash and everyone rushes outside to find the remains of Santa’s plane. Apparently, no one questions why Santa was in a plane and not a sleigh. Popeye finds a black, vulture’s feather amongst the wreckage and no Santa. It’s enough to alert him to the Sea Hag’s involvement though.

Get used to seeing this one on loop.

We’re then shown a castle on top of a mountain and I am lead to believe this is the home of the Sea Hag. Pretty nice for a hag, I expected a creaky cottage in a swamp. Inside the castle, Santa still looks defeated while the Sea Hag has started tossing toys into her lit fireplace. Popeye creeps over to a window to confirm his suspicions, then silently slips in. As he unties Santa, the vulture spots him. The hag commands her minion to stop him and he flies over and wallops the sailor man across the room.

That vulture has a mean right hook…or wing…or whatever.

Declaring that the spirit of Christmas must be saved, Popeye busts out his trusty spinach! Recognizing what is about to happen, the hag tells the vulture to stop him before he eats the spinach, but the vulture is too late. No matter, for he grabs Popeye by the shoulders and flies him out the door high into the air. The hag returns to burning toys (we’ve seen this same shot recycled 3 times now) and then Popeye pops back through the door only now he has a roasted turkey…vulture. It would seem he not only found a way out of that predicament that seemed to have indicated certain death, but he also managed to cook a vulture too.

Popeye is pretty ruthless.

Popeye taunts the hag by asking if she wants her bird with or without stuffing. She doesn’t bother to respond, nor does she seem too broken up over the loss of her companion, but rather pulls a lever that opens up a trap door underneath Popeye. He grabs onto the edge of the floor and looks down to see two alligators staring up at him. The hag comes over and stomps on his hands ensuring that he falls to his death. Only he doesn’t die. Instead, he pops right back up with a new set of luggage! Once again, Popeye did something rather neat, but we don’t get to see it actually happen on camera.

There’s the jolly, old, elf we’re used to!

Santa smiles when he sees Popeye return while the hag lays on the floor and starts crying and throwing a temper tantrum. As she pounds on the floor, it looks like her arms were reversed in the animation or her head wasn’t placed on the proper cel layer for her hands are clearly backwards. At any rate, the image just dissolves to bring us back to Popeye’s house. Apparently they just left the hag to her own devices. The tree has been properly trimmed, there are gifts packed under it, and all of the stockings are full as well. Wimpy, who’s stocking was missing a toe, has a bucket full of gifts underneath it. Even the mouse has a wedge of cheese stuffed into his tiny sock. He runs out onto the mantel to fetch his gift and races back to his hole.

What is going on here?!

Outside, Santa climbs back into his completely repaired airplane. I suppose Christmas magic is to blame. Popeye and his clan look on cheerfully. Santa waves as he takes off and Popeye and friends return the wave and shout “Merry Christmas, Santa!” Santa (I’m assuming he is voiced by Jack Mercer since he and Mae Questel are the only credited voice actors) returns their wishes and adds the customary “…and to all a good night,” bringing this one full circle back to the poem that began it. He adds in some laughter as he flies away. An iris shot ends it on Santa without having him pass in front of a full moon – fail!

I don’t know about you, but I’m really glad the mouse got his cheese.

“Spinach Greetings” was certainly an interesting Christmas cartoon. The story was rather basic as Popeye, a heroic character in most cartoons he’s featured in, is tasked with saving Santa from his nemesis who is simply motivated by a dislike of Christmas. What was bizarre was the lore the short crafted for Santa. I do want to know if this refers to another Popeye Christmas, but at the same time, I don’t really want to look it up. I feel this one will be more memorable if I remember it for just being bizarre.

It’s been a Christmas they’ll never forget.

The animation is terrible though. Shots are looped numerous times and characters move as little as possible. The backgrounds are sparse, and there was that weird shot of the hag having backwards arms. It does make her seem more creepy, though there’s nothing fearful about her. Popeye’s toppling of her obstacles is really just brushed aside. It’s almost amusing in that sense, but I think it’s just done to keep costs down. Santa is surprisingly passive, not even saying a word until the closing seconds, so he’s definitely not interested in defending Christmas.

I hate this thing. GET A DAMN SLEIGH!

This is just an all together weird, little, Christmas special. And emphasis on little as it’s not even six minutes long. It is quite accessible though as multiple YouTube channels have uploaded it, including the official Popeye channel, and it’s also available on DVD with the rest of the Popeye the Sailor show. Should you watch it? Well, I guess if you like Popeye you will and you’ve probably already watched this. If not, well, it’s so odd that I think it’s worth a look since it’s only going to cost you 6 minutes of your life.


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