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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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Toon In With Me

Originally, the cartoon short was something that was exhibited in theaters alongside news reels, serials, and feature films. All of the major motion picture companies owned their own theaters and most built up a stable of cartoon stars. This was the era that saw the creation of Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Popeye, and many more. These characters were stars that rivaled the popularity of the most famous actors of the day. Then it all changed. The government went after studios with anti-trust lawsuits stemming from the fact that they operated as producers and exhibitors for their films. Post World War II saw many, mostly white, families leave the confines of the city for the suburbs taking them further away from those theaters they used to frequent. And then came television. All of the big companies reacted to TV in different ways. Walt Disney rather famously embraced it, while at the opposite end was Warner Bros. which did everything in its power to avoid television.

Eventually, TV took over and it’s remained a staple of the modern household. When the movie-going experience was altered thanks to independent theaters and changing tastes, the cartoon short largely vanished. It was an easy place to trim costs since virtually every studio took a big hit to their bottom-line during this era. Those characters that once flourished though didn’t need to be put out to pasture completely. Instead, they became stars on the small screen as studios packaged them up and sold them in syndicated packages to various outlets.

When I was a kid, there’s no doubt in my mind that the biggest toon stars from that era were the characters owned by Warner Bros. Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Tweety, and the rest were among my favorites, and they were everywhere. Warner Bros. had different packages of shorts it shopped around. What the studio considered the cream of the crop went to the big networks and were shown on Saturday morning. The lesser packages went to smaller, regional, channels and cable. Nickelodeon entered the picture in 1988 and it started off with a somewhat meager offering. Remember Bosko? I sure do and he was seen rather frequently on Nickelodeon’s Looney Tunes show. The show was a huge success for the cable outlet, which had really just begun to go all-in on animation, and when it came time to renew with Warner the channel got a better set of shorts. Remember the “Sorry, Bosko” commercial? I do!

Get the hell out of here, Bosko!

Warner’s cartoons weren’t the only ones out there though as there was a pretty sizable cast coming from MGM. Ted Turner, the famous billionaire who owned the Turner Broadcasting System, set out to acquire cartoons for his cable networks. He would come to acquire Hanna-Barbera and MGM’s cartoons, which had also acquired some smaller outlets like United Artists, and this would lead to the creation of Cartoon Network. Cartoon Network was a place for Turner to air all of the stuff he had acquired, but the channel also had it’s own Bugs and Daffy show too (because MGM bought some, it’s confusing so you should just watch this edition of Nick Knacks on it). Eventually, Turner sold to AOL, which would merge with Time Warner, and basically all of these cartoon stars would come to rest under one umbrella by the time the 90s were over.

This ended up being a bad thing for cartoon viewers. Once Warner controlled everything except for the classic Disney characters, the company started to pull back. Eventually those networks that had been a home for these characters for so long were no longer allowed to air them. Even worse, Cartoon Network had become so full of original content it no longer had need of these characters either. To Boomerang they went, the sister channel to Cartoon Network that few cable providers seemed to carry. Eventually, they would be forced out of there as well as the Cartoon Network What a Cartoon! era shorts matured and made the jump over. Reboots would follow like The Looney Tunes Show and Wabbit, but there was no easy access to the classic, unaltered, shorts that generations had grown up with.

Your hosts for Toon In With Me: Toony the Tuna and Bill the cartoon curator.

Until 2021. Launched in January of this year on MeTV is Toon In With Me. It was a quiet launch since it took me several months to even know the show existed. Before that, I could not have told you what channel MeTV was in my area or on my cable package. For those in a similar boat, MeTV is a broadcast network with a local affiliate in most markets. It specializes in “Memorable TV” and it’s not unlike a lot of local stations from when I was a kid. Right after Toon In With Me is Leave it to Beaver and I see lots of odds for The Andy Griffith Show, M.A.S.H., and Happy Days. It seems like the type of channel my dad would watch if he was home sick or something.

Kevin Fleming provides the voice of Toony and plays a bunch of other recurring characters like Mr. Quizzer.

Toon In With Me is an old school cartoon show with a live-action wrap-around segment. It’s hosted by Bill the Cartoon Curator (Bill Leff) and he is accompanied by a puppet, Toony the Tuna (voice of Kevin Fleming). There is usually a theme for each episode and they end up acting out some skits with help from Fleming and Leila Gorstein. Fleming and Gorstein have a stable of characters to work with that they play and it’s all intentionally corny, but charming. When they’re not on the screen, we get to watch a cartoon!

Bill Leff plays the host of the same name (as well as a few other characters) and introduces the cartoons, usually with some fun background info on it.

The stable of cartoons the show has to select from is quite large. There’s Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies, MGM, King Syndicates, Paramount, and United Artists. Of course, most of this stuff is just owned by one company, but they probably had to do individual deals for each set of characters. Just about every episode though will open with either a Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies short and often it’s Bugs Bunny. Other cartoon stars shown quite frequently include Tom and Jerry, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, The Pink Panther, Barney Bear, and Popeye. That’s obviously not exhaustive as you’ll see Tweety Bird and Droopy Dog, but those are definitely the characters I see recur the most. It’s an effective mix, and whatever package they have from Warner is very reminiscent of the one Nickelodeon had for its version of Looney Tunes. That’s both good and bad as I’ve certainly seen plenty of classics that I once watched on Nick, but I’ve also seen some of the not-so-classic I once saw there as well such as Cool Cat and Merlin the Magic Mouse. I’ve noticed the Tom and Jerry shorts definitely favor the Chuck Jones era, but I don’t know if they’re limited at all in what cat and mouse era they can exhibit.

Comedian Leila Gorstein might be the show’s MVP as she’s relied upon to play a large cast of characters, all of which are pretty entertaining.

Stumbling upon Toon In With Me has been a tremendous amount of fun in my household. It’s on every week day at 7 AM EST and I set my DVR to record it. It’s become a show that I watch with my kids. During their summer vacation from school I could watch with both, but ever since school restarted it’s become a show I mostly watch with my daughter as she’s in half-day preschool. She’s become quite the little Bugs Bunny fanatic and has even decided to break her streak of Disney Princess Halloween costumes in favor of the wise-cracking rabbit this year. I love sharing these old toons with her, even if she sometimes would rather watch something more modern since she’s not much into Popeye or The Inspector. It makes me wonder just who the target audience for the show is. It’s definitely presented in a kid-friendly manner, but it doesn’t talk down to the audience. The hosts will share viewer mail at the end of every episode and it’s almost always from an adult. My guess is a lot of people in their 30s, 40s, and up enjoy the nostalgic trip the show brings and they’re probably the core audience. Hopefully kids are watching too.

MeTV also shows cartoons on Saturday morning, like The Bugs Bunny Show, which even includes the classic intro!

Toon In With Me is a nostalgia lovers dream. The cartoons appear to be mostly unedited, or at least haven’t been edited further than what networks did 30 years ago, and several generations of people have grown up with them and have a fondness for them. I love that the show is here for the current generation of children because there’s a shocking amount of children out there who don’t know who Bugs Bunny is, and the number would be higher if not for the new Space Jam movie. Being on a broadcast station means the show is accessible to everyone with a TV set and a digital antenna, and it looks like the website offers a bunch of clips too, though probably not of the actual cartoons. And if you just want the toons, MeTV also has a Saturday morning block of cartoons including an hour’s worth of Looney Tunes. It’s hard to resist the temptation to just buy a big box of Froot Loops and chow down on Saturday with the cartoons going. Definitely check the show out though if you want more cartoons in your life.


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