Movie Name: Popeye
Studio: Paramount Pictures/Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date(s): December 12, 1980
MPAA Rating: PG
Popeye the Sailorman (Robin Williams) has rolled into the seaside town of Sweethaven in search of his father Poopdeck Pappy (Ray Walston). Sweethaven is under the thumb of a tax hungry Commodore and Popeye is the victim of the taxman (Donald Moffat) as a visitor. Finding lodging in the Oyls home, Popeye meets the whole Oyl family—Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall), her brother Castor Oyl (Donovan Scott), her father Cole Oyl (MacIntyre Dixon), and her mother Nana Oyl (Roberta Maxwell) and their lodgers J. Wellington Wimpy (Paul Dooley) and George W. Geezil. When Olive Oyl decides not to marry the Commodore’s right-hand-man Bluto (Paul L. Smith), the Oyls become to the taxman. When Popeye finds a baby he names Swee’Pea (Wesley Ivan Hurt), he and Olive form a fast family. Swee’Pea is revealed to be able to make predictions and becomes a target for the Commodore and Bluto.
Directed by Robert Altman and made as a joint production between Walt Disney and Paramount, Popeye brought the popular character from E. C. Segar’s Thimble Theatre to life. It was the first major motion picture from then Mork & Mindy actor Robin Williams and received mixed reviews from critics. Since its release the comedy musical has gained a cult following.
Part of what was hard for people to take in the Popeye movie was that it was based on the comic strip instead of the popular Max Fleischer cartoon. The prime example in the film is that it is once again Bluto instead of Brutus (there was a naming dispute between Paramount and King Features when the cartoons were bought…who owned the rights etc). Another example is that the movie really incorporates the Oyls family who were actually the stars of the comic strip Thimble Theatre until a one-shot with a smart talking sailor named Popeye changed the direction of the story. It was nice to have the more traditional Popeye set-up instead of the cartoon, but many went into Popeye expecting the cartoon.
Popeye is also a musical (another surprise to some). The music was written by Harry Nilsson and actually is kind of clever. It feels very traditional musical and much of the music is performed by the actors. Two songs really stand out in the movie and (have been used since) and those are “He Needs Me” sung by Shelley Duvall and “He’s Large” (also by Duvall). The classic Popeye music also returns in the film for the end of the movie (and the intro).
Popeye is perfectly cast. It went through a lot of changes to make it to the screen (at one point Lily Tomlin was Olive and Dustin Hoffman was Popeye). I’m not the biggest Robin William’s fan but he works in this movie and Shelley Duvall is Olive Oyl (and I can’t help but see her as Olive ever since). Ray Walston does a great job looking like Poopdeck matching Williams and Paul L. Smith is what you’d expect from Bluto though I wish he was taller and bigger. I was a big Wimpy fan when I was little (I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today) and I don’t know that Paul Dooley was perfect for the job since he didn’t resemble the cartoon as well as the other characters, but the role isn’t that big so it isn’t that much of a conflict.
The problem with Popeye is the pacing. The sets and everything might be perfect, but the story drags. It feels like little cartoons and strips with the characters moving from one to another. It drags through much of the film once Swee’Pea is found and only picks up again at the end. The audience for the film also might have problems with the story since younger kids will be bored and adults would want a cleverer script.
Popeye is one of those movies that you’re probably going to love or hate. I like the movie but I wanted to like it even more. If it had lived up to the visuals it provided, it would have been a nice precursor to Tim Burton’s films. I am glad that Popeye has found an audience and that it is not a forgotten film…I hope that it isn’t headed to remake world either…I think this one was probably enough.