Popeye (1980)

popeye poster 1980 movie robin williams
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 5/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Great visuals, perfect cast

Story is pretty weak

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Popeye

Studio:  Paramount Pictures/Walt Disney Pictures

Genre(s):  Comedy/Musical/Family

Release Date(s):  December 12, 1980

MPAA Rating:  PG

popeye olive oyl sweepea shelley duvall robin williams

Add a Baby = Instant Family

The town of Sweethaven lives under the heavy thumb of the Taxman (Donald Moffat) and the mysterious Commodore who runs his business through the town bully Bluto (Paul L. Smith).  When a sailor named Popeye (Robin Williams) comes into town searching for his long-lost father Poopdeck Pappy (Ray Walston), things begin to change.  Popeye finds a room at the Oyls and meets Nana Oyl (Roberta Maxwell), Cole Oyl (MacIntyre Dixon), Castor Oyl (Donovan Scott), and their daughter Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall) who is to marry Brutus.  When Olive and Popeye find a baby Popeye names Swee’Pea, J. Wellington Wimpy (Paul Dooley) sees that Swee’Pea has a knack for making predictions that could mean a great deal of money…and Bluto realizes that Swee’Pea could be his key to finding a hidden treasure!

Directed by Robert Altman, Popeye is a family musical comedy adventure.  Following Altman’s HealtH (also released in 1980), the film is based on the comic strip Popeye by E.C. Segar which started out as Thimble Theatre in 1919.  The movie was released to mixed reviews but gained a cult audience over the years.

popeye ray walston robin williams pappy

Poopdeck, you are my Pappy!

I loved Popeye growing up.  I watched the cartoon all the time, loved the Jeep, the Sea Hag, Brutus, and everyone…when Popeye came out as a kid, it was not what I expected.  As a kid, I wanted everything from the cartoon, but the movie Popeye was more based upon the comic strip than the traditional cartoons.

Thimble Theatre was already being published ten years before Popeye premiered on January 17, 1929.  The character became popular and the strip eventually circled around him.  Originally the strip was largely about the Oyls who have a bigger role here, and Bluto was famously renamed Brutus because of a rights issue.  These are aspects which influence this film.  The movie is a blend of the original Popeye strips with the cartoons…leading to a weird tone and feel.

popeye olive oyl octopus shelley duvall

…and a lifelong fear of being attacked by a growling octopus begins

In addition to the story which wasn’t what people expected, the film was a musical.  The songs were quirky (written by Harry Nilsson).  Songs like “Sweethaven—An Anthem”, “He’s Large”, and especially “He Needs Me” have some staying power, but mostly the songs are forgettable and take up a lot of time.  Scenes often go on forever and this was off-putting as a kid…who would largely have been the audience for the movie.

The film does a great job creating the characters.  Robin Williams made a career out of talking like Popeye though Dustin Hoffman was the first choice for the character.  With Hoffman, Lily Tomlin was originally wanted for Olive Oyl followed by Gilda Radner, but the casting of Shelley Duvall was genius.  Her Olive Oyl is perfect, but the character in general was always kind of annoying in the cartoon.  Paul L. Smith is great as Bluto and there is a lot of humor in having his singing voice change to John Wallace.  Paul Dooley and Ray Walston round out the classic characters and also nail the comic-cartoon look…but there are simply too many characters for the movie.

popeye bluto spinach paul l smith robin williams

I don’t eats me spinach!!!

I also really enjoy the sets of Popeye.  The film was shot in Malta where parts of the set still exist.  Altman creates a world which is necessary for the quirkiness to work, but despite the world, the script’s aimless direction can’t live up to the sets and character designs…but as a kid that octopus was scary as hell.

Popeye evokes good memories for me, but less good memories when I actually watch it.  The look and the style of the movie works while the script’s loose and drawn out quasi-story relies too heavily on slapstick from the cartoon instead of developing into a full-blown story.  Popeye’s potential is the sad aspect of the movie and the fact that it almost works also hurts…what resulted was a movie that just quite couldn’t make it over the hump.  Altman followed Popeye with Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean in 1982.

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Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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