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Who would have thunk that Disney would have made a film about the spinach-loving cartoon sailor, Popeye? Well, in a rare co-production with another studio (Paramount Pictures, in this case), they did! Growing up with the Popeye cartoons, I always had an affection for the characters: him, Olive Oyl, Swee’Pea, Wimpy, and Brutus (I was more familiar with the antagonist being named Brutus rather than Bluto). I never read the actual Popeye comic strip until much later in life. How does this Robert Altman-directed film hold up as an adaptation? Read on to find out!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The film opens up to a small seaside village named Sweethaven wherein resides the local townsfolk (whom I’m sure are all acrobats, clowns, and performers). Arriving for the first time here is the sailor man himself, Popeye, played by Robin Williams in his starring debut.
The town isn’t particularly welcoming to him though as he is a stranger. He seeks a room to rent and finds one being rented by the Oyl family. They’re composed of Nana and Cole Oyl, played by Roberta Maxwell and MacIntyre Dixon, respectively, and their children, Castor and Olive Oyl, played by Donovan Scott and Shelley Duvall, respectively.
Olive and Popeye have a couple of interactions, but they’re also not particularly welcoming interactions. Popeye tries his best to befriend the townspeople with the person tolerating him the most being a local hamburger lover and moocher, Wimpy, played by Paul Dooley. We learn that Popeye has come in search of his long-lost “Pappy” whom he thinks lives somewhere in Sweethaven.
Olive is currently engaged to the local brute, Bluto, played by Paul L. Smith, who works for the mysterious and unseen Commodore who runs the place. Olive has been engaged to Bluto multiple times already, but has always backed out. She’s planning to do the same this time and bumps into Popeye as she does. While they have their own interaction, a baby in a basket comes into their possession with a note asking them to take care of the baby. The two take an immediate liking to the baby whom Popeye names Swee’Pea. When Bluto sees Popeye with Olive and a baby, he realizes that Popeye will be competition for him.
As Popeye and Olive spend more time together, they start to bond and fall for each other. They also discover that Swee’Pea is kinda psychic as he whistles when he comes upon the right answer to a question. When Bluto discovers this talent, he hires Wimpy to kidnap the baby for him.
Bluto then takes Swee’Pea to the Commodore who, big shock, happens to be Popeye’s long-lost father, Poopdeck Pappy, played by Ray Walston. Bluto wants to use Swee’Pea’s powers to his advantage, but Pappy doesn’t want to. So Bluto ties up Pappy and uses Swee’Pea to find the location of a treasure that Pappy buried years ago because there’s a buried treasure now apparently.
Olive Oyl forces Wimpy to spill the beans on Swee’Pea. She then tells Popeye and they, along with a couple other people, head out to the island that Bluto is heading towards. The treasure turns out to be a box filled with items from Popeye when he was a baby as well as cans of spinach. Popeye actually hates spinach and when Bluto discovers this, he force feeds it to him. This grants Popeye his superhuman strength that we’re familiar with and he’s able to beat up and defeat Bluto once and for all.
Popeye is reunited with his father, son, and Olive Oyl and the film ends with him singing the well-known Popeye theme song.
And that was Popeye! Honestly, the film begins with a welcoming start. It does a great job of setting up the town, the characters, and everything about the comic strips and cartoons that we’re familiar with. But by the time Swee’Pea is introduced, the film tanks heavily! It feels like the writers had no script to work on or ran out of time, but everything afterwards seems like long drawn-out scenes of chatter peppered with deus ex machinas (i.e. the buried treasure subplot).
The characters and their personalities are the best part if the film and pretty much what you should be watching the film for, although barely any time is spent on Bluto which is surprising since he’s the main villain. The acting overall is great! Robin Williams mutters as Popeye is supposed to, but you definitely need to keep your subtitles on to understand what he’s saying. Also, the background characters are very entertaining to watch since most of them are trained circus performers!
This film is also a musical with some of the catchiest tunes (Sweet Sweethaven, God must love us!) as well as probably the worst lyrics I’ve ever heard in a theatrically-released musical film (I’m mean. I’m mean. I’m mean. Ya know what I mean.)! It’s honestly astonishing how bad these lyrics are and simultaneously how singable many of the songs are! It’s truly a phenomenon!
The worst thing about this film is its writing and that’s what makes it suffer the most. It makes me wish that we got that Genndy Tartakovsky-directed animated Popeye film with the hopes that the writing for that would have been better!
But until then, this is the best (and only) theatrically-released Popeye film we have, so we might as well enjoy what we can of it!
So, my final score for this film is 25/35 = 71.43% (C-) !
The next review will be posted on May 19, 2023.