Popeye. Paramount/Disney 1980.

Before watching the movie:

Popeye, cartoon legend. Robin Williams, cartoonish legend. Still, while nobody does “animated” like Williams, he’d hardly be my first choice for the salty, mumbling strong man of the sea, especially at the peak of his cocaine-addled supersonic phase.

On the one hand, this was around the time he was doing Mork and Mindy, so arguably the funniest part of his career. On the other, Mork is very different from the Popeye I know. I don’t doubt he can do the character, I’m interested in seeing how he keeps it up in a film I think I’ve heard described as “surprisingly bleak.”

After watching the movie:

Popeye, a  squint-eyed sailor so strong his forearms are the size of a strong man’s biceps, arrives in the seaport town of Sweet Haven searching for his long-lost father. Though shunned as a stranger, he soon gains acceptance. Olive Oyl, fresh from canceling her umpteenth engagement to Captain Bluto (the brutish man in charge of policing and taxing the town), happens to be with Popeye when he discovers a doorstep baby, and sticks by him to look after baby “Swee’ Pea,” then the pair quickly fall for each other. Strangely enough, Bluto isn’t very happy about that.

There are dozens of characters in this film demanding their time and not doing much to show me why. I’m sure they’re important enough in the comic and perhaps even in the serials, but they do little here but bog the story down.

At least the “songs” advance the plot, even if they don’t do much in the way of being songs. They’re so understated in performance and writing that by the end of the picture, the writer threw in the towel and gave Ray Walston a spoken-word piece in blank verse. This is my favorite number.

Robin Williams (or perhaps the director) reigns himself in well in this role. His impression of Popeye is good enough for one routine but a little lacking for a full length film. Still, he’s funny in an entirely different way from a role designed around his comedy style.

This film is a random assortment of scenes strung around a couple thin plot threads, but it’s not a complete waste of time. If I could skip past the songs, I’d enjoy watching it again.

Watch this film: because if Popeye can sell spinach, he can sell a movie.

Don’t watch this film: for a great musical

One thought on “Popeye

  1. Valerie Wood October 16, 2010 / 10:28 pm

    We watched this in the theatre when it was new, actually because of the blurb about it being the role Shelly DuVall was born for. i don’t remember much about it. i think we mainly enjoyed seeing the comic strip characters in real ife.

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