Once upon a time, cocaine and fashion walked hand in hand, ankles rang like churchbells in cascading bell bottoms, condoms were as scarce as unicorns, and most importantly, musicals were enjoyed by both girls AND boys alike. I’m talking of course about the 70’s.
It wasn’t until ’82 with the release of the film adaptation of Annie, that musicals began catering to their primary audience of preteen women and Nathan Lane-ish homosexuals. Don’t get me wrong, I have no argument if you say Annie is the greatest musical of all time. I might even agree with you. But let’s not pull pubes over this, it IS a movie that makes no attempt to entertain a male audience. Perhaps it was the overwhelming public admiration for Annie that overshadowed one of the most underrated musical of all time that was released a mere 2 years prior.
After losing a bidding war with Columbia Pictures for the screen rights to Annie, Paramount agreed to move forward with a live action, family musical adaptation of Popeye the sailorman.
Popeye first appeared in comic shorts dating all the way back to the late 1920’s. We all know him as the grossly disfigured sailor with no apparent affiliation to the Navy other than a shirt. With a chronic case of conjunctivitis and horrible speech impediment, this lonely sailor endlessly pursued a gangly, unattractive woman with little coordination and a butt-plug shaped ponytail. His courtship was constantly contended by a brutish muscular man named Bluto.
Real life Popeye and Bluto?
The movie Popeye is the story of a nomadic sailor who arrives (in a row boat, mind you) off the shores of a beautiful coastal seatown in search of his missing father, who evidently abandoned Popeye as a child. The town of Sweethaven is host to a cast of oddball characters, (none of them minorities by the way) who are ruled by the iron fist and oppressive taxes of the Commodore and his muscle, Bluto.
After adopting an abandoned baby he named Sweat Pea, Popeye finds himself falling in love with the daughter of his landlord, Olive Oyl. Sweat Pea’s indescribable ability to select the winning horse in a fake horserace (similar to the KENO type horse races you see at bars now…who really does those? Betting on electric horses? Do they think guys are crowded around monitors, slapping tickets against their knees, screaming for their pony to cross the line? No thanks!)
Eventually, Sweat Pea’s talents lead to his kidnapping by Captain Bluto, who was pursuing the love of Olive until Popeye rolled into town. After a series of adventures, Popeye is forced to confront Bluto to save his son, his girl, his father, and free the town from the clenches of the evil dictator, Bluto.
Robin William stars in his debut film, in what quite possibly is his greatest performance to date. He played a better Popeye than Popeye himself. Alongside an equally brilliant portrayal of Olive Oyl from Shelley Duvall. The entire cast of characters we have known on paper is translated so magically, and the film is loaded with endless jokes and one liners hidden in its peripheral vision, that it will keep you entertained no matter how many times you’ve seen it before.
The music in this film is a benchmark for other musicals to emulate. The songs stick with you long after the film ends. In fact, it was the rendition of “He Needs Me” by Shelley Duvall in the film Punch Drunk Love that introduced new generations to the forgotten soundtrack of enjoyable songs. (Even though they are sung in character) The transitions from storyline to song are seemless, adding a continuity and flow to the breathtaking scenery.
An actual town was created from scratch for the set of this movie, and it still stands today open to the public off the Mediterranean Island of Malta. (Good luck finding that!) It’s a town that children expect to see when traveling to Cape Cod Massachusetts, before they are grossly disappointed. The roads are docks and the sea breaks across the bay. It all solidifies this as one of the first successful crossovers from cartoon to live action film. It upholds a “movie magic” that the younger generations will never experience due to the evolution of CGI. EVERYTHING is real, from the makeup, to the houses in the set. It is all done so meticulously that it’s difficult not to feel drawn to this town.
This movie is cherished by those that experienced it as a child. Unfortunately it is doomed to drown in an endless ocean of comic adaptations that will continue to bury this family classic. You cannot be disappointed, unless you didn’t realize you were watching POPEYE. Set your expectations and this movie will surpass them. Popeye is a severely underrated forgotten film. It is an enjoyable family musical that reminds us of a time when movies were truly magical.
Take a Drink: every time someone gets taxed
Take a Drink: anytime someone is “owed an apology”
Take a Drink: anytime Whimpy hustles someone for a hamburger
Down a Shot: anytime Popeye takes his pipe out of his mouth