Popeye

Popeye posterStrong, squinting, pipe-smoking sailor Popeye sails into Sweethaven to search for his father, who abandoned him as a small child. The folks of Sweethaven are set in their ways, and are wary of the good-natured, kind-hearted, mumbling newcomer, though Popeye soon earns their respect with both his compassion and his muscles.

While boarding with the Oyl family, Popeye meets their daughter, the stubborn and lovely Olive Oyl, soon to be reengaged to the town bully Bluto. Tempers begin to boil and the plot to thicken as Popeye inadvertently steals Olive’s heart, and is left a baby with psychic fortune telling powers that everyone–including the furious Bluto–wants to exploit for their own purposes.

A cartoony and lighthearted romp from start to finish, this film follows Popeye as he seeks the truth, tries to protect others, and learn life’s greatest lesson–to always eat his spinach.

The Strong

This is really just a fun, rather cute, if very bizarre, film. There’s little either good or bad about it, though by far the strongest positive element is the character of Popeye himself. He is principled, kind, and ready and willing to protect and defend those he loves. When harshly insulted and humiliated by a group of men in a restaurant, he takes it meekly and without remonstrance until they insult his father. After this he requests an apology, and it’s only when they mockingly and violently force a number of innocent bystanders to apologize to him that he proceeds to give them all a beating.

The romance between Popeye and Olive Oyl is innocent and cute, with no innuendo or ickiness, and while the storyline about them going off and coming back with a baby that they both see as theirs could have been used to make inappropriate jokes, there is none of that. Popeye tells a group of people how he was bitter against his father for leaving him for a long while, but that he learned to wholeheartedly forgive him, and came in search of him to tell him so. He doesn’t waver in his decision that he will not allow “his baby” to be exploited to predict horse race outcomes or locate buried treasure. Indeed, his only fault is being a little too innocent and trusting, in assuming things like that his father will be delighted to see him, and that people who ask to “take the baby for a walk” have no ulterior motives in mind.

As for the artistic side of the film, redoing a classic cartoon as a live-action film was a very bold idea, and they certainly pulled off the cartoon aspect of it. Everything from the costumes to the sets to the shots are cartoonish in the extreme, giving an almost surreal quality to the visuals. And it’s almost worth sitting through two hours of the goofy story to watch Robin Williams’ extraordinary interpretation of the character. He has the bow-legged shuffling gait, the mumbled dialogue, and the squinting face of the animated Popeye down to the last little detail.

The Weak

The film may have few especially good qualities, but on the other had it has very few bad ones. There is some violence, but it’s all extremely cartoonish in quality. There’s no blood, no gore, just an awful lot of slapstick. Bluto, the hefty, morose henchman to the mysterious Commodore and Olive’s five-time fiance, is surly and easily angered to the point that he literally sees red.

There is some pipe smoking, though I don’t believe any actual smoke is seen coming from the pipes, and a lot of just plain bizarreness that might bother some young children. At the horse race, there are some women hanging around who are dressed with mild immodesty. Some cartoonish scary situations and lots of goofy behavior round out this film, which fluctuates between charming and utterly strange. The characters occasionally burst into songs, none of which are especially melodic or enjoyable.

Conclusion

Popeye is a very distinct style of film, unlike anything else I’ve seen. This unusual quality makes it the kind of film that most people will probably either love or hate. I personally found it overly goofy, but sortof cute, in a bizarre kind of way. The sweet character of Popeye, the innocence of the story, and the cleverness of the adaptation made it worth watching once for me, though I don’t see it becoming a favorite.

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