We recently lost one of the most important and influential actors of all time. I can’t speak for everyone, but being a kid born in the early 90’s Robin Williams was one of the first people I became aware of who’s job was to entertain. I still can’t tell you who played Aladdin (some guy from Roseanne I think), but I knew even back then that the genie was played by a funny man known as Robin Williams. No man’s career is perfect, and that certain applies to him as well, but even his bad films were a part of my youth, which made him very influential to the reviewer you see today. So now that we’re in that period where some mourn and other celebrate, I’ve decided to talk about one of my favorite of his movies. Robin Williams is amazing in this movie, but it took every sing person in that cast and crew to make it the masterpiece that it is. A lot of people don’t seem to recognize it for its brilliance, but those people are just jerks, and I’m going to prove them wrong! KEEP READING TO FIND OUT HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS FILM!!!
The movie begins with a brief glimpse of the ACTUAL (i.e. animated) Popeye who is pretty sure he’s in the wrong movie.
Ok, I don’t get it. Anyway, the movie actually begins with a slow pan across the ocean on a stormy night. We see a little boat in the water when the title of the movie pops up in time with a lightning strike. What is this, a horror movie? We get a better view of the boat which has a single passenger rowing his ass to the nearest shore. After a few minutes of the moody shots of the ocean and nearby town which are both cloaked in darkness, the sun suddenly decides to shine and our first musical number begins. The set design is fantastic, creating a believable town out of ramshackle buildings that are placed precariously on the side of a small cliff. The song itself isn’t all that good, but the various shots of people in the town going about their day really help to bring this movie to life. The amount of detail within every perfectly crafted frame of this cements the commitment the filmmakers had to making this a faithful adaptation of the style shown in the original comic strips.
It turns out that Popeye was the one stroking in that dingy, and he arrives in the town of Sweet Haven, presumably looking for a cure for his condition.
Not two minutes after docking, he gets accosted by some dude in a suit looking to collect some city taxes on this rube.
The taxes are being collected for someone known as “The Commodore” but we don’t find out who that is because there’s a questions tax. After getting robbed blind, Popeye continues to mumble his frustrations while looking for a place to stay. During his travels through the town, we get a song from Popeye about how nice the town seems. It also turns out the entire town is scared shitless of the man because he’s “the new guy in town.” Popeye doesn’t let it get him down though and just continues to sing to himself while doing a walking jig. He eventually arrives at the Oyl’s residence and it turns out that they have a room for Popeye to stay in. While arranging a deal with Mrs. Oyl, we meet her daughter Olive, played by Shelly Duvall in probably the most perfectly type-casted role of all time.
The way Ms. Duvall plays Olive in this movie is nothing short of amazing. She’s prideful and quick witted, while still being a klutz and completely willing to throw herself into the slapstick and physical humor. After giving Popeye a frosty greeting, she shows him to the room where she proceeds to trip over nothing and completely wreck the room in the process. Later that night, the family has dinner and Popeye is offered a seat at the table but is completely ignored by everyone there (poor bastard doesn’t even get a plate). During the meal, we learn that Captain Bluto is ‘in charge’ of the town while The Commodore is away, which seems to be pretty much always. He’s gone so often that few people have actually seen him (FORESHADOWING). It also turns out that Olive was recently engaged to Bluto, but has decided to call it off. She says it’s to protect him from her gold digging family, but I’m guessing the real reason is because HE’S FUCKING BLUTO!! In fact, the next scene shows the lumbering ape man yell at the entire town to shut the fuck up because it’s his bedtime. The whole town of course complies. Fucking amazing.
Popeye is in his room resting in his hastily constructed hammock (the bed was destroyed by Olive) where he’s pining for his long lost father. This scene incidentally has one of my favorite visual gags of all time.
The next morning, we get another scene of the town waking up, with another less than decent song. I like the music overall, but these two songs in particular are just kind of messy and low key. That said, the visual gags never stop and it’s amazing how much fun can be squeezed out of this scene. It ends with Popeye and Wimpy sharing a breakfast of hamburgers at the local diner where Popeye tells Wimpy about his missing father and is hoping that there might be some answers in town. While trying to tell Wimpy about his long and tragic search, he keeps getting interrupted by a bunch of local tough guys who want to give him a hard time. Everyone in the diner (which seems to be half the town) knows that shit is about to go down, so most of them bolt out the door (including the cop) while the owners start barricading the place to minimize damage. The thugs keep giving Popeye shit, until he finally snaps and starts wailing on these fuckers. In fact, I think I have a clip of it right here!
No wait. That’s from a different movie. Wait, there’s a movie where Chinese Popeye fights mummies? Robin Williams may not be a martial artist, but he can hold his own here!
Later that night, there seems to be an engagement party for Bluto at the Oyl’s house, which is odd considering that Olive decided not to marry him. Why still have the party, and then tell him AT the party that the engagement is off? Wouldn’t it be better to tell him someplace where you don’t keep all your stuff? Popeye makes it to the party and sticks out like a sore thumb to the point that every last person attending gives him the stink eye and the silent treatment. Feeling dejected, Popeye leaves and wanders the town, mumbling to himself the entire time. We cut to Olive who’s getting dressed for the party, but is actually trying to pack her suitcase without the other girls there noticing. Why didn’t she pack yesterday!? Or even an hour ago!? When she finishes packing she runs away as fast as possible, leaving her family and friends to deal with the behemoth with a bad temper when he finds out that she split. The actor playing Bluto is Paul Smith, and he’s fantastic as the character. He’s a bit more… monosyllabic than Bluto was in the cartoons, but the combination of his intimidating performance and the performance of everyone around him creates a memorable character that’s both scary and hilarious.
During her daring escape, Olive runs into Popeye and the ever chivalrous sailor agrees to carry her bags. While this is going on, Olive’s family is trying their best to stall for time (I’m not sure if they knew ahead of time that she’d run away) which can only end badly for them considering they’re dealing with a psychotic fucker who eats glass when he’s pissed.
Olive isn’t sure where she wants to go (though she’ll never admit it) and while hanging around the pier, a homeless person switches bags with her. Olive notices soon after that it’s not hers, and then hears a rattling coming from it. Assuming it’s a snake, she jumps crotch first into Popeye’s arms.
Popeye opens the basket to find a baby inside with a note saying to take care of the child. While this tender moment is happening, Bluto is losing his god damn mind and sings one of the best songs from the movie. It’s literally a song where he talks about how mean he is while destroying as much shit as possible. It’s amazing.
Olive and Popeye return home shortly after the temper tantrum ends. Apparently a baby is enough to make her stay instead of seeing the rest of the world and escaping an abusive boyfriend. Bluto sees Popeye and Olive with a baby and takes this news about as well as you’d expect.
Popeye proceeds to get his ass kicked in a very hilarious manner (apparently punches can cause back flips). Not only is Bluto beating the shit out of our hero, but the next morning he levies some high taxes against the Oyl family to the sum of “twelve thousand, twelve hundred, twelve dollars and twelve cents”. I don’t think that’s an actual number, so it’s going to be even harder for them to pay off. Olive seems to be unaware of the financial burden her ex-fiance has placed upon her family, because she’s hanging out with Popeye and the new baby who Popeye decided to call Sweet Pea (Olive hates the name). While this is going on a floating boxing ring comes into town and there’s an open challenge to anyone who can beat the champ. It’s only for fifteen bucks, but Olive’s brother (Castor, who I kept confusing with Wimpy) wants to enter to help his family. Later that night, he ends up in the ring and gets pounded into the canvas.
Seeing this obscene display of violence gets Popeye all revved up, and he jumps into the ring (changing in mid-air apparently). He gets a few lumps from the champ, but like Rocky Balboa he saves it all up for the finale and kicks him to the curb! WOO!!
After the fight, Popeye and Olive bond while taking care of the baby Sweet Pea in a scene that’s pretty nice. Shelly Duvall and Robin Williams do a little lullaby duet that’s genuinely heartfelt and sweet. The next morning though, reality continues to rear its ugly head with the fact that the house is still half destroyed, and the tax man is breathing down their necks. Olive and Popeye are trying to make the most of what’s left, and Olive has apparently noticed that Sweet Pea can predict the future.
Wimpy overhears this little revelation and instead of taking it for a tongue-in-cheek joke about the baby, he decides that the little tyke could use his powers to predict horse races. Wimpy, acting like a total sleaze bag, offers to take care of the baby for a bit and instead drags an infant to the race track where the kid actually does pretty well.
Eh, this is cartoon logic. I’ll buy it for this movie. Popeye along with the rest of the Oyl family tracks Wimpy’s sorry ass down to the combination Race Track / Whore House (seriously), and Popeye is about to pop him in the mouth when Olive notices how much money Wimpy won with Sweet Pea’s help. Popeye is very much against the idea of letting a child bet on horse races (hard to argue with that) and ends up singing a song about how awesome he is.
Robin William’s singing range is a bit limited considering he has to do the voice while chomping on a pipe, but the song is still a lot of fun.
Seriously. He sings about himself, and in the process grabs the baby and strolls out of there like a boss. While everyone else is scrambling for the money, Bluto (who seems to be running the place behind the scenes) ominously calls Wimpy up to his office. We then cut to the Oyl residence where Popeye has decided to leave Sweet Haven with Sweet Pea to keep him away from corrupting influences. That said, Popeye doesn’t have a plan ready, and ends up shacking up in a… well shack.
Not only that, but for some reason, the back door of the place is connected to a huge slide that leads directly to the ocean!!
Popeye ends up pushing the taxman down the chute which leads to the entire town celebrating and treating Popeye like a hero. While this is going on, Wimpy makes off with Sweet Pea and delivers him to Bluto. Good job there Popeye, he was MUCH better off with you.
Instead of looking for the baby, Popeye just sulks long into the night. Olive Oyl overhears him talking about how much he’s screwed up and how much he needed Olive, which leads to her sneaking away and singing a song all the way home. It’s like most of the songs in this (overly simplistic) but it doesn’t have the benefit of lots of slapstick going on while the song is being sung. That said, Shelly Duvall is the best singer by far, so it ends up sounding better than most. The next song however doesn’t work too well as we see Popeye pining for Sweet Pea (again) only this time in song and with copious use of flashbacks. There’s a decent joke here where Popeye is writing a message and placing it in a baby bottle, but the scene still feels a bit pointless. The next morning, Olive overhears Wimpy talking about Sweet Pea, and gets him to confess to what he did. We then cut to Bluto and Sweet Pea who are in the Commodore’s boat, and it turns out that he is in fact… POPEYE’S POPPA!!!!
Bluto wants to use the baby to win races, but Poppa Popeye doesn’t want anything to do with it and continues to berate Bluto. Tired of Poppa’s bullshit, Bluto finally snaps and stages a mutiny against the Commodore.
Olive and Wimpy witness this act of betrayal and rush off to Popeye’s to let him know what’s going on. Popeye isn’t too happy to hear that his father is a scum bag, and decides to disprove them by going to the Commodore’s boat and finding out what’s going on for himself. What happens next is one of the most bad ass “man on a mission walks to his fate” scenes ever where the whole town cheers him on as he marches to the Commodore’s boat.
While this is going on, we learn that Bluto’s plan is to use Sweet Pea to find Poppa Popeye’s long lost buried treasure. I guess predicting the future coincides with map reading skills. Popeye finds his dad inside the boat, and they have a heartfelt family reunion.
Poppa Popeye isn’t buying this for a second, so he tells Popeye that if he IS his son, then he should be able to eat that can of spinach raw. Popeye however refuses to eat it because he hates spinach.
WHAT!? BLASPHEMY!!!! It also seems that this was the sole reason his Pappy left because he keeps harping on about it. It turns out that Bluto has taken this family reunion as an opportunity to kidnap Olive and take off on his ship, despite the fact that the entire town seems to have witnessed it. Then again, it’s not like anyone would be willing to stop him.
After cutting down Poppa Popeye, the two of them begin to chase after Bluto in The Commodore’s boat along with the Oyl family and Wimpy. Of course the two of them fight the whole way there, this time with Poppa Popeye trying to convince Popeye that he IS his poppa so he can get some respect from the kid.
After lots more shenanigans, they finally make to Scab Island where the treasure is buried. Bluto is already there looking for the treasure with Olive and Sweet Pea in tow. Popeye (coming in like a submarine) shows up and challenges Bluto to a fight. He’s confident he can win because “good always beats bad”, but he gets a reality check when Bluto pounds him silly. It gets worse when the Oyl family tries to help him by throwing a life preserver, but it ends up causing more harm than good.
While Bluto is distracted, Poppa Popeye finds the treasure, while Sweet Pea just hangs out in a row boat. An octopus starts attacking the boat, but Poppa Popeye is able to grab him in time. Now that the baby is safe, Poppa Popeye decides to show him what the treasure is which turns out to be a bunch of priceless (by which I mean financially worthless) mementos from his time before he left Popeye. They even do a call back to one of the best jokes in the movie.
While this is going on, the Octopus has moved on to attacking Olive, and Popeye has begun to lose the fight against Bluto. Poppa Popeye once again berates him for not eating his spinach and throws him a can. Bluto can see how much Popeye hates spinach and decides to force feed it to him before sinking his ass with an anchor.
Bad move on Bluto’s part because this gives Popeye super strength (naturally) and Popeye begins to kick some serious ass. He starts with upper cutting Bluto, and then moves on to FIGHTING AN OCTOPUS, AND KNOCKING IT INTO ORBIT!!
Bluto has also been defeated, and is swimming away wearing a new yellow outfit (because he’s now a yellow bellied coward), and the movie ends with a triumphant song about how awesome Popeye and spinach are.
This movie is just wonderful. Everything about it is fun and silly in a way that you just don’t see anymore. Almost every joke in this is funny, and the musical numbers are more often than not a blast to watch. The slapstick is very well executed, with the fight scenes being hilarious highlights. The best part is that it’s a timeless flick. Nothing about this movie gives a sense of when it was made other than the effects, which are all very well done and hold up better than almost anything you see in modern day family films. When we get shit like TMNT and are expected to give it a pass because it’s “for the kids” I just want to point to films like this and say that families are not fucking morons. There’s good stuff out there that has more heart, character, and laughs than almost anything we see nowadays. Not to drag modern day films into the mud too much (I’m sure there was lots of crap coming out the year this was made), and that’s not to say that this is a perfect film, but I miss seeing stuff like this. I hate that adaptations of kid properties have to be modernized instead of working within the worlds that have already been established for them. I don’t want to see a modern day Popeye film because it could never live up to what this movie did and would probably have a Maroon 5 song and a Subway ad in it.
Bottom line is that this movie is a family friendly classic starring one of our greatest comedians, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you should. It’s on Netflix, so if you don’t drop what you’re doing right now and watch it, then I’m gonna eat some fucking canned spinach and kick your ass! I love this movie, and can’t recommend it any more highly. We’ll miss you Mr. Williams, but we’ll never forget you.