Popeye (1980)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Popeye</strong> (1980)

(Popcornflix streaming, September 2018) I grew up on Popeye cartoons (in French, mind you), but somehow hadn’t seen the live-action adaptation until now. I can’t say I missed much, because for all of director Robert Altman’s skill in recreating a cartoon-inspired seashore village, much of Popeye simply falls flat with simplistic character motivations, too-long musical numbers and an overall impression of … dullness. It’s not all bad: Robin Williams is good as Popeye, but Shelley Duvall is terrific as Olive Oyl and Paul L. Smith is remarkable as Bluto. The sets are splendid (almost too good, in fact—we don’t really want to spend any more time there) and there is some occasional good staging for the physical comedy. But otherwise, Popeye remains surprisingly boring: The film feel self-satisfied, prone to excessive sentimentalism and unwilling to make its narrative advance. Williams’ constant mumbling of malapropisms as Popeye in in-character, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less annoying. In some ways, Popeye also seems made for those who already know Popeye—I’m among those, but we’re literally a dying breed and I wonder what audiences new to the character would make of the film. I certainly had to pause and think a bit about those Saturday morning cartoons to be reminded of why the film followed a certain path, who those annoying people were and why it was so stylized. Overall, I’m disappointed at the result.

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