Movie Review: Popeye

by Chris McGinty of
I’m going to do something that
probably shouldn’t be done. I’m going to review a movie I haven’t seen for over
two decades. The movie in question is “Popeye,” and stars Robin Williams,
Shelley Duvall, and the octopus who got cut from “The Goonies” (I’m being told
by the weatherman that it wasn’t the same octopus (I’m further being told that
I neither work for a newsroom, nor is there anyone actually informing me of
anything (awkward))).
My reason for reviewing this
movie now is because I watch, mostly listen to, Mark Bishop on Minty Comedic
Arts. I enjoy his takes on movies of the 80s. Many of his videos are “10
things you didn’t know,” and he often picks things that I actually didn’t
What struck me as odd about his
video on “Popeye” is that he referenced himself and a number of others having
fond memories of this movie, but also disappointment and a general feeling that
it didn’t hold up. I decided I was in a good position to review it with complete
nostalgia and without a recent revisit.
In this case, the 10 things you didn’t know is mostly how difficult the production was.
We owned “Popeye” on video disc
when I was around eight or nine years old. I want you to note that I didn’t say
laser disc. Oh no! My parents were warned of the problems of video discs and
enlightened on the advantages of laser disc, but they chose to go with video
disc. I wrote about that purchase here.
This movie really didn’t hold up well. I mean the movie itself did, just not the video disc it was put on.
I watched “Popeye” a lot as a kid,
and when watching Minty’s video, as not so much a kid, I was in a rare situation
where I wasn’t just listening. I was able to see many of the clips. I was
reminded just how unique Popeye was, in ways too numerous to count (I can
probably count the ways on one hand, but I really wanted a heaping teaspoon of
hyperbole). Minty talked about how the movie was perhaps boring, and I’ll have
to admit that as a young boy I also felt that way. It just wasn’t so boring
that I disliked it. Another movie we owned on laser… lase… *sigh* on video
disc was “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” which was also a bit dull at points,
and yet I loved watching it. Being a bit dull doesn’t necessarily make a movie

So what did “Popeye” get right?
We’ll start with the acting. “Popeye” had incredible acting by a super talented
cast. I remember that my mom loved Shelley Duvall as Olive Oil. I have no idea
what Justin Bieber’s mom thought of Shelley Duvall, but as I understand it she
likes everyone. I enjoyed all the actors portraying major characters: Robin
Williams as Popeye, Shelley Duvall as Olive Oil, and those guys who played
Bluto and the Commodore as Bluto and the Commodore. Chemistry is important to
love stories, and the chemistry Williams and Duvall portrayed was brilliant, nothing
phooey about it.
The movie got the setting right
too. There wasn’t really a consistent setting in the cartoon shorts, leaving
the production to create their vision of a coastal town in which Popeye could
arrive. The town was filled with many bit part characters that ring of The
Canterbury Tales (at least my understanding of what The Canterbury Tales is
like… I should add that to my reading list) and these minor characters did a
lot of heavy lifting to help the portrayal of the major characters, once again
owing to the overall acting quality.
This movie thrives at being all
at once surreal, slapstick, cartoonish, and sweet. I believe that Robert Altman
deserves at least a few pats on the back for keeping the movie consistently
surreal using real actors, and cartoonish in a time where the term “practical
effects” didn’t really exist because most special effects were practical
So finally, let’s talk about the
Bluto sized elephant in the room, which was the decision to make the movie a
musical. I don’t believe that the mediocre songs actually hurt the overall
quality. There’s no way that as a kid I could have put this feeling, almost
rationalization, into eloquent enough words, but I’ll try now. My impression of
the Spartan vocal performances and minimalist songwriting was because they were
simple people with simple lives. I always thought that it helped with the feeling
that everyone in this movie was sort of an “everyman.”
Now that I’ve written my
nostalgic point of view of “Popeye,” I might have to find a way of seeing it
again. Minty was one of the major reasons I recently revisited the “Back to the
Future” trilogy, and he seems to have influenced me again with “Popeye.” If I
do watch it again, I’ll strongly consider updating my thoughts in a new blog
Chris McGinty is a blogger who is
Sucking Lemons.

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