The sailor man with the spinach can!
Ha! And you thought that whole comic book movie trend started with Tim Burton's 1989 hit Batman! Shows what you know. Long before the Dark Knight arrived on the scene (as well as Dick Tracy, Spider-Man, Dennis the Menace, Hulk…) came everyone's favorite animated one-eyed sailorman Popeye. Directed by the acclaimed Robert Altman (M*A*S*H, The Player, Gosford Park) and starring Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting), Shelly Duvall (The Shining), Ray Walston (Fast Times At Ridgemont High), Paul Dooley (Sixteen Candles), and Paul L. Smith (Dune), Popeye makes its DVD debut care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Come along for a visit with the folks of Sweethaven, where the animated world of Popeye comes to bustling, musical life. It's here that we meet Popeye (Williams), the sailorman who's trying to locate his long lost Pappy. Upon arrival in Sweethaven, Popeye rents out a room at the Oyles, which also happens to be where limber limbed Olive (Duvall) lives. Olive is engaged to marry the hulking Bluto (Smith), a man who seems to rule over Sweethaven with an iron fist (and orders from the mysterious Commodore). As Popeye continues his search for his father, he and Olive Oyle finds the abandoned Swee'pea on one of Sweethaven's docks. As they attempt to take care of him, they find themselves becoming mutually attracted to one another (how anyone could love someone with that kind of hairstyle is beyond me, but love is often blind…). But things go terribly awry when the hamburger lovin' Wimpy (Dooley) hands Swee'pea over to Bluto to help him find a buried treasure on Scab Island (apparently the baby is somewhat psychic, or some nonsense like that). It'll take all of Popeye's strength—and a big fat can of spinach—to stop Bluto's plans, find his pappy, and win Olive's heart!
Popeye is a movie I'd always known about, yet never saw. Not only had I never seen it, I'd never even come across it on TV or cable. Upon reflection, it's a movie that I don't think I've ever mentioned in conversation to anyone. I don't know how it did upon its theatrical release, nor do I have any idea what the critics think of it. In short, seeing Popeye was like starting with a fresh slate—I had no preconceptions or notions about what it was.
I liked Popeye for what it is: sweet, fluffy entertainment. This is somewhat surprising due to the fact that Robert Altman directed. I mean, let's face it, the guy isn't exactly know for wacky comedies based on comic strips. With Popeye, he does a fine job at recreating the comic strip world of creator E.C Segar. The town's ramshackle look over the sea appears effectively rusty and rickety, each home slightly, cartoonishly slanted. Contrasting the colorless town is the blue green sea that houses Bluto's salty barge. The townsfolk are all dressed in clothes that match Segar's original vision. If nothing else, Popeye wins a thumbs up for its great production design.
Yet even more impressive than the sets are the actors' performances. Robin Williams does the near impossible job of sounding and looking like the animated Popeye. With one eye firmly shut and a speech pattern that practically requires subtitles, the guy has the character's mannerisms down flat (even if a little bit of Williams' humor shines through every so often). Shelly Duvall fits the bill as Popeye's wafer thin girlfriend Olive Oyle (crying out "oh Popeye" about six dozen times), and Paul L. Smith is imposing as their nemesis, the brutish Bluto. In a movie like Popeye it's doesn't feel as important to find deep character motivation as it does to just look and act the part—and all the stars perform their job accordingly.
As for the story…well, who really cares? Those who'd complain that Popeye is light on plot should note that this is based on a cute little comic strip, for goodness sake. What were you expecting, Popeye travels overseas to save the Vatican while attempting to discover the meaning of life? A mild love story and kidnapping/treasure hunt is all this film really required. Though there aren't as many laughs as there should be (it seems a lot more humor could have been injected into the story), Popeye still retains a sense of whimsy with bouncy songs (like the funny "I Yam What I Yam") and charming performances.
What more are you looking for from a movie about a guy who eats spinach as a steroid supplement?
Popeye is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen with an anamorphic enhancement for 16x9 TV sets. While the image isn't a reference quality transfer, overall Paramount has done a nice job on this over 20 year old movie. The colors and black levels all look well saturated and solid with only a small amount of bleeding in a few scenes. Some pesky dirt that crops up every once in a while, but otherwise fans of the film should be happy as a clam with this widescreen transfer.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, as well as Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, both in English. The newly redone 5.1 mix does a nice job of pumping writer Harry Nilsson's simplistic musical numbers through all six speakers. Otherwise, this is a mostly front heavy soundtrack that features only a few mediocre directional effects or surround sounds. However, all aspects of the mix are free of distortion, making this is an above average mix for a movie from the early 1980s. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Popeye may be "strong to the finish," but this disc sure isn't—not even a theatrical trailer has been included on this disc, which is now a sad standard with most Paramount catalog DVD releases.
Aside of a litany of mild profanity at the end of the film (Walston's character chants the word "ass" over and over and over…), Popeye is good wholesome fun for the whole family. Though a bit slow by today's MTV edit standards, Popeye still manages to entertain with cute songs and performances. Paramount work on this disc is only half-hearted—come on guys, not even a dang trailer?
"I yam what I yam," quips Popeye, and this movie is what it is. I find Popeye to be not guilty due to the many smiles it brought to my face. Case dismissed!
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