Tuesday, May 14, 2013

MR Popeye

I reviewed some animes turned into live action films in the past (such as Ranma or Cutie Honey), but not the occidental equivalent yet.

Here's a cult classic cartoon turned into an American movie this time around!

Movie: Popeye 
Directed by Robert Altman
Release date 1980
Genre Live action musical comedy
Country USA

Originally created by Elzie Crisler Segar in 1919, Popeye originally debuted in another feature called Thimble Theatre. That is until the format changed and resulted in his own self-titeld comic strip starting in January 1929.

His popularity grew quickly, and most of his recurring characters, settings and jokes were quickly put in place in these original strips.

But the character of Popeye's popularity really reached it peak when Fleisher Studios adapted E.C. Segar strips into animated shorts for the theater in the 1930s.

Popeye was fast and unexpected success. The shorts proved really popular, which came with no surprise when Paramount's Famous Studio took over and continued producing several more animations up till '57.

The series has since then and to this day been owned and distributed by Warner Bros.

Now an iconic piece of pop culture, Popeye had several comic strips and proper comic books, television cartoon series, video games and merchandising made over the decades. Even his secondary characters are as much part of our pop culture. He's still very much popular worldwide, which is quite surprising compared his contemporary siblings like Felix The Cat and Betty Boop who sort of fell of the radar over the years. (don't misread me, I do love Felix very much, but the twisted black cat is simply not as recognizable)

In 1980, as filmmaking was becoming bigger and part of our every day life with more and more productions, Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Productions' parent company Buena Vista took the opportunity to produce a live action motion picture of Popeye,

"The sailor man with the spinach can!"

The film opens with our hero Popeye arriving in the coastal town of Sweethaven.

Popeye has been searching for his long lost father for a while, and his footsteps seem to have guided him to this little port.

The townsfolks are quick to embrace the new stranger. Popeye finds a room to stay at the Oyl family. Olive Oyl is getting ready for her engagement to Captain Bluto.

After a little scene, Popeye demonstrates his incredible strength. Popeye and Olive find an abandoned baby they name Swee'Pea.

Popeye faces the local champion boxer Oxblood Oxheart to try earning some money for Olive and the baby.

Thanks to the glutton J. Wellington Wimpy they find the baby's ability to guess things right... and use this "power" to make some money on horse races!

Things take a turn for the worse when an enraged Bluto kidnaps the baby and take him aboard his ship.

Popeye finally meets his dad, Poopdeck Pappy!

And Popeye and Bluto fight... in the water... where an octopus lies dormant!

It's a really silly little film, not meant to be taken too seriously...

... then again, the original cartoons were never meant to be either!

It's a very... huh... unusual sort of film. Really a product of its time, you wouldn't see the same type of production nowadays for sure!

The film's a really simple translation of the cartoons into live action format. Robert Altman's Popeye didn't take the easy way out. It's a full blown musical film. With a piece set around the 1930s, the era of the original comic strips. And in a fictional authentic old coastal town built for the film only! You couldn't make it more complicated for a 1980. (take in mind this is not a science fiction film for example, but a musical!)

Popeye starts a very young Robin Williams in his film debut (he already played Mork on TV by that point). Certainly casted for the role thanks to his great facial expressions and voice impressions. He does the most convincible live Popeye you could possibly find. Like the original cartoon character stepped into real life.

The rest of the casting is just as fantastic. Shelley Duvall does a wonderful Olive, simply just as great. Paul L. Smith is just the perfect match for Bluto. All the other smaller secondary roles are equally well done. They all seem to capture these caricatural figures, even if they're all quite two-dimensional in the end.

Everything is well put into place to make this a live action Popeye film - and nothing more.

Even the spinach ends up playing a role, albeit they could have set it a bit better.

Despite what some might think it's a great interpretation of these characters of old. The film does a great job of capturing the spirit of a cartoon in this live format. That is why the film's a musical, that's what most of the cartoons were, musical numbers.

Although it really is closer to Segar's cult comic strips rather than the cartoons.

The film features an amazing soundtrack from Harry Nilsson. Since this is a musical, there's a lot of songs in this picture. They're not all as well set as some of the key songs. But they're all catchy enough. Most of the big songs are based around catchphrases from the cartoons/comic strips.

Popeye got sadly mixed reviews at the time and got really disappointing results at the box office... (I'd probably say because it wasn't as spectacular or action-packed as the other films at the time)

A huge "Popeye Village" set was built for this film. It's probably the most impressive aspect of the Popeye. The Sweethaven Village was entirely built for the film. The construction started in 1979 and was merely barely ready for the filming once it started. It is now still open for the public to this day, as an open-air museum!

Overall, it's a really fun vintage film.

A real nostalgia trip for me :P

The film kinda aged badly by now (the final confrontation, with a giant plastic octopus is certainly more hilarious than terrifying nowadays).

But still, it's a genuinely good-hearted, light-hearted musical film for everyone. Without a doubt, the most spot-on adaptation of a cartoon into a live action movie to this day.

A great movie. I really love it!

I give it:
2.5 / 3 Urkels!

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