With Williams giving a virtuoso fast-mumbling performance as the hero, and gags ranging from expertly choreographed slapstick to subtle verbal infelicities (Popeye muttering about 'venerable disease'), it is far too sophisticated to function merely as kids' fodder. Often, watching the actors contorting themselves into non-human shapes, you wonder how on earth Altman did it; equally often, you feel you are watching a wacky masterpiece, the like of which you've never seen before.
When the much love ‘sailor man’ Popeye arrives in the seaside town called Sweethaven he meets Olive Oyl and soon falls in love, but he’ll have to deal with the pirate Bluto first. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job as Popeye than Robin Williams, and he gives the role all his usual enthusiasm, but the mediocre scripts ultimately means this is a pretty forgettable movie.
Even the flaws mesh with the overall fabric of the film in a way that impeccably choreographed musical numbers and fight scenes might not have. Altman reverses the emphasis of most mainstream family entertainments, which are about pace and snap, and instead favors a gentle, more inviting evocation of Sweethaven and its oddball inhabitants. Robert Evans wanted an answer to the Broadway hit Annie. Instead, he got a Robert Altman film.
The picture doesn't come together and much of it is cluttered, squawky, and eerily unfunny. But there are lovely moments --especially when Olive is loping along or singing, and when she and Popeye are gazing adoringly at the foundling Swee'Pea (Wesley Ivan Hurt).
This is high-risk chemistry, and the results are bizarre. The bulging forearms and corncob pipe are in place, but this Popeye hates spinach. The plot hinges on his Oedipal search for his Pappy (Ray Walston), the songs and minimal dances are designed for singers who can't sing and dancers who can't dance, and this gruff icon of pug nacious, all-American goodness has been set adrift on an abstract isle that can perhaps best be described as backlot Ionesco. Popeye's air of alienated whimsy makes for an odd family movie indeed. [22 Dec 1980, p.72]
It is more than faint praise to say that Popeye is far, far better than it might have been, considering the treacherous challenge it presented. But avoiding disaster is not necessarily the same as success.
A shamelessly commercial and determinedly vulgar director, such as Flash Gordon's Mike Hodges, might have made the film work; it might have succeeded on one level instead of failing on many. [13 Dec 1980, p.E7]
For those who actually want to enjoy Popeye, enjoy its early-day cartoon. It's obviously better than this movie which turned things upside-down for poor Robin Williams and the rest of the cast that participated in this movie.
waste of time waste of building a set as detailed as that one was. boring, stupid, went nowhere. Williams couldn't pull it off, but then who could have with such a lame script? It would have been better if choice clips of the old Popeyes could have been spliced together and then release it as a full-length feature. I think warner bros did that kind of thing with Bugs Bunny and the gang. check out shelly duvall doing harry nilsson's "he's large" composition on youtube. yecchhh